Get to Know Seattle’s Vibrant and Historic Neighborhoods
Grab your walking shoes, and become an urban adventurer. Clark Humphrey guides you through 35 unique walking tours in the vibrant young city that’s a crossroads of world trade and cultures. Seattle is home to cozy bungalows, stately mansions, postmodern palaces, and outdoor art, making it one of the most fascinating and beautiful metropolitan areas in America. Each self-guided tour includes full-color photographs, a map, and need-to-know details like distance, difficulty, points of interest, and more.
Stroll along wide boulevards, narrow cobblestone lanes, and pedestrian pathways from Pioneer Square to Queen Anne Hill. Explore the U District and the University of Washington Campus, as well as Foster Island and the Arboretum. You’ll soak up history, stories, and trivia on your way to the best parks, shops, restaurants, and nightlife in Washington. So find a route that appeals to you, and walk Seattle!
About the Author
Clark Humphrey has observed and chronicled Seattle’s happenings and changes for more years than he would care to remember. He’s seen Seattle transform from a boom-and-bust industrial city into today’s fast-growing, fast-moving tech mecca. He’s walked his way through every Seattle neighborhood except the gated Broadmoor. He’s a former staff writer with The Stranger and The Comics Journal , and a former book reviewer for The Seattle Times. His other books include LOSER: The Real Seattle Music Story (reissued by MISCmedia) and Vanishing Seattle and Seattle’s Belltown (both Arcadia Publishing). He continues to write about the city, its growth, and its contradictions daily at miscmedia.com. He’s a fourth generation Washingtonian and a University of Washington alum.
Read an Excerpt
Pioneer Square: Where Seattle Started
The first white settlement in present-day Seattle was established in 1851 at Alki Point (Walk 33). After one miserable winter there, the settlers built a township along a small patch of level land surrounded by forested hills, tidal flats, and Elliott Bay. This is where Henry Yesler built his lumber mill, where the logs for Yesler’s mill were skidded downhill on the original “skid road,” where the first stores, saloons, and bawdy houses opened. Those wooden buildings burned in the Great Seattle Fire of 1889. They were replaced by brick and stone structures, advertisements of a town striving for greatness. These architectural classics were preserved by neglect as downtown’s core moved north. They’re now mostly intact and restored as monuments to yesterday’s hopes for a grand tomorrow.
Start at the Doubletree Arctic Club Hotel, 700 3rd Ave. This stoic white-clad structure was built in 1916 by business leaders associated with the Alaska trade. The building notes this connection with rows of terra-cotta walrus heads, whose tusks were originally marble (since replaced with terra-cotta and plastic). The club’s meeting space was the grand Dome Room, named for its curved stained-glass ceiling. The building’s now an elegant boutique hotel, and the Dome Room is its lounge and dining area. Walk southeast from here to Cherry St.
Cross 3rd at Cherry. In front of you is the Dexter Horton Building, another terra cotta palace. It was built in 1924 for the Dexter Horton National Bank, which merged with two other banks in the 1930s to become Seattle-First National Bank (Walk 3). On the southwest side of Cherry stands the Lyon Building, six handsome stories of brick and concrete dating to 1910. Walk on the northwest side of Cherry to 2nd Ave. Across 2nd is the 18-story, Beaux Arts Hoge Building, Seattle’s tallest building when it was built in 1911.
Turn southeast on 2nd. Enjoy the terra-cotta angels, serpents, and torches embellishing the Alaska Building. In 1904 it was Seattle’s first steel-frame skyscraper (14 stories). Across 2nd is the Broderick Building (623 2nd Ave.), one of the original stone structures built after the 1889 fire. To its left, a parking garage incorporates the ground-floor facade of the 1893 Butler Hotel. Continue on 2nd past three smaller old buildings to the Smith Tower.
When typewriter tycoon L. C. Smith built it in 1914, the Smith Tower was the tallest building west of the Mississippi. It remained Seattle’s tallest until 1962. Its white base is topped by a smaller tower section, and then by a pyramid-shaped cap. The pyramid’s base (the building’s 35th floor) is the Chinese Room, a lavish space available for rentals (or simply for enjoying inside and outside views). The building also features marble-and-brass interiors and Seattle’s last old-time steam elevators, with professional operators.
Turn west on Yesler, the original “Skid Road,” where logs were skidded downhill toward Henry Yesler’s sawmill, and continue for two blocks. (Note: Yesler, and the streets south of it, are on a north-south grid. Downtown streets north of Yesler run parallel to the waterfront, on a northwest-southeast grid.) Immediately west of the Smith Tower is the infamous “sinking ship” parking garage, built in 1963 on the venerable 1889 Seattle Hotel’s site. A few years later, developers proposed razing most of the neighborhood for more parking. Instead, preservationists got Pioneer Square declared a historic district.
