While the big draws for most people in Seattle are typically Pike’s Place Market, the Space Needle, and perhaps visiting the flagship Nordstrom store, there’s so many neighborhoods to visit outside the downtown area. If you’re looking for a little shopping excursion off the beaten path, then you may enjoy an afternoon visiting the neighborhoods of Fremont and Ballard, which are just a short Uber ride north of downtown.
I like to sleep in (as always) and head to Fremont, home to three darling stores all owned by Becky Buford. The original outpost, Les Amis, opened its doors in 1996. Her contractor husband helped transform the old garage into an inviting boutique with the friendliest staff! I would describe the look as elevated casual with designs primarily from independent women designers. They make a concerted effort to select ethically produced brands, many made right here in the USA. On my latest visit I checked out pieces from Matte, Lauren Manoogian, and Forte Forte. Don’t fret if you don’t see your size – they only put out one of each garment, with other sizes stored in back. So European! A selection of shoes, bags, jewelry, and even socks are available to complete your ensemble.
When your shopping bag is full, exit, take a right around the corner, and head over to the next gem of a store, Essenza, a total sensory experience. Opened in 1999, this lovely shop was inspired by apothecary shops in Provence. If you’re looking for coveted products from Santa Maria Novella, then this is the only place in Seattle to find them. I also admired the large selection Serge Lutens perfumes, objects from John Derian, luscious sleepwear, bedding, and even items for the baby in your life. One cannot fully enjoy the experience without checking out all the fine jewelry in artful cases surrounding the fountain – Jamie Joseph, Erica Molinari, Ann Sportun…who will call your name?
Jamie Joseph, Erica Molinari, Ann Sportun…who will call your name?
As you exit, take another right and head next door to the third establishment in the Becky Buford triumvirate, Liten. A bit more home focused, this shop has incredible porcelain from Jill Young Rosenast, pottery from MQuan, and pottery from Mt. Washington. The jewelry definitely has an edgy, yet delicate quality — think Wwake and Sirciam. You may also find just the perfect Tracey Tanner leather pouch to store your goodies and some Turkish towels for your bathroom. (UPDATE: Liten is now located inside Les Amis — a shop in shop.)
Having enjoyed these three delicious shops, take a short drive over to Ballard. If you find yourself arriving at lunchtime, you may want to try Ballard staple, La Carta de Oaxaca. This is definitely not a fancy place. Get ready for paper napkins and your elbows may stick to the table a bit. But I love it! Give me the fried quesadillas and one of their house margaritas, and I’m a happy girl. If you’re looking for a bit more of an upscale Mexican experience, just kitty-corner you’ll find The Matador, where I had a delicious dinner last year.
Get ready for paper napkins and your elbows may stick to the table a bit, but I love it!
When you’re ready to explore the stores, head right as you exit and continue along Ballard Ave, which is where you’ll find the bulk of the shopping. This neighborhood has a true star in Curtis Steiner’s store. I think I must have spent 45 minutes there on my latest visit. It’s a meeting place of antiques, cards, jewelry, and local art. It’s a gallery where you can touch, try on, and explore the treasures in the myriad of wooden drawers at the cash wrap. Although you’ll find items from around the globe, Curtis sources most of them right in the Pacific Northwest. He has that uncanny eye that can select items you didn’t know you needed. I’m still thinking about the wall hangings from Ballard designer Patti Shaw, and the shadow boxes from Sarah Jones. And trust me – do not leave without stocking up from the array of handmade cards… only send them to those you truly love who will appreciate their artistry. Each and every one is a little work of art. (UPDATE: This store closed summer 2020.)
As you explore Ballard Avenue, you may find a few gifty items or something for your home at Camelion Design. There’s also a darling toy store, Clover Toys. I always find myself in need of an afternoon gelato, and the offerings at D’Ambrosio Gelato definitely satisfy my sweet tooth.
As you reach the sleepier end of the street, you’ll enjoy Filson, a Seattle mainstay founded in 1897 to clothe the gold miners on their way to Alaska during the Klondike Gold Rush. These duds are durable. So much so, they have a lifetime guarantee! The manager told me that customers have come in wearing a waxed anorak that had been passed down for four generations. No matter what type of outdoor enthusiast you are, man or woman, this is the place to find what you’re looking for. And being offered a whisky or a beer while shopping makes it all the better.
Depending on the time of day, if it’s time to eat or grab a cocktail, you’re just about at two other Seattle favorites – just continue down Ballard Avenue on the same side as Filson. One is Barnacle, where you can enjoy a glass of wine and some Italian treats. If Oysters are what’s on your mind, then you’re in luck — The Walrus and The Carpenter will take care of you.
Hope you’ve enjoyed your tour of these neighborhoods! For more of my Seattle picks, click here to become a member.