Blog Post Type – Expert Opinion Piece:
The heart of Seattle, Pioneer Square, was the city’s first neighborhood. Its history is full of boom town shadows. In the early days shanty towns were over taken by fire, Indians attacked settlers, and the reverberation of a vast lumber mill shook the tidal flats. Brick and stone buildings grew out of the great fire’s ashes quickly.
Many of those buildings remain today and the Square is flourishing. The rebirth includes art walks, inviting lunch spots, swank diners and quirky boutiques. At night theaters sprout audiences and night clubs spill trembling sound waves. During the day there’s Renaissance Revivalist architecture to admire. You’re as likely to walk past wild street art as totem poles. Food, artisan brews and colorful galleries beckon. A day exploring Pioneer Square is like none other.
What to do in Seattle? Tour Pioneer Square
Off the Pioneer Place Triangle Park is Doc Maynard’s Saloon, home base of the Underground Seattle Tour. Daily tours descend into the Square’s subterranean labyrinth of cellars and sealed-up passageways. After the great fire city engineers decided to raise the streets a full story. It must’ve been a confusing time.
Many buildings were already under construction so architects provided two ‘ground floors.’ A range of businesses, bootleggers and brothels are rumored to have used the underground passageways. Tour guides love embellishing the stories.
Once, Klondike prospectors found cheap lodging in the district. They stocked up on clothing and supplies. Cafes, easy women and cheap booze were there for the asking.
Built in stages , today the forty-two story Smith Tower looms over them all. Created for the typewriter magnate, L.C. Smith, it was the tallest building west of the Mississippi until the Space Needle was built in 1962. Sadly its completion in 1914 began a period of decline as businesses and retailers began to migrate north several blocks. Lucky for today’s visitors the Tower has been rehabilitated to its gleaming glory.
Visit the Tower:
Walk into the Smith Tower building through the ornate lobby and ride up in an ornate copper and brass elevator car to top. When the doors open on the thirty-fifth floor, you step into the astounding Chinese Room. It was named for the carved teak ceiling and Blackwood furniture that still remains.
One legend fits – that the last Empress of China furnished the room as a gift to Mr. Smith. The ornate and famed Wishing Chair is central.
A curling dragon and phoenix are carved into the relief, which when combined, signal marriage. Women once lined up to sit there hoping to fulfill the legend that they would be married within a year.
If the day is blustery and wet, admire 360 degree views of the city. If you’re lucky and prepared to face the wind, step out onto the observation deck. Walk around the crown of the tower for unparalleled views of Seattle.
How well do you know Seattle’s architecture?
Find out in this fun, short quiz.
If you go:
- Smith Tower is open most days from 10 am to dusk.
- Park on the street. Place your sticker correctly to avoid getting a parking ticket.
- Find more dining and experiences in Pioneer Square.
- Browse cheap hotels in Seattle and consider booking in advance.
This post is part of the Hipmunk City Love project.
Proudly a member of the Weekend Wanderlust, and Weekend Travel Inspiration.
Great to here i am deciding to visit next month and i’m collecting information about this country and your this article really helpful for me …!!! Thanks…..!!!
Ohhh what a fab place, I had no idea that Seattle was so cool! Thanks for joining #SundayTraveler.
Thanks. I hope you get to explore Pioneer Square sometime soon.
Underground Seattle! Such a neat city!
It is all that and more.
Imagine raising the streets a full storey – amazing! Pioneer Square looks like a great place to explore.
Hi Shelley, They made some surprising architectural choices back then but the Square is one of the most successful, for all its quirks.
I was in Seattle around five years ago, but only briefly (2 days) and missed the Smith Tower. I will definitely plan to include it next time I go — I definitely want a photo in that Empress chair!
Fun, Patti. It was dark and hard to really show how luxurious that room is but the chair was the best.
Thank for the tour, we love Seattle. Your post makes me want to go back soon.
Glad to hear it. When you do I hope your skies are dry and the wind gentle.
It has been a long time since I’ve visited Seattle and even longer since I visited Pioneer Square. I enjoyed your update.
Thanks, Carole, I hadn’t been back for decades until last fall. City neighborhoods are always in flux so you can count on new things to see when you return to Seattle again.
Dan and I want to do a road trip out to the Pacific Northwest and visit my daughter, who moved to Seattle last year and loves the city. I’ll have to tell her about Pioneer Square. I’d never heard of it until now … but then, I’ve never been to Seattle. I’m obviously missing a whole lot.
You’re lucky to have someone to visit in Seattle! Pioneer Square makes a great day trip.
This post provides impetus for another visit to Seattle. I do not recall visiting Pioneer Square on prior visits there. Based on your description, it sounds like there is something for everyone.
Thanks, Suzanne, There’s truly a lot of choices in the neighborhood.
We’ve been to Seattle several times but have missed Pioneer Square which won’t happen next time! Thanks for a glimpse of its fascinating history, street art and the lovely buildings.
Thanks, Anita, it’s an interesting area on many levels. I’m glad it made it to your list for next time!
I have never been to Seattle yet but I would love to check the city out, especially Pioneer Square. I love the glimpses of old and new. Your photos, especially the ones of the older buildings, are very cool.
Thanks, Constance, I love taking pictures, especially of things that might be missed when you move through quickly. My travel buddies have learned to be patient and that I’ll catch up!
We have a few days in Seattle at the end of our next US trip. I had forgotten about the Underground Tours – this time we’re definitely doing one.
Great to hear. I haven’t been on the tours myself but hear that they’re pretty hilarious, if not always strictly factual.
I love Seattle. There is always so much to do, and I think there are great restaurants there as well! Thanks for linking up with #wkendtravelinspiration!
You’re so right about the great restaurants. I’ve dipped into only a few. I think a new trip is in order. What were your favorites?
Seattle is one of my favorite cities! Have always loved the architecture, and have a weakness for all the brass adornments they used to use.
Thanks, Rossana, Nice to connect with another architecture fan, especially of the older embellishments.
Great photos and interesting read on a place that we have yet to get to
Glad you enjoyed the pictures. It’s definitely an interesting neighborhood.
We have yet to visit Seattle, so this post is a great introduction to some of the must-do things to put on our list. Thank you.
The neighborhood offers real insight into how Seattle came into being.
You either love it or not with Pioneer Square when you live anywhere within 30 minutes of it. It has a rather dubious night time reputation (and I wouldn’t be exploring it on my own after dark) but I love the mix of old and new in the architecture and businesses. It is a one of a kind part of Seattle, that’s for sure! Great photos.
The neighborhood has definitely gone through changes. I’m glad you liked the pictures.
I enjoyed reading your post, Elaine. I’ve never been in Seattle, but I badly want to go. This post is a good reference. Thanks.
You’re welcome Anda. I hope you can visit the Northwest, and Seattle, one day.