The first time you visit Pike Place Market can be a bit overwhelming…especially if you come at a peak time, such as on the weekend or during the summer months. The crowds can get so thick you can barely navigate past the merchant boots. Be prepared to move quite slowly, especially at the main street level. Nevertheless, the first time at this iconic market is a super-sensory extravaganza.
But this is okay, since you’ll most certainly want to take your time, and savor all of the sights and smells. After all, the Market has over a 100 years’ worth of history to experience. You can see it in the faces of the friendly merchants that make a living from the Market. They know this place is special. Some of them have been selling their wares here for generations. Take the time to walk by every produce and specialty food stand and sample what they have to offer. You will surely want to purchase something to take back with you. Many vendors, even the fish mongers, are able to pack up and ship your purchases worldwide.
Operating since 1907, Seattle’s Pike Place Market is America’s oldest continuously operating farmers market. Here you can truly ‘shop local’ and even meet the farmers, growers and artists that produce the goods. With the freshest produce and fish, and one-of-a-kind handmade items, it is a shopping experience only a few places in the world can boast. Couple that with the prime location right near the wharf, and it’s no wonder that this is the 33rd most visited attraction in the world.
A Taste of What You’ll Find
Some of my favorite vendors on the main level under the covered arcade part of the market are:
Mick’s Peppourri, offing delicious pepper jellies. Eight levels of spiciness, from mild to jump-back-that’s-really-hot. Not being a fan of spicy myself, I’ve bought the mild version and happily gobbled it up on my toast in the mornings. Other flavors are also offered.You can sample all of the preserves before you buy!
Pike Place Fish Co. These are the guys that throw the 3 foot long salmon you see on all of the travel shows. Seattle’s oldest fish market offering the freshest live catches.
The good folks at City Fish Company will tell you thoughtfully and expertly about their newest catches, and answer any questions you may have, like what vegetables would pair well with their halibut, or which white wine to purchase to go with their fresh scallops.
Sotto Voce. I love this place because they have an ample sampling station with a dozen or so flavored olive oils to sample, complete with tiny bread squares for dipping. They also offer sumptuous herbed vinegars and other delectable dressings.
Market Lavendar. Fresh from the lavender farm, they offer lavender bunches, lavender soap, and lavender satchels, just to name a few.
Cha’s Farm. Fresh cut flowers, fresh farm veggies, and fresh berries are the order of the day. Did I mention FRESH?
Alison Moore Clay Art. Her hand-made pottery tableware is really gorgeous, and brightens any table space.
Pike Place Pigs. Handmade in a garage, these colorful piggy banks are made with love.
Now let’s venture across the age-old cobblestone street for some lunch:
Beecher’s Handmade Cheese Shop. Along with a head-dizzying array of locally made cheeses, these guys make the best penne mac-and-cheese I’ve ever tasted. So good, they even marketed it to local grocery stores as a frozen dinner. Which I’ve bought more than once. And loved it.
Piroshky Piroshky. These savory little hand-held Russian pies are so delectable, there is usually a line out the door. That’s okay, because the heavenly smell of baking dough will keep you occupied until you’re up to order. Anthony Bourdaine turned me on to this place. The mushroom piroshky is too tasty and filling for words (this is a blog and I have to keep it relatively short), and for dessert, try the cinnamon piroshy.
And for Dessert….
Daily Dozen Doughnut Co. I don’t think there’s ever been a time I’ve come to Pike Place Market and NOT grabbed a dozen bag of these irresistible mini doughnuts. They operate an old-fashioned mini doughnut maker, and It’s so fun to watch the little suckers get on that conveyer belt and get dropped into the hot oil. Perfection every time. Just be sure to eat them while they’re warm! Pair it with an ice coffee.
Things to Consider
- Pike’s Place Market is open 363 days of the year; closed only on Thanksgiving and Christmas days.
- Most of the merchants close anywhere from 4 – 6pm (Sundays at 5pm) although many of its restaurants are open much later. Get there early when it’s not as busy.
- Your best bet for parking is at 1531 Western Ave. Take your chances parking anywhere else, as street parking fills up quickly.
- For a professionally guided tour, I recommend a food tour, like Savor Seattle or Seattle Bites.
- There are so many nooks and crannies to discover, a good idea is to join the Friends of the Market Saturday morning tour, given only in the summer months. 10 bucks will give you a 1 hour guided tour of both well-worn and off-the-beaten paths, a bit of history, and hidden features.
- Pike Place Market really is a place to linger, to take your time and savor all this 110-year-old institution has to offer.
- Ready-made seafood meals are made by several fish merchants. Belly up to the bar and order a steaming hot bread bowl of chowder, or delight in a hot basket of fish and chips.Or go full monte and have steamed clams with fresh hot crab legs.
- Venture down into the belly of the market – the lower levels. Here the crowds are generally thinner, and the shops are unique and funky.
- During your wanderings you will no doubt encounter several buskers to entertain you on your shopping spree. These are seasoned performers, be sure to give them a small chunk of change if you like what you hear!