Pioneer Square is Seattle's oldest neighborhood, showcasing a wealth of art galleries, bookstores, antique shops, cool restaurants, and buzzing nightclubs within easy walking (or free bus) distance of most downtown Seattle hotels. The cobblestone streets and horse-drawn carriages are a reminder of life a century ago. The classic red brick buildings give a warmth to the area not found in most sprawling US suburbias. Local lore holds that the term "skid row" originated in Pioneer Square -- when timber would be slid down Yesler Way to a steam powered mill on the Seattle waterfront. The area sits, from east to west, between 3rd Ave. and the waterfront; and between downtown proper to the north, and the sports stadiums to the south.
Just to its east, the International District is the name given to Seattle's Asian neighborhood. It is located southeast of downtown, loosely bounded by 4th Avenue S. and S. Dearborn Street. While the old Chinatown stops around the Interstate 5 freeway, the area to the east is called Little Saigon, centered on 12th and Jackson. From there, going south along Rainier Avenue, the stores transform from Vietnamese to Cambodian, beyond which it slowly merges into South Seattle.
It is easy to get here from the downtown hotels – the square is part of the Seattle Metro ride free zone; any bus traveling south from downtown will get you within a few blocks. There are a few pay parking lots, and limited street parking is available too. Often the best parking bet is the metered spaces under the viaduct – these parking spots are usually overlooked by all but the locals. Occidental St, which sits between 1st Avenue and 2nd Ave is closed to cars between Washington St. and Jackson St, and forms a pedestrian mall which backs up to many of the galleries and shops.
Most city buses that go to downtown Seattle from other parts terminate in or pass through Pioneer Square or the International District. From central downtown, it's about a five-minute walk due south toward the stadiums. One tourist-focused line is the Route 99 Waterfront Shuttle in distinctive yellow livery, which runs along Alaskan Way past the ferry terminal, aquariums, and Pike Place Market downtown. This route is always free.
Buses and trains in the Downtown Seattle Transit Tunnel make stops at Pioneer Square Station (a few blocks north of the main neighborhood) and International District Station. King Street Station, served by Amtrak and Sounder commuter rail, sits directly in the center of the area at 4th and Jackson.
- Smith Tower, 506 2nd Ave, ☎ +1 206 622-4004, . Built in 1914, the Smith Tower was Seattle's first skyscraper and is probably the only tall building left in Seattle where uniformed attendants operate the elevators. Instead of stepping into a metal box with no view, you'll observe the different floors and peer into offices as you ascend or descend. How many people under the age of, say, 20 or so have ever had that experience? An outdoor observation deck on the 35th floor wraps completely around the four sides of the tower, providing panoramic views of the Olympic and Cascade mountain ranges, including Mt. Rainier, as well as of Elliott Bay, downtown Seattle, and Pioneer Square. The interior of the 35th floor contains the Chinese Room, with an ornate carved ceiling and a number of decorative flourishes imported from China in the early 20th century. $7.50 adults, $6 students and seniors, $5 children.
- Klondike Gold Rush National Historic Park - Seattle Unit, 319 2nd Ave S (at S Jackson St), . Daily 9AM-5PM except Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year's Day. A key attraction in the Pioneer Square area. It is the Seattle branch of the Klondike Gold Rush National Historical Park, the remainder of which is in Alaska. Highlights the city's key role as the "Gateway to the Gold Fields" in supplying most of the Klondike stampeders of 1897 - 1898. National Park Service Rangers and volunteers staff the Seattle unit. They can provide information and perspective not only on the Gold Rush but also on Seattle's past and present. The Seattle unit contains many artifacts and historical photographs related to the Gold Rush. Movies about the Gold Rush (27 minutes), Seattle (15 minutes) and the Chilkoot Pass (15 minutes) are shown upon request except in summer when they're shown on a regular schedule. Rangers conduct free walking tours of the Pioneer Square area in the summer. They also demonstrate gold panning for school groups. Free.
- Wing Luke Asian Museum, 719 S King St, ☎ +1 206 623-5124, . Tu-Su 10AM-5PM. The first Smithsonian affiliate in the Pacific Northwest, this museum features exhibits and programs related to pan-Asian American art, history, and culture as well as historic immersion and neighborhood walking tours. $12.95 adult, $9.95 students/seniors, $8.95 children.
- Seattle Buddhist Church, 1427 S Main St (south of Yesler Way), . In the summer the community hosts a Japanese bon odori festival on the street out front.
- Pioneer Square. Pioneer Square proper is just a small corner park that's often occupied by homeless folks, but generally safe during the day.
- Occidental Park, ☎ (206)-684-4075. 6AM-10PM. This urban park is best known for its four totem poles carved by local artist Duane Pasco. Free.
