Pioneer Square, Seattle

3.5 out of 5 stars 60 Reviews

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    Pioneer Square: Heart of Seattle's Past

    by starship Updated Jul 22, 2013

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    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.

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    Scandals and Corruption: The Underground Tour

    by starship Updated Jul 22, 2013

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    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!

    (2004 prices)
    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!!

    Underground Tour

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    Dawdle in Pioneer Square

    by goodfish Updated Mar 30, 2010

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    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:

    http://www.seattle.gov/arts/_downloads/walking_tours/PioneerSquare.pdf

    Fun stuff in Pioneer Square Lots of flowers in summer Totems, Occidental Park Posh frock, Pioneer Square
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    Pioneer Square

    by richiecdisc Written Nov 9, 2009

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    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.

    Pioneer Square firefighters memorial
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    Pioneer Square

    by jamiesno Updated May 14, 2005

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    "Where Seattle Begins!" This is the catchy slogan some marketing firm decided to put on Pioneer Square. Technically that is not true today it might be better put "Where Seattle Began!"

    When you read a bit of Seattle history you will discover this area is where many of the original Seattleites started to settle in the beginning.

    Through good advocacy the district has been preserved in a lot of ways. You will notice the architecture is much older than the modern sky scrapers with historic murals still in tact.

    In the buildings you will find a very vibrant downtown area filled with art galleries, nightclubs and a variety of restaurants. It's a great downtown area.

    A couple of unique monuments in the area include the Klondike Museum, Fireman's Monument and Waterfalls Park. It's the type of area if I get to return I would like to eat, hang out, explore around some more and just enjoy the beat of the city.

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    Underground Tour

    by Brehone Written Jun 4, 2004

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    Seattle has some really amazing history. The original roadways are now underneath the existing city. The tour is very informative and allows you to glimpse Seattle before it became the city you see today.

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    Elliott Bay Book Company

    by Brehone Written Jun 4, 2004

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    For all book lovers this is a must stop while visiting Seattle. Not only is the shop in a wonderful old rickety building but it's also in one of the most historical areas in all of Seattle~Pioneer Square. The store has both used and old books and in the lower section a cafe. Come, browse, read, and enjoy!

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    Bill Speidel's Undergroud Tour

    by Jefie Updated Dec 2, 2010

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    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.

    On the Seattle Underground Tour Main entrance to Pioneer Building Inside Doc Maynard's Saloon An old underground water-closet
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    First Thursday Gallery Walk in Pioneer Square

    by goshawk301 Written Jan 15, 2004

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    If you are in Seattle on the first Thursday of the month, head for the Pioneer Square area in the early evening. Many art galleries open a new show on that day and have extended hours (until 8 p.m. or later). Some of them serve wine and cheese, free! Everyone is welcome and you will meet a lot of art lovers exploring one gallery after another. It's a really fun, relaxed art scene.

    The center of action is the pedestrian stretch of Occidental Avenue between Main and Jackson, two blocks south of Pioneer Square. Some of my favorite galleries are Gallery 110 (110 S. Washington; emerging Northwest artists), Bryan Ohno (155 S. Main; often emphasis on Japanese and Japanese-American Artists), Davidson (313 Occidental S.; a fine print gallery), and Carolyn Staley (314 Occidental S.; vintage Japanese prints).

    You can see works by legendary Northwest artists like Morris Graves, Kenneth Callahan and Dale Chihuly in Foster-White (123 S. Jackson) and Kurt Lidtke (408 Occidental S.); native American artists in Stonington (113 S. Jackson); and contemporary woodworkers in Fine N.W. Woodworking (First and Jackson).

    In the nearby Occidental Park is an artists bazaar. You will see a lot of fun, wacky, sometimes mind-boggling creations spread out on a table or on a ground by their makers, and sometimes street performance and theater. It's a real Bohemian, fun bazaar.

