While there is one official Seattle Waterfront, there are many areas along the water—beaches, parks, and even the famous Ballard locks. Like much of the Puget Sound area, maritime culture is an important part of Seattle’s past and present. Enjoying some time on the shore can be the perfect way to relax, learn about the city’s history, or get in touch with your inner pirate. Seattle is overflowing with shoreline, and others worth checking out include some of the top parks, Seward Park and Golden Gardens.
The Seattle Waterfront is mostly known for its touristy appeal—the Seattle Aquarium, launches for Argosy Cruises and the ferries, lots of shops filled with souvenirs, restaurants, and Pike Place are all located here. Myrtle Edwards Park has bike and foot paths, picnic areas, and great water views, and the Olympia Sculpture Park on the north end of the waterfront offers a creative twist to hanging out by the water. If you don’t mind tourist dodging, this is by far the waterfront with the most to do located along its span, but it is also the least natural due to all the commercial development.
Location: On Alaskan Way from Yesler Way to Bay Street
Just about the opposite of the Seattle Waterfront in every possible way is Discovery Park. This wild, natural paradise is just maintained enough to make it accessible, but not enough to make you feel like you are in a completely manmade space. Within the 534 acres of this park are a wide range of ecosystems—two miles of beaches, forests, meadows, sand dunes, and streams. Hiking through the trails here will eventually lead you to the beaches, which tend to be quiet. A special treat is the West Point Lighthouse, which has been here since 1881 and is on the National Register of Historic Places. There are over 11 miles of trails here, both flat and hilly, and they are periodically marked to point you to different parts of the park.
Location: 3801 Discovery Park Blvd
Green Lake Park is known for its three-mile trail around the lake. Walkers, joggers, and skaters of all kinds enjoy the trail, but often overlooked is the lake here. Chill out on a park bench and watch others enjoy the water, or jump in yourself. You can rent kayaks, paddleboats, take sailing or rowing lessons, and even swim in this lake at lifeguarded beaches along its shores.
Location: 7201 E. Green Lake Dr. N
Aside from being a very cool beach, Alki Beach has one of the most iconic views of the Seattle skyline, the Olympics, and (on clear days) the sunset. For this reason, this waterfront area is ideal if you want a spot to picnic or simply enjoy the view. This is a popular spot in Seattle so if you go on a warm day, don’t expect to be the only person here. Parking can be tight and you will have to share the beach with many others—not that this makes it a bad experience, but if you are not a people person, you may opt instead for a quieter locale. What makes Alki Beach special, though, is that it is quaint, has cool local shops, and can be a great place to take a stroll.
Location: 1702 Alki Ave SW
Gas Works Park is located on the shores of Lake Union and is awesome for several reasons. First, this is the site of the old Seattle Gas Light Company plant and much of the old plant still stands today, in all its rusty and industrial glory. The towering gas plant is set against a backdrop of city and water views in a stark contrast between old and new, gritty and pristine, and manmade and natural. Visitors can wander along the water’s edge, walk around the over 19 acres here, fly kites, or explore the former plant. This is also another great spot to check out the skyline views.
Location: 2101 N Northlake Way
Perhaps the most unique waterfront in Seattle are the locks, officially titled the Hiram M. Chittendam Locks, but also called the Ballard Locks. These locks serve to adjust for the 20-foot height difference and keep the fresh water of Lakes Union and Washington separate from the salt water of the Sound. Visitors can hang out at the railings along the locks and watch as boats enter, tie up, and wait for the water level to be lowered or raised. There is also a fish ladder here that is populated with spawning salmon in the summer, as well as pretty surrounding gardens and walkways. Seattle’s working waterfront never looked so good!
Location: 3015 NW 54th St