Pike Place Market is on the bucket list of virtually every tourist visiting Seattle or the Pacific Northwest, and for good reasons: Pike Place Market is magical. I’ve been to open markets all around the world, including many South American public markets much larger than Pike Place Market, but let me tell you: Pike Place is special.
Sometimes, visitors aren’t sure Pike Place is “worth visiting”. Many times, tourist destinations really aren’t that special, and what gets famous is just what’s overhyped and promoted well- but that’s not the case for Pike Place. Although I have lived in the neighborhood for years and visited Pike Place many hundreds of times, I promise, Pike Place Market is definitely worth visiting. Here’s my rundown of why I love Pike Place, and things to do while you are there.
Pro tip: The name often gets an extra S- mispronounced Pike’s Place Market – if you want to blend in, be sure and pronounce it PIKE place market, or you are very likely to get corrected, or, at the very least, outed as a tourist)
What to Pack
In many ways, packing for a day at Seattle’s infamous public market is just like packing for any other urban destination, but there are a few exceptions, and packing a few unique essentials can help make your Pike Place visit even more memorable, fun, and easy. To learn my packing tips and recommended essentials, visit my Pike Place Market packing list.
Resting and Recharging (Or Checking in with Work) at the Market
A full day of being a tourist can be grueling, and smart travelers schedule in periods of rest- or, a few hours of work in which our body can rest. Some travel days can be so intense that they are unpleasant for body and soul, leaving me sore and uninspired to explore the next day. I find that by balancing physical exertion with rest and mental activity, I’m a better traveler that is more productive and excited about my travels. (In fact, this generative work/play balance is the whole premise behind digital nomading!)
If you’re curious about the best places to stop, sit, rest, or even work at Pike Place market, I’ve got a market-inclusive entire list of my favorite Seattle work/study spots here. Believe it or not, Pike Place Market has co-working spaces and even a private library! The latter of which offers day passes with stunning- and exclusive- views of the Puget Sound and the market below.
Cheap & (Almost) Free Pike Place
Seattle is expensive – like crazy expensive, and Pike Place is no exception. My favorite sandwich at Pike Place market runs about $20 without a side. But that doesn’t mean that you can’t visit Pike Place – and Seattle – for free or cheap. Click here for my almost free guide to eating, playing, and getting amazing souvenirs at Pike Place – and if you’re looking for tips on being a tourist in Seattle on a budget, check out my article on seeing the best of Seattle on a tight budget.
An Expert Guide’s list of Most Instagrammable Spots at Pike Place
Like any popular tourist destination, people often want to know where the best spots to take photographs are. Scouting out “instagrammable” backdrops for influencer photoshoots, couples photography, or portraits are not an uncommon request when people are planning a visit to Pike Place. In fact, I dedicated an entire blog post to My Favorite Instagram Spots in the Pike Place Market the neighborhood. Learning the ins and outs of the market and its secret spaces, has helped me scout out and list the top photo spots for tourists in Pike Place market- guaranteed to include some exclusive, stunning, and creative backdrops that drive-by travel bloggers miss.
Secret Spaces at Pike Place Market
Many casual visitors to Pike Place market simply follow the L-shaped street that divides the market halls and consider their trip complete. But what locals and market vendors know is that the market is massive, spanning back into hallways, down into basements, and even upward onto rooftops. Official maps will show you many of these locations, but not all of them. My favorite spot, the secret rooftop garden is hidden on many maps- and even kind of difficult to find with precise instructions! The secret spaces of Pike Place market extend up into cozy bay view coffee shops, deep into hallways of test kitchens (with viewing windows!), down to hidden thrift stores in the bowels of the buildings, and so many more secret spots.
Thrift Stores and Second Hand Shops at Pike Place Market
Although COVID closures have affected at least one of the secondhand shops in Pike Place Market, there is always at least one thrift store, a dedicated space reserved by the Pike Place market foundation for itinerant sellers (so there’s a different vendor every few days). Pike Place is run by a foundation that works to improve the quality of life for residents in the neighborhood, and keeping space for an affordable second-hand shop is part of that ethic. (FACT: When you put money in the famous Rachel the Pig bank, you help the foundation fund many services within the boundaries of the market, including a food bank, a low-cost health clinic, 2 low-income counseling clinics, a senior center, a community garden, and a child care center!)
