Just because you're on Skid Row doesn't mean you've bottomed out. You can still go downhill from there—if you're standing at the crest of Yesler Way, a steep street once known as "Skid Road" and later "Skid Row." Lumberjacks used it as a ramp for sliding timber to a sawmill until the mill burned down in 1887. By the 1930s, the street had morphed into a place for the down-and-out.
That was then. Today, Yesler Way, a hip street that preserves elements of Seattle's past, is ideal for strolling. The most interesting section cuts along the edge of Pioneer Square, a 25-square-block district graced by dozens of restored buildings, stylish galleries, and restaurants. Walking west toward the water, you'll pass Smith Tower, which was the tallest building west of the Mississippi when it was built in 1914.
You'll also see a hotel advertising rooms for 75 cents, a nod to Skid Row days. It costs more than that to buy a shrunken head at Ye Olde Curiosity Shop, a pioneer-era trading post just off Yesler on Alaskan Way. Or to catch a ferry from Pier 51, where Yesler meets the waterfront. Best bet for that 75 cents might be a cup of coffee at any of a number of cozy cafés.
Where it is — Yesler Way runs east to west through a residential district, then spills downhill toward Puget Sound.
Who will like it — Avid shoppers, strollers, and American history buffs.
What's there — Trendy shops and restaurants; Elliott Bay Books (two blocks away on South Main); Pioneer Place Park, a square lined with restored buildings; and the Underground Tour (on First Avenue, between Yesler Way and Cherry Street), which takes you belowground to see the remains of old Seattle.
When to go — A late summer visit still offers a good chance to see the sun. For information on visiting Seattle (lodging, restaurants, attractions), call (206) 461-5840.
Illustration by Michael Klein
This article was first published in September 2002. Some facts may have aged gracelessly. Please call ahead to verify information.