By Donna Freydkin
If you’re drawn to Seattle’s aquatic side, you can’t miss Ballard, which once was a quiet little fishing community but has since morphed into a bustling, hip neighborhood with a slew of great restaurants, shops, and breweries. And of course, the neighborhood is anchored by the historic Hiram M. Chittenden Locks, located at the west end of Salmon Bay, Lake Washington Ship Canal.
Let’s start at Golden Gardens Park, an urban haven that has a little bit of everything and is located near NW 85th Street. The lower part of the park is part wetland marsh, part Puget Sound beach. The views of Puget Sound and the Olympic Mountains are absolutely mind-blowing, so get that phone out.
If you’re up for it, you can go sailing, kayaking, or canoeing. Stand-up paddleboarding, kitesurfing, sailboarding, and other wind-driven sports are also common. There’s even an off-leash dog park. Stay for the summer evenings when drummers, bonfires, and the entire population of a small town pop up like mushrooms just as the sun starts going down.
If you want to truly explore Seattle from the water, just walk roughly 10 minutes until you hit the Ballard Kayak & Paddleboard tours, where you can sign up for five- or three-hour wildlife watching tours at Shilshole Bay Marina. If you’re lucky enough and nature plays along, you can see seals, sea lions, and great blue herons.
Lunch or dinner? It’s time for Ray’s – the Boathouse for fine dining and the Cafe for drinks and casual dining. And it’s where you want to go both for killer views, and equally killer clam chowder, house-smoked wild salmon, local shellfish, and Pacific Sablefish in Sake Kasu. Once you settle up, you’re about 15 minutes from the historic locks. But first, you need a quick pit stop at the Shilshole Pocket Beach, which you can access at Seaview Avenue. It’s pretty. It’s zen. And when you’re ready to keep walking, stop and admire A Salish Welcome, a piece created by sculptor Marvin Oliver in 2010 that celebrates Salmon Bay.
And now, you’re finally at the Hiram M. Chittenden locks. The locks, devices that raise and lower ships between stretches of water need to be seen to be believed, because words don’t do them justice. Seattle’s locks carry the most boat traffic in the United States, and are surrounded by the Carl S. English Jr. Botanical Gardens. The gardens, built in 1911 by landscape architect Carl English of the United States Army Corps of Engineers, mimic those found in the English countryside and feature more than 500 species and 1,500 varieties of plants from around the world. In the summer, there’s featured bands on the weekend. In the winter, you get the whole place to yourself. Don’t forget to watch for Great Blue Herons, who nest here. Take as long as you want at the fish ladder viewing area. It’s perfect for tired toddlers and adults, with benches and huge observation windows.
From there, end your day at the National Nordic Museum, about 20 minutes away. It delves into Nordic life and culture, and has some pretty amazing exhibitions, including one on Edvard Munch’s photography. The museum’s acclaimed Freya cafe is currently closed, but thankfully, Ballard is teeming with eateries and cocktail bars, so go treat yourself. You’ve earned it.