First-time Visit to Pike Place Market

Seattle’s Pike Place Market is an iconic staple to the Pacific Northwest, and most people from Washington have visited many times. But what’s it like as a visitor from the East Coast, exploring the market for the first time? Adrian Stouffer, a Pennsylvania native, recently took a family trip to Washington on a whim, and this is one of the many spots she explored along the way.

Traveling to Washington

It was 9:30 a.m. We were touching down in Seattle after a four-hour flight from Philadelphia. My husband, Jason, and younger son, Dane, sat beside me bobbing in and out of consciousness. Across the aisle were my older son, Tyson, and my mother-in-law, Ada staring intently at their in-flight movies. Taxying toward the gate, excitement started to build among us for the adventure ahead.

“So, all we need to do today is get our bags and car, drive two hours south to Mt. Rainier, hike all day and then drive three and a half hours north to Oak Harbor. Piece of cake,” I announced to the family grinning mercilessly at my itinerary. However, things can sound better on paper than they are in reality.

Instead, my husband Jason suggested that we check out some of Seattle and then head north to our hotel aka “Marathon Homebase.” Although it was unlikely we would get to see Mt. Rainier during the rest of our trip, I agreed.

fish stand

Landing in Seattle

Deciding to run a marathon on his 40th birthday, Jason had randomly selected a race in a quaint little town nearly two hours north of Seattle called Coupeville; a town that is literally the entire way across the United States from where we live in Pennsylvania.

Grabbing our bags, we made our way to the rental car and then headed toward the city. Shipping containers and large shipping cranes framed the skyscrapers as we approached the heart of Seattle. Determining where we could best use our limited time, we decided to visit Pike Place Market, a famous farmer’s market open since the early 1900s.

Pike Place

Visiting Pike Place Market

Cruising the Alaskan Way, the main drag paralleling Elliott Bay, our directions notified us that we were a few short turns away from our destination. Seeing a giant Ferris wheel, restaurants and shops galore, we impulsively chose a parking garage in proximity to these attractions. Walking around what we discovered was “Pier 57,” it seemed to be more of a tourist destination. Although it wasn’t of interest to us, the pier did have some attractive art installations, views of the bay, a couple decent restaurants and one fine-looking Ferris wheel known as “The Seattle Great Wheel.”

Feeling lost on how best to get to the market from our current location, we decided to use Google walking directions. Our attempts to ask people seemed vague and indiscernible as our level of ‘hangry’ (especially Jason’s) began to skyrocket. We walked up a large, steep hill. Looking back at my husband, I wondered if it was too much strain on his legs prior to a marathon. (Mt. Rainier certainly would have been too much.) We found Pike Street nearing the top of the hill, but there were no markets in sight. Finally, after passing several restaurants and shops, we happened upon the big and beautiful clock spelling out the words, “Public Market Center.”


Seattle Seafood

There was a frenzy of activity. Beneath the Pike Place Market clock, we saw our first stop – the famous fish slingers at the Pike Place Fish Market, a sustainably-sourced fish stand.

A large group of people were crowded around men adorned in large rubber aprons and boots as they shouted out orders and slung whole fish, crabs, crayfish, really whatever your seafood-loving heart could desire. Jason suggested we have Dungeness crabs shipped back to us because they offer overnight shipping or leak-proof travel packs, but at $50 per pound, we decided to leave it for the next person.


Wandering the Market

Investigating the market further, we encountered a cornucopia of sights, smells and sounds. It was overwhelming as the walkways were packed with people, making it difficult to navigate with two small children.

“Better feed the bear,” I thought to myself as Jason trudged along the cobblestone street murmuring about finding somewhere to eat.

Using our faithful friend, Google, again we were trying to locate the highly rated restaurant, Matt’s in the Market.  It took a while to find as we didn’t realize it was on the second floor of the Corner Market and we had to use an elevator to get there. Looking at the menu more closely, we realized it wasn’t ideal for our five- and eight-year-olds.

fish and chips

Lunch with a View

At this point, I was desperate to get Jason food and the kids were getting restless, so we haphazardly chose another restaurant in the same Corner Market – Pike Place Bar & Grill.

“3.8 rating,” I whispered to my husband apprehensively as we entered the doorway.

“Whatever works at this point,” Jason retorted.

Despite the lackluster décor, the large windows looking down on the heart of the market were open, inviting a gentle breeze throughout the restaurant. We sat at a table near one of the windows. The hanging baskets of colorful annuals looked divine in contrast to the murky, grey skies. Perusing the menu, we thought it was safest to order some fried fish and local beers. The service was attentive yet forgetful – I had to ask several times for my older son’s food that was forgotten. The fish was tasty, the fries were too salty, the beers were refreshing, but most importantly, Jason was fed.

Browsing the Market

Next, we were on the hunt for the unknown (if that makes sense). Luckily, the market traffic had died down somewhat. Turning into one of the corridors, we noticed a dried pasta stand called Papparadelle’s. They offered us samples of their chocolate pasta. I passed as the thought of making chocolate pasta for dessert made me dry heave, but the kids and Jason seemed to like it. I bought a lemon garlic orzo and a trumpet herb campanelle pasta as a souvenir for my mother, a pasta fanatic.

We browsed many seafood, honey, jewelry, produce and prepared food stands. Jason bought cotton candy grapes for the kids, the sweetest local nectarines you could ever taste and a few rambutan, a hairy-shelled fruit that we had only seen before in Costa Rica. The best part of the entire market to me and my mother-in-law, Ada, were the gorgeous bouquets of flowers lining what seemed like endless stands and at a shocking price! A giant bouquet of wonderfully diverse flowers was only $15. The same bouquet would have cost nearly $80 to $100 in Pennsylvania. If we weren’t staying in a hotel for the next couple of nights, I would have bought several bouquets just to enjoy them.


Chocolate in Seattle

Deciding it was time for dessert, we poked our heads into an intriguing little coffee shop across from the main market stands – Joe Chocolate Co. Not being familiar with the west coast way of life, we were surprised to find not only lots of delicious-smelling chocolate and coffee, but beer, wine and some great bites, too. Later, I learned that the business was started as a snack company that supports hikers in an environmentally sustainable way and just recently opened the shop at Pike Place.

Scouring our options on the large board hanging over the barista station, one drink particularly piqued our interest – the chocolate coffee latte. Jason, Ada and I each ordered one, plus a few homemade cookies for the road. Tyson and Dane opted for some dark chocolate-covered frozen bananas. Unfortunately for Dane, they were adorned with cocoa nibs, not sprinkles. The bitterness was not desirable for him. 

On the Road

Sipping the chocolate coffee, we were surprised the by the intense flavors.  I would liken it to drinking a coffee and a really good hot chocolate all in one. Knowing we would be returning to Seattle on our way back to Pennsylvania, we decided to head back to the car. Our next destination was Oak Harbor near Coupeville on Whidbey Island. After drinking the chocolate latte, I feel like we could have run there instead.

Stay tuned as Adrian takes us on the next leg of her journey – visiting Whidbey Island, Oak Harbor and Deception Pass.

Avatar photo

Adrian Stouffer

Have kids. Will travel. Adrian is a writer, mother and marketing consultant who travels often with her family. Native to and currently residing in Pennsylvania, Adrian and her family recently took a trip to Washington state selected by chance circumstances. The articles she writes are about her family's experiences.


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