It’s hard to leave the Market without a bouquet of gorgeous flowers. Credit: Natasha Dillinger
City dwellers are well-known for avoiding iconic local landmarks. It’s rare for a New Yorker to visit the Empire State Building, for instance. In the case of my family, we have yet to visit the Space Needle. But there’s one “touristy” Seattle spot we can’t stop returning to: Pike Place Market. Founded in 1907 and lovingly preserved over the years, this historic destination is always at the top of our downtown itinerary.
Many of the most famous amusements, such as a photo op with Rachel the Pig or watching the fishmongers toss salmon, are front and center at the market’s Pike Street entrance, but other gems take a bit more wandering to discover. Even repeat visitors might find it a bit overwhelming to weave through the sprawling 9-acre public market, so we’ve rounded up 10 of our family’s favorite stops to make your next visit fun for everyone.
Note: The approximately 500 small businesses that operate at the market generally set their own hours and some even close seasonally (although most are open on weekends), so you’ll want to check that your top picks are open before arriving, and be flexible about your plan.
1. Start with the most important meal of the day.
One of the biggest obstacles to visiting the market is navigating the crowds (especially during cruise season). Starting your day with a market breakfast means you’ll dodge the busiest hours.
While many restaurants offer morning fare, our favorite stop is The Crumpet Shop. We order a house-made chai and watch the team flip fresh crumpets on the griddle through the large interior window before settling in at a sidewalk patio table to eat. (Note that the shop faces a Deja Vu Showgirls strip club location, so if you have inquisitive kids and aren’t ready for that particular sex talk just yet, you might want to take your treats to go.)
2. Find magic at the land DownUnder.
Many of our market trips stay above ground, but a trip to the market’s underbelly (appropriately called DownUnder) is full of fun. Bring quarters to peek through stereoscope-style lenses at the enormous footwear on display at the world-famous Giant Shoe Museum, which is located just outside Old Seattle Paperworks, purveyor of unique vintage posters and advertising art.
Look above the Market Magic Shop for the magician poster with eyes that move, before venturing inside to try out the vintage fortune-telling machines. A polite “please” and genuine interest will win you a trick demonstration from owner Darryl Beckmann, who founded this magic shop in 1973, which makes it the longest-running magic shop in the Pacific Northwest.
If you feel compelled to leave your mark on the famous Gum Wall, make like a kid in a candy store and visit Sweetie’s Candy for your chewable art medium of choice (or just stick to the rainbow of other candy options available).
3. How does your garden grow?
Pike Place Market’s worst-kept secret might be its secret urban garden, which you’ll find by heading past the fish throwers and the Maximilien restaurant’s patio. Feast your eyes but not your fingers — volunteers lovingly tend the garden and donate produce to the Pike Market Senior Center & Food Bank.
While the garden is at its lushest during the summer, even our winter visits are brightened by thriving hearty greens and a scribble on the chalkboard pig. A few benches are scattered about, making this a good spot to pause for an outdoor snack.
4. Admire the views.
The market’s hillside location makes it one of the best places to appreciate views of Puget Sound. My kids have a minor obsession with boats and love watching ferries, container ships and tugboats make their way in and out of the docks.
The easiest viewing spot to access is through the MarketFront Pavilion, which opened in 2017. We bring a picnic lunch from Beecher’s Handmade Cheese — after watching the cheese being made through the shop’s window, of course — to one of the outdoor tables and watch the Great Wheel light up as it turns. The urban garden mentioned above and Victor Steinbrueck Park are also excellent scenic spots.
5. Coffee is life.
A busy day at the market calls for a caffeinated recharge. We like to sneak upstairs to Storyville Coffee for a latte and to tuck ourselves into one of its cozy armchairs with a view (look for the pigs atop the market roof). On a drizzly cold day, we might also stop in at Indi Chocolate for a cup of thick and decadent drinking chocolate.
6. Enjoy abundant walkabout snacks and samples.
Let’s be clear: The real reason we frequent the market so often is for the snacks. My kids could probably lead their own food tours at this point. Whether it’s the fluffy mini doughnuts at Daily Dozen Doughnut Company, a perfectly sized “walkabout” cup of yogurt from Ellenos or a savory pork bun from Mee Sum Pastry, a sampling of handheld delights is the perfect way to keep little legs fueled on a market day.
For a unique option, try the charcuterie cone from DeLaurenti Food & Wine. Filled with cheese, green olives (with pits) and your choice of either speck or salami, these ingenious portable charcuterie boards turn my gourmet kids into bloodhounds — they ask for one whenever we’re nearby. The cones aren’t always advertised, so just ask for one at the deli counter.
Many of the market vendors, but Ellenos, Beecher’s Handmade Cheese and several fruit vendors will still let you savor a taste before buying. (Editor's note: Ellenos is currently closed and schedule to reopen June 1, 2023.)
7. Spice up your life.
When we’re ready to bring the food fest home, we take advantage of the market’s bevy of spice shops. You’ll find South Asian and Middle Eastern spices at The Souk, Latin American favorites at El Mercado Latino , hot sauce and herbs at Herbanfarm, and a pinch of everything at MarketSpice. A sampler of fun spices is one of my favorite gifts for hosts or housewarmings.
8. Support local farmers.
It’s worth remembering that the market’s original purpose was to help connect Seattleites directly to their local farmers. Picking up fresh produce and beautifully arranged flowers from the market stalls saves us money and helps preserve the market’s core mission.
9. Souvenirs aren’t just for tourists.
When it fits our family’s budget, I like to treat my kids with a bit of spending money so they can choose a small item to take home. I keep my fingers crossed for clutter-free consumables, such as bath goodies from The Soap Box, but you’ll also find figurines for your home fairy garden at Tiny Fairy Houses, quirky plush Pastry Pets from MarninSaylor or adorable board books from Kate Endle Illustration & Fine Art (Endle is the wife of Caspar Babypants … I mean Chris Ballew, and has illustrated his album covers).
Our holiday splurge a few years ago was a cozy blanket from Eighth Generation, a store owned by the Snoqualmie Tribe that features gorgeous Indigenous-designed products.
10. Savor the season.
It wouldn’t be a farm-focused destination without celebrating seasonality! The market puts on a variety of signature events and programs throughout the year, and I try to sync up our calendars. Whether it’s the springtime Daffodil Day and Flower Festival (usually timed to coincide with Mother’s Day), the Fall Festival or the holiday Magic in the Market, we love visiting Pike Place Market all year long.
More fun around town...
Editor’s note: This article was originally published in 2022 and updated for 2023.