One of the most interesting and off-beat things to do in Pioneer Square is to take Bill Speidel's "Underground Tour." We had read about this tour before coming to Seattle and were determined not to miss it while in town. While the tour begins above ground at Doc Maynard's Public House (a restored 1890's saloon) with a very interesting explanation by our guide of Seattle's gritty history, the tour quickly goes subterranean as you are guided through the passages where you will hear tales of Seattle's colorful if somewhat sordid past. This "underground" area is really what was "street level" in the early days of Seattle and a level or so below the current street level of Seattle. I expected to see old buildings and storefronts, if not actual businesses as in "Underground Atlanta." However, if you go expecting the same in Seattle, you will be disappointed.
The tour lasts between an hour and an hour and a half. I would have enjoyed the tour more if our guide would have quickened the pace and joked alot less. Be sure to enjoy a soda or beer in the Underground Tour Cafe before the tour. At the conclusion of the tour, you will also want to browse through the Rogue's Gallery Shop for souvenirs, books and postcards and I admit to buying postcards. However I much preferred the large antique shop next door!
Admission: $10.00 (adults 18-59yrs)
$8.00 Seniors (60+)
$8.00 Students (13-17 or w/ valid College ID)
$5.00 Children (7-12yrs)
Under 7 don't even think about doing this!!
Site of one of the earliest settlements, "Pioneer Square" is said to be Seattle's oldest neighborhood. Although somewhat unkempt, Pioneer Square also seems to be one of the "trendy" parts of the city. It is home to antique shops, bookstores, art galleries, restaurants and entry to the "Underground", a very old part of early Seattle which will be covered in a separate tip. On the first Thursday of every month, the "Art Walk" takes place when art galleries open their doors to the maddening crowd for browsing and shopping.
Pioneer Square is also recognised for having other notable landmarks---the oldest restaurant in the city, the observation deck of the architecturally notable Smith Tower (which once was the tallest building west of the Mississippi), and the Klondike National Gold Rush Museum. You could easily spend a whole day exploring the neighborhood, having dinner at one of the many trendy restaurants, shopping, then enjoying one of the jazz clubs at night. Safeco Field, where the Seattle Mariner's major league baseball team calls home, is also a short distance from Pioneer Square.
It's on the southern end of the city center and has an old town quaintness. Lots of art galleries here and there in the area. A nice coffee shop, Cafe Umbria, is on Occidental. Take the Underground Tour where you will learn some history about Seattle. Or, go up to the observation deck at the Smith Tower.
Yesler Way will take you right to pier 50 and 52 where the ferries to Bremerton and Bainbridge Island depart. It's easy to catch a bus on 1st or 3rd that will take you to Pike Place Marketplace and Westlake Center, respectively.
There are a lot of homeless people in the area. No one ever bothered us. The train station is located here as well. Makes for easy access from SeaTac. And, an easy walk to Qwest Field.
One of the places everyone recommends is Pioneer Square. It's free unless you buy something in one of the shops or take the underground tour.
Pioneer Square, Seattle's oldest neighborhood, is now a historic district. This was the home of the original "Skid Road," a term born when timber was slid down Yesler Way to a steam-powered mill on the waterfront.
There's twenty city blocks of historic buildings, over thirty galleries, a retail sector (expensive antiques to handmade toys, but especially books), most of the web development companies and it is the center of Seattle’s nightlife. Smith Tower, which overlooks the square, was the tallest building west of the Mississippi when it was completed in 1914.
Klondike Gold Rush National Historic Park is a small museum recalling the crazed days a century ago when rough-and-ready gold-seekers converged on Pioneer Square on their way to the Yukon.
I strolled through the square and peeked into some of the shops on the way to taking the trolley along the waterfront but I didn't take the underground tour or buy anything.
This turned out to be my favourite attraction in Seattle. Not only is the tour funny, but I don't think I would have been able to completely grasp the concept of how Seattle was rebuilt after the great fire of 1889 had I not been on this tour. The 90-minute guided walk starts at Doc Maynard's Saloon, located inside Pioneer Building. Completed in 1892, Pioneer Building was once described as the "finest building west of Chicago". However, along with all the other buildings located in the Pioneer Square area, it was abandoned and left to fall into a state of disrepair in the 1960s when businesses began moving north to what is now considered downtown Seattle, and plans were eventually made to tear it down. Citizens like Bill Speidel fought to preserve the spirit of Pioneer Square and eventually succeeded in getting the area listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
The Underground Tour is based on Bill Speidel's book "Sons of the Profits". Speidel was a journalist and self-made historian who believed history should not be limited to boring facts and dates, but should rather include a hefty dose of anecdotes and humour - and this is exactly how the Underground Tour proceeds to relate the story of Seattle before and after the great fire. The actual underground portion of the tour takes us in the tunnels that were created when the city level was raised in an effort to eliminate flood and sewage problems that occurred at high tide, and where the buildings' old store fronts that were buried in the regrade can still be seen. Our guide was hilarious but she also knew her stuff - this is one history lesson I'm not about to forget!
