Being the foodie that I am, naturally I had heard of Seattle’s most famous market (The Pike Place Market), but in my East Coast/uninitiated Pacific Northwest ignorance, I never realized the market actually refers to a whole area, not necessarily one confined space. When I hear the term “market,” places like Cleveland’s Westside Market and Philadelphia’s Reading Terminal Market come to mind. Both of these markets are massive buildings, but that’s just it, they’re one building.
If you go to Pike Place Market’s website (click here to access it), you’ll find it’s easy to get lost in a cyber context. So when I started perusing its various menus, I just thought, “wow, this place is huge to have so much.” Little did I know that the many different businesses found at the Market are in fact spread out over a couple of blocks…easily.
When I was initially looking at food tours in Seattle, most options were ones of the Market which I ruled out since I didn’t want a tour inside “just a building.” Little did I know that of course that’s not how they were at all.
I don’t want to bore you with a history lesson on the market (for that click here), but in a nutshell, its origins can be traced back to the history of every other food market in the world-it’s a place where farmers, craftspeople, and merchants sell their wares. Pike Place Market also has the distinction of being one of the oldest continuously operated public farmers’ markets in the United States (it opened in 1907).
After arriving at our hotel in downtown Seattle mid-afternoon, I had us immediately head back out, straight to the market since most businesses there are only open till 6 PM. It’s somewhat easy to find since its location is right at the Elliott Bay Waterfront (you see water, you made it). And of course there are also the two iconic Public Market and Public Market Center signs that grace every Seattle image known to man.
I’ll say this, due to the insane crowds that frequent the market (more than 10 million people visit it each year), it’s best to visit with a semi-plan of attack. Not to say you can’t enjoy yourself simply by wandering. However, some stretches make it laborious to walk by (you’re fighting with storefronts, mobs of people, and traffic), and initially it’s not easy to find out where everything else (i.e. those businesses located on the Post Alley stretch), so knowing what you want to search out will reduce the amount of “wasted time.”
Although a couple of ethnic eateries had intrigued me, I ended up going with a hometown favorite for our first meal from the Market-Pike Place Chowder. We arrived there about 5 PM or so (they close at 6) and I was somewhat dismayed to see the longish line. Little did I know that the tiny line we waited in was a total walk in the park-we came by the next day in the mid-afternoon and that line was about quadruple the size. I ordered the Manhattan clam chowder and the server recommended against having it in a bread bowl. Almost two weeks later, I’m still disappointed by not having my chowder bread bowl.
The Main Arcade was the most crowded portion of the Market but that’s no surprise since it’s more enclosed. But it’s here that my gardener’s heart was awakened by all of the beautiful flowers for sale. Never before had I seen so many utterly stunning peonies. My biggest regret is not having a vase to have put some of them in. A visit here will remind you how fertile a ground Washington state is for flower growing.
A visit to Pike Place Market will undoubtedly test your patience if you hate crowds and people who don’t seem to grasp that other people are still trying to pass by. And yet, it’s simply a requisite stop on a trip to Seattle.
The Red Headed Traveler’s Tips for Visiting
-Keep a firm hand on purses, bags, and other valuables (i.e. keep your wallet in your front pocket)
-Skip visiting “the original Starbucks” (the lines are insane and not worth the wait considering the sheer number of non-chain coffee houses found throughout the city)
-The line for Piroshky Piroshky IS worth it (these are delicious sweet and savory Russian-style doughnuts)
-If you’re looking for postcard stamps, the newsstand kiosk on the corner of Pike Street and First Avenue sells them
-I didn’t make it to the Crumpet Shop so if you make it there, let me know how it is!