National/Local - Parks/Gardens, Seattle
Out of this wood do not desire to go:
Thou shalt remain here, whether thou wilt or no.
I am a spirit of no common rate;
The summer still doth tend upon my state;
And I do love thee: therefore, go with me;
I'll give thee fairies to attend on thee,
And they shall fetch thee jewels from the deep,
And sing while thou on pressed flowers dost sleep;
And I will purge thy mortal grossness so
That thou shalt like an airy spirit go.
Peaseblossom! Cobweb! Moth! and Mustardseed!
(A Midsummer Night's Dream, Act iii, Scene 1)
What better way is there to spend a sunny afternoon that to lie in the grass in one of Seattle's lovely parks and watch a free Shakespeare performance. The members of Greenstage put on a comedy and a history/tragedy every summer for a theater experience that ranges from 'good' to 'outstanding'. Check their web site for locations and times.
If you liked the show be sure to stick around and talk with the actors. They'll impress you with their Seattle 'dedication to craft' and deep knowledge of Shakespeare.
Stroll among magnificent beds of roses that bloom pretty much all year round but peak in May-August. This 2.5 acre formal garden is a tranquil spot with a gazebo, topiaries and 280 varieties of roses.
Seattle, like Portland, has a climate that is ideally suited to growing roses. The Seattle Rose Garden is one of only 24 "All-America Rose Selection Test Gardens" in the United States. Here you can find new varieties that are being tested before they make it to the public.
Enter the rose garden from Woodland Park Zoo's south parking lot. The #5 bus will let you off two blocks away at 50'th and Phinney.
I spent a lot of time at the Japanese Tea Garden in the Arboretum when I was younger. I'd take a sketchpad or notebook with me and I'd draw or write or just doodle. This traditional Japanese garden changes personality with changing light, but it is always peaceful and beautiful.
My favorite times to visit are on misty, gray days. The colors take on a deep saturated look and the garden looks like a soft painting.
While walking to the Space Needle from the pier/harbor we came across a coloful community garden in full bloom. The gate was open so we took a peek. Definitely a nice patch of green in the middle of the city surrounded by office buildings and high rise condos.
Thanks for the name of the garden Suzanne (vaclava) whereever you may be.
Located inside Volunteer Park, one of the city's oldest water towers has been rebuilt with an observation deck at the top. There is no elevator, but the two half-spiral staircases that lead to the top will provide you with lots of free exercise as you climb to the top. There is no elevator or other alternative to climbing the stairs as the structure and its use as a viewpoint predate the common provision of such amenities.
From the top of the water tower, it is possible to have a true 360 degre view, of sorts. Downtown, the Space Needle, the Olympic Mountains, Mount Rainier, Lake Washington, and the ridge of the Cascade Mountains heading north are all visibile from up here.
Best of all?
Getting to the observation deck is absolutely free of charge, unlike the Space Needle or the Columbia Center Skyview or a few other locations with a great view.
I found it necessary to turn the camera upside down in order to get through the grates over the windows for some of the photos I took. If you bring a step stool or ladder and carry it up all 170 steps to the top of the tower, you could also get over the top of the tightest grate and possibly get better photographs that way. The grate that is higher up has a much larger grid pattern, and would be easier to get the lens of a camera through. It would require considerable effort to drag something like that up here, however.
NOTE: On a clear day you can see Mt Rainier just fine with your eyes, but to get it to show up with your camera (digital or film) you will need UV filters or other specialized equipment, or come here when the light is set exactly right such as near sunset. This has to do with the way standard photographic equipment works over such long distances and through air with smog in it. The photos that I have posted here are fairly typical of this phenomena: there should be snow capped mountains in photos 3 and 5, but they don't show up on film or digital camera.
As for the hours of operation, the signs say "Open Daily at 10 AM, Closed Evenings by Security Service" without any idea as to when in the evening the doors are closed.
