For most of 2020, there was so much news it was tough to keep up. Between the coronavirus pandemic and its devastating effects on lives, the ensuing economic fallout, the resurgent social justice movement and a very tense presidential election, it was sometimes hard to keep track of much else.

But at the end of a very overwhelming year, we asked our writers to look back and identify some good things we discovered or experienced within ourselves and our communities in 2020. Here’s what they came up with.

We rediscovered recreation spaces close to home

A broad view of Puget Sound from a viewpoint in Discovery Park. (Alan Berner / The Seattle Times)

With public health officials imploring us to stay close to home, and major hubs like the Pacific Crest Trail and local ski areas begging off visitors, 2020 wasn’t a good year for new adventures. Instead, it made us engage with the outdoors where we could find it. That meant neighborhood walks, wandering for the sake of wandering, and getting reacquainted with close-to-home parks and communal outdoor spaces. If you took in the ups and downs and glorious vistas of Discovery Park, circumnavigated Green Lake on a sunny day, walked or biked the city’s “Stay Healthy Streets,” or checked out urban equestrian offerings at spots like Kirkland’s Bridle Trails State Park, you were adapting to a year that forced us to reevaluate our preconceived notions of what “counts” as outdoor recreation. I used to think the Discovery Park loop wasn’t really a trail run. Now I know better — and I appreciate my neighborhood green spaces and pocket parks more than I ever did before.

— Megan Burbank

We saw the resurrection of drive-in movie theaters

Six-year-old Logan Miller whispers something to his mom Cassie as brother Easton, 9, sits at right in the family car as they settle in before the start of “The Goonies” at the Skyline Drive-In in Shelton, June 10, 2020. (Ellen M. Banner / The Seattle Times)

It was the worst of times in 2020 for movies and movie theaters — except for one normally near-forgotten corner of the business. This summer and fall, drive-in theaters ripped off their Clark Kent suits and revealed themselves as superheroes: places to go, at a time when we all desperately needed to get out of the house but stay in our cars, and get lost in a movie. From the historic drive-ins of the Pacific Northwest — the Rodeo in Bremerton/Port Orchard, the Skyline in Shelton, the Blue Fox in Oak Harbor and the Wheel-In in Port Townsend — to the pop-ups at places like Canlis, Marymoor Park and the ShoWare Center in Kent, it was a year full of options for car-bound movie watching. It wasn’t as comfortable as a moviehouse seat, but it was a night out at the movies — and in 2020, that was something to celebrate.  

— Moira Macdonald

2020 reinforced music’s power of community

Stephen Wall performs opera from his front lawn in Ballard to an appreciative, socially distanced neighborhood audience. (Ken Lambert / The Seattle Times)

I miss the thrill of a packed club almost as much as the musicians and venue staff whose livelihoods depend on it. But if there’s any silver lining in stage lights going dark this year, it’s how brightly music’s power of community shined in their absence. It wasn’t the few sold-out Showbox runs or buzzy arena gigs that will be remembered about the music of an unprecedented year. It’s the legend of Ballard Opera Man serenading his neighbors, and Thaddeus Turner setting up outside a Columbia City accountant’s office for the grateful face masks on a makeshift street patio. It’s Marshall Law Band block-rocking the summer of protests on the Hill, later touring Seattle neighborhoods on a truck bed like benevolent funk pirates in support of Black lives. And it’s the dystopian intimacy of Ben Gibbard playing virtually from his house to ours while we all wonder how we’re gonna score some toilet paper. Music brought us together even when we couldn’t be together.

— Michael Rietmulder

KEXP overhauled its lineup in support of DJs of color

Gabriel Teodros, associate music director and host of “Early” at KEXP. (Naomi Ishisaka / Courtesy of KEXP)

No offense to the old KEXP DJ lineup — I’ve been listening steadily for years — but the station’s new personnel lineup is one of the best arts/culture developments of 2020. This summer, the nonprofit station brought DJs of color out of the schedule’s margins (late nights, weekends) and closer to the prime-time center. They say that was a response to this year’s uprising around racial justice and to become a more anti-racist entity. What this means for your ears: Deeper, reinvigorated, more faceted listening with the cool and ecumenical Larry Mizell, Jr. (weekdays 1-4 p.m.); the existence-affirming brains/heart combo of Gabriel Teodros (weekdays 5-7 a.m.); the infectiously enthusiastic Eva Walker (Saturdays 6-9 p.m., but she seems to be pinch hitting all over the schedule these days); and a bunch of others. And if you can’t catch some sets (like Lace Cadence’s “Overnight Afrobeats”), KEXP has a time machine: kexp.org/archive. Some initiatives are good because they’re long-term righteous, others because they instantly make things better. I don’t know what kind of drama went on behind the scenes — Is there such a thing as swift, major staffing changes without at least a little drama? — but the KEXP overhaul feels like both.