Tickets for the Underground Tour cost $15. Tours are offered several times a day except on Christmas Day and Thanksgiving Day - check the Website to see the complete schedule.
I actually learned more about the Klondike Gold Rush days by going on the Underground Tour than by visiting this museum, but since it's open to visitors free of charge, stopping by the Klondike Gold Rush International Historical Park still makes for an interesting rainy day activity. In 1897, when news reached the US that gold had been found in the Yukon's Klondike River, the city of Seattle soon saw an opportunity to make a profit. Promoting itself as the "gateway to the North", Seattle became the US's main transportation and outfitting center for those hoping to strike gold. In the end, more people became rich by starting up a business in Seattle than by panning for gold in the Yukon.
The Klondike Gold Rush International Historical Park in Seattle is one of the four museums that together make up this International Historical Park (the others are located in the Yukon and Alaska). It's located in Pioneer Square's old Cadillac Hotel, which was one of the several places in town where you could obtain affordable lodging and buy all the goods you needed to make the journey up north. As we walked in we were greeted by the park rangers and received a little "passport", which we could stamp as we made our way from one station to the next, which represented the different steps people had to take when they went looking for gold. As you look at the different exhibits featuring old pictures, newspapers, clothes, equipment and so on, you also get to follow the story of people who actually completed the journey from Seattle to the Klondike River. Towards the end of the visit, visitors can spin a wheel on which your chances of striking gold are equivalent to the odds during the Gold Rush. Needless to say, it seems like both Sylvain and I would have returned home penniless!
With downtown Seattle's skyscrapers looming in the background, it's hard to believe that for nearly half a century, the 42-story Smith Tower was the tallest building on the West Coast. In fact, when it was completed in 1914, it was described as the world's tallest building outside of New York City, and was considered a symbol that the West no longer was the "Wild West". Located in the Pioneer Square area, Smith Tower was commissioned by Lyman Cornelius Smith and built at a cost of about $1.5 million. Smith's line of business was the production of typewriters and having heard of the publicity generated by the construction of the Singer Building in New York City, he believed - rightfully so - that a skyscraper would constitute one of the best forms of advertisement possible. Until the Space Needle was completed in 1962, the 522-foot-tall, white terra cotta tower remained the tallest building on the West Coast. Today, it's still possible to ride one of the original elevators (the last manually-operated elevators in the West) to the Chinese Room observatory deck located on the 35th floor ($7.50 per adults, $6.50 if you show them your Underground Tour bracelet). In our case, since the weather wasn't good enough, we were happy just to take a quick look around the tower's onyx and marble lobby to see the beautiful line of gleaming brass elevators.
This is the old heart of Seattle, the former downtown core that became the "original" Skid Row and, as with old towns in many cities (such as Sacramento, California and Portland, Oregon), for many years a run-down, seedy slum. Although there are still remnants of it's low points and nearby areas are still questionable, this area has picked up lot (again as with many such old downtown areas such as Sacramento and Portland) due to the character, charm, and history. It is one of the key places to visit and contains most of the oldest buildings in town, plus many places to eat and drink.
Strictly speaking, Pioneer Square is just the square at the intersection of 1st Ave & Yesler Way, where the street grid shifts slightly. However, the name has also come to mean the whole old town area.
Because Seattle is a younger city than, say, Portland or Sacramento, and because just about the whole thing burnt to the ground in 1889, the oldest buildings date generally from the 1880s and 1890s.
Uproar from from the good citizens of Seattle saved this historic district of late 19th-century buildings from becoming a parking lot. This area was the original heart of the city - which burned to the ground in 1889 and may explain why it was largely rebuilt in stone. Many of these structures later lost their ground floors when streets were elevated a full story to eliminate some stinky drainage issues - you can explore this spooky, subterranean world with an Underground Tour (www.undergroundtour.com). When business and industry moved farther north in the 1920's, the area was abandoned and left to become a seedy, decaying skid row until the 1960's and that narrowly missed encounter with a bulldozer. Whew.