I love thrift stores and flea markets for the best souvenirs – in fact, I love international flea market shopping so much that I dedicated an entire post to finding amazing souvenirs via thifting and to international flea market-going. The Pike Place market thrift stores and secondhand shops are the perfect places to find funky one-of-a-kind or even antique souvenirs from your Seattle trip. Forget the imported tchotchkes or even the amazing artesian goods in the day market, and follow the hallway next to Piroshky Pirosky all the way back to the rummage sale deep in the interior of the “Stewart House” building. There, you’ll find an assortment of goods that range from ordinary to extraordinary, and, depending on the day, can include everything you can imagine!
Rainy Market Days
The thrift stores are a great way to spend a rainy day at Pike Place market, but don’t worry if your visit is spoiled by rain – there is lots to do at the market and- since it’s located in Seattle- the market is set up well to keep you warm and dry while exploring. All the main walkways and sidewalks are covered, and on the occasion that wind is coming off of Elliott Bay so strong that the brain comes in sideways, there’s interior hallways to match most exterior sidewalks, keeping you totally dry while you explore the market. For more ideas on enjoying Pike Place market in the rain check out my article on what to do if it rains during your Seattle Pike Place market visit.
PRO TIP: DON’T bring an umbrella to Pike Place. In Seattle, rain is either too gentle to warrant an umbrella, or too wind-blown for an umbrella to be effective. An even bigger issue with umbrellas is that your umbrella on a crowded Seattle sidewalk is likely to push someone else into the street or gutter. No worries- just join the locals and pack a good, hooded rain coat.
Tips for planning your Pike Place market trip
You can explore the market on your own or use travel guides (mostly written by paid advertisers promoting their interests in the guise of a guide), but if you want an insider’s guide to Pike Place you’ll need a local friend, a paid tour guide, or my insider’s guide to a day at Pike Place. Even after visiting Pike Place market hundreds of times for weekly grocery trips and pop-ins to my favorite coffee shops, there are still a handful of places in Pike Place that never failed to fascinate me. Want to know about my favorite places? Click here to see my itinerary for a full day at the Pike Place market.
Visiting Pike Place Market at Christmas
I love the market at Christmas so much that I made my own Christmas at Pike Place bucket list. Summer at the market is great, filled with amazing produce and artists flooding the market with handmade goods to sell to the throngs of tourists, but I love Pike Place in the winter. When crowds thin and skies go dark, that’s when Pike Place belongs to the locals, when long afternoons sketching in cafés and popping through the busiest thoroughfares on an errand to my favorite food vendors is easy and fun. The best part of winter at Pike Place is definitely Christmastime: Christmas tree vendors set up in front of the iconic sign, Coffee shops and pop-ups serve hot cider is on-demand, and the whole market buzzes with Christmas cheer and festive decorations. If you want to know how I catch the Christmas spirit at Pike Place market check out my list.
An Insider’s Guide to a Day at Pike Place Market
Pike Place Market is one of the most alive places I have ever been. In every way, it is a sensory experience: Feet on uneven cobbled streets carry you towards the sound of the crowd and the dozen or so musicians performing throughout the market on a summer day.
If you arrive early, the soundtrack of the market is one of vendors calling out to one another, fishmongers’ shovels scooping ice, and countless delivery trucks. Smells of the fish market give way to the scent wafting onto the street from bakeries and coffee beans roasting, which give way to the scent of thousands of flowers being packed into bouquets stem by stem.
Pike Place, both in it’s many restaurants and the many vendors who stand- peach in one hand, knife in the other- outside their booth offering samples, is an experience of sight and taste, of touch and smell, of sensory “aliveness”. That’s the market I came to know my first year in Seattle, where the market was a daily excursion as I walked from my bus stop to the red brick building on the waterfront where I spent my days.
