I’m not usually one for chasing sites of once important locations that look nothing like its historical reference. If it hasn’t been preserved and has since been replaced by a high rise, what is there to see? I was skeptical of the attractions in Pioneer square for that reason. In fact, it was on my “if I have time” list, but I went and started with the Underground Tour. It ended up sparking an interest in Seattle’s history and I added more historical stops to my itinerary!

The aptly named Pioneer Square is preserved and marks Seattle’s founding location which was situated at sea level. High-tide and mudflats made for some unexpected side effects as the founders learned to make do with the only piece of land not already inhabited by Native Americans. Exploding toilets, potholes filled with sawdust and gold sniffing beavers are among the surprising facts of Seattle’s history you’ll learn at these must-see museums in Seattle’s historic Pioneer Square.

Bill Speidel’s Underground Tour

Best For: History lovers and hidden gem seekers

Abandoned bathroom from the Underground tour

The tour guides at Bill Speidel’s Underground Tours missed their calling as comedians, or maybe Seattle’s blunderous origin story is just that comedic. You’ll uncontrollably laugh as you learn how high tide and The Crapper don’t mix.  Yes, ladies and gentlemen, that is the official name for the latest and greatest line of toilets from the 1880s.

Photo Tip: If you are taking photos in low light settings such as this one, you’ll want to consider using a longer shutter speed.

Tellers Cave
Underground tour

“Watch the purple!”  our guide said as we walked from one location to the next, pointing out the stained glass at our feet. As the underground tunnel tour progressed, I learned the stained glass sidewalks were skylights for Seattle’s hidden city. When the skylights were installed, manganese dioxide was added to decolorize the glass and give it a clear appearance. As the glass was exposed to UV light from the sun, the manganese turned purple. 

Photo Tip: If you love the blurred background, try opening the aperture.

Skylight Sidewalk

Women outnumbered men by more than 2:1 and some women realized there was a profit to be made…as “seamstresses”. The Underworld Tour tells the raunchier, more accurate, and not safe for children version of life underground in the 1890’s.

Klondike Gold Rush Museum

Best For: Museum Lovers, National Park Lovers, and Budget Travelers (entrance is free!)

Gold from the Klondike Gold Rush Museum in Seattle
Newspaper Headlines - Klondike Gold Rush Museum

“GOLD! GOLD! GOLD!” headlined the news as one journalist convinced the world that Seattle was the final and best pit stop before striking it rich in the Klondike Gold Rush.

Klondike Gold Rush Museum - General Store
Klondike Gold Rush Museum - General Store

Learn how selling supplies to the victims of the 1800’s version of a lottery ticket launched a town recovering from fire and depression into the prospering city it is today.

If history is not your thing, what about learning the origin story of one of the nation’s favorite fashion retailers? I don’t want to spoil any surprises, but you won’t be disappointed with what you learn at the National Park Service’s Klondike Gold Rush Museum.


Seattle History

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