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An insider's guide to Pike Place Market

On a typical Seattle spring afternoon, the Pike Place Market arcade will likely be packed as tightly as the tulip bunches being sold by the low stall flower vendors. Slip down the ramp at the north end of the arcade, however, and the masses disappear. Many of the Market’s 10 million annual visitors rarely voyage below the freshly cut flowers and flying fish to discover the bazaar below, but do so and you’ll encounter a warren of eclectic shops and artisan galleries. 

Built against a steep hillside, the four floors known as “Down Under” contain Peruvian knitwear, handmade umbrellas and even a “mom and tot” haberdashery. Vintage clothes racks share the hallway with ceramic and Afghani tapestry boutiques, and a folk art studio sits beside a purveyor of miniatures.

Across the tiled floor, The Magic Shop offers “rabbit mirror boxes,” juggling equipment and more coin tricks than can fit in one’s pocket. Tucked-in cafés provide some of Seattle’s best views of Puget Sound. A dozen artists’ galleries also frame The Sound and its denizens, including orca whale pods, the Cascade Mountains and a kaleidoscope of Market scenes.

Back at street level, local musician Jonny Hahn can often be found jamming away on his 64-key spinet piano from his prime location at Pike Place and Pine Street, a testament to his status among the icons of the Market’s thriving busker community. Hahn hasn’t always commanded the loftiest locale in the Market, and he’s quick to note that just because a musician is playing “Down Under” doesn’t mean we hear below level talent.

“People here often miss musicians playing on the lower levels,” Jonny opines in between 12-minute jams. “But anyone who plays in this market has considerable talent.”

Wading through the arcade can take under an hour, but visitors who reserve a morning or afternoon for exploration will truly discover why Pike Place Market remains Seattle’s premier destination for visitors and locals alike.


Written by Crai Bower