This is my guide to experiencing the best parts of Pike Place, through this sensory-embracing Guide to a Day at Pike Place Market.
How I fell in Love with Pike Place Market:
When I moved to Seattle in 2015 to start grad school I moved into a tiny studio apartment in an old building downtown. Being 4 blocks from the Puget Sound and 2 blocks from Pike Place Market was a pretty major life change for this girl who had never lived in a city of more than 50,000 (or lived in a state that wasn’t landlocked by at least two states on all sides!). Knowing that living in such an urban location was a limited season for me, I decided to make the most of the experience of living in downtown Seattle. For me, that was three-fold: 1. challenging myself to do at least some of my grocery shopping in the market, 2. Taking advantage of the flower market to brighten up my tiny living space, and 3. Finding favorite vendors and returning to their market booths, building what community there can be in a farmer’s market as large and popular as Pike Place Market.
Even though I’ve only lived in Seattle a few years, I realized after a few months that I’ve actually been to what downtown Seattle’s locals just call “the market” far more times than many locals! I love treating my local friends to an adventure exploring parts of the market they- and most tourists- have never seen. In thinking about what would be useful to share with blog visitors, I decided to draft this “Insider Guide to a Day at Pike Place Market” to share some of my favorite places- including some popular spots and lesser-known gems.
Starting Guidelines to Enjoy Pike Place Market:
1. Skip Lines
I hate lines. So this itinerary is designed to circumvent them for the most part. You can spend an entire day in lines at Pike Place if you hit certain spots (Starbucks, Piroshki Piroshki, etc) but this list is a little off-the-beaten-path and, in all but the busiest seasons, should avoid most lines.
2. Go All In
Be present. Be open to experience the market with all your senses! Taste, see, smell, touch, listen and notice- really pay attention. The market is a rewarding place to be alive to your senses.
3. Bring Gum
In the spirit of participation, bring a pack of bubblegum (more on that later)
BREAKFAST & MORNING PIKE PLACE ADVENTURES:
My advice is to get to the market early. That’s 9-10 am in the winter, or no later than 8:30 am in the summer. The bakeries and restaurants open at 6-7 am, and it’s a fascinating experience to sit with a cup of coffee and watch the market wake up in the morning.
Cheat the Starbucks SystemL The Pike Place Starbucks tastes like Starbucks anywhere- the only difference is that Pike Place Starbuck’s employees are psychologically vetted to see if they can endure the crowds and chaos of the Pike Place location (true story!). Also, locals know that it’s a orporate-funded myth that that Pike Place Starbucks location was the first. In fact, the original Starbucks was torn down long ago in Seattle’s march towards modernization. If you need a Starbucks/Pike Place shot for your Instagram, visit the Starbucks 1 block outside the market and then stroll over to the Pike Place Starbucks (you’ll find it by the massive line reaching down the sidewalk) and pose for a photo with your drink.
Although LE PANIER is technically primarily a bakery, it’s my favorite coffee shop in the market and makes my second favorite Vanilla Latte in the city. Their Almond Croissant, often still warm from the oven in the mornings, is unbeatable.
A few blocks outside of the market is MOORE COFFEE, next to the historic Moore Theater (Which, itself, has a free tour at 10am on the second Saturday of each month). Moore is well worth the 4 block detour. Not only is their coffee legitimately good (taking my vote for #1 Best Vanilla Latte in Seattle) but they specialize in serious coffee art, and I’ve picked up lattes with cats, bunnies, bears, and even a koala bear in the foam. (Hint: Although latte designs are a wildcard, Cappuccinos always come out as “Cat-pucchinos”)
If you go to Starbucks despite my advice and are still hungry afterward, (the market Starbucks doesn’t sell food items) head towards Daily Dozen Donut Company for fresh donuts made while you’re in line. I recommend the Cinnamon Sugar Donuts. (They usually have two other flavors- but all are made after the donuts are cooled, while the Cinnamon Sugar donuts are bagged hot for you straight off the magic donut-making machine.)
