A key draw for visitors and locals alike, Seattle’s Central Waterfront is in the midst of reimagining itself. Read on for what not to miss, what to eat, and how to navigate it all—by foot or mobility aid.
Seattle—the Emerald City—sits on Elliott Bay, looking across Puget Sound toward the snow-capped peaks of the Olympic Mountains. But recently, it has turned its introspective gaze inland, away from the bay, its vibrant boat traffic, and abundant (and delicious) marine wildlife.
A revolution is underway—Seattle is in the midst of a waterfront renaissance, as a long-elevated highway has been removed, opening accessible areas all along the waterfront to visitors, whether walking, jogging, biking, or even driving. The overhead highway has been replaced by a silent tunnel buried deep underground. On the surface, a twenty-acre park is being built, with a marque promenade that will connect the fish mongers, vegetable stands, shops, and eateries of Pike Place Market to the waterfront and the Seattle Aquarium, which itself is undergoing an expansion.
Enjoying a beer on the deck at Ivar’s. Bradley Bagsahw
There are plenty of good reasons to find yourself meandering along this very accessible shoreline, taking in the spectacular views of the bay and the fresh sea air—and if that helps work up an appetite, you will be in the right place wherever you are. A long, wide concrete walkway on Alaskan Way connects multiple excellent restaurants and other waterfront attractions from the ferry terminal in the south waterfront to the north waterfront pathways of Myrtle Edwards Park—two easily accessible miles of shoreline where you can enjoy the salt air and breeze coming off Puget Sound as you seek out lunch or dinner, or just a nice glass of Washington State wine.
First up from the south, on Pier 54 is Ivar’s Acres of Clams flagship location. This full-service seafood restaurant has an expansive deck and accompanying fish bar and is named after the late Seattle icon Ivar Haglund, a character of legendary proportions. Just to the north on the same pier, for folks who want a non-seafood option, sits Great State Burgers, where one can get—no surprise—delicious burgers, fries, and milkshakes. Nearby, lest America’s other summertime staple be ignored, is The Frankfurter, a small shack akin to an oversized New York hot dog stand. It features sausages of various kinds with all the fixings.
In front of The Frankfurt, utilizing the wide sidewalks. Bradley Bagshaw
Also on Pier 54 is a new addition, the Salt District Italian Kitchen. It features a fine indoor space and a narrow deck with a good view of the Argosy Cruises tour vessels. Continuing north is the Elliott’s Oyster House on Pier 55. Elliott’s features oysters in the abundant variety available in the Northwest and other seafood and fine dining options, but you might want to check out the Happy Hour options here and elsewhere for fresh oysters whose price won’t bite back. Further north is The Fisherman’s Restaurant and Bar on Pier 56, next to the impossible-to-miss The Seattle Great Wheel. Then comes Anthony’s Pier 66 restaurant and outdoor fish bar, another fine full-service seafood restaurant. Finally, on Pier 70 at the north end of the waterfront, you’ll find AQUA by El Gaucho, a high-end seafood and steakhouse, and Pub 70 serving—you guessed it—pub fare. Don’t miss the rich clam chowder, which is actually full of clams.
Successfully navigating construction on the waterfront with the Alinker mobility aid. Bradley Bagshaw
The new waterfront will be an accessible place with broad crosswalks, long-duration walk lights, audible signaling, elevators, and more. For now, this is a work in process. While some areas are readily accessible, others are nearing completion or still under construction.
There are accessible ways to descend from the downtown heights of hilly Seattle without a car. In the south, Pioneer Square is low, and one can navigate to the waterfront from there without the bother of hills.
In the south-central waterfront, the ferry terminal sits on Piers 50 and 52, collectively called Coleman Dock. An accessible overhead bridge from First Avenue at Marion Street takes pedestrians and others on wheels of all kinds across Western Avenue and Alaskan Way directly to the ferry terminal. From there, there is also an elevator descending to Alaskan Way, turning the bridge and ramp into an accessible portal to the waterfront and ferry terminal. The terminal itself is designed with accessibility in mind. Passengers may board ferries to Bainbridge Island and Bremerton across the Sound on broad, well-marked walkways without encountering stairs or other significant barriers. But a caution here—the terminal and overhead walkway are being rebuilt and are in a state of flux. All should investigate current conditions before setting out to use the ferry system.
The central waterfront also has an elevator from First Avenue on the south side of Von’s Seattle at University Street, although the lower entrance to this elevator needs to be opened manually because it lacks an automatic door-opener. The elevator descends to Western Avenue, and from there a left turn and a half-block walk leads to Seneca Street and right to the waterfront through a newly built accessible intersection. Uphill, you can also take another elevator from Second Avenue down to the Von’s First Avenue elevator via an elevator in the Two and U Building between First and Second Avenue and University and Seneca Streets.
There is an elevator on the northern section of the waterfront at Lenora Street from Western Avenue down to Alaskan Way, and yet another elevator further north at Bell Street and Western Avenue that accesses Pier 66 via an overhead walkway. These elevators serve parking garages up the hill. Other elevators are coming with the Waterfront Project but are not yet in service.
Of course, you could circumvent the access issues by staying at one of the two hotels on the north end of the waterfront, the Seattle Marriott Waterfront or The Edgewater Hotel. Notable for several reasons, you may recall The Edgewater as the hotel where the famous photo was captured of the Beatles casting a fishing pole into Elliott Bay from their room back in 1964. While The Edgewater occasionally provides fishing poles for photo ops to certain guests, they do not encourage fishing out of their windows. Don’t worry—there’s no need, though—you can order up the delicious black cod, oysters, or even fish and chips at the beautiful Six Seven Restaurant inside The Edgewater, and the Marriott Waterfront also takes advantage of its location to serve up some tasty seafood.
Bradley heading to Argosy Cruises on the waterfront. Bradley Bagshaw
Once you’ve over-stuffed your belly, there is much you can do while digesting. Shops line the waterfront, the Seattle Aquarium is on Piers 59-60, at Pier 57, The Seattle Great Wheel offers sky-high rides, and at Pier 56, Argosy Cruises provides harbor and lake boat tours. At lower tides, wheelchair users enjoy the unique experience of having two well-toned chino-and-Izod-clad gladiators pull their wheelchair up Argosy’s access ramp, Roman chariot style, all to the envy of more mobile, but, at least in this case, less fortunate onlookers.
Moving inland from the waterfront demands a hill climb in most places, and access requires stairs or elevators in much of the central waterfront. The most straightforward way to the waterfront for wheelchair users is to drive there. Taxis and rideshare vehicles are readily available and public parking can also be found in a few places. For a real-time view of parking that is available during your visit, go to seattlewaterfront.org/free-parking-Seattle-waterfront.
The best is yet to come as construction presses on along the waterfront. Follow the progress and learn more about the Waterfront Accessibility Plan here.