Jim Seida  /  MSNBC.com
Tourists capture the moment at the Fremont Troll under the Aurora Bridge in the Fremont neighborhood of Seattle, Wash, July 2006.
updated 9/25/2006 5:24:47 PM ET 2006-09-25T21:24:47

Fun, Funky Fremont

Start: South end of Fremont Bridge, near Ponti restaurant.

Finish: North end of Fremont Bridge.

Time: Approximately 2 hours, not including time spent dining.

Best Times: Sunday, during the Fremont Sunday Market.

Worst Times: Early morning or evening, when shops are closed.

The Fremont District definitely marches to the beat of a different drummer. Styling itself the Republic of Fremont and the center of the universe, this small, tight-knit community is the most eclectic neighborhood in the city. It has taken as its motto De Libertas Quirkas, which, roughly translated, means "free to be peculiar." Fremont residents have focused on art as a way to draw the community together, and in so doing, they've created a corner of the city where silliness reigns. At this crossroads business district, you find unusual outdoor art, the Fremont Sunday Market (a European-style flea market), several vintage-clothing and furniture stores, a couple of pubs, and many other unexpected and unusual shops, galleries, and cafes. During the summer, outdoor movies are shown on Saturday nights, and in June there's the wacky Solstice Parade, a countercultural promenade of giant puppets, wizards, fairies, naked bicyclists, and hippies of all ages.

Start your tour by finding a parking spot around the corner from Ponti restaurant, at the south end of the:

1. Fremont Bridge

This is one of the busiest drawbridges in the United States and spans the Lake Washington Ship Canal. WELCOME TO THE CENTER OF THE UNIVERSE, reads the sign at the south end of the bridge.

As you approach the north side of the bridge, glance up; in the window of the bridge-tender's tower (on the west side of the bridge) you'll see:

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2. Rapunzel

This is a neon sculpture of the famous fairy-tale maiden with the prodigious mane. Her neon tresses cascade down the wall of the tower.

On your immediate right, the big modern building crowding up against the bridge is world headquarters for software giant:

3. Adobe

This is the Adobe of Acrobat, Illustrator, and Photoshop fame. Adobe's move into the neighborhood several years ago signaled a big change for Fremont. In the past few years, this district has changed considerably and is, unfortunately, rapidly losing much of its appealing funkiness.

As you finally land in the Republic of Fremont, you will see, at the end of the bridge on the opposite side of the street from Rapunzel, Seattle's most beloved public sculpture:

4. Waiting for the Interurban

This piece features several people waiting for the trolley that no longer runs between Fremont and downtown Seattle. These statues are frequently dressed up by local residents, with costumes changing regularly.

Cross to the far side of 34th Street and walk east along this street past some of Fremont's interesting shops, including:

5. Portage Bay Goods

This store, at 706 N. 34th St. (tel. 206/547-5221), sells an eclectic array of things that "enrich the soul, support the community, and preserve the environment." Check out the notebooks made from old computer boards.

A few doors down, you'll find:

6. History House

This neighborhood museum of history, at 790 N. 34th St. (tel. 206/675-8875), is complete with modern interactive exhibits and a beautiful artistic fence out front.

Turn left at History House and head uphill underneath the Aurora Bridge, which towers high above. At the top of the hill, you will see, lurking in the shadows beneath the bridge, the:

7. Fremont Troll

This massive monster is in the process of crushing a real Volkswagen Beetle. No need to run in fear, though, as a wizard seems to have put a spell on the troll and turned it into cement.

Turn left at the troll and walk a block down North 36th Street; then turn left on Fremont Avenue North, and continue another block to the corner of Fremont Avenue North and North 35th Street, where, a few doors from the corner, is:

8. Frank & Dunya

This shop, at 3418 Fremont Ave. N. (tel. 206/547-6760), sells colorful household decor, including switch plates, cups and saucers, mirrors, jewelry, art, rustic furniture, and little shrines. It's all very playful.

Go back up to the corner and cross North Fremont Avenue to the traffic island, where you'll find both the center of the center of the universe and Fremont's:

9. Directional Marker

This old-fashioned signpost has arrows that point to such important locations as the center of the universe (straight down), the Fremont Troll, Rapunzel, Atlantis, and the North Pole.

Take a Break -- If all this walking has given you an appetite, or if you just feel like indulging in a decadent piece of cake, stop in at Simply Desserts, 3421 Fremont Ave. N. (tel. 206/633-2671). This little place is just across the street from the directional marker.

From the directional marker, continue west (away from the intersection) on Fremont Place, and in 1 block (at the corner of N. 36th St.) you'll come across a larger-than-life statue of:

10. Lenin

This 20-foot-tall statue in no way reflects the attitudes of the many very capitalistic merchants in the neighborhood.

After communing with Comrade Lenin, cross North 36th Street, where you'll find:

11. Bitters Co.

This unusual little import shop, at 513 N. 36th St. (tel. 206/632-0886), has some of the coolest ethnic arts and crafts you'll ever see. This is a great place to shop for gifts.

From here, walk a block down Evanston Avenue to:

12. Les Amis

This boutique, at 3420 Evanston Ave. N. (tel. 206/632-2877), is done up to look like a little cottage or potting shed; it stocks fun and trendy women's fashions from European and American designers.

Right outside this shop is the launching pad for the:

13. Fremont Rocket

Although there is speculation that this rocket was used by the aliens who founded Fremont, the truth is far stranger. You can read the entire history of the rocket on the accompanying map board. (If you haven't already figured it out, the locals don't want you getting lost in their neighborhood, so they've put up maps all over to help you find your way from one famous Fremont locale to the next.)

From here, head down North 35th Street for one long block, and then turn left on Phinney Avenue North, at the foot of which you'll find:

14. Fremont's Jurassic Park

Don't worry, no velociraptors here -- just a pair of friendly topiary Apatosauruses (sort of like brontosaurs) donated to the neighborhood by the Pacific Science Center.

If it happens to be Sunday, you'll see crowds of people and vendors' stalls stretching back toward the Fremont Bridge from Jurassic Park. This is the:

15. Fremont Sunday Market

You never know what you might find at this combination flea market and produce market -- perhaps some locally made kilts, organic strawberries, or maybe a rack of vintage Hawaiian shirts. Continue along this street and you'll return to the Fremont Bridge.

For more on what to see and do in Seattle, visit our complete guide online at http://www.frommers.com/destinations/seattle/.

Frommer’s is America’s bestselling travel guide series. Visit Frommers.com to find great deals, get information on over 3,500 destinations, and book your trip. © 2006 Wiley Publishing, Inc. Republication or redistribution of Frommer's content is expressly prohibited without the prior written consent of Wiley.

Photos: The Emerald City

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