Seattle: Your Guide to Waterfront Shopping & Culture
By Beth D’Addono
A visit to Seattle, Washington, without a stop at the Pike Place Market is like ordering decaffeinated coffee in this city of constant java buzz — it's just not done. This century-old landmark anchors the Seattle waterfront and serves as a gateway to nearby museums and attractions.
Landmark for visitors, locals alike
One of the oldest continuously operating farmers markets in the country, Pike Place started in 1907 and now includes some 500 shops, restaurants and vendor stalls. Start your day with a photo in front of the famous Public Market Center sign on the corner of First and Pike. Dating back to 1927, the giant red letters are among the oldest neon signs on the West Coast.
Pike Place may be famous for the fishmongers in brightly colored high rubber boots who throw whole salmon back and forth, but it's also where you'll find rows of booths selling local art, imported gifts, vintage hats and beads, as well as ethnic restaurants, cafes and bars.
Channel your favorite super hero at Golden Age Collectibles, billed as America's oldest comic book store, or spin the globe at Metsker Maps, a one-of-a-kind adventure for the curious traveler with maps and oddball gear from around the world.
Look for a narrow staircase layered with tattered music posters that leads down to a cobblestone street called Post Alley and the Gum Wall. This 16.5-meter-long attraction started in the early '90s when the management of the Market Theater next door asked show goers to leave their gum outside. Today, sticky orbs of Technicolor gum spread over the wall as a kind of offbeat art installation.
Need a break? Starbucks opened its first store in 1971 at the market in the Soames-Dunn Building. This is the only place you can buy a Pike Place Market Starbucks souvenir — you won't find the combined logo anywhere else.
Aquarium and museums
There is much to see within easy strolling distance of the market. Head west, and you will soon be faced with shimmering Elliott Bay and its busy waterfront dotted with ferries, cruise ships and maritime attractions. The Seattle Aquarium on Pier 59 features the impressive Windows on Washington, a mammoth, 454,000-liter exhibit that re-creates the local coastal waters and includes more than 800 indigenous fish and invertebrates. A ferry to Bainbridge Island offers a refreshing excursion with great views of the Seattle skyline.
For a dose of culture, there's the nearby Seattle Art Museum, known for its wide-ranging permanent collection and internationally informed touring exhibitions. Don't miss the locally-focused array of Pacific Northwest artists. (Tip: The museum is closed Monday and Tuesday.) By the way, your ticket is also good for admission to the Asian Art Museum, if used within a week.
The nearby Seattle Public Library, designed by internationally known Rem Koolhaas and local architect Joshua Prince-Ramus, is a great place to jump on free Wi-Fi and share some photos before continuing your ramble. Meanwhile, you won't find a more striking city-scape than in Olympic Sculpture Park, a series of massive outdoor sculpture exhibits that is open free daily.
The park is exactly the blend of art, grit and vision that makes Seattle such a unique American city.
For more trip-planning tips on exploring Seattle, head here.