When someone asks me what they should do on a trip to Seattle, I always tell them to go to Pike Place Market.
Yes, Pike Place is very touristy. It has been very touristy for a very long time, but it’s been home to some of Seattle’s most interesting small shops and restaurants for even longer.
As a kid, I often went to Pike Place with my family on weekends. I’d get three flavored honey sticks for a dollar and nibble down the sweet plastic tubes as I browsed stuffed marine animals and colourful hand-knitted shawls.
Over the years, Pike Place has gotten more and more crowded. Shops and stands have come and gone, while some have remained the same. Some have gotten worse.
A major expansion and renovation was completed in 2018, allowing the market to accommodate an ever-growing number of visitors.
Through all these changes, my love for Pike Place has remained constant. Inside its winding, sloping maze of halls, there’s always an unusual book or a tasty morsel to discover. Plus, its diversity showcases the history of the immigrants – Russian, Chinese, Turkish, Iranian, among many – that made Seattle the vibrant city it is today.
I’m going to take you on a whirlwind journey of the spots that make Pike Place Market one of my favourite places in the Emerald City.
Enter the market at the Pike Street, but don’t go inside.
To your left, there will be a bookstore.
Left Bank Books sells everything from socialist theory to local zines to activist ethnobiology. It’s about as leftist as it gets, which means it’s a perfect cross-section of Seattle’s intellectual culture.
The interior is cosy and charming, with an upper level and a back room.
Even if you don’t agree with the politics of the books sold here, you’ll get a peek into what Seattle’s intelligentsia are reading.
But it’s worth it to pass by and gawk at the local sea critters on ice. If you come at the right time, you can also catch the famous fish toss.
Head down the hallway to the right and you’ll happen upon Sosio’s Produce, which has a rich variety of local vegetables, fruit, and fungi.
Admittedly, I only come to Sosio’s to see if morels are in season — then my family goes to the mountains and picks them ourselves.
But if you’re not a seasoned morel hunter and you’d like a fresh taste of the Pacific Northwest, Sosio’s has you covered.
Aside from flowers and the ever-evolving line-up of honey and soap vendors, there isn’t too much else of interest in the main hall. Instead, head down the ramp to the lower level. You’ll pass a tiny Cantonese restaurant. Skip it.
Across the hallway from the restaurant is Lion Heart Bookstore — my favourite bookstore in all of Seattle. It was closed on the day I visited because the owner, David Ghoddousi, was attending a market council meeting.
This bookstore has been in operation since 1961 and has passed on from caretaker to caretaker. David, who is of Iranian descent, is the fifth caretaker. He welcomes guests with joke and song and personally curates the store’s eclectic collection.
I’ve bought a dual-language book of Arabic poetry here, as well as literary classics by James Joyce and Kurt Vonnegut, among others. David is also often happy to special-order books for customers.
Remember that Cantonese restaurant you skipped earlier? You skipped it because across the street from the main market is Mee Sum Pastry, a Pike Place old-timer that sells some of the best Hong Kong pastries outside of the International District.
Its selection of pastries is a vestige of the earliest iteration of Chinese cuisine in America. Now that Seattle has become popular with mainland Chinese visitors, students, and tech workers, options for authentic Chinese cuisine abound in the area.
My two favourites at this place are the pineapple bun (sold as pineapple bread) and the char siu pork bun. The first is sweet and the second is savoury, so they balance each other out perfectly.
Make your way up the east side of Western Avenue to Beecher’s Homemade Cheese.
Beecher’s cheese is crafted in-store, and you can watch the process through a glass window.
Beecher’s sells all kinds of cheese that you can take home with you, including cheddars and cheese curds.
You can even sample some of their specialties.
But the real draw of Beecher’s is their mac and cheese, which is some of the best mac I’ve ever had. Make sure to get a cup to go, or eat at the counter and watch the cheese in your mac being made.
Next up: my favourite lunch spot in all of Pike Place. Michou Deli is one of the few places left in the city where you can get a filling, delicious lunch for under five bucks.
Seating is limited, though, so be prepared to take your food with you.
Its specialty is sandwiches. You can buy them whole or by the half.
I recommend getting half a sandwich and filling out your meal with a soup, deli salad, or dessert.
Everything at Michou is delicious and affordable, so you can’t go wrong. There are also vegan and vegetarian options.
Finally, end your food tour at Piroshky Piroshky, the famous purveyor of the Russian pastry called — you may have guessed — a piroshky.
Be prepared to brave a long line out the door. But once you get into the tiny shop, you’ll be rewarded with the scent of fresh-baked pastries.
There are sweet and savoury piroshkies as well as other baked goods and pastries.
My personal favourite is the mushroom, onion, and celery piroshky, but the smoked salmon pate piroshky makes great use of a classic Pacific Northwest ingredient. Get out quickly, because the line is long and full of tourists.
Finally, walk to the end of the market and take your haul across the street to Victor Steinbrueck Park, where you’ll be treated to an unparalleled view of the Puget Sound.
Take a seat on the grassy lawn, dig in, and stretch your legs. You’ve earned it.