Pioneer Square

Get to the bottom of Seattle’s story in this historic district, which traces the city’s tale through subterranean streets, grand old buildings, and café-dotted plazas.

More than just Seattle’s birthplace, Pioneer Square is the city’s storyteller. Seattle’s oldest neighborhood has witnessed every turn in the city’s history, good and bad. You know those octogenarians who have gotten more done before 10am than most people can achieve by dinnertime? Yep, Pioneer Square is that kind of granddaddy. On the surface, Seattle might seem ever changing, ephemeral, quick to embrace the new; Pioneer Square shows that the city has a slow-burning spirit that stays true to its past.

Some of Pioneer Square’s history is written in its streetscape. The settlement on the Elliott Bay Waterfront popped up almost overnight as a hub for prospectors making their way north during the Klondike Gold Rush of the 1890s. Back in those timber-town days, lumberjacks would slide giant logs down Yesler Way to the wharf below, earning the district the name “Skid Row.” The district’s Romanesque Revival buildings came next, making their grand statement on the fledgling city’s streets.

If you’re an old-fashioned romantic, Pioneer Square is a perfect date spot. Get a period-style picture of Pioneer Square’s ivy-garlanded buildings and cobblestone streets with a horse-drawn carriage ride. Museums, historical parks, and walking tours help to unearth the city’s colorful history. For a peek at Seattle’s more sordid side, go on Bill Speidel’s Underground Tour. Discover the city’s subterranean streets, which were lined with hard-drinking saloons and secret bordellos. If you prefer bird’s-eye views, ride the hand-cranked elevator up the Smith Tower and look out across the city skyline.

After dark, another side of Pioneer Square emerges. The neighborhood has been putting on parties since before you were born, so it makes sense that some of the city’s well-attested watering holes and hallowed music halls are located here. And by hallowed, we mean mecca for ’90s grunge fans. Nirvana played Smells Like Teen Spirit for the first time in the district’s now-defunct OK Hotel.

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