The Pike Place Market makes a great summer outing, offering up hundreds of sights, sounds, tastes and smells. The least busy time to visit is 9:30 to 11 a.m. if you want to avoid big tourist crowds. Here are some of my favorite places to stop with children.
Walk the main concourse. Start at First Avenue and Pike Street by DeLaurenti's, turn right under the clock (by the guys throwing fish – difficult for kids to see unless you put them on your shoulders) and wander north to Victor Steinbrueck Park at Pike Place and Virginia Street. Give your kids $10-$20 and let them pick their own vegetables, fruits or flowers. Stop to sample fruit slices, chocolate, pasta, jams, nuts and other goodies and to listen to the buskers. Be on the lookout for unusual sights – last week I saw a man with a gray parrot on his shoulder; the bird said "meow."
Feed Rachel. Plan ahead and collect pennies and dimes to put in the slot on the back of the Market's famous 550-pound piggy bank, under the clock and main market sign. Hear the coins enter her belly with a satisfying ring and know you are supporting social service agencies at the market.
Watch the donuts roll. Mini donuts slowly move along a conveyer belt and into the frying oil at the Daily Dozen Doughnut Company at the southern end of the main concourse (just like in Robert McCloskey's classic Homer Price story.)
See a magic trick. As you follow the main concourse, you'll see three sets of arrows and stairs pointing "Down Under." The Market Magic Shop is on the first level down. Put in a couple of quarters to get your fortune told by the "lady" at the entrance; say the magic word (please) to see a card trick or magic demonstration. Little gifts like tiny fish that flop in the palm of your hand are only a few dollars. Can you find a rubber chicken, a bodiless head with a red hat, and a robot with orange eyes playing cards?
Look at all the cute (stuffed) doggies and cats. Merry Tails, also on the first level "Down Under," is a delight for younger children. There's a stuffed animal "zoo" at the entrance; can you find a snowy owl, an emu and a raccoon? Inside, find stuffed versions of lots of different dog breeds at kid height, along with dozens of pet-humorous posters, books and signs.
Enter an alternate universe. Golden Age Collectibles at the extreme south end of the first level "Down Under" is a magnet for pre-teens and teens. See life-size cardboard cutouts of movie characters, human and nonhuman, at the entrance, and browse through hundreds of comic books, postcards, games, posters and even movie scripts. Can you find the latest editions of Justice Society America, the Canterbury Cricket and The Mighty Thor, alongside Wonder Woman and Superman?
Compare yourself to a giant. In the middle of the first level "Down Under," find the Giant Shoe Museum. Stand next to a cut-out of Robert Wadlow, who was 8 feet, 11 inches tall; pay 25 cents to see his shoe – he had the biggest foot in history.
Watch cheese churning. On the east side of Pike Place, across from the main concourse, find Beecher's Cheese just south of Stewart Street. Stand by the big windows to see huge vats of cream being slowly churned with giant blades. Step inside for small samples or to buy the ultimate grilled cheese sandwich.
Visit a bit of Mexico. From the east side of Pike Place, turn into Post Alley by the El Mercado Latino Market (with the hanging chains of colorful dried peppers and garlic). With its sidewalk cafes and flower boxes, this part of the alley feels like a European market. And don't forget to step back into the labyrinth of shops in the Post Alley Market Building.
These were my favorite spots to visit with my own children and friends, but the Market has loads more to offer. If you follow your own interests – and your nose – you're sure to find your own special places.
Editor's note: This updated article was originally published in July of 2011.