With more than a century of history, Pike Place Market is the oldest continuously operating farmers market in the country and one of Seattle’s most popular draws. The market lures visitors and locals alike (we’re talking 10 million people per year) with its farm-fresh produce, butcher-paper clad bouquets, abundance of shops, restaurants, and bars—not to mention some of the best people-watching in the city. From wader-clad fishmongers slinging salmon to street buskers playing for passersby, there’s always something going on here.
Spearheaded by eight local farmers looking to cut out the middleman, Pike Place Market began selling produce to the public in August 1907. Within three months, the market had grown to 76 stalls, and by 1922, had expanded to 11 buildings along nine acres near the Seattle waterfront.
The market was nearly demolished in the 1960s, never having fully recovered from the effects of World War II (Executive Order 9066 during the war forced two-thirds of the market’s vendors, all of Japanese descent, into internment camps). Thankfully, architect and activist Victor Steinbrueck (co-designer of the Space Needle) and his group, Friends of the Market, successfully campaigned to establish a seven-acre historic district around the area, saving the market from being replaced by offices and a giant parking garage.
Today the multilevel space is home to more than 500 shops, vendors, restaurants, and bars. In 2017, the MarketFront expansion just south of Victor Steinbrueck Park brought additional open-air space for vendors and new restaurants, as well as a renovated public plaza with views of Puget Sound and the Olympic Mountains. Building on the market’s philanthropic roots, the expansion also includes a neighborhood center and low-income housing (on that note, drop your spare change in market mascot Rachel the Piggy Bank—all donations benefit the market’s nonprofit social services).
While there are a few must-snap spots, Pike Place Market is pretty photogenic, wherever you happen to be pointing the camera.
One of the most notable is the aforementioned Rachel the Piggy Bank. Find her under the red Public Market Center sign at the entrance on First and Pike (she’s seldom seen without a few giggling riders or groups posed alongside her 550-pound bronze frame). Rachel’s lesser-known but equally sizeable cousin, Billie the Pig, is also available for photos at the MarketFront.
The towering sign itself is a local landmark. Dating back to 1927, it is one of the oldest outdoor neon signs on the West Coast. For a less crowded shot, try posing a block east on Pike Street, complete with a stunning background of Puget Sound and maybe even a ferry sailing in from Bainbridge Island.
Just behind Rachel, follow the sound of good-natured shouts from Pike Place Fish Market and take a few live-action shots of fresh catch being tossed across the stand. North on Pike Place is the first Starbucks—well, almost the first, the store opened a block north in 1971, but moved to the Pike Place location in 1975. Snap a picture of the original mermaid logo and pick up Starbucks swag only found at the Pike Place location.
Food-focused travelers will want to wander produce stalls and taste the fruit slices on offer, from crisp Washington apples to peaches, depending on the season. If you’re looking to eat alfresco, pair the fresh fruit with specialty cheeses and charcuterie from DeLaurenti for a picnic lunch. Stop between tastes at Ellenos, a homegrown Greek yogurt stand with a cult following, or Seattle staple Beecher’s Handmade Cheese for a bowl of its signature mac and cheese. Don’t be deterred by the line outside Piroshky Piroshky—the Russian pastries (beef and cheese is a crowd favorite) are worth the wait. Michou Deli and Le Panier a few doors down are both good spots to grab a pre-piroshky bite.
Once done, wash it down with one of the 16 beers on tap at Old Stove Brewing Co. in the MarketFront expansion, or try one of the most beloved Moscow mules in town at Rachel’s Ginger Beer in Post Alley (there are also plenty of ginger beer drinks sans booze).
For sit-down dining, Lowell’s is a classic market experience with prime waterfront views and plenty of local seafood on the menu. Make a night of it with a reservation at Matt’s in the Market (revered for its elevated fare and eye-to-eye view of the glowing market sign) or The Pink Door, where you’ll find Italian dishes and cirque-cabaret performances Sunday and Monday nights (look for the nondescript salmon pink entrance in Post Alley).
There’s no shortage of ways to satisfy a sweet tooth at Pike Place Market. Stop at Daily Dozen Doughnuts at the south end of the market for its hallmark paper lunch bag of mini fried doughnuts covered in your pick of powdered sugar, cinnamon, or sprinkles. Shug’s Soda Fountain & Ice Cream on First Avenue is chock-full of charm, with its vintage soda fountain and scoops from local ice cream purveyor Lopez Island Creamery. And for chocolate lovers, look no further than indi chocolate—the bean-to-bar producer’s new home in the MarketFront includes a cafe, a retail area for its cocoa-based products, and windows offering a behind-the-scenes look at chocolates in the making.
Exploring the shops at the market can take a full day on its own. Pike Place is home to more than 200 artisan craftspeople selling everything from homemade soap to hand-thrown ceramics, all happy to chat about their work. The market is also known for its seemingly endless rows of flower stands, where arrangements can run for as little as $10 (it’s one of the best deals in town).
After browsing on the street level, follow the illuminated sign pointing down to the lower arcade levels to find an array of offbeat shops housing magic tricks, vintage posters and magazines, and retro pop culture paraphernalia, from lightsabers to rare comics at Golden Age Collectables.
The original Sur La Table at the heart of the market on Pike and Pine is a must-visit for culinary aficionados, while Made in Washington offers Pacific Northwest–centric souvenirs (think smoked salmon, glass art, or a Sasquatch kitchen towel). Just around the corner, Metsker Maps of Seattle is in the business of all things travel and geography—look here for an area map or a book on local topography. Nearby, knitter’s haven So Much Yarn is a one-stop shop for yarn and knitting supplies.
While the farmer stalls close up during the evening, there’s still plenty to do after the sun goes down if you know where to look. Sibling bar to restaurant Matt’s in the Market, Radiator Whiskey serves its impressive store of whiskey, bourbon, scotch, and rye from barrel taps, along with signature cocktails (have you ever tried a bourbon margarita?). For a late-night beer, Pike Brewing Company is open until midnight with a rotating tap list—visit earlier in the day for a guided tour and tasting.
Tucked behind a staircase on the Pike Place Hill Climb, Zig Zag Cafe is a local stalwart known for its mood lighting and expertly crafted drinks. Steps away, shoebox-size JarrBar is a Mediterranean-inspired watering hole serving craft cocktails and small plates until 2am.
Even locals are sometimes surprised to stumble upon the Pike Place Urban Garden in its under-the-radar location on the rooftop of the LaSalle Building. Produce grown here is donated to the Pike Market Senior Center and Food Bank. Snag a spot on a bench between winding tomato plants and raised garden beds to take in views of the water and the towering Seattle Great Wheel.
For the uninitiated, a tour can be the perfect intro to all things Pike Place Market. Seattle Free Walking Tours gives a broad overview of the market, blending anecdotes and plenty of stops to taste samples. The Friends of the Market tour takes you to lesser-known spots, with an emphasis on the market’s history, while the nighttime Market Ghost Tour leads visitors through the empty market while telling ghost stories and true tales of the market’s sometimes-spooky past.
To taste your way through Pike Place, take your pick between a host of food-centric tours, offered by outlets like Savor Seattle, Seattle Bites, and Eat Seattle, taking foodies through the culinary highlights of the market. Or try a private tour with Diane’s Market Kitchen, followed by a cooking class using market-fresh ingredients.