Courtesy Alki Kayak Tours

Water World

Did you know Seattle has just over 200 miles of shoreline?

From wildlife-rich Puget Sound on the west side to calm and clear Lake Washington on the east side, water is a vital and joyful part of the city’s identity. And let’s not overlook the many bodies of water in Seattle’s interior, including Lake Union and Green Lake. Dozens of parks, streets, and boat ramps provide easy access to the public, a fact that’s especially important during the warmer months of the year. Here’s a guide to making the most of the city’s spectacular waterways.


 

Splash!

It’s easy for kids to beat the summer heat at a variety of cool hot spots around the city. Start with one of the swimming beaches that’s patrolled by lifeguards, like Madison Park (4201 E Madison St) and Magnuson Park (6505 NE 65th St), both along Lake Washington. If your little ones aren’t quite ready for a full swim, take them to a wading pool—there are 20 throughout Seattle that operate when the temps are forecasted to be 70 or above. (Call the wading pool hotline at 206-684-7796 to verify the schedule.) You’ll find them in Capitol Hill’s Volunteer Park (1400 E Galer St), Beacon Hill Playfield (1902 13th Ave S), and Green Lake Park (N 73rd St & W Green Lake Dr N), also a good place to swim. For spraypark fun, you’ll be in good company at Seattle Center’s popular International Fountain (305 Harrison St), which has a water show every half hour during the day. Other great options include Lake Union Park (860 Terry Ave N), whose spraypark is a short stroll from Goose Beach; and Yesler Terrace Park (917 E Yesler Way), with its brightly colored play structures.

A rolling green hill with a winding cement pathway fill the foreground. People in shorts, t-shirts, and pants walk along the pathway and hill. The blue water of Lake Union is in the middle ground and is dotted with white motorboats and sailboats. The Seattle skyline is in the background set against a light blue sky. Shutterstock / Anthony Ricci

Gas Works Park

Built on a 19-acre gas plant from the early 1900s, Gas Works Park (2101 N Northlake Way) juts out into glorious Lake Union, a short walk from Fremont’s lively bar and restaurant scene. The park’s playful design incorporates parts of the plant, creating a cool steampunk vibe. Kids frolic in the play barn and fly kites on a big hill, and everyone admires the striking generator towers and storage tanks, which serve as unique industrial art installations. A 0.8-mile paved loop, accessible for wheelchairs and strollers, encircles the park. At sunset, come for astounding views of the downtown skyline.

Lake Union Park

At this epic 12-acre swatch of greenery on the south shore of Lake Union, you’ll find a wealth of captivating activities. Explore the compelling interactive exhibits at the 50,000-square-foot Museum of History & Industry (MOHAI) (860 Terry Ave N), which celebrates Seattle’s maritime heritage and thriving technological spirit. The museum is ADA-compliant and provides assisted-listening devices. Next door, The Center for Wooden Boats (1010 Valley St) is filled with informative nautical displays. You can rent boats (or borrow them for free some weekends by advance reservation) to enjoy on the lake. Other features at this family-friendly park include a model boat pond, lush gardens, fountains and public art, a wharf with historic ships, and a footbridge that crosses the lagoon and provides easy access to peaceful Goose Beach.

Row Your Boat

Ply the local waterways using your own power with vessels from kayaks and canoes to stand-up paddleboards and pedal boats.

University of Washington Waterfront Activities Center

3710 Montlake Blvd NE; recreation.uw.edu

Rent a canoe or kayak and paddle to the abundant Union Bay Natural Area, filled with frogs, turtles, and more than 200 species of birds.

Agua Verde Paddle Club

1307 NE Boat St; aguaverdepaddleclub.com

This fun spot overlooking Portage Bay rents kayaks and SUPs and has a Mexican cantina with burritos and house-made aguas frescas. Tours and paddling lessons are also available.

Alki Kayak Tours

1660 Harbor Ave SW; kayakalki.com

Take a class, rent a kayak or paddleboard, or join a guided tour from this West Seattle outfitter. Night owls should check out the monthly Full Moon Kayak Tour for a whole new perspective on the landscape.