The best time to get photographs of the views around Seattle is near sunrise or sunset, as that is when the mountains are most visible. Sunrise isn't going to happen at this water tower as the opening time is 10 am. In the summer, sunsets are not possible either due to the tower closing much too early. Sunset can be as late as 9:45 here. However, a rare winter clear day can provide a wonderful opportunity, as the sunset happens before 6 in the evening. For some results of this, please see my Photos from Volunteer Park Water Tower travelogue. This travelogue also features a look at one of the windows and how it is a bit hard to take photos through it due to the protective barriers. Only certain angles and certain photo equipment work (think small camera with zoom lens that can protrude between the wires, and being very selective about the angles at which you can shoot).
The signs do say that it is possible to call 684-4555 for more information about the water tower or Volunteer Park. It does not, however, give an area code for this phone number.
The observation deck also has a set of historical plans and documents relating to the creation of the Seattle parks network, and the plans created by the Olmstead Brothers, who made a special trip from New York to explore Seattle. At the time they said that there was nothing from stopping Seattle from becoming one of the top cities in the world in terms of its parks system.
I can't possibly imagine dragging the park benches and display boards all the way up here on those staircases!
The web site below is for Volunteer Park and not specific to the water tower.
How to Get Here:
The official address of the park is 1247 15th Ave. E. The best bus route to take to get here is bus route 10, which also serves the Capitol Hill community. You can drive, but on a really clear day it will be difficult to find parking as everyone else will be here for the views and to enjoy the sunlight. Bus route #10 is somewhat slow, but it does run fairly frequently.
My Volunteer Park Tip
The outside of the water tower is shown in photo 3 on this tip.
My Photos from Volunteer Park Water Tower on 26 December 2009:
These were taken near sunset on a winter day, so it is possible to see the snow on the surrounding mountains in some of the photos. It is also possible to see the limitations of the windows installed in this structure in the very last photograph.
Located in the old Cascade neighborhood (today the area is nearly completely rebranded for real estate investment purposes as "South Lake Union"), Lake Union Park is exactly that: a public park sitting right on the edge of Lake Union. While there are a few other parks surrounding Lake Union, many of them are quite small and not easy to find. The largest park on Lake Union is Gas Works Park, but it is on the north side of the lake and thus not that easy to get to from downtown Seattle.
With the opening of Lake Union Park in 2011, a new publicly accessible section of the lake is available. It can (and in fact does - the Queen of Seattle is moored there regularly) serve as a boat mooring spot, a place to launch kayaks or other small craft, a picnic spot, and recreation and relaxation spot.
In hot weather, the new spouting sidewalk water feature may be a desirable place for children (or even adults) to play in the water.
There is a small beach, but it is a typical Puget Sound style beach with gravel instead of sand. Even so, it does provide water access to Lake Union - though I highly suggest not swimming in the water.
The biggest disadvantage the park has is the amount of noise coming from nearby busy roads, such as Westlake and Mercer.
In addition to the web site below from Seattle Parks, there is a dedicated park web site at
Parking in the area can be difficult to find. I suggest taking bus route #70 or #17 or the South Lake Union Streetcar, or other public transit to get here.
Located right next to the Ballard Locks, this garden is a wonderful park-like collection of trees, flowers and other plants. I happened to get my first visit in May, when all the rhododendron were in bloom.
Most of the trails are paved, but there are one or two that are not paved.
The gardens were created on the former barren wasteland construction site of the Ballard Locks, and in all over 40 years were spent collecting and planting them. There are over 400 species of plants.
Benches are spread throughout the facility, and you can find a spot in the sun or shade (assuming, of course, the day happens to have enough sunlight to create either). The gardens are very well maintained, and on a warm day you will find locals having a picnic lunch here.
On the south side of the garden, there is a set of terraced steps for those who wish to sit on the grassy slope and watch the ships and boats go through the Ballard Locks. However, there is little shade in that particular section of the garden, and it can get hot there on a summer day. See my Ballard Locks tip for a photo of this area, as it is one of the better places to watch the boats go through the locks. It is the big green grass area in the foreground of the first photo.
