I recently read a heavily-shared list of “must do” things to do in Pike Place market that left me, a Pike Place neighborhood local, thinking that anyone working their way down that list would miss some of the best parts of Pike Place! So I decided to make my own list of must-do Pike Place Market activities. (P.S. If you are visiting in November-December, check out my Christmas at Pike Place Bucket List, and if you’re visiting on a rainy day- I’ve got you there too! There are so many special things to enjoy in Seattle on a rainy day)
I lived a block from Pike Place Market from 2015-2019 (when I started digital nomading) In those 4 years, I made it part of my rhythm of self-care to walk through Pike Place 1-2 times a week, each time aiming to see, taste, or try something new. After hundreds of these adventures, I became an expert navigator of the streets, food, and culture of Pike Place, and with that experience, I want to offer MY list of Things to Do at Pike Place Market:
Local’s List of 15 Things to Do at Pike Place Market:
1. Take a crosswalk shot
• Pike Place’s iconic signs are at the bottom of a hill, the best spot for pictures is the center of the 1st & Pine Street crosswalk.
• According to the timing on the lights, you have 25 seconds every 3 minutes to get the perfect shot!
2. Adventure out to the Secret Rooftop Garden for pictures.
• It’s tricky to find, but I’ve posted directions to this well-kept secret
3. Take a photo with Rachel the Pig & Drop Some change in her belly
• Pike place is actually a low-income neighborhood in Seattle with many unhoused and precariously-housed residents. Donations support health care for locals, a senior center, and support vendors’ families if they become ill or unable to work.
4. Get Chowder at the Market Grill
• Claims to the “best chowder” abound in the neighborhood, but take the advice of this local who has tried them all and head to Market Grill right in the thick of the market.
5. Explore the depths.
• 80% of tourists only see the main thoroughfare, but there is so much more going on if you adventure downstairs and check out the halls leading off the main markets.
6. Chew gum and be a part of the weird communal art that is the Gum Wall
• Just take the stairs located directly under the giant neon clock to go down to the next level.
• You can pick up gum at the newsstand nearby or at Target, 1 block away.
7. Check out the food counter at Oriental Market.
• If you’ve never tried Filipino food, the time is now. Owner Laila’s well-known snark just adds charm to this local favorite which recently won a James Beard award for being an American classic.
8. Buy Cheap Flowers
• Flower sellers will make custom bouquets if you ask- just tell them what colors/flowers & what you want to pay.
• If travel plans demand no bouquets, you can still have the experience (and a cheap souvenir) just ask to purchase $1 worth of filler flowers and press them in your travel journal.
9. Skip go to Starbucks (locals know it’s not the original!)
• Snap a picture if you need to scratch the itch, then beat the crowd by climbing the stairs to local favorite Storyville Coffee, with a fireplace, ample seating, and amazing views overlooking the market.
10. Catch a mini-show by hanging out at the Pastry Pet booth.
• Each plush cat-donut (yes, cat-donut) sold gets a dramatic send-off that’s worth waiting around for.
11. Try to see how many food counters you can hit with a budget of $10.
• Work your way through the market one small bite at a time. Don’t forget fruit vendors!
12. Sample what’s in season.
• Offerings vary by season, but if you make it during Ranier Cherry season in June you will be ruined for life in the best possible way.
• Don’t miss winter’s offering of Apple Cider, citrus, and spices.
13. Try an almond croissant and latte at Le Panier, Pike Place’s famous french bakery
14. Find the Secret Hotspot
• Find the unmarked pink door in Post Ally to reveal a mid-priced local favorite restaurant featuring cabaret & trapeze artists on weekends.
• Their recent expansion means you can dine with a view of the market.
• They’ll push the lasagne, but I’d get into a fistfight to win their meatball-stuffed baguette or herbed french fries.
15. Ride an iconic Washinton State Ferry
• If you have daylight left, head a few blocks to the ferry dock. You can’t beat the $8 roundtrip ticket for a sunset cruise across the Puget Sound.
#1 Tip: Start early if you want to visit the biggest tourist spots. Starbucks & Piroshky Piroshky won’t have long lines till 10am or so.
#2 Tip: Whatever you do, DON’T drive and park. Parking in this neighborhood can be up to $20 per hour! Use public transportation or ride shares- even if it means driving to a Park and Ride parking lot and commuting from there.
What to Pack for a Day at Pike Place Market in Seattle
In many ways, packing for a day at Pike Place is just like packing for a day at most tourist spots, with a few pretty important exceptions that I’ve explained below.