MIDDAY AT PIKE PLACE MARKET:
Explore the vendors in the main arcade, watch the fish throwers, taste the fruit offered by vendors, take a picture with the pig, and try these fun side-adventures:
My favorite spots:
There are a couple fun spots people tend to miss in the center of the market because the typically huge crowd around the fish throwers hiding the passageways beyond.
MarketSpice– If you like cooking or tea or smelling things that smell nice, this is a spot you’ve got to check out. Even if you aren’t a foodie, this is a great place to get cheap souvenirs for the foodies in your life. Trust me, no one actually wants you to bring them back a Pike Place piggybank souvenir, but fresh whole cardamom pods or signature chai tea could an affordable, easy to pack, and appreciated gift for the foodie in your life.
Don and Joe’s Meat is a full service butcher- not what you might think of as a fun stop on a tour, but Don & Joe’s “landjäger” (aka German walking sausage) is just a buck or two, tastes what beef jerky is supposed to taste like, and makes a fun nibble.
Tucked away in an obscure corner of Pike Place Market there is a quiet garden oasis where (for no charge and no spiel to purchase anything) you can take a break from the crowd to sit and recharge in a community garden of vegetables, flowers, and fountains. It’s a little difficult to find, so I wrote a separate post dedicated to How to Find Pike Place’s Secret Rooftop Garden. The views of the Puget Sound and the Olympic Mountains from this roof are stunning, and it’s literally less than 50 steps from Pike’s main entrance, so in my book, it’s a can’t miss.
In the same area, but back out and around the crowd around the fish throwers, there is a small, free, Pike Place museum with displays about the history of Pike Place Market.
Gross, but an un-missable part of the Pike Place Experience. Start chewing that bubble gum as you head out and down the stairs next to Rachel the pig (under the clock) and into a covered alley known as “The Gum Wall”. Sidestep teenagers taking selfies, and snap a few pics of yourself adding that wad of gum in your mouth to the history of Pike Market. The Gum wall is somehow simultaneously disgusting and really quite beautiful, and is definitely a can’t miss stop.
LUNCH AT PIKE PLACE:
So, by now you’ll be hungry, able to smell everything, and you’ll have a thousand choices. How to choose? Well, as far as I am concerned, there are really only two good choices for lunch in Pike Market:
- The Lunch Counter at Oriental Mart, where a lady named Leila who has cooked at Pike Place for 40 years will chat you up while serving up amazing Filipino Cuisine. Don’t try any backtalk, Leila is a delight who says her mind and doesn’t take any sass (just read her signs if you don’t believe me). If you are food-adventurous, this is THE spot to head to for lunch, and recently won a James Beard award!
- Picnic – You’ve got tons of great food options and space to picnic. Here are my food and location recommendations for a Pike Place Market picnic
- FOOD: Take advantage of all the market offers with fresh fruit from a grocery vendor and a baguette sandwich from Le Panier.
- PICNIC LOCATION #1: Victor Steinbrueck Park is a grassy knoll with a sound & mountain view located at the north end of the Market. It makes a great picnic spot on quieter days.
- PICNIC LOCATION #2: If Victor Steinbrueck Park is too crowded for comfort, walk about 5-7 minutes north (past world market, u to the entrance to the Pier 66 Rooftop Park. This park boasts better views and a fraction of the crowd at any time of year. (Note: this park is closed and gated when there is a cruise ship docked at Pier 66)
- FOOD: Take advantage of all the market offers with fresh fruit from a grocery vendor and a baguette sandwich from Le Panier.
AN AFTERNOON AT PIKE PLACE MARKET:
After lunch, check out the craft vendors, and keep an eye out for my favorite- the Donut Cat booth. Take a moment to linger- a sale at the Donut Cat booth is 1 part sale, 2 parts theatrical production!
