Travel Scene – Pike Place Market

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A man is singing on a street corner outside a bustling café. He’s strumming a guitar that’s slung over his shoulder, and a harmonica is hanging around his neck. He is also hula-hooping.

This is The Busker King.

This street performer — whose real name is Emery Carl — is one of the many buskers that take to the sidewalks and covered arcades of Seattle’s famous Park Place Market each day. From ukulele-toting hippies to a capella gospel singers, buskers of all shapes and sizes set out their guitar cases and collection tins in this crowded through-fare in attempts to make a living.

They’re not the only ones trying to make a living in the crowded public market, however.

Each day, hundreds of local farmers, fishermen and craftspeople spread out their wares at Pike Place Market as droves of tourists and locals alike meander through to pick up everything from souvenirs to jewelry to fresh produce and seafood for that night’s dinner.

Perhaps one of the most famous markets in the northwest — maybe even in the United States — Pike Place is also one of the nation’s oldest farmer’s markets, having been in operation in its spot next to Seattle’s Elliott Bay since 1907.

It must be doing something right to have lasted for that long.

Pike Place Market

You can hear and smell the market before you can see it.

Even a block away, the scents of catch-of-the-day seafood and fresh-cut flowers mingle with the sounds of customers chatting and artisans promoting their wares. The neon “Pubic Market” sign draws you in, and then it’s difficult to pull yourself away.

Pike Place Market in Seattle

Once inside Pike Place’s arcades, your senses won’t know what to focus on first. The brightly-colored flowers arranged into pretty bouquets? How about freshly-baked donuts with gooey frosting? Hand-made leather jewelry? Gigantic pink, fresh-caught prawns? Colorful displays of peppers? Honey-based lip balm and hand cream? Comic books? Salmon? Artwork? Dream-catchers?

Each thing attacks your senses, making you feel like a kid with ADD in a toy store.

You eventually find yourself in front of the Pike Place Fish Market — a deli-like counter where fresh, gutted fish and seafood is neatly displayed atop shaved ice. The intense smell of the raw seafood might be enough to convince you to keep walking.

But then the employees begin throwing three-foot salmon at each other in a slimy game of catch.

It’s become a tradition at the Pike Place Fish Market — a tradition borne out of sheer laziness that now translates to large crowds gathered around the stand at all times. When someone orders a fish, an employee grabs one from a display and whips it at another employee behind the counter while reciting a little chant.

The crowd is always impressed. (See if you can see the flying fish in the video below.)

If raw fish gets you craving some of the cooked stuff, there are plenty of cafes and restaurants in and around Pike Place Market to satisfy just about any palate, from high-end to low brow. If you’re just in the mood for a snack, grab a panini and a beer, or maybe just a bag of warm mini donuts.

If you’re willing to stand in a line that often stretches down the street, visit the world’s very first Starbucks, right across the street from the Pike Place arcade. Though you can find a Starbucks on nearly every Seattle street corner (no, I’m not really exaggerating much), this one is the real deal.

And, once you’ve made one pass-through of the market, do it again. I guarantee you missed something the first time. Maybe the little Asian woman at one of the flower stands distracted you, and you missed the blown glass jewelry on the other side of the aisle. Perhaps the flying fish made you walk right by “Rachel,” the gigantic bronze piggy bank. Maybe the Native American man weaving a bracelet out of leather strips kept you from noticing Tenzing Momo, the herbal apothecary.

Or maybe you just want to see, hear and smell it all again.

Whatever the motivation, Pike Place Market should definitely make it onto any Seattle itinerary. From the buskers to the seafood to the hand-made crafts, it’s a sensory experience you won’t soon forget.

 

READ NEXT: A First Timer's Guide to Seattle

Have you been to Seattle’s Pike Place Market? If so, what are some of your memories from there?

 

"It's a dangerous business, going out your door. You step onto the road, and, if you don't keep your feet, there's no telling where you might get swept off to." - JRR Tolkien

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27 Comments on “Travel Scene – Pike Place Market

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  1. One of my favorite markets! We did a food tour not to long ago – incredibly delicious! 🙂

      A food tour there would be amazing! I love Pike Place.

