The hands-on retail marketplace in downtown Seattle has changed, as it has in virtually every big city in the country, as shoppers turn increasingly to the internet rather than visiting stores. Downtown Seattle is still the home of retail giant Nordstrom, which was founded here, but time-honored all-purpose department stores like the Bon Marche, are now gone. High-end shops still abound, and you can find every top designer name in a downtown location, but the big retail malls that have long been such a feature of downtown shopping are actually looking a bit forlorn and undergoing some major transformations in order to make them more appealing. If you want to find local treasures and unique Seattle specialties, leave downtown and explore the shops in Ballard, Fremont, and other neighborhoods. This is where the fun of shopping for truly unique and often handcrafted items hasn’t evaporated—it has actually grown.
Beyond the outer neighborhoods, Seattle has a shopping mecca at its heart: Pike Place Market. Whether shopping is your passion or just an occasional indulgence, you shouldn't miss this historic market, which is one of Seattle's top attractions. Once the city's main produce market (and quite a few produce stalls remain), this sprawling collection of buildings is today filled with hundreds of unusual shops, including Seattle's Market Magic, for magicians and aspiring magicians (tel. 206/624-4271; www.marketmagicshop.com); Tenzing Momo, which sells essential oils, incense, herbs, and the like (tel. 206/623-9837; www.tenzingmomo.com); and Left Bank Books, a bookstore for anarchists and their kin (tel. 206/622-0195; www.leftbankbooks.com).
After tasting the bounties of the Northwest, it's hard to go back to Safeway, Sanka, and Chicken of the Sea. Sure, you can get wine, coffee, and seafood where you live, but do a little food shopping in Seattle, and you'll be tapping the source. Washington State wines, coffee from the original Starbucks, and fish that fly -- these are just a few of the culinary treats that await you here.
The Neighborhood Shopping Scene
Just west of and downhill from Pike Place Market is the Seattle waterfront, site of many more gift and souvenir shops. This is the city's tackiest and most touristy neighborhood--save your money for somewhere else.
South of downtown, in the historic Pioneer Square area, you'll find numerous art galleries, some of which specialize in Native American art. This neighborhood has several antiques stores but is also home to a dozen or more bars (and attracts a lot of homeless people). It's fun to explore by day, but it's strictly for young partiers by night.
As the center of both the gay community and the city's youth culture, Capitol Hill has the most eclectic selection of shops in Seattle. Beads, imports, CDs, vintage clothing, politically correct merchandise, and gay-oriented goods fill the shops along Broadway. The Pike-Pine District, a pair of streets connecting downtown with Capitol Hill, is my favorite shopping neighborhood in this area. Lots of small, independently owned shops offer a satisfying variety of gifts and other goods.
The Wallingford neighborhood, just north of Lake Union, is anchored by an old school building that has been converted into a shopping arcade full of boutiques selling interesting crafts, fashions, and gifts. This area seems to be most popular with young moms and their kids.
The Fremont neighborhood, a couple of miles west of Wallingford, has an assortment of shops. The neighborhood clings to its fun, funky, counter-cultural roots despite its ongoing gentrification. There are still some retro clothing stores here, as well as import stores, craft galleries, and a few clothing boutiques.
To the west of Fremont, you'll find Ballard, a former Scandinavian neighborhood that is currently one of my favorite shopping districts in Seattle. Tree-shaded Ballard Avenue Northwest is lined with historic brick buildings, most of which are now home to great little shops operated by highly creative individuals. You never know what you'll find in these shops, which is why it's so fun to shop here.
The University District, also in North Seattle, has everything necessary to support a student population -- and also goes upscale at the University Village shopping center.
Ballard Sunday Farmers Market
Pike Place Market is the best and biggest public market, and open daily, but it is not Seattle’s only market. Stretching for two blocks along Ballard Avenue, between NW 20th and NW 22nd avenues in the picturesque heart of the old Ballard neighborhood, the year-round Sunday Farmers Market in Ballard is a destination for locals and market-lovers throughout the city. Open from 10am to 3pm, the stalls sell fresh organic produce, cheeses, meats, mushrooms, fish, bread and baked goods, wine, and artisan crafts. There are also ethnic food stalls. Many of Ballard’s most delightful shops are open as well, and so are restaurants and places to stop for a coffee and some people-watching.
If antiques are your passion, you won’t want to miss the opportunity to spend a day browsing the many antiques stores in the historic farm town of Snohomish, located roughly 30 miles north of Seattle. The town has over 150 antiques dealers and is, without a doubt, the antiques capital of the Northwest. Frankly, you’ll find better deals and (often) higher quality goods here than you will in Seattle proper.
Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.