The Soul of Seattle: Pike Place Market

The Soul of Seattle: Pike Place Market

Travelers feel the pulse of Seattle at Pike Place Market, the lifeblood of downtown.

It seems a bit odd that a farmers market is one of the most-visited attractions in the Northwest’s biggest city. But Pike Place Market is no ordinary farmers market. Much more than displays of fresh produce, it’s really the heart of downtown Seattle.

One of the oldest continuously operating such markets in the country, Pike Place Market dates back to 1907 and over the years has become as much a part of Seattle’s identity as the evergreens, the mountains and the water.

Located on a hill overlooking Elliott Bay and the tourist-friendly waterfront, the historic expanse of stalls, kiosks and storefronts—representing 500 businesses—invites visitors to browse, buy, eat, take pictures, listen to street musicians and just soak in the festive atmosphere.

A multi-level expansion to the western side of the market is scheduled to open in early 2017. Ground was just broken on the $73-million project, which will include a plaza with views of Puget Sound, a pedestrian connection to the waterfront and additional rooftop day stalls for vendors. The plan for Seattle’s new “front porch” has been a dream 40 years in the making.

The Attractions

While food may be the main attraction, there are some great photo ops awaiting visitors to Pike Place Market. Start at the Public Market Center clock sign on the corner of First and Pike. Erected in 1927, it’s one of the oldest neon signs on the West Coast. At the main entrance the public can donate to the market’s charitable foundation by dropping coins into Rachel the Pig, a bronze sculpture that brings in the bacon. Steps away, camera-toting gawkers congregate at the Pike Place Fish Market to wait for “flying fish.” Well, the fish may not have wings, but when someone orders a whole king salmon or another variety, a fishmonger in slick coveralls and rubber boots removes it from the mound of ice and tosses it to the counter attendant, calling out the order in a time-honored ritual.

Pike Place Fish Market

Pike Place Fish Market

Another must-see is the original Starbucks, or at least it’s called that. The coffee giant actually opened its first store in 1971 a block north but moved to its current location in 1975 when the first building was demolished. The original logos are still on display. And don’t forget the Gum Wall on a sloping cobblestone street called Post Alley. Gobs of gum coat the 54-foot-long wall, with visitors continuing to contribute to its sticky layers.

The Eateries

Foodies find themselves in heaven as they graze their way through the dizzying array of lunch counters, restaurants and bakeries around every twist and turn. Seattleites value fresh local ingredients, appreciate ethnic cuisines and prize the Pacific Northwest’s bounty of fruits and vegetables, seafood, and artisan cheeses. And oh, those baked goods!

At Daily Dozen, treat your group to a greasy bag of piping-hot doughnuts. Watch the vintage machine drop the dough into bubbling oil and see the finished product get shaken up in a bag of cinnamon and sugar.

Continuing your trek through the food bazaar, try a beef-and-cheese-filled Russian pastry at Piroshky Piroshky, barbecue pork buns from Mee Sum Pastry, wedges of lemon-curd scone from The Crumpet Shop or creamy mac and cheese from Beecher’s Handmade Cheese, where you can watch the cheese-making process behind glass. Sit-down restaurants include Steel-head Diner for Pacific Northwest seafood with a Southern twang, the French bistro Cafe Campagne and Chan Seattle, a Korean fusion place.

The Shops

Around every turn—don’t forget to explore the lower levels Down Under—you’ll find small owner-operated shops that specialize in unique products, from vinyl records and miniature cars to magic tricks and maps. There are antiques and collectibles, new and used books, clothing and kitchen products. At Golden Age Collectables, billed as “America’s Oldest Comic Shop,” you can pick up an Elvis Presley lunch box, Star Trek bobbleheads and current movie memorabilia. Pipe Palace Smoke Shop has lava lamps, tie-dyed shirts and other reminders of the hippie era.

The crafts market changes daily as crafts-people setup and take down their table displays at the beginning and end of each day in the Main and North Arcade. Discover pottery, glass and metal sculpture, jewelry, leather goods and natural herbal products. All Things Lavender has soap, bath oils and candles made from lavender grown in Washington State.

The Tours

Tour companies like Savor Seattle Food Tours, Seattle Bites Food Tours and Seattle Food Tours offer walking tours that go behind the scenes of Pike Place and provide chances to nibble and nosh. Besides lots of samples —they equal a meal—tour members may get to see cooking demonstrations or meet the shopkeepers. Each person gets a listening device that ensures the guide’s narration comes in loud and clear. Some tours focus on the market’s history and public art, often delving into lesser-known passages.

Randy Mink

Contributor: Randy Mink

Randy Mink is the Managing Editor of Leisure Group Travel Magazine. He is based in Chicago, IL.

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