On Yesler’s south side are the 1892 Interurban Building and the 1890 Merchants Cafe (still open as a restaurant after 120 years). On its north side, the stoic 1892 Pioneer Building is home to the Underground Tour, founded in the 1980s by entrepreneur historian Bill Speidel. The guided tour traverses the original ground floors of the square buildings, turned into basements when the street levels were raised.
The Pioneer Building overlooks Pioneer Square itself, a.k.a. Pioneer Place Park. This cobblestoned triangle was established in 1893 on the former site of Yesler’s mill. An Alaskan totem pole was added in 1899; it burned, and a new pole was commissioned, in 1938. The ornate iron pergola facing Yesler was built in 1909 (and rebuilt twice since); it was originally a trolley-stop shelter and an entrance to now-closed underground restrooms.
Turn south on 1st Ave. S. In the late 19th and early 20th century lumberjacks and farm boys cavorted in saloons and brothels in this “Great Restricted District.” In the 1970s, this street took on a double lifegalleries and boutiques by day, raucous bars by night. Both scenes slumped in the late 2000s but survive, as do the vintage brick buildings. Toward this segment’s end is Sluggers Bar & Grill, which claims to be the first TV-festooned sports bar in the United States.
Turn southeast on the diagonal Railroad Way S. to Occidental Ave. S. You’re facing the west side of Qwest Field, one of two luxurious stadia that replaced the utilitarian Kingdome. Qwest hosts the NFL’s Seahawks, Major League Soccer’s Sounders FC, concerts, and boat and home shows.
Turn north on Occidental, abutting Qwest Field’s parking lot. To your left is the Florentine (526 1st Ave. S.), a condo and retail structure built from a really long 1909 warehouse. Occidental doglegs at S. King St. in front of F. X. McRory’s, which was a luxurious sports bar even during the humbler Kingdome era.
Turn east on S. King. To your right looms Qwest Field’s north entrance, featuring artist Bob Haozous’s Earth Dialogue, four disk-shaped silhouettes representing humanity’s connection to the natural world. Ahead of you lies King Street Station, built in 1906. Its 242-foot clock tower was inspired by Venice’s Campanile di San Marco. It now services Amtrak and commuter rail. Its once-grand waiting room is being restored.
Turn north from King onto 2nd Ave. S. To your right, a new King County office building strives to fit in with its historic surroundings. To your left, the Court in the Square is a glass-ceilinged atrium between two brick buildings.
Turn west onto S. Jackson St. To your right, the historic Cadillac Hotel now houses the Klondike Gold Rush National Historical Park, a free museum about the 1897 Yukon gold fever that helped put Seattle on the map. To your left, Zeitgeist Kunst & Kaffee is a handsome, retro-industrial space. Beyond it stands the 1903 Washington Shoe Building, a factory that later became art studios and now hosts offices.
Walk north through Occidental Mall. This pedestrian-only corridor abuts several fine art galleries, and serves as a more intimate counterpart to Occidental Park, the next block north. The latter features two large totem poles and the Fallen Firefighter Memorial statues.
Turn east on S. Main St. At the southeast corner of 2nd and Main, the 1929 Seattle Fire Department headquarters stands as a stony symbol of stoic dedication. At the northwest corner of 2nd and Main, the Waterfall Garden Park is a small enclosed outdoor space in front of an artificial waterfall. It was built in 1977 by the family that founded the formerly Seattle-based United Parcel Service. Farther along, a gyro stand occupies a vintage gas station at the intersection with the diagonal 2nd Ave. Extension. The northeast corner of 3rd and Main offers more major commercial art galleries.
Turn north on 3rd Ave. S. Halfway up the block, the privately run Seattle Metropolitan Police Museum claims to be the largest police museum in the western United States. At the southwest corner of 3rd and Washington, the 1890 Washington Court Building was originally commissioned by Dorothea “Lou” Graham, early Seattle’s most famous brothel operator. It’s now part of the Union Gospel Mission. At the northeast corner, the Tashiro/Kaplan Building combines two vintage structures into artist studios and galleries.
Turn west on S. Washington St. for five blocks. At the northeast corner of Washington and the 2nd Ave. Extension, the three-story 1890 Chin Gee Hee Building is the last vestige of Seattle’s original Chinatown, before that community gradually moved farther east (Walk 11). At this intersection’s northwest corner, the Nugent/Considine Block houses the Double Header Tavern, Seattle’s oldest gay bar. In that building’s basement, the Heaven Nightclub occupies vaudeville mogul John Considine’s People’s Theater. One block beyond, the historic buildings give way to the 1950s brutalism of the Alaskan Way Viaduct (Walk 7). Beyond this, at the foot of Alaskan Way, stands the Washington Street Boat Landing, a Beaux Arts metal pergola built in 1920.