- Hing Hay Park, 423 Maynard Ave S, . A small park in the center of Chinatown. Though you're not too likely to see old folks doing tai chi or playing checkers, it still has character.
- Waterfall Garden, Second Ave at S Main St. This small, tranquil park features a 22-foot high waterfall cascading over natural granite boulders. The park occupies the site where two 19-year olds, James Casey and Claude Ryan, began a messenger service in 1907 in the basement of a tavern. That messenger service grew up to become United Parcel Service. The Annie E. Casey Foundation, started by James Casey and his siblings in honor of their mother, created the park and maintains it "in honor of the men and women of United Parcel Service."
- Art Walk, . The Art Walk is almost synonymous with Pioneer Square and takes place on the first Thursday of every month. Galleries are open until 9PM. Show up early for the free wine and hor d'hoevres.
- Underground Tour, 608 First Ave (at junction with James), ☎ +1 206 682-4646 ([email protected]), . Hourly, hours depending on season. The underground tour covers the area around Pioneer Square, and visits sites both above and below ground. On June 6, 1889, a great fire burned down most of downtown Seattle. City engineers rebuilt the city several feet above the high tide line to prevent flooding, giving rise to a complex underground tunnel system which housed the old downtown. Tours are insightful and humourous. $15.00 adults, $12.00 seniors and students, $7.00 children under 12.
- Venus Karaoke, 601 S King St, Ste 102. One of the few karaoke rooms in the city. Rented by the hour, a good selection of Cantonese, Mandarin, and English songs. Open late, with two bars upstairs. In the lobby, view the anime models with exceedingly unrealistic presentations of the female body.
- Uwajimaya Village, 600 5th Ave S, ☎ +1 206 624-6248, . M-Sa 8AM-10PM, Su 9AM-9PM. The commercial, if not cultural, hub of the I.D. is Uwajimaya Village, a huge Japanese supermarket with many smaller eateries and a branch of the Kinokuniya bookstore. If you need anything at all from Japan while in Seattle, this is the place to find it.
Most of the older businesses in the I.D. are, of course, Chinese, and there are a few general stores where you can pick up good woks and other imported items. Over in Little Saigon, the Viet Wah supermarket has Asian foods for a lot cheaper than Uwajimaya.
True to its name, the International District has a great variety of ethnic cuisines. While tourists and most non-Asian Seattleites stick to the large Chinese restaurants, the smaller places serve mostly locals and offer quite authentic atmosphere as well as food. Chinese seafood restaurants are a Seattle institution popular with locals, many with "live tanks". Not particularly elegant, but the food is great (if a bit venturesome for some tastes). And while most of Seattle's immigrant Japanese population has long since moved out to the suburbs (as have the upscale sushi bars), a few restaurants still stick it out in the area.
For a cheap eat, try dim sum lunch. Roving servers bring steam carts of exotic (e.g., chicken feet) but often delicious food, then stamp your meal ticket for each dish. When you're done, take your ticket up to the register and pay. If you aren't a complete master of chopsticks, bring your own fork for the slippery shrimp and rice noodles, because the staff will rarely get around to bringing one. If you're not getting what you want, or you don't see it, ask the staff - you may have to be a little aggressive.
- Canton Won Ton House, 608 S Weller St (at 6th Ave S), ☎ +1 206 682-5080. Su-Th 10AM-10PM, F-Sa 10AM-midnight. Hong Kong-style noodle soup and congee (jook); great with a side order of Chinese donuts (yau tiu). Very inexpensive.
- Jade Garden, 424 7th Ave S (at S King St), ☎ +1 206 622-8181. M-Th 9AM-2:30AM, F-Sa 9AM-3:30AM, Su 9AM-1AM. Authentic Dim Sum. While very popular, don't let the seemingly long wait for a table sway you -- it is usually less than 30 minutes.
- J & B Cafe (also confusingly called J & L), 670 S Weller St. Cheap, simple Hong Kong food, but don't expect dim sum (or English) here; it's Westernized dishes like curry and Portuguese baked fish. They even have Horlick's.
- House of Hong. While more expensive, they do have parking on-site, which is a good clue that this is not very authentic. Their Lo Mai Gai is larger than other restaurants, as you are served only one bundle per order instead of the standard two or three. This makes sharing your Lo Mai gai awkward, and it tends to stick to the leaves in a glutenious unnatural manner.
- Mon Hei Chinese Bakery, 669 S King St. A one woman show with lots of variety at a reasonable price. Eat your sesame roll while chatting with the old timers sitting in the back.