Today's Pioneer Square has been restored to its former splendor and centers around Occidental Park - a plaza with a few interesting sculptures. Surrounding blocks of shops, cafes, restaurants and galleries make it a fun place to browse on a sunny day. Here is a great link with a self-guided walking tour of some of the artwork that can be found in the plaza, on the street and inside some of the public spaces:
Pioneer Square is Seattle's tourist hub but it is also it's most historical neighborhood and before urban sprawl pretty much was the city. Though it dates back to the mid-1800s, it burned to the ground by the end of the century only to be rebuilt and lovingly restored as Seattle became more of a destination in its own right. Featuring architecture from the Second Renaissance-Revival, Beaux-Arts Classical, and Richardsonian-Romanesque periods, it showcases one of the most diverse and large conglomerations of varying styles found anywhere in the US. Expect lots of red brick, trees, and flowers in this very charming area.
The main square is a lush little park with an ivy-clad wall and numerous statues including a totem pole and great tribute to the city's firefighters.
There are two things that people could mean when they say "Pioneer Square" in Seattle. It could mean Pioneer Square as in the vibrant neighborhood that has developed around the square, or it could mean Pioneer Square Park, as in the square itself in downtown old Seattle.
Pioneer Square is an open, paved gathering place for Seattle residents to get socialize and relax together, and you will find quite an assortment of characters here.
You will also find a number of monuments to Seattle's past here. These include representations of Native American culture (the Tlingit totem pole from Alaska arrived here in 1889, and became Seattle's first land mark), as well as a monument to fallen firefighters.
You will find a number of restaurants and bars nearby, and you will be asked for money at least three times while passing through the square. It is one of the things people who come to the square do.
People congregate around the tables and there are a number of chairs and some benches, but other than the monuments there really isn't that much of interest here in the square itself.
However, there is a very active and artistic neighborhood surrounding the square itself, and this neighborhood is also known as "Pioneer Square". These places you will find far more interesting than a visit to the square itself.
This is considered the heart of the old town. Built on the ruins of the earlier city, there is an underground city here. This is where the tour start. I like the shady plaza, it's not square, so I refrain from calling it a square. Traffic along one side is constant, but there are benches where I sat and watched the people go buy. It's a busy area, but the plaza is actually quiet. A group returned from their underground tour and seemed happy and animated.
My group were in shopping at the variety of shops along the east side. They reminded me of the 'hippie' stores and 'head' shops from the 1960's.
Occidental Park was created in 1971 during one of the major redevelopment and rejuvenation periods of Pioneer Square. A major portion of the park is the Occidental Avenue right of way, which is now a two-block pedestrian mall, and the park itself is a half city block paved with red brick.
The park contains a Firefighters Memorial, historic Totem poles, and fountains. Events in Occidental Park include the Outdoor Movies in the Park in the summer.
The park's official website claims this "busy square overflows with business people, pigeons, tourists, shoppers, and wanderers." During our visit in the middle of the summer on a weekday afternoon, the area was virtually deserted except for a handful of drifters/homeless who seemed to mind their own business.
Pioneer Square is known as Seattle's oldest neighborhood, and was initially settled in 1852. Many of the area's buildings were constructed in the 1890s after the Great fire of 1889, and was partially funded by the Yukon Gold Rush. The Pioneer Square area has numerous historic sites and attractions. Pioneer Square Park is at the heart of the neighborhood. it features a totem pole from 1890 and is surrounded by Victorian architecture. Two historic glass Pergolas dating from 1905 were built to shelter passengers awaiting trains. Occidental Park boats totem poles, the Fallen Firefighter’s Memorial, and the brick-lined Occidental Pedestrian Walk between S. Main and Jackson Streets. Smith Tower, built in 1914, was the tallest building in the world outside of Manhattan when it was completed.
After decades of revitalization, Pioneer Square is one of the busiest neighborhoods in the city. It is packed full of nightlife, restaurants, coffee shops, art galleries and more. We only walked through the neighborhood twice during our three days in the city, but we enjoyed it ambiance, as we visited Occidental Park, Pioneer Square Park, a few bars, and some of the historic sites.
After having read some great reviews for this tour, this was the first tourist attraction that I visited when I got to Seattle. This tour takes you to Seattle's birthplace, and the guides are very informative on the history of Seattle. However, don't expect to be able to see much. When you are taken underground, it does look as if you've gone into a typical basement and as the guide said to us "You must use your imagination to picture how things were in those days".
No reservations, tickets available at the ticket office on a first-come-first-served basis. Admission fee $11 adults, $9 60yrs+ and students, $5 12yrs and under (cash only, March 2006 prices).