Turn northwest on Alaskan one block; then turn east on Yesler. The 1914 Pioneer Square Hotel and Saloon has been renovated as a boutique hotel. Back at 1st and Yesler, the red sandstone facade of the Mutual Life Building now sports a toy store.
Table of Contents
Table of Contents
APPENDIX 1: Walks by Theme
APPENDIX 2: Points of Interest
About the Author
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
I enjoyed this little tourist book and hope that the places marked by the book live up to the reviews when I visit Seattle! The walking tours seem interesting, I just want to see how well the book applies on an actual walk through the city.
A collection of 35 walking tours of the city, this work is a handy guide to seeing Seattle on foot. It's a bit heavy to be carrying in a pack, but offers not only the walks themselves with maps, tidbits of historical or fun facts along the way, "back story" of the area or buildings, he also includes a one-sheet page with connecting walks, points of interest on the walk, and a route summary. Pictures are scattered throughout and Humphrey includes two appendices: one of the walks gathered by theme and the second listing points of interest with contact information. All-in-all, a handy little walking guide.
Seattle is a city I've wanted to visit for a couple of years as I like cool, drizzly weather, coffee and seafood. This book has 35 self-guided walking tours created by area or interests. There are few pictures included, and I was surprised that Top Pot Donuts isn't mentioned at all and Elliot Bay Books is only mentioned in a single sentence. But if I do make it to the city, I'll be taking this with me as the point-by-point details are mapped out.
This book to me was pretty perplexing because I find it hard to imagine who would actually buy this book. There seemed to be too many walks with too little substance and as a resident(even though I'm a relatively new one) I know for certain that I will never go on some of these walks because there really isn't as much of a draw that Humphrey would like to believe. Additionally, for someone who might be a visitor to the city this is a pretty overwhelming list that would be quite difficult to manage and determine what ones were worth pursuing. Since I'm new here there was definitely plenty of information here that was new and interesting but I could just as easily gotten it from any other Seattle book. This project seems like it would make more sense as an app or pamphlet with around 10 walks instead of 35. I would have liked more comprehensive and interesting walks rather than the large quantity.
The book contains 35 walking tours all around Seattle in and out of the more popular tourist areas. Each walk offers insightful trivia on the area and it's history with an array of places of interest from historical to popular and usually a place to stop and eat. The walks offer the distance, walk difficulty, where to park, public transit to walk start's and the boundaries the walk will cover. Also included is a map of the walk, a brief description of the type of walk, and a step by step guide with trivia. At the end of the guide a summary of the points of interests on the walk is given with addresses, telephone number, and website, the availability of connecting walks and a route summary. The author offers side trips and back stories in caption boxes to many of the walks. The design of the book is small and square, it is easy to hold and still compact enough to fit into a side bag or backpack, but probably too big for a purse. The book font is easy to read, though I did find the step-by-step guides bold font made it hard to separate the directions from the informative notes and the steps not being numbered makes it easy to loose your place on the guide. Also, the caption box color blends too closely with the text color making it hard to read the notes. On the plus side, the walks are indexed by theme and interest making it easy to find a good walk. And if you are visiting without a rental car, each of the walks are easily accessible using the public transportation. Overall, I found the content and diversity of walks has increased my interest in exploring the many areas of Seattle. I am looking forward to making trips with friends to explore Seattle.
I was pleasantly surprised by this book. Kkisser's review below is dead on so I will say "DITTO".I live in Seattle, but familiar places look different on foot. I plan on doing a different walk from the book at least once a month. If you are planning to visit the area, THIS book is eons better than a Frommer's, et al, or at least a great companion.
Seattle is one of my favourite cities, especially for walking around, so I was pleased to add this book with 35 walking tours to my library. I'm already familiar with much of the downtown area, but I like having the distance, difficulty levels, and parking and public transportation availability clarified, as well as landmarks that I might have missed on my other trips. What I'm really looking forward to is trying out the non-downtown tours. Another reviewer pointed out that the book is a little bulky for carrying around, but I don't think it's prohibitively so. I also very much like the appendices of walks by theme and points of interest, as well as the rather thorough index. Highly recommended for those interested in more about Seattle than the Space Needle!
Some of the directions are outdated. The Foster Island walk doesn't have MOHAI any more, so that maybe confusing. It's nice to check off the walks and learn about Seattle history as well as see the various neighborhoods.