Puyallup, Washington: Living My Favorite Place
Everyone has heard of Seattle and Tacoma. Cruise ships line Seattle harbor in the early summer and early fall, making the crowds impossible to traverse for locals. Most of us stay in our own dens during those times, coming out when the skies turn darker and the rain falls. But there are havens of smaller town life that make living in the vicinity of Seattle our home. The usual draws like Pike’s Market and the Space Needle are ubiquitous with Seattle, but there are quieter burbs that deserve recognition. Puyallup is one of those places.
Situated between the outer suburbs of Seattle and the outskirts of Tacoma, Puyallup (pronounced Peu-allup) is the native word for “smelly river,” but there’s nothing smelly about this town I call home. There are times when visiting Puyallup can be as treacherous and busy as visiting Seattle, with festivals like the Daffodil Festival and the annual Puyallup Fair, but those don’t occur during the late “shoulder season” of spring which is among one of the best times to visit, in my view.
I’d start a typical Saturday morning with a nice breakfast at Biscuits Café, one of those rare places that still serves made from scratch biscuits, but gives the option of a white or brown gravy with hand cut potatoes. Everything from the biscuits to the pancakes are made to order. It’s also one of those restaurants that only serves until the food is gone, so be sure to get there early.
Then, I’d hit the Puyallup Farmer’s Market. It runs from May through November, and unlike other farmer’s markets, this market spans the whole of the Puyallup park, a 6-square-block area. You can find everything from homemade perfume and puppies for adoption or food trucks selling Lebanese-style gyros and Korean BBQ to fresh fish and salted nuts. This is all in addition to the typical and not so typical fruits and vegetables brought over the mountains from Yakima. The apples and cherries seem to be bigger on that side of the mountains, even though we get more rain in Western Washington. I’ve seen apples that are half the size of my head, and trust me, my head isn’t small. On the center stage or sometimes at the edges of the market are the fringes of musicians or school choruses, just hoping to get discovered, or simply heard.
After the market, I’d take a walk down Main Street, where the shopping ranges from vintage guitars to homemade cheese. If I were feeling creative, I’d stop in to the “Art and Corks Studio” and spend a few hours sampling local wines, while trying my hand at painting on canvas. If painting didn’t suit, but I still wanted to take in some art, the market and Main Street is lined with outside artwork, called the Puyallup Art Walk. The sculptures range from bronze strawberry sellers to abstract glass that rivals a Chihuly. Not far from Puyallup, more art glass can be found at the Museum of Glass in Tacoma, but that would require a car, and there is plenty of art to take in on the Puyallup Main Street.
If I were feeling more historical, I’d take in Meeker Mansion. It’s the first mansion in Puyallup and the only one open to the public. It still contains the original furniture and style of the early 19th Century. It’s also reported as being haunted, but apparently only in the fall during the weeks around Halloween.
If other historical pursuits appeal more than a mansion, a few blocks further down on Main Street, the Washington State Fairgrounds had a more nefarious past. They were once the site of a Japanese concentration called “Camp Harmony” that housed over 7000 Japanese Americans were during WWII.
If I hadn’t done enough grazing at the market, sampling fruit, veg and candy, all readily accessible to try before you buy, I’d stop for a beer and a plate of fish and chips at the Powerhouse Pub.
It started as the power station and was turned into a pub. Inside, many of the electric company relics still adorn the walls and ceiling. In the evening, Powerhouse becomes a hub for live music and dancing as well as a starting point for pub crawls to the other local restaurants and bars in the area. There aren’t many bad places to eat in Puyallup, but the locations aren’t easily seen from Main Street, so taking a walk is recommended.
If visiting Puyallup comes at the end of the season, be prepared for a much different vibe. It’s like a “country-style” Mardi Gras, at the Puyallup Fair. From the cattle stampede down Main Street that marks the beginning of the fair to the big name country artists that play during the weekends of the two weeks the fair runs. The town turns from artsy to locals and tourists alike sporting cowboy boots to vendors trying to sell everything from knife sets to mattresses. This view of capitalism can overshadow the barrel racing, art shows and the world’s biggest pumpkin, but only if you let it.
One doesn't think of a small town being within the sometimes “not so quiet” suburbs of a city as big as Seattle, but that’s exactly what the small town of Puyallup happens to be. The prevailing view seems to be that small towns need to be revitalized or at the very least, gentrified, to ensure their survival. That type of gentrification makes its attempts here too, but the main street corridor of Puyallup is still small and that quaintness makes it both special and home.