I call the neighborhood around Pike Place market home. Despite being in the top 30 tourist spots in the world, Pike Place is actually a popular destination with downtown residents, along with tourists. For in-season produce, the market can’t be beaten- and where else could we find enormous bouquets for less than the price of a Starbucks Venti latte.
As I’ve become an unofficial tour guide of Pike for friends visiting from out of town, I’ve learned a lot about how to pack and prepare for a day at Pike Place and avoid many of the common mistakes. Here’s my list.
DON’T: BRING AN UMBRELLA
Just don’t do it. I’m not kidding. Despite the rainy weather, Seattlites have a animosity towards umbrellas and jokes about tourists being identifiable by their umbrellas abound. On a more practical note, umbrellas just don’t work in Pike Place. Pike is so close to the waterfront that winds coming off the Puget Sound make umbrellas almost useless- and when the rain is falling vertically, the crowded sidewalks downtown and at Pike Place means there’s simply not room for an umbrella.
DO: BRING A RAINCOAT
90% of the rain in Seattle falls more like mist- so a raincoat will keep you dry and able to freely navigate the market.
DON’T: BRING A PURSE
Seattle has low crime rates, but purse snatching does happen. Days at the market can be long, and with a purse on one arm and a shopping bag in the other, it’s hard to have hands free to have the full experience.
DO: BRING A BACKPACK (With an empty cloth shopping tote inside)
I always recommend a backpack for a day at Pike Place. You can browse hands-free and store your purchases in a safe spot. Vendors and shops around Pike Place aren’t the most generous with bags, due to Seattle’s laws limiting plastic bags, so having your own stowed in your backpack can be really helpful if you plan to do much shopping.
DON’T: RENT A CAR
Finding parking at Pike Place Market is nearly impossible and costs upwards of $10 per hour that you are parked. In fact, with a state of the art light rail train connecting the airport to downtown/Pike Place, and a healthy competition between Lyft and Uber, Seattle is one place to skip bringing a car entirely. With so much within walking distance, and NO free parking near the city center, having a rental car can be a much bigger headache than convenience.
DO: BRING A PHONE PRELOADED WITH RIDESHARE APPS
Ride-share apps can get you anywhere you need to go in Seattle, without the headache of parking.
If you aren’t from an area where rideshare is common, before you lave download Lyft & Uber apps on your phone and sign up. Using referral links to sign up instead of signing up independently will get you modest discounts on Lyft and Uber. If traveling with a partner or group, maximize discounts by each installing the apps.
Tip: Go ahead and sign up and enter your payment information before your trip. It won’t charge you anything unless you use it, and it’s much easier to sign up while you are home. That way when you are traveling and frazzled you can just click the pickup button!
DON’T: FORGET TO PLAN FOR HEALTH
Millions of people come to Pike Place Market every year, touch common surfaces, and then take food by hand from vendors offering samples. Not gonna lie- even before COVID-19 this totally grossed me out.
DO: BRING HAND WIPES
Pike Place Market is a grungy place. Seattle does well at keeping it tidy- but thousands of people touching common surfaces daily leaves even a healthy immune system quaking. Be sure and pack sanitizing hand wipes + sanitizing gel- so you can enjoy food and snacks with a little less worry.
DON’T: RELY ON CREDIT/DEBIT CARDS
Pike Place Market is composed of local vendors and small businesses – it’s one of the few historic shopping districts that have kept chain stores out- which means often there is a fee added for credit card payments or, in some popular places, a cash only policy.
DO: BRING CASH
The few nearby ATMs have high transaction fees so you may want to plan a withdraw before you leave home.
OTHER THINGS TO BRING:
Chewing Gum – The “Gum Wall” is iconic, and participating instead of just viewing is a great memory / photo op.
Sunglasses – Even if it’s rainy. Trust me on this one.
Water bottle – Most of the food choices are street vendors, plan ahead so you don’t find yourself shelling out for a 4-dollar bottle of water.
That’s my list of what to bring and what not to bring- what about you? I’d love to hear suggestions and feedback in the comments!
Artist, digital nomad, and highly sensitive person, Lynli started traveling full time as a digital nomad in 2018. Writer and Illustrator by day, remote-destination explorer by other-days, Lynli is passionate about pushing the boundaries of her own comfort zone, exploring the world as a female, fat, one-bag traveler, and journalling it all on WanderBig.com