If you want to learn about Seattle’s history, find some of the best shopping, art galleries, bars and restaurants in town head to Pioneer Square. Located between the Alaskan Way Viaduct and 2nd Avenue, in the heart of downtown, Pioneer Square is where Seattle was founded and is a historical district featuring the country’s largest concentration of Victorian Romanesque buildings.
The first Caucasian settlers to arrive in Seattle landed at Alki Point but after one year in the bug infested area the settlers decided to head for higher ground and went directly across Elliot Bay and began building in what is now Pioneer Square. The biggest industry at that time in the Pacific Northwest was logging and it wasn’t long before Seattle had its first saw mill. Yesler Way, where logs were dragged, or skidded, to the wharf is considered the nation’s first Skid Road. The expression only became negative during the depression when out of work men camped there.
The best why to appreciate Seattle’s Pioneer Square and the history it contains is taking Bill Speidel’s Underground Tour. While not entirely underground the tour explains that much of Seattle’s history was buried when the city was rebuilt after the fire of 1889. At that time it was decided to raise the street levels as much as 14 feet, effectively burying the first floor of most buildings. Ladders were used to cross the street; one ladder up and one ladder down. The Underground Tour is not only historical but the guides enjoy dishing the dirt on Seattle’s founding fathers and mothers and are prone to really bad jokes and puns at their expense.
And like everywhere in Seattle, when it’s time for a break, there is a coffee shop on every corner. In Pioneer Square the choices range from Starbucks, Tully’s to several independents like Café Umbria, an Italian bar with espresso, pastries, gelato, and Italian beers and wines.
Next discover some of the over 30 art galleries located throughout the square. Pick up a booklet at any of the galleries that includes a map and gallery descriptions. Davidson Galleries features contemporary prints and drawings. Northwest Gallery of Woodwork has all things made of wood: beautiful inlay tables, turned bowls and sculpture from wood are just a few of the features of this gallery. If you want to see and appreciate Seattle glass art, stop into the Glasshouse Studio. A working art studio where you may get to see an artist or two creating glass pieces and there are beautiful glass works on display and for sale. The first Thursday of each month gallery owners open their doors for Art Walk–a Seattle wide event but one of the most popular things to do in Pioneer Square.
Afterwards enjoy lunch at one of the numerous restaurants in Pioneer Square ranging from small family owned cafes to full service dining. Seattle is big on ethnic food and Pioneer Square restaurants include Thai, Italian, Indian, Greek, good old American hamburgers and ribs, and more. For a quick lunch try Soup Daddy Soups, serving salads and sandwiches along with their famous soups. Or try Grand Central Bakery which makes sandwiches with their fresh baked bread.
Shopping is another good reason to visit Pioneer Square; the Antique Mall has 60 dealers with every kind of collectible imaginable. Whether you collect furniture or jewelry there is a chance to find the piece you’ve been looking for. And there are over 200 other shops carrying everything from clothing to gifts, food and more.
If you have kids or are a kid at heart you must visit Magic Mouse Toys. There are toys of every description as well as educational products for kids. For gifts you can’t beat Fireworks Fine Craft Gallery and Elliot Bay Book Company is a book lovers dream with 150,000 titles of new and used books. For the courageous man in your life, drop into Utilikilts and see what he’s been hiding by wearing jeans all these years.
A visit to Seattle isn’t complete without trying one of the many local microbrews. FX McRory, a sports bar just a short walk from both Qwest and Safeco fields, features 30 beers on tap as well as Washington wines, and a huge selection of bourbons.
For dinner Café Paloma features Mediterranean food, including a menu of small dishes called meze with such delicacies as smoked salmon, hummus and dolmas. Al Boccalino features Southern Italian in an upscale and romantic atmosphere
If you want to stay out after dark, head to Cowgirls Inc. – a roadhouse with an all female staff, Club Zasu – a dance bar, Doc Maynard’s for live bands, or The Heavens Underground – a Top 40 disco with DJs providing the tunes.
When it’s time to move on, take a free downtown city bus or the Waterfront Streetcar that passes through Pioneer Square in summer; from the International District, past Pike’s Place Market and to Myrtle Edward’s Park.
There is a lot to do in see in Seattle but to truly appreciate the city’s history visit Pioneer Square. It is where Seattle began and a lively and entertaining place to be.
What & Where:
Underground Tour (608 First Avenue; 206-682-4646)
Davidson Galleries (313 Occidental Ave; 206-624-6700)
Glass House Studio (311 Occidental Ave; 206-682-9939)
Pioneer Square Antique Mall (602 First Ave; 206-624-1164)
Caffe Umbria (320 Occidental Ave; 206-624-5847)
Elliot Bay Book Company (101 S. Main Street; 206-624-6600)
Utilikilts (601 First Ave; 866-666-6985)
Magic Mouse Toys (603 First Ave; 206-682-8097)
Fireworks Fine Craft Gallery (210 First Ave; 206-682-8707)
Soup Daddy’s Soup (106 Occidental Ave South; 206-682-7202)
Grand Central Bakery (214 First Ave South; 206-622-3644)
Café Paloma (934 Yesler Way; 206-405-1920)
Al Boccalino (1 Yesler Way; 206-622-7688)
Cowgirls Inc (421 First Ave; 206-340-0777)
FX McRory (419 Occidental Ave South; 206-623-4800)
Doc Maynard’s (610 First Ave, 206-682-3705)
Club Zasu (608 First Avenue; 682-4646)
The Heavens Underground (17 S. Washington; 206-622-1863)