- Purple Dot Cafe, 515 Maynard Ave S. This is not a fusion restaurant, but rather a Macau style restaurant. This explains why you can order your Hong Kong style dishes with spaghetti and cream sauce. Purple Dot is open really late on the weekends, where packs of 80lb. red-faced co-eds can be spotted stumbling around in their glittery halter tops. The restaurant's decor may remind one of a Hong Kong style Mickey Mouse Club, with its colorful curved soffits and fiesta patterned carpet. But at Purple Dot, the draw for authentic food overpowers the teeny bopper atmosphere, as during the day there are just as many families as there are clubbers at night. Wash down the cajun chicken wings with an iced lemon tea, or stick to Cantonese soul food like jook and wonton mein.
- Sichuanese Cuisine, 1048 S Jackson St. The name in Chinese is Lo Sichuan. Great dry-fried beans with chicken. Simpler hotpot than at Seven Stars Pepper, with tasty dumplings.
- Szechuan Noodle Bowl, 420 8th Ave S. The name of the shop in Chinese means "Great King of Beef Noodles".
- Vegetarian Bistro, 668 S King St. Vegetarian dim sum. Includes the use of faux meats.
- Henry's Taiwan, 502 S King St. Order the Locomotive Bento Box, cheap, large portion, and tasty.
- Fort St. George, 601 S King St. A restaurant/bar that serves Japanese-style Western foods like spaghetti and curry rice. Popular with exchange students and occasional Seattle Mariners.
- Moonlight Cafe, 1919 S Jackson St (on the north edge of the International District), +1 206 322-3378. Serves excellent vegan mock-meat versions of Vietnamese and Chinese dishes such as noodle bowls and sesame beef. In fact they boast a full vegan menu with as many dishes as their separate carnivorous menu offers. $7-$10.
- Phnom Penh Noodle House, 414 Maynard Ave S. Cambodian noodles and rice dishes which are considerably more exciting than Al Gore, who appears in a photo with the owner.
- Pho Bac, 1240 S Jackson St. An oddly-located pink shack serving Vietnamese noodle soup. Don't ask for a menu; the only choices are regular or large, and what kind of beef you want.
- Green Leaf Vietnamese Restaurant, 418 8th Ave S. If celebrity chef Mario Batali and the Iron Chef America Chairman can eat here, so can (and will) you.
- Fuji Sushi, 520 S Main St. Open for lunch, just around the corner from Maneki. Smaller pieces, a bit pricer, but fresh and tasty.
- Grand Central Bakery, in the arcade between 1st Avenue and Occidental Park, just off South Jackson, . One of the best sources for artisan bread in Seattle, this place offers an excellent lunch, cafeteria style (but stylish!). Not open on Sundays.
- Malay Satay Hut, 212 12th Ave S. Worth trying mango chicken.
- Maneki, 306 6th Ave S, . Very good sushi, as well as many non-sushi Japanese dishes. The restaurant claims to be at least 100 years old, although it has moved since its estimated founding date in 1904, and is considerably smaller than the grand space it occupied prior to World War II. Their sushi pieces are very large, and their prices are very reasonable. Only open for dinner.
- The New Orleans, 114 1st Ave S, . Great gumbo and jambalaya, but the real winner is the fried oyster po-boy sandwich. Great lunch spot on the cheap.
- Saigon Bistro, 1032 S Jackson St. The noodle soup with duck and plums is delicious. Also try the sea snails (or slugs?).
- Salumi, 309 3rd Ave S, . This is the place to eat lunch in Pioneer Square. There is often a line that can take over an hour to get through. Salami sandwiches on artisan bread... can't beat it.
- Seven Stars Pepper, 1207 S Jackson St, Suite 211 (Ding How Plaza). Great hand-shaven dandan noodles, chonggin hot chicken, hotpot.
- Tamarind Tree, 1036 S Jackson St. It is worth the awkward crawl through Seattle's steepest and most congested parking lot to relax with a Tamarind Soda next cool contempo style fountain. Tamarind Tree is an anomoly in Little Saigon, to say the least. Three Vietnamese brothers created an atmosphere that feels like it should be located in a Belltown Hotel rather than a Vietnamese ghetto. Tamarind Tree packs in more flavors for under $9.00 than any other restaurant. Try the Fish Paste with Bacon, or the Seven Courses of Beef. Be amazed at how high quality service, sauces, and appetizers can be served up artfully for Little Saigon prices. Eat your spring rolls with a side of fresh peanut sauce.
- Uwajimaya, 600 5th Ave S. The food court at Uwajimaya, and the accompanying Uwajimaya grocery store, deserve special mention. The grocery store offers specialty items for almost all forms of Asian cooking. They have great produce, though not always the best prices. But most importantly, they have obscure items like Kafir lime leaves or entire lotus roots, labeled in English. The food court offers a wide variety of Asian cuisines, ranging from Hawaiian BBQ to Hong Kong style baked goods, and everything in-between, though the Thai offering is not so good. The Chinese steam tables offer reliable, western-style treats in large quantites for cheap. There is no real Japanese offering, but the grocery store deli has plenty of sushi and other Japanese lunch items available. The Korean establishment, Shilla Korean Bar-B-Q is probably the best out of the entire court, with very reasonable prices and large portions.
