Things to do in Pioneer Square: Visit the Pergola

The Seattle summer may be starting to edge into fall, but that doesn’t mean it’s time to go indoors yet.  Grab your jacket, just in case, and head to Pioneer Square for a weekend soaking up Seattle’s history.

On a weekday Pioneer Square is full of people in suits, the King County Courthouse and numerous office buildings are close by, but on weekends you’ll find a mix of workers, shoppers, tourists, and a few men and women who call the park benches home.  Walk about and discover Seattle history, wander through the shops and galleries, or grab a table at a restaurant or café.  Safeco Field and CenturyLink Field are a short walk away.

Here are ten suggestions of things to do in Pioneer Square to get your started.

Stop by the Pergola.  Located at the triangular corner of Yesler Way and First Avenue, the Pergola (in photo above) was built in 1909 as a shelter for passengers waiting for the neighborhood cable car and it quickly became a popular meeting place for neighbors.  Built out of iron and glass, the Victorian-styled pergola is about 60 feet long and 16 feet high, and was designated a historic landmark in 1977.  After a truck crashed into it in 2001, it was painstakingly reconstructed to its original design and continue to serves as a popular meeting stop in Pioneer Square.  Tell friends to meet you at the Pergola, it’s an easy to find spot, and is a great starting point for all the things to do in Pioneer Square.

Look up at the Tlingit Indian Totem Pole.  Located near the Pergola, the totem pole was stolen by the local Chamber of Commerce from the Tlingit Indians in Alaska.  The thieves gave the totem pole to the city as a gift in 1889.  The Tlingit tribe sued for the totem’s return, the men were convicted of theft and fined $500, and the court allowed Seattle to keep the totem pole.  Questionable justice.  In 1938, after the totem pole was vandalized, the city sent its pieces back to Alaska.  Gracious Tlingit craftsmen carved a reproduction of the original and it was returned to Seattle and dedicated at a potlatch with tribal blessings.  It stands as symbol of the complicated relationship between American Indians and European Americans.

Smith Tower observation deck

Take in a view from the Smith Tower.  For nearly 50 year the Smith Tower was the tallest building west of the Mississippi, and while today it isn’t even the tallest in Seattle, the views from its 35th floor observation deck are still impressive.  Take the original 1914 elevators up to the outdoor observation deck, it completely wraps around the building, for views of the waterfront (in photo above), the downtown area, the mountains (Olympia and Cascade mountain ranges) and the sports district (CenturyLink Field and Safeco Field).  The Smith Tower is located at 506 Second Avenue (between James and Yesler); the observation deck is open until 8:30 during the summer, and closes earlier the rest of the year.  Buy tickets for the observation deck on the 35th floor, $7.50 adults; $6 seniors (60+) and students; $5 children (ages 6-12).

Go underground in Pioneer Square.  The Pioneer Square area of the city may look and feel old, but it was rebuilt after a devastating fire in 1889.  That fire led to the neighborhood design you see today, with brick buildings and wide streets, but much of the old Seattle remains underground.  The Seattle Underground Tour takes you below ground for a peek at three blocks of underground streets and storefronts, giving you a glimpse of what it was like to live in Seattle at before the turn of the last century.  Some of the tour stories may be a little heavy on puns and innuendo, but if you do a little research you’ll find that Seattle has a colorful and rather messy past.  Tours leave from 608 First Avenue (between Cherry and Yesler) on the hour.  Tickets are $16 adults; $13 seniors (60+) and students; $8 children (ages 7-12).

Relax in Occidental Park.  Earlier this year it was renamed Seattle Supersonics Park, but most of it still refer to it as Occidental Park or Occidental Square.  This urban public park has cement paths, benches, ADA compliant restrooms, nice flowers and trees, and wifi.  It’s located at Occidental Avenue South and South Main Street and is open 6 am-10 pm.  Free.

Pioneer Square firefighter memorial

Pay your respects at the Fallen Firefighters Memorial.  Four bronze statues comprise this memorial to 31 firefighters that have died in the line of duty since the Seattle Fire Department began in 1889.  Located in Occidental Park, adjacent to the Seattle Fire Department Headquarters.

Get held up at the Seattle Metropolitan Police Museum.  Honoring the men, women, and dogs who protect and serve, this is the largest police museum in the western United States and is the official repository for artifacts from the Seattle Police Department and King County Sherriff’s Office.  The artifacts date back to the 1880s, a more primitive time in law enforcement.  The museum is located at 317 Third Avenue South.  Tickets are $5 adults; $3 children (under 12) and special needs visitors).

Discover Gold at the Klondike Gold Rush National Historical Park.  Part of the national park is in Seattle, the other in Skagway, Alaska, and both pay tribute to the rush of people looking for gold and the role Seattle played in it.  The visitor center is located on the corner of Jackson and Second Avenue.  Free.  While you’re there, why not pick up a National Parks and Federal Recreational Lands Annual Pass – it’s one of the best buys around.

Find peace in the Waterfall Garden.  In the middle of the crowded city, this Zen-like urban park provide a respite in a heavy traffic area.  It’s a peaceful creation of concrete, wood, and water that includes a 22-foot waterfall that nearly drowns out all of the Pioneer Square traffic noise.  Take a book, read the paper, sit and meditate.  But if you really can’t escape the outside world, there are power outlets.  Located at 219 Second Avenue South (Main & Second), and is open 8 am-6 pm.  Free.

Pioneer Square

Eat at the oldest restaurant in Seattle.  The Merchant’s Café has staked its claim as the oldest Seattle restaurant, in continuous operation since is was was built in 1890.  It’s withstood prohibition, ownership changes, modernization, and plenty more, and remains an icon of Seattle’s past.  Located at 109 Yesler Way.

Photo credits:  Pergola (Seattle Municipal Archives); Smith Tower View (Michael Myers); Fallen Firefighters Memorial (Richard Eriksson); Merchants Cafe (Matthias Klappenback)