If you want to see Seattle, but don't have a lot of money, I suggest spending an afternoon in the Fremont district. Fremont is home to many of the quirky things in Seattle, like the Fremont Troll, a giant sculpture of a troll that resides under the extremely tall Aurora Bridge that will take you from Fremont to downtown. Fittingly enough, the Troll is located at the top of Troll Ave where it intersects N 36th St. (The street was actually renamed to Troll Ave in 2005, making the monument easier to find, no doubt.)
But that isn't the only thing unique about Fremont. And in this tour, I am going to let you in on a few secrets, all of them completely free. All you need is a little cash for souvenirs, if you like, food, and, since this is Seattle, a cup of coffee to keep you going.
For an easy print out of your own, click here. This is the one I used as a guide, though we didn't end up following it very well, and there were many additions and subtractions. For starters, don't park where it tells you to park. Everything you're going to be looking at is on the north side of the bridge, and parking on the south side is a little difficult and confusing. The streets are also a lot busier there. We didn't have any luck, so wen ended up parking just down from the Troll near a Japanese 80s bar. Sadly, we did not go inside.
Greg and I ended up not even starting with Rapunzel. In our quest to find parking, we ended up tracing the path of the walking tour with the car and seeing everything from the sculpture Waiting for the Interurban (which is usually whimsically dressed up by locals in an array of colorful hats, shirts, and necklaces) to the directional marker. We actually saw the statue of Lenin (yes, that Lenin) while driving from our friend's apartment. It's quite large and very difficult to miss.
A few of the places on the tour are closed, like Frank and Dunya, but there are plenty of other fun shops to stop at along the way. I ended up buying a fabulous pair of earrings and a leather bracelet from a Turkish store on the way to the History House on 34th street. The store is marked by a tallish camel statue out front that Greg's brother told us gets dressed up in different outfits for various occasions (which I think is adorable if it is true). The lady that runs the store is very friendly and talented! She makes the adorable crocheted hats and scarves for sale herself. The shop also promises Turkish coffee, so if that is your thing, do stop in.
The History House turned out to be quite small, but educational. We learned that Seattle averages 226 cloudy a year, and the lowest recorded temperature is 0 degrees F and the highest is 100 degrees F. There are also a bunch of pictures of the Waiting for the Interurban in different outfits. They also sell gnome doors! The only other place I have seen gnome doors is in Frankenmuth, MI. I told the guy behind the counter about Ann Arbor's fairy doors, and he said he'd never seen fairy doors, but thought the whole idea was pretty neat.
It was actually on our way to all of these things rather than after that we stopped at Dusty Strings on Fremont Ave, a very cool music shop that specializes in acoustic instruments. They had a banjo shaped like a fish and rattles for a babies shaped like a human skull. The walls are covered in ukuleles, banjos, guitars, violins, and these are far from the only instruments they sell. They also encourage you to try out the instruments, which I would have done had I any knowledge of how to play any of them.
Fremont's famous directional marker which declares Fremont as the center of the universe and point to various other locations all around the globe, including the North Pole as well as the other famous Fremont landmarks, like Lenin and the rocket.
Also along Fremont Ave is the really cool and rather large Vintage Mall where I bought an aviator cap for an upcoming costume for the Marche du Nain Rouge in Detroit. Other vintage stores in the area that we stopped at are Vintage Angel, which has awesome boots, and Deluxe Junk, which has a goofy statue out front when it's open. Deluxe Junk is where we found a Civil War era prosthetic leg. Pretty cool, eh?
We were lucky to be wandering Fremont on the first Friday of the month. It turns out that day is set aside as an Art Walk. I grew up with something quite similar in Kalamazoo, MI called Art Hop. It's even the same day! If you live in Seattle, the Fremont Art Walk is a great way to get to know the neighborhood beyond the well-known touristy stuff. I overheard some people say that other neighborhoods also do Art Walks on different nights of the week. You could tour the whole city this way!
If you aren't familiar with this kind of event, it's basically a bunch of businesses (usually stores and galleries) who get together and decide that they are going to open their doors to local artists and showcase their work. There are usually modest refreshments and snacks, and the public can meet the artists and often purchase some of their work. In Kalamazoo, the Art Hop is when the various galleries around town open new showings, as well as the aforementioned stores showing off a local artist's work. I love Art Walks and Hops and whatever they are called! Galleries that may normally charge admission are free and feed you. What's not to love about that?
One artist who totally caught our eyes is Ben Chamberlain who had a lot of black and white comic art for show. I came very, very close to buying one of his prints.
I realize this wasn't a totally logical step-by-step of Fremont. It's a small area with a lot of stuff packed tightly together. One can easily spend a day wandering around, checking out all the outdoor funky art, tasty little places to eat, and unique shops. The best part of all, most of these activities don't even cost any money. If you are artsy or the least bit kooky, Fremont should definitely be on your list of places to check out in Seattle.