    Looks very colorful. Playing a guitar and hooping at the same time must require immense talent!!

      Yes, I’d say it definitely requires a lot of talent! He was very good at it, though.

    I grew up in Washington State so going to Pike’s Place has always been a family tradition. The photos brought back many good memories for me. 🙂

      Pike Place is great. If I didn’t live on the other side of the country, I would go there as much as possible! It’s a great place to take photos, too. I’m glad these ones helped stir up some good memories for you!

    Great pics! This is a fun place, been there many times!

      It is SUCH a fun place! Possibly my favorite thing I did/saw in Seattle.

    Aaaw, this post brings back memories. I used to live a block away from Pike Place as a poor college student and there’s a bakery in the market who sells their unsold pastries and bread for about 50 cents a bag after 6 pm. I lived on those bread for 2 years…

    🙂 One of these days I’ll b back.

      Mmmmm I love fresh-baked bread (and I’ll argue that it’s still “fresh” even after sitting out all day). I hope you do get to return someday!

    Looks like such a fun place to be! Those shrimp look DELISH!!!

      Those shrimp were HUGE, too! Like, seriously, probably the size of my hand! Yum.

    So true about walking through the place twice and seeing new things every time! There are always little nooks and cranny’s that you’ll miss each time and discover something new every time you walk through.

    Love the pictures!

      I could have spend DAYS at Pike Place! It’s the first place I recommend to people going to Seattle now. I mean, the Space Needle is cool and all, but Pike Place is where it’s at!

      Glad you liked the photos!

    *swoon*

    Shaun and I are still debating moving there when we get back from out trip. There is a company that has been courting us and Seattle seems amazing!

      Seattle really does seem like it would be a fun place to live. If you can handle all those cloudy days… But, honestly, I think the trade-off would be worht it!

      It’s a good-sized city, but it doesn’t feel crowded like a lot of major cities do. And there’s so much to do!

        The sun thing is the only thing that I’m concerned about. Going from sunny Austin to cloudy Seattle may kill me.

          Haha, yes, the whole lack of sun thing would definitely take some getting used to! Though, I lived in Wellington, NZ, for 5 months, and they also get a lot of rain (especially in the winter). I survived. And, having so many rainy days just made me appreciate and enjoy the sunny ones that much more!

    I miss the luxury of strolling the length of the market, Starbucks in one hand and a bag of mini-donuts in the other! Since I was a kid those tiny donuts and flying fish have defined Seattle for me and it didn’t change when I moved there to go to UW in 2005 (the husky was also an element of the definition since I was a kid!). Since then I have just discovered more of the amazing things the market has to offer, as well as the neighborhood around. Seattle really is a gem 🙂

      I agree — Seattle is a gem! I could definitely see myself living there for a while someday. I have a feeling I would spend a lot of time down at Pike Place and near the waterfront, too. And in Pioneer Square! I enjoyed that area of the city, too.

    I love pretty much everything in this post. Why have I never been to Seattle?

      Good question, Phil! Clearly you should go there. I’m sure the good people of Seattle could benefit from your camel drawing lessons.

    Pike Place is one of my absolute favorite places in the world – you’re right about the sensory overload, but I love every second of it. I’ve seen Emery Carl most times I’ve been there – love that he wears his percussion section on his shoes! Jonny Hahn is another of the regular buskers, Pike Place’s “piano man,” and is an amazing musician. He has several CDs for sale that are good quality and make great Seattle gifts for about $10 each. Wish I could spend my lunch hour wandering Pike Place today!

      I love the sensory overload, too, weird as that sounds. I only was in Seattle for roughly 2 days, but I was at Pike place 3 times! Wish I could have spent more time there; there was so much to see!

    Everything looks really yummy! Markets are always a great place to go when travelling, because it is 1) full of locals and 2) a true money saving gem.

      It was so fun to just spend a couple hours wandering around Pike Place. I didn’t buy much – just an apple and a glass pendant – but I loved this part of Seattle. In fact, it was probably my favorite part of the city.

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