If you’re ready to rest your feet for a bit, return to the main market corner (under the clock) and climb the stairs of the building that sits city-side. The third floor features Storyville Coffee, Yelp’s #2 coffee shop in Seattle. Admittedly, Yelp’s #1 is only a block outside the market, but Storyville’s views of the market below, vibe, and adequate seating boost it to #1 in my book.
Possibly my favorite quirky spot in the market, and definitely the oddest, is the Market Rummage Hall, is buried in the bowels of the market but definitely worth the hunt. Just enter the (city-side) market building at the mall-like entrance hall next to Piroshki Piroshki. Turn left at the T and follow the hallway past the cigar shop. The Rummage Hall will be on your left. It’s not marked well, but with its contents typically spilling into the hall, it’s hard to miss. The Rummage Hall is hit or miss, and is managed by different sellers on different days, but is always a detour for me when I’m in the market. I often leave empty-handed but I’ve occasionally walked away with fantastic finds for just a few coins!
FAVORITE RETAIL SHOPS IN PIKE PLACE
The market is home to lots of retail shops, mostly hobby/special interest, but there are a few permanent fixtures on my tour of Pike Place:
Metzger Maps – on 1st Avenue. A fascinating look at mapmaking and navigation pre-Google. Metzger has high-end art quality topographical maps, geographical educational toys, and everything in between.
Paper Hammer – If, on your way out of the market, you head up to 2nd Avenue, you’ll find Paper Hammer, located across from CityTarget, is a bookbinding and printmaking shop that’s quirky and unique.
Left Bank Books and Lamplight Books are fixtures at the market. Lamplight is everything a used bookstore should be, with books piled in corners and on top of shelves in every corner. Lamplight gets points for having a solid selection, without the filler found in most used bookstores.
Thirsty? Check out Mexican Grocery for an authentic Horchata (Mexican cinnamon/almond drink) for under $2. The Mexican Grocery is next door to the Pike Place Starbucks, and I enjoy the experience of cutting through the Starbucks line to greet the ladies of the Mexican grocery. I love being able to support a small business, get a great drink, save money, and be back out in the market before the Starbucks line moved! (Their flour tortillas, at around $2 a pack, are excellent, as is their lunch- a full meal combo of a tamale, rice, beans, and chips comes in around $6.00!)
An End to a Full Day at the Market
PLAY: If you have any energy left, Unexpected Productions runs comedy improv shows in the Market Theater year-round. Tickets sell for as low as $7, but often sell out on summer weekends so you may want to purchase in advance.
REST: After a day at the market, I’m usually too tired to enjoy dinner out. I think one of the best ways to fully enjoy the market is to take some simple groceries back to where you are staying and enjoy drinks, food, and rest with your co-adventurers.
- Bread, cheese, cured meat, and fruit make a light summer dinner that can be prepared in a hotel room without a kitchen and can all be easily picked up on your way out of the market.
- Alternately, if you have a full kitchen in your condo or Airbnb lodging, Salmon fillets with an in-season vegetable and any in-season fruit for dessert makes an easy, market-fresh meal. (Check out my article on Airbnb-kitchen-friendly recipes for more ideas for dining in while traveling)
HINTS ON BUYING FLOWERS AT PIKE PLACE:
There are hundreds of bouquets on display at the market on any given day, but here’s an insider tip: If you plan to buy a bouquet, ask politely if the vendor will make one for you while you wait. I do this for 3 reasons:
1. You are guaranteed the freshest flowers if they make a bouquet while you watch.
2. You’ll get to pick your colors and flowers.
3. The skill of the women who make these bouquets is artistry to watch, and they’ve got some cool tricks up their sleeve you might use next time you try arranging flowers.
Exception: after mid-afternoon, they might refuse to make one on demand unless you offer to pay extra. Due to the perishable nature of flowers, each day they try to come as close to selling out as possible.
FLOWER TIP: The flower vendors have a genius method for packing the stems in water, and you can drop the bouquet into a bag without the worry of it spilling, but DO NOT lay your bouquet down sideways or water will go everywhere!
Pike Place Market After Dark: