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5 Tips for Doing Pike Place Market With Kids, From an Insider

A fishmonger's wife shares where to go, what to taste, best secret picnic stop and more

Photo credit: Jennifer Kakutani
Photo credit: Sarah Miller

Originally published by Rain or Shine Guides

Doesn’t dragging your children through hordes of tourists at Pike Place Market sound like fun? If you’re like me, you’ll either lose a kid or lose your cool. The number of visitors to our historic landmark is increasing each year, which is great for the Market, but hard on locals.

To help, here's a mini Pike Place Market tour for you and your minis, one that I've come up with in my many trips to the market (my husband is a Pike Place Market fishmonger). This itinerary doesn’t cover much ground and doesn’t cost much money (most recommended stops are free!). It is big on food (pickles, cured meat, yogurt, fruit and veggies). We even highlight spots for some quiet time for those after-toddler-tantrum moments or a breastfeeding break. I include bathroom options so you can avoid the ancient public restrooms.

General Pike Place Market tips with kids

Getting there. Let’s be real. Taking the bus is the best bet, since parking at the market is expensive and far away. However, if you can rally your troops to arrive before 11 a.m. on a weekday you might get lucky and find a parking spot on Pike Place. If you arrive this early in the day you’ll also have most of the market vendors to yourself and you’ll be there when the shops open. On Sundays, street parking is free all day.

What to bring. Coins for Rachel, five one-dollar bills per kid to spend on fruits and veggies, wipes for cleaning up afterwards.

What to wear — dress up! If your children like attention, have them wear a favorite costume. On the day my daughter wore her princess dress, she was addressed as such and felt like royalty for a day.

The author and her kids riding Rachel at Pike Place.

1. Ride Rachel

Start with a requisite ride on the market mascot, Rachel the Pig, in the heart of the market at the corner of Pike Street and Pike Place directly under the neon Public Market Center sign and “the clock.” Have your kids jump on her back for a photo, then drop some coins into her change slot. She’s a life-size piggy bank modeled after a real pig! Can you find her hoof print? Know that your donation to the Pike Place Market Foundation supports a food bank, a preschool and a senior center, as well as a medical clinic in the market.

The author's son with his dad at the market. 

2. Pike Place Fish and more

We all know the orange-clad fish-throwing guys at Pike Place Fish Market are loud and fun, but they’re also full of tricks for kids. The large crowd around our world-famous fishmongers (yes, one of them is my husband) might be intimidating but you can usually find space to get up close and personal. First of all, find the monkfish. Have you seen the grotesque gargoyle hanging from the salmon bench? That’s the monkfish! Ask one of the guys to “coach your kids on how to pull the monkfish chord.” When done right, it jiggles and lurches towards screaming onlookers.

Next, hang out by the corner counter where the fishmongers toss and catch fish. You can comfortably stand next to the display case; just be sure to leave room for the guys to walk through and — duck if you hear them yell “Back Jack” or “TT” (test toss).

For the full market-to-plate experience, have your child pick out a crab, then watch it get cracked and cleaned. It’s ready for immediate consumption at the Pike Place Market Urban Garden (see Tip #3). If you forgot the wipes, ask the fishmongers to throw in a few wet paper towels. Before you leave the fish guys, be sure to grab a sample of the smoked salmon; the salmon jerky is easy to eat on the go. At home, try our favorite kid-friendly meal for dinner: smoked-salmon fried rice with peas, carrots, egg and soy sauce.

Dried apples from Simply the Best. Photo credit: Sarah Miller

If your kids aren’t big fans of seafood, try a little sausage landjäger from Don and Joe’s Meat. It's the perfect treat for little hands (you can ask to have it sliced lengthwise for kiddos under 4 years). Before you move on, try an apple chip sample from Simply the Best Dried Fruit stand. Most of their products are additive- and sugar-free.

Directly behind you is the Sunny Honey Co. The kids can purchase a honey stick on their own and many of their sweet products cost under six bucks. Everything is handmade in Bellingham from local busy bees.

Honey sticks. Photo credit: Sarah Miller

3. Pike Place Market Urban Garden and Crêpe de France

A hidden rooftop garden, Pike Place Market Urban Garden, is our favorite hidden treasure at the market, a gorgeous place to have a snack and enjoy the view. Find it by heading just to the left of Pike Place Fish towards Maximilien restaurant. Follow the hallway through gray double doors. A pig will also greet you at the entrance of this fruit-and-veggie wonderland. Look for another porcine sculpture; but on this one your children can leave their John Hancock in chalk. In 2015, this beautifully designed garden produced over 455 lbs. of food that was donated to the Pike Place Market Food Bank and Senior Center.

Pike Place Urban Garden. Photo credit: Sarah Miller

If the weather is too cold and rainy to hang out at the garden, pop into nearby Crêpe de France for delicious food.

4. Thomas the Clown, Frank’s Produce, Ellenos Yogurt, Britt’s Pickles and Beecher’s Cheese.

Near Rachel the Pig, be sure to watch the balloon-twisting magic of Thomas the clown, also known as Twister Thomas and the Balloon Man; he's usually seated near Rachel. He’s a permanent fixture within the market who was once asked to design an ensemble for a local fashion show. More amazingly, he may be the only balloon clown left who blows the balloons up with his mouth. The kids can use their one-dollar bills to choose a creation. And they can also guess how many balloons it took to make his hat.

Local Color cafe. Photo credit: Sarah Miller

At this point you might be ready to cross the street to the fresh fruit stands. There are always samples at Frank’s Produce and the kids can use the remainder of their money to buy something they’ve never tried before. Tucked-in, and down the hall behind the nearby market is Ellenos Greek Yogurt, which offers yummy, creamy samples to tempt your littles’ palates. Down the hall a little more is Britt’s Pickles, which sells pickles on a stick, a classic old-fashioned treat. On the next block, Beecher’s Handmade Cheese usually offers samples and a viewing window for kids to watch cheese making. 

5. Take a break at Local Color Café or Lowell’s Restaurant

If you need a rest, a potty stop or a breastfeeding break, visit the back of Local Color Café, near Beecher's. Here you will find couches surrounded by art and a quiet space for some downtime. Across the street, Lowell’s Restaurant offers three floors of waterfront views (one of which has a restroom) and a Northwest menu from breakfast through dinner. 

Before you leave, check out the lower levels of the market for a magic shop, a chocolatier, a comics store, a pinball machine, photo booths, fortunetellers and collectible rocks. Savor the memories of your day by picking up a copy of Sara Anderson’s colorful children’s book called A Day At The Market.

Jennifer Kakutani lives with her husband and three children on Bainbridge Island, Wash. She is writing a memoir on mothering, as well as articles for Parentmap.com and is married to a fishmonger named Taho. This article was originally published on Rain or Shine Guides. 

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