I finally made it to the city that blessed us with the grunge movement, Frasier, and Starbucks — Seattle!
I was this close to visiting last year, but I chose to visit Portland for donuts. This year, my epicurean travels have brought me to the Emerald City.
The highlight of the trip was definitely visiting Pike Place Market. Any movie or show that is set in Seattle usually pans over this beloved seafood and farmers market. According to the Seattle Times, it's more popular than the Space Needle. And older. Built in 1907, Pike Place now sees around 10 million visitors a year. It is a daily haunt for those seeking the finest flowers, freshest local seafood, meats, condiments, flowers, souvenirs, and hand made crafts.
There are a lot of ways to sneak in the mostly open air market on the ground level. The main entrance is on First Avenue and Pike Street. This is where all the action is happening - there's plenty to see everywhere. My advice to you when you first walk in may be to duck! The fishmongers gleefully shout orders across the stands and fish is tossed in return to be wrapped up, much to the bewilderment of tourists. Watch as they throw salmon or halibut (hailed as "the best catch") literally over your head. You may even see a few dancing with fish. As a witness, I can confidently say these guys love their job. It takes a moment to digest the scene, but fish throwing has become synonymous with the market.
After this incredulous welcome, I spot the endless rows of seafood on freshly shoveled ice. I made a beeline for the Dungeness crabs. Miraculously, through the crowd I managed to score a leg filled with juicy meat from an employee offering samples. It was like a successful baton pass; I couldn't help but chuckle at my arm outstretched and my triumphant reaction. Take advantage of all the delicious offerings! Oh, they encourage you to throw the empty shells on the ground. So naughty.
The seafood options are limitless: prawns, oysters, lobster, clams, squid, smoked fish. If the seafood is overwhelming, the butcher's area is close by. Meat lovers can drool over hand made sausages, prime meats, superior cuts, and smoked meats. More perks: free local hotel delivery and they ship overnight anywhere in the USA.
Moving on through the market, it's hard to miss the flower displays. There are literally thousands of blooming flowers, ready for your custom bouquet. Even better, the prices are far below than what you'd pay at a shop or boutique, as with most things you'll find at the market.
Initially, I thought there were only three levels, but there are actually six, making room for almost 500 shops. You can explore as you wish; whisk through within 20 minutes to get the vibe, or spend hours in the depths of unique finds. The roof offers the best views of the bay, Seattle's Great Wheel, the Space Needle, and evergreen hills in the distance. If it weren't for the fog, Mount Rainer would be visible in the distance.
Back inside, vendors are ubiquitous. Most are focused on food and artisanal condiments (jalapeño seafood glaze, anyone?). Cheese made right before your eyes, bakeries displaying trays of yummy desserts and breads, steamy bowls of clam chowder.... There is something to satisfy anyone here.
There are more arts and crafts as you walk in the direction of Virginia Street, vendors have tables with arts and crafts sprawled about. Dainty jewelry, gemstones, lavender scented stress balls, handmade belt buckles, various souvenirs, painted knick knacks, and natural soaps are the usual fixtures, but the options change daily.
Follow signs towards downstairs and you'll stumble upon off-beat and vintage finds. There are endless halls and staircases, perhaps you'll end up at America's oldest comic shop, Golden Age Collectables. A fair trade goods shop and a magic shop are tucked away down here as well. Even quirkier, a Giant Shoe Museum. For two quarters, you can get a peep show...and see the worlds largest pair of shoes. Why? Because, Seattle.
Back outside, you can wander down Post Alley, which houses the famous "Gum Wall," which is probably one of the most, ahem, unhygienic edifices on earth. Started decades ago, as theatre attendees stuck the occasional piece on the wall before entering a play, now literally a bazillion wads of gum are stuck on the brick wall of the building. Every few months the wall gets steam cleaned, but I swiftly walked by this sticky portion of the alley. Here in the alley, you'll also find ghost tours after dark. There are many graveyards in the vicinity and rumor is Ted Bundy hunted for victims at the market.
If you're not full from all the sampling and tasting, there are plenty of restaurants and cafes within a three block radius. On a Friday afternoon, most places have horrendous wait times so reservations are highly recommended. Luckily, dipping into Steelhead Diner on Pine Street was a delicious saving grace. I can best describe Steelhead as a conglomerate of a diner and upscale eatery. The food and service did not disappoint this critical New Yorker. Being this close to Canada, I was elated they served poutine. Also in my belly that day: fish and chips and chicken spring rolls. This place is famed for its Pacific NW twists on classics, like Dungeness crab and shrimp tater tots. This place is so good, even locals put up with the hoards of daily tourists. If you want more variety, Cafe Campagne on Post Alley is hailed as a great French bistro. It was also on my radar once I spotted vodka-cured salmon rillettes on the menu. There are endless options on these bustling streets.
In this area, there's also a lot of originals. The first Starbucks is located right across from the market entrance. To be clear, this is the second location - the first was located on Western Avenue from 1971 to 1976. The current location still has a vintage exterior and still is a major tourist attraction. Be prepared to wait longer than usual for your latte. Around the corner, is the where the first Sur La Table opened in 1972. This whole area truly can be a culinary wet dream to people like me.
If you need to find a quiet spot to survey the scene, climb up the Pine Street hill and look down upon the madness surrounding the market. This is also a great spot to get a picture of the iconic Public Market sign and clock. Pull your selfie stick out, shamelessly. You won't be the only one, I promise.
My best advice? Come to Seattle on an empty stomach.