Walking Tour 3: Fun, Funky Fremont
Start: South end of Fremont Bridge, near Ponti restaurant.
Finish: North end of Fremont Bridge.
Time: Approximately 2 hours, not including time spent dining.
Best Times: Sunday, during the Fremont Sunday Market.
Worst Times: Early morning or evening, when shops are closed.
The Fremont District definitely marches to the beat of a different drummer. Styling itself "The Republic of Fremont" and the center of the universe, this small, tight-knit community is the most eclectic neighborhood in the city. It has taken as its motto De Libertas Quirkas, which, roughly translated, means "free to be peculiar." Fremont residents have focused on art as a way to draw the community together, and in so doing, they've created a corner of the city where silliness reigns. At this crossroads business district, you find unusual outdoor art, the Fremont Sunday Market (a European-style flea market), several vintage-clothing and furniture stores, a couple of pubs, and many other unexpected and unusual shops, galleries, and cafes. During the summer, outdoor movies are shown on Saturday nights, and in June there's the wacky Solstice Parade, a countercultural promenade of giant puppets, wizards, fairies, naked bicyclists, and hippies of all ages.
Start your tour by finding a parking spot around the corner from Ponti restaurant, at the south end of the:
1. Fremont Bridge
This is one of the busiest drawbridges in the United States and spans the Lake Washington Ship Canal.
As you approach the north side of the bridge, glance up; in the window of the bridge-tender's tower (on the west side of the bridge), you'll see:
This is a neon sculpture of the famous fairy-tale maiden with the prodigious mane. Her neon tresses cascade down the wall of the tower.
As you land in the Republic of Fremont, you will see, at the end of the bridge on the opposite side of the street from Rapunzel, Seattle's most beloved public artwork:
3. Waiting for the Interurban
This sculpture features several people waiting for the trolley that no longer runs between Fremont and downtown Seattle. The statues are frequently dressed up by local residents, with costumes changing regularly.
Cross to the far side of 34th Street and walk east along this street, past some of Fremont's interesting shops, to the:
4. History House of Greater Seattle
This neighborhood museum of history, at 790 N. 34th St. (tel. 206/675-8875), is complete with interactive exhibits and a beautiful artistic fence out front.
Turn left at History House and head uphill underneath the Aurora Bridge, which towers high above. At the top of the hill, you will see, lurking in the shadows beneath the bridge, the:
5. Fremont Troll
This massive monster is in the process of crushing a real Volkswagen Beetle. No need to run in fear, though, as a wizard seems to have cast a powerful spell that has turned the troll to cement.
Turn left at the troll and walk a block down North 36th Street; then turn left on Fremont Avenue North, and continue another block to the corner of Fremont Avenue North and North 35th Street, where, a few doors from the corner, is:
6. Frank and Dunya
This shop, at 3418 Fremont Ave. N. (tel. 206/547-6760), sells colorful household decor, including switch plates, cups and saucers, mirrors, jewelry, art, rustic furniture, and little shrines. It's all very playful.
And a little farther on is:
7. Dusty Strings
This basement music shop, at 3406 Fremont Ave. N. (tel. 206/634-1662), specializes in acoustic music and instruments. Need a new ukulele, autoharp, or hammered dulcimer? You'll have plenty of choices here; in fact, the shop manufactures harps and hammered dulcimers.
Go back up to the corner and cross Fremont Avenue North to the traffic island, where you'll find both the center of the universe and Fremont's:
8. Directional Marker
This old-fashioned signpost has arrows that point to such important locations as the center of the universe (straight down), the Fremont Troll, Rapunzel, the Louvre, and the North Pole.
9. Take a Break
For a sinfully rich slice of cake, cross Fremont Avenue to Simply Desserts, 3421 Fremont Ave. N. (tel. 206/633-2671), a tiny cake shop on the corner across from Frank and Dunya.
From the directional marker, continue west (away from the intersection) on Fremont Place, and in 1 block (at the corner of N. 36th St.) you'll come across a larger-than-life statue of:
This 20-foot-tall statue in no way reflects the attitudes of the many very capitalistic merchants in the neighborhood.
After communing with Comrade Lenin, cross North 36th Street, where you'll find:
11. Bitters Co.
This import shop, at 513 N. 36th St. (tel. 206/632-0886), has some of the coolest ethnic arts and crafts you'll see. This is a great place to pick up gifts.
From here, walk a block down Evanston Avenue to:
12. Les Amis
This boutique, at 3420 Evanston Ave. N. (tel. 206/632-2877), is done up to look like a little potting shed; it stocks fun and trendy women's fashions from European and American designers.
Right outside this shop is the launching pad for the:
13. Fremont Rocket
Although there is speculation that this rocket was used by the aliens who founded Fremont, the truth is far stranger. You can read the history of the rocket on the accompanying map board. (If you haven't already figured it out, the locals don't want you getting lost in their neighborhood, so they've put up maps all over to help you find your way from one famous locale to the next.)
From here, head down North 35th Street for 1 long block, and then turn left on Phinney Avenue North, where you'll find:
14. Theo Chocolate
This chocolate factory, at 3400 Phinney Ave. N. (tel. 206/632-5100), specializes in organic, fair-trade chocolate and makes some delicious and often unusually flavored confections. Tours of the factory are available daily. Call ahead for the times and schedule your walk around the neighborhood so that you end up here in time for a tour (be sure to make a reservation first).
From Theo, continue 1 block down to the foot of Phinney Avenue, where you'll find:
15. Fremont's Dinosaurs
Don't worry, no velociraptors here -- just a pair of friendly topiary Apatosauruses (sort of like brontosaurs) donated to the neighborhood by the Pacific Science Center.
If it happens to be Sunday, you'll see crowds of people and vendors' stalls stretching back toward the Fremont Bridge from the dinosaur park. This is the:
16. Fremont Sunday Market
You never know what you might find at this European-style flea market -- perhaps some locally made kilts or a rack of vintage Hawaiian shirts. If you've still got energy, fortify yourself at the market and continue your stroll.
From the market, walk down to the water where you will find the:
17. Burke-Gilman Trail
This section of the popular walking, biking, and skating trail follows the north bank of the Lake Washington Ship Canal. You might see a big commercial fishing boat or a rowing team in the canal as you walk along.
Head east on the paved path, and in 15 minutes or so you will reach:
18. Gas Works Park
This park on the shore of Lake Union represents one of the city's biggest recycling projects. The grassy lawns are built around the rusted remains of an industrial plant that once turned coal into gas. Today the park is a popular picnic and kite-flying spot, and from atop the park's "Kite Hill" there is a stupendous view of the Seattle skyline on the far side of Lake Union.