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    Shopping, eating and night life at Pioneer Square

    by RickinDutch Updated Aug 5, 2006

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    Pioneer Square isn't really a square but a ninety acre historical district between the current downtown to the north and the sport stadiums and International District to the south. It is the site of the original town site (if you don't count the original failed site out at Alki) and chocker block full of great art galleries, antique stores, book stores, coffee shops, restaurants, and night clubs.

    It is fun to walk around during the day and poke into all the shops and check out all the red brick Victorian architecture. There's a Park Service Museum, an observation tower and an historic street car. But it is at night that the area really comes alive. Most of the bars and clubs have live music and one cover charge gets you in to most of them each night. There is a lively crowd every night and the places get packed Friday and Saturday nights.

    The first Thursday of each month has Art in the Park at noon and The Gallery Walk starting at 6PM. And every Tuesday during the summer is a great concert at lunch time in Occidental Park.

    A big issue in the area is the number of homeless and mentally challenged folks that live here. It is near the county jail and several courthouses. The folks are mainly harmless and not too militant in the panhandling department, but I wouldn't do the bar crawl on your own and I would stay in the 1st Avenue corridor. I've had some scarey encounters walking back to my hotel alone late at night and usually grab a cab these days.

    There is an underground tour of historic Seattle that is supposed to be very interesting but I've never taken it so I can't comment on it except to say I've heard good things from those that have.

    Pioneer Square
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    Take an underground tour into the past!

    by worldkiwi Updated Sep 2, 2006

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    One of Seattle's most hyped tourist attractions is the "Bill Speidel's Underground Tour" which is located in the heart of Pioneer Square, the place where Seattle began. The tour cost US$11 in July 2006. The experience begins with a talk given by historians with great senses of humour in a restored 19th century saloon. It was a great way to start the tour and people were literally in tears with laughter! The crowd is then divided into groups and guided through the underground and overground parts of the tour.
    The Seattle "underground" is nothing to do with subways! The very existence of the underground passageways is an intriguing story of mismanaged urban planning and plumbing problems on a particularly disgusting level; but I won't give away the whole story here! You'll have to go on the tour to find out more. Suffice to say, you will learn an incredible lot about the early development of this now modern and seemingly model city.

    Entrance to the Underground Tour, Pioneer Square
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    Historic Pioneer Square

    by lar-n-me Updated May 10, 2004

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    Pioneer Square is where downtown Seattle began in 1832, and embraces 19th century brick building, most of which were built after the great fire in 1889.
    It has a fabulous collection of art galleries, cafes, nightclubs and bars. Quite the social scene on weekends.
    Go to Pioneer Square's website to see what it has to offer pioneer square

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    Sculpture in the Square

    by grandmaR Updated Apr 4, 2011

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    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.

    Statue in the square
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  • Pioneer Square

    by peach93 Written Sep 20, 2006

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    One of Seattle's oldest neighborhoods, Pioneer Square has an interesting history. In the late 1880's the area was totally destroyed by fire. When the Alaskan gold rush began a few years later the square was rebuilt to accommodate the needs of the miners passing through the city. Today the area still has most of its beautiful Victorian architecture.

    First Avenue, the square's main street, was also much lower when the area was first rebuilt. When the street was raised to accommodate the area's large hills, many of the businesses at street level went, literally, underground. Today some of the First Street's best spots are below street level.

    Pioneer Square is a hip neighborhood full of cool shops and boutiques, bars and coffee houses, cafés and jazz clubs. The focal point of the area is a small grassy area with a large totem pole. This is a great neighborhood to just walk around in and see what you can find. When the Mariners or the Seahawks have home games Pioneer Square is also a great place to go for dinner or drinks before or after the game, as it is within walking distance from both of the teams' stadiums.

    Pioneer Square's Victorian Walkway Pioneer Square Totem Pole
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    Various Monuments to Seattle's Past in Square

    by glabah Updated Jun 9, 2009

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    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.

    Pioneer Square Park: monuments to native cultures Pioneer Square Park: monuments to native cultures Pioneer Square itself has walkways, trees, benches Pioneer Square: monument to fallen firefighters Pioneer Square: haning out with the local natives
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