Pike Place market bench

It’s no easier to imagine Seattle without the Pike Place Market than without the Space Needle, but in 1963 private interests came close to demolishing the 56-year-old structure to build in its place a complex of office buildings, apartments, and a hockey arena.

They were prevented by the intervention of a group of public-spirited citizens who succeeded in having the Market designated an historic preservation zone and returning it to public ownership.

A restoration of the Market’s historic buildings in succeeding years honors the original 1907 blueprints and building materials, and the Market is now 105 years old.

Late in the morning of this August Sunday it feels to me like tourists outnumber locals among the shoppers and browsers. The crowd is packed to just this side of discomfort.

No red meat here!

The waterfront is tightly woven into the character of this place.

Waterfront dining

Through windows behind the stalls and restaurants on the Puget Sound side of the market, giant wharf cranes tower above ocean-going freighters and ferries churn up wakes.

Flying fish

Just inside the market I see a continuously restaged performance of fish-tossing at the Pike Place Fish Company.    A hefty whole fish flies through the air for twenty feet with neither pitcher nor catcher losing a grip on the slippery missile.  I’m sure there was a time when fish was routinely off-loaded from boats in this fashion, but these days it seems mostly a tourist spectacle. (Photo below; just in front of the green banner at 1 o’clock!)

Eat it here!

It’s a particularly colorful market.

Incomparable cut flowers

Neon signs of classic design point the way to stalls and restaurants, and brightly colored produce and flowers seem also to be painted from an electric palette.

There’s great neon everywhere

This market, though, is as much about artisan crafts and artisan foods as about fresh fish and produce.

Artisan pastas

There are foods to tempt any gourmet.

Hand-crafted wooden cutting boards

There are arts and crafts in just about every imaginable medium.  Some of the works are artful twists on useful items. Others are a bit more fanciful.  Most of them can bring a smile to any face.

Cigar-box guitars

Totem pole just outside the market


I pop out into the outdoors near the tallest totem pole I’ve ever seen, thinking I’ve run out of market before I realize that there’s plenty also happening in specialty shops and restaurants on the opposite side of the street.

I’m reeled in by a shop specializing in flavor-infused oils and linger long enough for a tasting of truffle oil.  It’s decadently delicious.

Native American street musician

No public gathering is complete without live entertainment, and street musicians here run the gamut.

Street musician across from the Market

My favorite, though, is a very entertaining guy who plays the guitar behind his back while also playing a harmonica and twirling a hoola-hoop!

It must be time for a latté because this is, after all, Seattle, and there are more espresso machines within a couple of blocks than stop signs.

The next morning I fly out of Sea-Tac still flush with the memory of 10 fantastic summer days in the Pacific Northwest and I promise myself that this won’t be the last visit.

Read the other two posts from this trip to the Pacific Northwest:

Portland’s Alberta Street

Magnificent Mount Rainier