Bubbletea arrived in Seattle's ID around 1998. It was originally served in basic plastic cups with the signature dome lids. All the bubble tea cafes in the ID now vacuum seal the tops of each cup with a semi-permanent plastic covers.
- Ambrosia, 619 S King St, ☎ +1 206 623-9028. This was Seattle's first bubble tea establishment. Well known for its long lines and the curt Taiwanese "bubbletea nazi" that ran the cash register. Other bubble tea cafes followed suit, thus thinning out Ambrosia's clientele.
- Gossip Espresso & Tea, 651 S King St, ☎ +1 206 624-5402. This prime corner storefront used to be Seattle's oldest meat market. Gossip is now a popular hangout for bubbletea drinking neighborhood teens. A spiral staircase leads to a second level lounge where the original ornate ceiling panels still exist. Cash only, also has karaoke downstairs.
- Oasis Tea Zone, 519 6th Ave S, ☎ +1 206 447-8098. Pool tables, Ikea furniture, and music videos entertain a mostly younger crowd of bubbletea drinkers. Oasis is known for its more fragrant tasting bubbleteas.
- Pearl Cafe, 674 S Weller St, ☎ +1 206 287-9000. A basic, low overhead establishment that quietly competes with the jazzier neighborhood cafes. Older folks sit and watch whatever Hong Kong movie or gameshow that is constantly playing inside. Icecream, Lotto tickets, and public internet access available. Credit cards accepted.
- Maekawa Bar, 601 S King St, Suite 206. Seattle's only Izakaya. Serves Japanese pub grub, which is delicious. Generally busy, it is a good place to spend an evening eating and drinking. Have an award above the bar for being Seattle's best Izakaya. They do not appreciate you pointing out they are the only one. Go downstairs for Karaoke. Next to Ft. St. George.
- All City Coffee, 4th Ave S, Prefontaine Pl S and S Washington St, . A great artsy coffee/wine/beer shop together in a fabulous corner setting in an up and coming artist loft building.
- Elliott Bay Books Cafe, S Main St and 1st Ave S. Known for their generosity in allowing clients the ability to plunder the books in the store and proofread them before buying while sipping on a latte. It is a great experience surrounded by all the bookshelves in the basement of the store.
- Panama Hotel Tea & Coffee House, 607 S Main St, ☎ +1 206 515-4000. A unique renovation. Panama Hotel is both a teahouse and historical museum. Fine tea connoisseurs appreciate the wide selection of teas served with a high standard of quality. The Panama Hotel once housed the personal belongings of interned Japanese Americans who had to sell their homes and abandon their businesses. The belongings that were never claimed, including pieces of furniture and a piano are on display here.
- Trabant Coffee & Chai, 2nd Ave and James St, . Trabant has won many accolates for their coffee, including Citysearch.com's "Best Coffee" award in 2005, 2007, and 2008. Modern design, great espresso and Clover coffee brewer, and competition-level baristas.
- Zeitgeist, 2nd Ave Extension and Jackson St, . Elegant and arty.
- The Last Supper Club, 124 S Washington St, . One of the most popular nightclubs in Seattle. The sexual and erotic atmosphere is ideal for singles. The DJ's usally spin hip-hop on Friday nights, and dance/techno on Saturday nights.
- Best Western Pioneer Square Hotel, 77 Yesler Way, ☎ +1 206 340-1234 (toll free: +1 800 800-5514). Close to Safeco Field, Qwest Field, and other Seattle attractions.
- Hostelling International Seattle (formerly the American Hotel), 520 S King St (at 6th Ave S), ☎ +1 206 622-5443 ([email protected], fax: +1 206 299-4141), . checkin: 3PM; checkout: 11AM. Offers free breakfast, free wifi. Excellent common areas including a library, tv room, computer room and clean, spacious kitchen facilities. The location isn't the greatest, given the grit outside, but it is near everything and just a block from Union/King Street Stations. Starting at $29.
- Panama Hotel . If you want a private old-fashioned room, modest but clean, with bathroom down the hall -- consider the historic Panama Hotel, in the Pioneer Square-International District. Very relaxing tea and coffee house, with free wireless internet connections, on the street level.
The City of Seattle provides free wi-fi access in Occidental Park. Use the SSID seattlewifi.
- International District/Chinatown Library, 713 8th Ave. S., . M-Tu 1-8 PM, W-Th 10 AM-8 PM, F-Sa 10 AM-6 PM, Su closed. Public Internet terminals available.
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