5 Tips for Exploring Pike Place Market with Kids

Doesn’t dragging your children through hordes of tourists at Pike Place Market sound like fun? If you’re like me, you’ll either lose a kid or lose your cool. The amount of visitors to our historic landmark is increasing exponentially each year, which is great for the market, but hard on locals and especially those of us with kids.

What follows is an insiders guide to the mini Pike Place Market tour for you and your minis. It doesn’t cover much ground and it doesn’t cost much money (most of it is free), but it is big on good food and fun. There’s even some quiet time thrown in for those after-toddler-tantrum-moments or a breastfeeding break.

Getting there. Let’s be real. Taking the bus is the best bet since parking at the market is expensive and far away. However, if you can rally your troop to arrive at the market before 11 a.m. on a weekday you might get lucky and find a parking spot on Pike Place. This early in the day you’ll have most of the market vendors to yourself, and you’ll be there when the shops open. On Sundays, street parking is free all day.

What to bring. Coins for Rachel, five one dollar bills per kid to spend on new fruits and veggies, wipes for cleaning up afterwards.

Dress Up. If your child likes attention, have he or she wear a favorite costume. On the day my daughter wore her princess dress, she was addressed as such and felt like royalty for a day.

1.      Ride Rachel

Start with a requisite ride on the market mascot, Rachel the Pig, in the heart of the market at the corner of Pike St and Pike Place directly under the neon Public Market Center sign and “the clock.” Have your kids jump on her back for a photo, then drop some coins into her change slot. She’s a life-size piggy bank modeled after a real pig! Can you find her hoof print? Know that your donation to the Pike Place Market Foundation supports a food bank, a preschool, a senior center, as well as a medical clinic in the market.

 Make sure you drop a few coins into Rachel after getting your picture

Make sure you drop a few coins into Rachel after getting your picture

 2.      Pike Place Fish and more

We all know the orange-clad fish-throwing guys are loud and fun, but they’re also full of tricks for kids. The large crowd around our world famous fishmongers might be intimidating but there’s still space for you and yours to get up close and personal. First of all, find the monkfish. Have you ever seen the grotesque gargoyle hanging from the salmon bench? That’s the monkfish! Ask one of the guys to “coach your kids on how to pull the monkfish chord.” When done right, it jiggles and lurches towards screaming onlookers. Excuse yourself into the inner sanctum, passed the crowd and hang out by the corner counter where the fishmongers toss and catch fish from. You can comfortably stand next to the display case, just be sure to leave room for the guys to walk through and duck if you hear them yell “Back Jack” or “TT” (test toss).

 The guys at Pike Place Fish give kids the ultimate experience

The guys at Pike Place Fish give kids the ultimate experience

For the full market-to-plate experience, have your child pick out a crab, then watch it get cracked and cleaned. It’s ready for immediate consumption. If you forgot the wipes, ask them to throw in a few wet paper towels. Before you leave the fish guys, be sure to grab a sample of their smoked salmon and if it’s a hit, try our favorite kid-friendly meal for dinner: smoked salmon fried rice with peas, carrots, egg, and soy sauce.

If your kids weren’t big fans of the smoked salmon, maybe they’d like another easy smoked snack, a little sausage landjäger from Don and Joe’s Meat. They are perfect for little hands (just ask them to slice it longways for your kiddos under 4 years.) Before bringing your ready-to-eat crab to Tip #3, try an apple chip sample from Simply the Best Dried Fruit stand. Much of what they sell is additive and sugar free. Directly behind you is the Sunny Honey Co. Their honey sticks are affordable for the kids to purchase on their own and many of their sweet products are under six bucks. Everything is handmade in Bellingham from local busy bees.

 No sugar added Apple Chips from Simply the Best Dried Fruit

No sugar added Apple Chips from Simply the Best Dried Fruit

 Delicious honey flavors at Sunny Honey Co. 

Delicious honey flavors at Sunny Honey Co. 

 3.      Pike Place Market Urban Garden

This rooftop garden is our favorite hidden treasure, a gorgeous place to have a snack and enjoy the view. A pig will also greet you at the entrance of this fruit and veggie wonderland. On this porcine sculpture, your children can leave their John Hancock in chalk. In 2013, this beautifully designed garden produced over 20lbs of food for the Food Bank and Senior Center. Located just to the left of Pike Place Fish towards Maximilien restaurant. Follow the hallway through gray double doors. If the weather is cold and rainy, pop into nearby Crepe de France for delicious food with tables and chairs.

 Pike Place Market Urban Garden

Pike Place Market Urban Garden

4. Thomas the Clown, Frank’s Produce, Ellenos Yogurt, Britt’s Pickles and Beecher’s Cheese.

Be sure to watch the balloon twisting magic of Thomas the clown who’s usually seated near Rachel the Pig. He’s a permanent fixture within the market that was once asked to design an ensemble for a local fashion show. More amazingly, he may be the only balloon clown left who blows the balloons up with his mouth. The kids can use their one-dollar bills to choose a creation. How many balloons did it take to make his hat?

At this point you might be ready to cross the street towards the fresh fruit stands. There are always samples at Frank’s Produce and the kids can use the remainder of their money to buy something they’ve never tried before. Tucked-in, down the hall behind the nearby oriental market is Ellenos Greek Yogurt which also offers yummy samples to tempt your littles’ palettes. Down the hall a little more is Britt’s Pickles who sells pickles on a stick, a classic old-fashioned treat. On the next block, is Beecher’s Handmade Cheese with a viewing window for the kids. You might get a chance to catch the cheese makers in the act.

5. Take a break and a pit stop at Local Color Café or Lowell’s Restaurant

If you need a rest, a potty stop, or a breastfeeding break, visit the back of Local Color Café. Here you will find couches surrounded by art and a quiet space for some down time. Across the street, Lowell’s Restaurant offers three floors of water front views (one of which has a restroom).

Before you leave, check out the lower levels for magic tricks, a chocolatier, comic books, a pinball machine, photo booths, fortunetellers, and collectible rocks. Savor the memories of your day by picking up a copy of Sara Anderson’s colorful children’s book called A Day At The Market.

Jennifer Kakutani lives with her husband and three children on Bainbridge Island, WA. She is writing a memoir on mothering, as well as articles for Parentmap.com. She is married to a fishmonger named Taho.