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A neighborhood guide to Pioneer Square

Seattle’s “original downtown” has a lot to offer these days, between arts galleries, delicious food, and solid public transit.

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Pioneer Square is one of those neighborhoods that always looks pretty.

Photo by @adam_noble86

Table of Contents

It’s easy to see the history that Pioneer Square holds with even just a quick stroll through its hilly streets.

The bricked buildings, beautiful landscaping, and quaint shops feel like a living museum. Here’s a tour of the essentials that make this neighborhood a treasure.

Need to know

Pioneer Square is the location of Seattle’s “original downtown” and was designated as a Preservation District in 1970. These days, it operates as a cultural hub with lots of arts-focused organizations, galleries, live music venues, and delicious places to grab some grub.

Pioneer Square's pergola is sheltering several people from the sun in 1910.

The Pioneer Square pergola has been a defining feature of the neighborhood for more than a century (circa 1910).

Photo via Seattle Municipal Archive

The early days

Pioneer Square was chosen for development in 1852 because its flatness was ideal for construction. In June, 1889, the whole neighborhood burned down in a nasty fire that took out several blocks. No people were hurt in the fire, but it sure did make for quite a story. The city later rebuilt on top of these devastated blocks. Some of the original storefronts can still be visited in the Underground Tour.

Can’t miss

Running low on time? A trip to Pioneer Square isn’t complete without a drink from Merchant’s Cafe, billed as the oldest bar in Seattle — so be sure to factor it into your day. You’ll thank us later.

Bon Voyage Vintage's storefront has a vivid display of dresses, bikes, shirts, and hats in its windows.

Seems only appropriate that you would buy vintage in such a historical neighborhood.

Photo via @pioneersquare

Shop

  • Bon Voyage Vintage | The best way to make sure you’re the only one wearing what you’re wearing is to buy vintage. Check out this store’s collection of sweaters, skirts, pants, and the like.
  • Arundel Books | This beautiful bookstore’s stunning architecture will certainly inspire you to find a new title.
  • Intrigue Chocolate Co. | The tiny artisan shop is run by chocolatiers who have been in the business for almost 20 years. Pick up some assortments of truffles, or bars infused with flavors like cardamom + rose or smoked tea + allspice.

Outdoors

  • Pioneer Square Habitat Beach | This little beach is meant to operate as a natural shorelines would with ~1,400 species of native plants.
  • City Hall Park | As one of the largest greenspaces in the downtown area, this park regularly hosts movie screenings and other outdoor activities.
  • Waterfall Garden Park | This 22-foot manmade waterfall sits on the UPS’ original office location (before the company moved to Connecticut in 1975). Enjoy the view from the two-level patio.
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Señor Carbón’s fried seafood is practically calling our name.

Eat + Drink

  • Underbelly | This basement bar is the right mix of seedy and classy to be a perfect spot for pregaming a show at WAMU or for bringing a hot date. You’ll also get a kick out of their selection of natural wine.
  • Damn the Weather | This mid-scale restaurant menu’s has plenty of dishes to make you drool like duck fat french fries, a really solid burger, and a blackened rockfish sandwich.
  • Taylor Shellfish Oyster Bar | It’d be a shame to be so close to the Puget Sound without sampling some of its finest flavors. They also ship seafood nationally if you want to share with your friends and family.
  • OHSUN | Korean cuisine pairs quite nicely with PNW and Southern flavors. Enjoy dishes like braised spicy pork with ginger and gochujang sauce or seasonal kimbap made with ingredients like sundried tomatoes, pickled mu radish, and eggplant.
  • Señor Carbón | Chow down on a wide variety of yummy Peruvian dishes like ceviche, lomo saltado, or a Peruvian style flan.
A band play under blue lights on the Central Saloon's stage.

Central Saloon has operated as many things since it opened in 1892. It’s been a restaurant, a post office, and a brothel.

Arts + Culture

  • First Thursday Art Walk | Local art fanatics will find this an excellent time to explore the neighborhood with free entry into a variety of gallery exhibits and various pop-up markets around the neighborhood. Expect a new experience every month.
  • Railspur | This three-building development includes a hotel and office space, but often hosts pop-up art exhibits in the alleyways between its buildings.
  • Central Saloon | This dark music venue bills itself as the birthplace of grunge music. World class acts such as Nirvana, Jimi Hendrix, Alice in Chains, and Soundgarden have all graced its stage.
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Pioneer Square’s Link Light Rail Station has arguably some of the prettiest architecture in the system.

Photo by Gillfoto via Wikimedia Commons

Getting around

Pioneer Square is one of the easiest neighborhoods to get to if you use public transit. There are nearby connections to the city bus system, Light Rail, ferries, and regional train service:

  • Amtrak: Jaunt on over to King Street station for Amtrak Cascades service north to Vancouver, BC or south to Portland, OR and beyond.
  • Pioneer Square Station: Ride the Linkup to Northgate or south to Sea-Tac Airport or Angle Lake.
  • King County Metro: There are several bus stops in the area that can take riders to neighborhoods like Ballard, Crown Hill, Burien, White Center, Green Lake, and Wallingford.
  • Ferries and Water Taxis: The piers are only a few blocks away from the heart of the neighborhood. Find boat service to Bainbridge Island, Bremerton, West Seattle, Kingston, and Southworth.

Where to live

If you’re sold + looking to buy a home in the area, here are some housing options currently on the market:

  • 312 First Ave. S. | 2 BD, 1 BA | $555,000 | Talk about some sweet city-living. This condo, situated on the top floor of the Nord Building, is directly above a pilates studio. Enjoy exposed brick walls, an open floor plan, and newly installed rain shower features.
  • 526 First Ave. S. | 2 BD, 2 BA | $625,000 | This condo has serious sci-fi vibes with geometric design elements and bright coloring. We think it’d be great inspiration for our tech friends looking to invent the next big thing.
  • 450 S. Main St. | 2 BD, 2 BA | $568,000 | Can’t get enough of Seattle’s skyline? This condo features giant, floor-to-ceiling windows in every room. Plus, you’ll get to enjoy a community gym, Zen garden, and exhibition kitchen.
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