Green Lake Boathouse

7201 E Green Lake Dr N; greenlakeboathouse.com

Pedal boats and water bikes highlight the rental offerings at this brand-new, fully accessible boathouse, which plans to launch Seattle’s first public adaptive rowing program and expand the boathouse’s paracanoeing program in the coming year.

Ballard Kayak & Paddleboard

7901 Seaview Ave NW; ballardkayak.com

You can go it alone with a kayak or stand-up paddleboard rental, but it’s fun to join a tour, like the one that takes you along an ancient water route from Shilshole Bay to Discovery Point.

Sail Sand Point

7861 62nd Ave NE; sailsandpoint.org

Get a taste of small-boat sailing with a two-hour intro class that teaches all the basic skills you need to get around on a Hobie Wave, an easy-to-sail catamaran. The center’s adaptive sailing program makes it possible for boaters with mobility limitations to get out on the lake. Those with experience can rent sailboats, kayaks, and paddleboards.

Two people in a green kayak in the glassy blue water of Puget Sound. A small sliver of land is on the horizon. A deep blue sky fills the background.

Courtesy Alki Kayak Tours

Anchors Aweigh

These companies will hook you up with a boat to get out on the water.

Argosy Cruises

Get the lay of the land on the one-hour Harbor Cruise or venture a little farther on the two-hour Locks Cruise, which will take you through the “boat elevator” that separates the Puget Sound from Lake Union. The staff can provide wheelchairs and is trained to assist guests with mobility limitations. Pier 55, 1101 Alaskan Way & Westlake Ave N at N Eighth Ave; argosycruises.com

Seattle Donut Boat Co.

You’ll look pretty cute out on the water in one of these doughnut-shaped boats. Admire the Seattle skyline and watch the seaplanes touch down as you leisurely make your way across the waves. 1001 Fairview Ave N; seattledonutboat.com

Electric Boat Company

Be the captain of your own (tiny) ship with an electric boat that seats 6 to 12 passengers. Pack some food and drinks and get ready to cruise around Lake Union—no boating license is needed. 2046 Westlake Ave N; theelectricboatco.com

A group of 5 people cruise in a blue hot tub boat on the glassy waters of Lake Union. Skyscrapers fill the background and a dream-like haze filters the image.

Courtesy Hot Tub Boats

Seattle Water Tours

Take a sweet 45-minute ride around Lake Union on the Ice Cream Cruise. Learn more about the floating homes community, the birthplace of Boeing, and the busiest drawbridge in the world, all while eating a frozen treat. 860 Terry Ave N; seattlewatertours.com

Seattle’s Tall Ship

From the downtown waterfront, board the Bay Lady, an 85-foot traditional gaff-rigged schooner that’s ready to whisk you through Puget Sound using the power of the wind. 2203 Alaskan Way; seattlesailingship.com

Hot Tub Boats

Bask in the warmth of a hot tub while floating on Lake Union in one of these cozy hot tub boats. When you’re ready to cool off, jump in the lake and take a swim. 2520 Westlake Ave N; hottubboats.com

A large, majestic whale breeches out of the blue waters of Puget Sound. The FRS Clipper boat sits in the background to the left of the whale. The boat has a blue hull with red lines forming the Union Jack. The shoreline in the background is filled with evergreen trees. Courtesy FRS Clipper

Whale Tales

It’s possible to spot whales year-round near Seattle, including grays, humpbacks, minkes, and our beloved resident orcas (there are transient killer whales too), although June to September is prime season. Try your luck on a whale-watching tour with a local company, all of which are committed to maintaining a respectful distance from wildlife. FRS Clipper (2701 Alaskan Way) offers half-day, wheelchair-accessible tours from the downtown waterfront at Pier 69; if you don’t spot a whale, you can come back for free another day. Just north of Seattle in Edmonds, Puget Sound Express (459 Admiral Way, Edmonds) has tiered outdoor viewing decks and guarantees a whale sighting or your next trip is free. Be sure to treat yourself to a slice of the signature blueberry buckle cake.

