Pioneer Square Seattle – Let’s Get to Know this Historic Neighborhood

Pioneer Square, Seattle located in the state of Washington, is known as the birthplace of the city. It’s in the southwest of downtown Seattle. It was the city’s first official neighborhood and is considered a richly historic preservation district of Seattle. Unlike the rest of the city, Pioneer Square has strict limitations on building skyscrapers or new tall buildings. This is due to its historic status. What is noticeable at first glance is the brick-facade buildings and cobblestone streets throughout Pioneer Square. The buildings are known for their Romanesque Revival architecture. As you start exploring the area, you realize it has some quirky tucked-away boutiques and underground passageways as well.

As you walk along the streets of Pioneer Square, you’ll notice different informative boards and maps showing the history of the area. For example, the location of the shoreline 150 years ago can be compared to its current shoreline status.

People can access Pioneer Square by car, bike, and even on foot. Bus, subway, Lyft, or Uber are available for getting to the south of downtown and west of the International District.

Pioneer Square has long been a vibrant neighborhood and a nightlife spot. However, the neighborhood does have a relatively high crime rate. To stay safe after dark, it is recommended to stay in the busier and more populated areas with bars and nightlife.

A Bit about Pioneer Square History

What we experience now in Pioneer Square is the post-fire era. A massive fire destroyed about 25 blocks of Pioneer Square in 1889. Almost all the wooden structures in the area burned down in the fire. A year later in 1889, because of the strong economy, many brick and stone buildings started to appear quickly and the whole area started being rebuilt.

How the Pioneer Square, Seattle Underground Formed

Due to some drainage problems, the regrading of homes and stores after the fire destruction was up to 25 feet higher than they used to be. So, many buildings and sidewalks were buried and became hidden above ground. However, they could still be accessed underground and many buildings ended up with two entrances. The old low-level entrance was preserved and a new one at a higher level was also built. This has created a network of basements and cellars known as The Seattle Underground. People can take an underground walking tour which usually takes an hour and 15 minutes to visit many of these underground establishments.

Things to Do and See in Pioneer Square

There are many national historic landmarks in Pioneer Square. One example involved some Seattle businessmen who brought a totem pole, Chief-of-All-Women, from Alaska. They didn’t ask permission from the indigenous people who made it. After an arsonist destroyed the pole, the replica of the pole was substituted. It’s now standing for over 80 years.

Another landmark is the Sinking Ship. The unusual design of the “Sinking Ship” building makes it a quirky sight for people. It looks like a sinking vessel and its floors are underground. Previously, it was a hotel but it’s now a parking garage.

Another great landmark to visit is T-Mobile Park. With its retractable roof and entertainment options it hosts hundreds of thousands of baseball fans every year. It’s also perfect for Seattle’s rain showers. Many large concerts also take place there.

About Occidental Square Park

People describe Occidental Square Park as having a European style. It has brick pavements and many trees. It hosts public arts, different games, and many other activities. It’s known for being the center of ongoing events. For example, every second Wednesday of the month, people gather for a coffee break under the pavilion in Occidental Square. They enjoy live music, while drinking their cup of joe. Others can use the facilities such as foosball and ping pong tables in Occidental Park.

In the Great Seattle Fire, 4 firefighters died in the line of duty. Their bronze statues are now in the park to respect their sacrifice. The names of the firemen are inscribed on a granite block.

Looking for Free Activities or Rides in Pioneer Square?

On the first Thursday of every month, you’ll see the latest and largest artworks on the pedestrian-only block of Occidental Avenue. The Art Walk’s been running since 1981. It’s free of charge and self-guided.

On Thursdays only, you can visit the Last Resort Fire Department Museum. It also has free admission. On the first floor, there’s an exhibition of old fire trucks drawn by horses and some other old hand pumper machines as fire extinguishers. They show antique and modern firefighting apparatus, as well as firefighter skills. The building is still a functional fire department and the staff uses the second floor.

Another free attraction is Waterfall Garden Park. Passing visitors can relax there while enjoying the surrounding nature. Hop on the free Waterfront Shuttle to head to downtown attractions. These include the Seattle Aquarium, the Great Ferris Wheel, and the quirky Gum Wall. Then, ride the shuttle directly to the Space Needle.

Don’t forget to visit another free admission spot which is the historical park of the Klondike Gold Rush which started in 1896. Surprisingly, many Seattleites aren’t aware of it. It refers to thousands of adventurers heading to Alaska in search of gold and fortune. They used to pass through Pioneer Square and board their ships in the neighborhood.

Getting to Know Pioneer Square, Seattle Bars

Tourists usually visit the 23rd tallest building in Seattle; Smith Tower. It’s Seattle’s oldest skyscraper with a 484-foot height. On the 35th-floor, you’ll find a speakeasy-style Observatory Bar. Have a seat in the Wishing Chair and enjoy the sweet views of the city.

You can chug brews at Merchant's Cafe, Seattle’s oldest bar. It began operating in 1890 as a hotel for its first 16 years.

Some Great Pioneer Square, Seattle Restaurants

Different international cuisine can be found in Pioneer Square restaurants. For example, at 13 Coins, a 24/7 restaurant, they serve a classic French onion soup with melted cheese. At Altstadt, German dishes along with local beers are served. Salumi also creatively serves sandwiches with homemade Italian-cured meats. At Casco Antiguo, you’ll find popular dishes from Mexico - they serve terrific tacos. If it’s crowded, you’ll always find a table on the patio, facing an alley in the back of the restaurant.

Pioneer Square, Seattle Hotels

Lodging options are quite few when it comes to choosing among Pioneer Square hotels. However, there are some nice hotels catering to different tastes. Best Western Plus in Pioneer Square has the best location in the heart of the neighborhood. It’s within walking distance from the waterfront.

Courtyard Marriott Seattle Downtown provides all the comforts you’d expect. The best and luxurious hotel in Pioneer Square is Embassy Suites. It provides a heated pool and many restaurants and bars in the lobby.

Sports fans might be interested in choosing the Silver Cloud Hotel. It’s across the street from the stadiums. A metered street parking is also available for your cars to be parked for a couple of hours.

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Published: September 15, 2021