To tell you the truth, I didn’t want to go to Seattle’s Pike Place Market; I pictured a big tourist trap with all the original history drained from it, like Fisherman’s Wharf in my hometown of San Francisco, which I avoid at all costs — unless I’m showing around first-timers or want to catch the ferry to Alcatraz.
But surprise – Pike Place isn’t the same schlocky scene at all. Yes, there are gaggles of tourists shrieking at the sight of enormous fish flying through the air. (A famous type of performance art developed by the fishmongers.)
But locals do their weekly shopping here too, thanks to a wealth of stalls showcasing local produce, baked goods, seafood straight off the boat, and specialty products like honey, dried fruit and nuts, and organic herbal lotions. And there are some offerings here you’re not likely to find anywhere else. Here, a few of my favorites:
1. Fresh ferns. The rolled-up tips of fiddlehead ferns seemed to me quite the specialty item, but Seattle-ites were snatching them up by the handful. Several booths also had locally foraged wild mushrooms, and truffles were a hot item.
2. Doughnuts. We walked right by this unspectacular-looking stall twice before stopping to inquire what everyone was waiting for – the line snaked all the way through the main hall, doubling back on itself. Turned out it was simple, old-fashioned doughnuts, deep fried fresh before our eyes. Convinced by Daily Dozen aficionados that they were worth the wait, we picked up a dozen and could easily see what the fuss was about. But I had to wonder what our arteries looked like after eating a couple of the oil-soaked puffballs.
3. Flowers fit for a wedding. There are almost more stalls selling flowers than there are selling vegetables, and they’re clearly in competition with each other for most spectacular arrangements. I don’t know what type of fertilizer they’re using on these Washington and British Columbia flower farms, but the colors are Disney-esque.
4. Honey and bee products. Five different apiaries sell at Pike Place, and I’d be hard-pressed to recommend one over the others. But Snoqualmie Valley honey farm had flavored creme honeys that had my daughter sneaking back for tastes over and over. And Moon Valley’s bee balm-based healing ointments and massage lotions were so popular that I listened as local customers requested to sign up for email alerts to be notified when certain items would be in stock.
5. The musicians. Busking is big business at Pike’s Place, clearly, and some of the folks there go all out as if they’re auditioning for the National Symphony – or perhaps a walk-on in Gray’s Anatomy. One violin player set up deep down in the tunnel-like lower reaches of the market had seven to ten video cameras trained on him at any given time.
Best place to stay for easy access to Pike Place Market? The upscale boutique Hotel Monaco, with much more personality than you’d expect in this über-convenient downtown location.