Go a little further afield with the whale-watching tour from Kenmore Air (6321 NE 175th St, Kenmore). You’ll leave on a seaplane from Lake Washington headed for the San Juan Islands, where you’ll transfer to a boat from San Juan Safaris for an unforgettable day trip—and hopefully lots of whale sightings. (The success rate is above 90 percent.) Back on shore, you might just get lucky with a glimpse from land—the telltale fins have been spotted from the likes of Alki Beach (2665 Alki Ave SW) and Golden Gardens Park (8498 Seaview Pl NW).

Stay Cool

Some of the coolest spots in town for soaking up awesome Puget Sound views are in downtown hotels, and at many properties you don’t need to book a room facing the water to enjoy these pleasing panoramas. Each of these hotels has at least one common space where any overnight guest—and in some cases even day visitors—can enjoy the vistas.

Perched atop a dramatic pier on Elliott Bay, the mid-century modern Edgewater Hotel (2411 Alaskan Way) is one of the top places in town for unobstructed water vistas. Just book a table at the stylish Six Seven Restaurant, with its floor-to-ceiling windows and sensational contemporary Northwest cuisine. Located just across Alaskan Way from downtown’s revamped shoreline, the Seattle Marriott Waterfront (2100 Alaskan Way) offers lovely views from the terrace of its airy Hook & Plow restaurant. For a sky-high perspective on the waterfront, take the elevator to the 12th floor of Thompson Seattle (110 Stewart St), where you can sip a Duck Duck cocktail (with Woodinville bourbon, amaro bitters, and a touch of demerara sugar) and eat spicy tuna tartare in the swanky rooftop bar, The Nest. At Four Seasons Hotel Seattle (99 Union St), both the stylish Goldfinch Tavern and the heated infinity-edge rooftop pool offer dazzling Puget Sound views. At other illustrious lodgings, including the State Hotel (1501 Second Ave) and Inn at the Market (86 Pine St), overnight guests can admire ferries crossing Elliott Bay and the Olympic Mountains in the distance from expansive roof decks.

Ballard Locks

A white Argosy Cruises ship is aligned with the opening of the Ballard Locks as it moves forward into position. People stand on either side of the locks' opening, watching the boat traffic. A rusted metal train bridge crosses the horizon in the background.

Shutterstock / Vewfinder

No trip to hip Ballard is complete without a visit to the Hiram M. Chittenden Ballard Locks (3015 NW 54th St). Make the most of your time at this welcoming, wheelchair-accessible complex with these fun activities.

The Ballard Locks Visitor Center is a great place to start your visit. You’ll find engaging exhibits, a theater showing free videos, and a fun gift shop. And from May through October, free tours of the locks leave from the visitor center daily at 2 p.m.

Watch everything from tiny sailboats to 80-foot-wide freighters pass through the locks’ massive “boat elevator,” which provides a maritime connection, by way of several bodies of water, between freshwater Lake Washington and briny Puget Sound.

Windows allow visitors to view salmon making their way up the facility’s fish ladder. The journey from saltwater to freshwater requires these salmon to climb the ladder’s 21 steps. Although you may see salmon any time of year, peak viewing is during the July–September spawning season.

Adjacent to the locks, the seven-acre Carl S. English Jr. Botanical Garden is laced with pathways, allowing visitors to make a relaxing ramble among more than 1,500 varieties of flora, including rhododendrons, fan palms, and a gorgeous collection of roses.

A man in a blue polo with a blue backpack takes a photo of a woman wearing a tan bucket hat, a cream shirts, and blue pants standing on the deck of a ferry. The ferry has a green metal railing. The blue waters of Elliott Bay and the Seattle skyline are seen in the background, including the Space Needle in the middle of the image. Shutterstock / Janice Chen

Going Places

Public transportation doesn’t get any prettier than the Washington State Ferries. Each ride does double-duty as a sightseeing cruise and a way to get to one of the area’s waterfront destinations. From downtown’s Colman Dock (801 Alaskan Way), you have two options. The first is a 35-minute ride to Bainbridge Island, with views of the Olympic Mountains and the Seattle skyline. From the Bainbridge Island Ferry Terminal, it’s an easy walk to Winslow Way, the main drag lined with cute shops and eateries. Your second option is an hour-long ride to the Navy town of Bremerton, which takes you through Rich Passage and offers a peek of Mount Rainier and the Cascades. From the Fauntleroy Ferry Terminal (829 SW Barton St) in West Seattle, set sail for rural Vashon Island, only a 20-minute ride but a world away in vibe. This picturesque island is best explored by car or bike. In addition to the ferries, water taxis can take you from downtown to Vashon and West Seattle.