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— Brendan Kiley

The Seattle area got some outstanding new bakeries

Christina Wood, chef and owner of Temple Pastries, holds a box of pastries she just made in her West Seattle kitchen, shot Aug. 13, 2019.   (Ellen M. Banner / The Seattle Times)

Sweet little things can help in outsized ways during Times Like These (scream/cry), so lest you’re carrying on unaware, 2020 gave the Seattle area the small but significant gift of several new bakeries. Important bonuses: Pastries kindly lend themselves to low- or no-contact pickup for safe COVID-times treats, and you’ll be supporting places that are woman- and/or POC-owned just by eating. • In the Central District, Christina Wood’s gorgeous, crispy-airy croissants await your mouth at her long-awaited brick-and-mortar Temple Pastries. • Making rolled ice cream at farmers markets rightfully gained SUSU Dessert Bar its initial fame, and now Katie Pohl and Muhammad Fairoz A. Rashed’s new Chinatown ID spot does walk-up-window service for their in-demand kouign-amann, durian creations and more (including, thankfully, beer and wine). • The Flour Box opened this fall in Hillman City to such wild popularity that baker/owner Pamela Vuong is taking a break, but her handmade filled brioche doughnuts and such will return for our engulfing in the new year. • Also wisely on break until this one’s done (and, yes, open since 2019, but we need all the baked-goodness we can get), Alina Muratova’s Sweet Nothings and More offers twice-baked baklava croissants, hot-chocolate bombs and more for pickup or delivery — and some lucky souls got snowman piñatas holding signs reading “[expletive] 2020” for therapeutic end-of-the-year smashing.

— Bethany Jean Clement

2020 reinvigorated Seattle’s colorful pop-up scene

A summer squash pizza, with ricotta, provolone, mozzarella and squash, comes steaming out of a portable Roccbox tabletop oven to be finished with a relish of sun-dried tomatoes, olives and preserved lemons. This is the creation of pizza pop-up Tiny Industries, baked right on the back patio of Burien Press Oct. 17, 2020. (Bettina Hansen / The Seattle Times)

I miss the general din and clatter of a crowded restaurant and I know I can’t be the only one feeling like they’re buying dish soap every other week, but if there’s one bright spot in all this takeout we’ve all been eating, it’s the incredible food being served up across the city in the form of pop-ups. This isn’t the first time we’ve had a pop-up surge, but I don’t think it’s ever been this strong of a scene or this exciting. There’s an entire “secret” pizza scene that I’m absolutely bonkers for! Plus crispy fried Situ Tacos, dreamy kheema and aloo sliders from Karachi Cowboys, mouthwatering chicken from Cookie’s Country Chicken, and so much more. These pop-ups have helped closed dining rooms sell bottles of wine and have given out-of-work chefs (and even aspiring chefs) room to flex their creative muscles, and for that, my stomach is ever so grateful. 

— Jackie Varriano

We became more resourceful, less wasteful home cooks

Sardines cooked right in their tin with cheese, egg and tomato sauce, April 22, 2020, in Seattle. (Ken Lambert / The Seattle Times)

I used to stare deeply into my fridge for so long, it would beep insistently at me as if to say, “Grab something or close the damn door.” I don’t know what to do with ingredients. I’m not an imaginative cook. But this year at home, all of you readers have inspired me. During this year of quarantine, I have seen more home cooks concocting ambitious, imaginative dishes born from the meanest of ingredients, like the tinned fish in the first of what turned out to be multiple rounds of the Seattle Times Pantry Kitchen Challenge. I went from staring at Instagram pasta con le sarde and pepperoni flatbreads, to being more decisive at the refrigerator door. True, my job requires a lot of takeout food, and I accumulate a lot of leftovers. But those leftovers are now the raw materials for three-course lunches. I work with half-eaten roast chicken and whatever lurks behind the mayo and the Cloudburst ale. In the spring, I ate more than 1,000 dumplings for a story. What went unsaid was that hundreds more pot stickers were half-eaten or didn’t make the cut in my roundup. I sauteed those fillings (ground lamb and pork studded with chives or onions) while boiling a handful of fettuccine or whatever pasta was at hand. In a pan, I coated the al dente noodles with the meat and takeout condiments: dipping cups of chili crisp and rice vinegar; packets of soy sauce and hot sauce. I don’t know if I’m a better cook, but I’ve become a more resourceful one. My compost bin is never full.

— Tan Vinh

We brought the world into our homes

“A Thousand Ways Part Two: An Encounter,” at On the Boards, is a tiny performance in which two strangers — following prompts on a series of notecards — are both audience and performers. (Sara Ann Davidson)

In the early days of the pandemic, COVID-19 ran rampant on cruise ships and ferried the virus across borders and state lines by plane. Travel was one of the first industries hit by the pandemic. Foot traffic at Seattle-Tacoma International Airport dried up, and even before we were all staying home, we had begun to stay put, canceling travel plans months in the making. Although tourism industries took a hit, the decrease in tourists at famous sites meant the murky waters in Venice cleared and settled, wildlife began to come out of hiding in the U.S. national parks, and global carbon dioxide emissions took a dip. Then, many of the attractions, entertainment and connections that we look for when we travel started coming into our homes instead. The Metropolitan Opera in New York began livestreaming operas for free, museums have been hosting virtual tours, career conferences and popular theater shows have gone online, reaching audiences far beyond their hometowns. Many are connecting regularly over video conferencing with the family members and friends they would’ve flown out to see only once this year. We may not be traveling much these days, but we’re getting more culture and connection from our couches in Seattle than we once thought possible.

Crystal Paul