Waterside Tables

For a meal with a side of scenery, dine at one of these restaurants with amazing water views.

Ray’s Boathouse

6049 Seaview Ave NW; rays.com

Choose your own adventure at this iconic spot overlooking Shilshole Bay. The main level focuses on fine dining, while upstairs is a casual cafe with fish-and-chips.

Stonehouse Café

9701 Rainier Ave S; thestonehousecafe.com

Nosh on all-day breakfast faves like eggs Benedict at this homey cafe just across the street from Lake Washington, set in a Tudor-style building that was once a service station.

White Swan Public House

1001 Fairview Ave N; whiteswanpublichouse.com

Watch the boats bobbing along Lake Union from this prime waterside spot while you try Poutine of the Sea, a chowder-style gravy over fries with steamed clams.

Saint Bread

1421 NE Boat St; saintbread.com

Cozy up to views of Portage Bay at this boat-building facility turned bakery, where you can delight in treats like cardamom knots, melonpan, and fried egg sandwiches.

Aqua by El Gaucho

2801 Alaskan Way; elgaucho.com/seattle

This deck overlooking Elliott Bay perfectly positions you to gaze at the Olympic Mountains and Mount Rainier while enjoying filet mignon and lobster tail.

Elliott’s Oyster House

1201 Alaskan Way; elliottsoysterhouse.com

Right on downtown’s Pier 56, this waterfront restaurant knows a thing or two about oysters—enjoy the expertly shucked delicacies while watching the boats go by.

Daniel’s Broiler Leschi

200 Lake Washington Blvd; danielsbroiler.com

Inside a historic boathouse on the west shore of Lake Washington, admire the panoramic views of Mount Rainier and the Cascades from this elegant steak house.

Cactus Alki Beach

2820 Alki Ave SW; cactusrestaurants.com

The tamales, tacos, and tequila at this Southwestern-Mexican standby are best enjoyed on the outdoor patio with glimpses of ferries gliding along picturesque Puget Sound.

Shoreline Strolls

When the tide is low, there’s great tidepooling and beachcombing at Seattle’s beautiful beaches. Visit seattle.gov/parks for details about each one.

Discovery Park Mac Holt

Discovery Park

There are plenty of tide pools to explore at this waterfront Magnolia park, known for its loop trail that winds its way through ever-changing terrain. 3801 Discovery Park Blvd

Lincoln Park

After combing this West Seattle beach for anemones and sea snails, visit the park’s outdoor heated saltwater pool, which boasts postcard-worthy views. 8011 Fauntleroy Way SW

Golden Gardens Park

Sea stars, mollusks, and other noteworthy organisms await along the rugged shoreline here. After you’ve finished searching, get a bonfire crackling in one of the firepits. 8498 Seaview Pl NW

Mount Baker Park

This family-friendly beach looks across Lake Washington to the Bellevue skyline. Wander along the tree-shaded sandy shores or head to the playground and tennis courts. 2521 Lake Park Dr S

Pritchard Island Beach

This quiet stretch along Lake Washington is great for bird-watching and boasts wetlands with plantings native to the Northwest. In the summer, there are lifeguards on duty. 8400 55th Ave S

Carkeek Park

Low tide reveals an additional 20 acres at this diverse Puget Sound park in Broadview, where the sunset is worth sticking around for. 950 NW Carkeek Park Rd

Alki Beach Park

Look up to admire downtown’s skyline; look down to see all kinds of interesting finds, including frosted sea glass. 2665 Alki Ave SW

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