The official address is 3015 NW 54th Street, Seattle Washington. It is located on the grounds of the Ballard Locks, and maintained by the same United States Army Corps of Engineers group that maintains the locks. See web site, below.
There is no charge to enter the garden grounds, but there is a standard city parking meter at the parking lot out front.
How to Get Here: From the Ballard area, head west on Market Street until it branches into two one way streets. The Ballard Locks parking area is one block west and one block south of this division in the road. Bus routes #17 (from downtown Seattle) and #44 (from the University District) are the two most frequent bus routes that serve the area. It is also a fairly easy walk to get here from the main Ballard business district, though much of the route is next to busy Market Street.
Ok, so for locals, especially those living in the area of this park, it's hardly "off the beaten path". But most visitors probably don't make it out to the beach at Golden Gardens. The water in Puget Sound is cold, so only the very brave (or very young) take a dip in the salt water. But I have seen sunbathers floating on rafts, which seem like a great idea, unless you float too far out.
If the wind is right, you may see kite-boarders on the north end of the beach. I find it fascinating to watch them. And there are often people flying regular kites, as well.
Depending on the time of day/time of year, you will see a few or many sail boats, as the beach is next to a public boat launch and there are several marinas nearby.
And, best of all, on a clear day you have a glorious view of the Olympic mountains across the sound.
There's a beautiful old bathhouse that was built in the 1930's and restored in 2004, complete with a snack bar that's open seasonally, and restrooms open year-round. The bathhouse is available for rent for private functions, too.
Plenty of parking is availalbe, and the bus (I think #46) will take you there, as well. It's about a 2 mile walk from Old Ballard - just follow Market Street West / North until it ends.
The high-adventure way to get to the park is to take the trail down the hillside behind the beach (Where NW 85th St. ends). On weekend mornings, I like to stop at the organic coffee shop - Caffe Fiorie - at the top, then take the trail / stairs down to the beach, via the dog park. There is a direct route and a small system of trails, depending on your choice for adventure level : )
A great place to relax. It costs about $4.00 to enter. You can also buy fish food to feed the koi in the pond. If you didn't sit down and enjoy the garden, it probably will take you 20 minutes to see the entire garden.
On a nice summer evening, Golden Gardens Park fills with neighborhood people. We go there to make a bonfire on the beach, get barbecue going, and watch the sun set behind the Olympics - the water view is just gorgeous! The water is too cold for comfortable swimming, but the beach is used by kayakers for landing and sometimes you see people practicing scuba diving. Even in cold weather it's a nice strolling beach to enjoy the scenery and the fresh sea air.
The park also features a cafe, a boat landing and a fishing pier at the south end. There is an activity center (currently under renovation), and several barbecue sheds. The north end of the park is kept wild, with a small freshwater pond.
Golden Gardens Park is at the north end of the Seaview Avenue, north of Shilshole Bay Marina and Ray's Boathouse/Anthony's Home Port. It's not on any bus line from downtown, although you could take #17 almost to the end (N.W. 85th and 32nd Ave. N.W.) and descend a steep set of stairs through woods to the waterfront; you would have to climb up again though! It has large parking areas, but they fill up on a good-weather day.
A little bit south of the Alki Peninsula and West Seattle is the community of Fauntleroy. A small peninsula just out into Puget Sound just north of the Fauntleroy to Vashion Island / Southworth ferry terminal. This peninsula is Williams Point, and is the home of Seattle's Lincoln Park.
The park features a number of beaches with rounded stones rather than sand, covered picnic areas, and a playground with a number of interesting pieces in it, including a cable grip that runs partway down the hill. A significant part of the park is forested wilderness with trails. The beaches are quite popular with fishermen (and a fair number of women too!). There is a small public pool in the park as well.
Views from the paved walkway (at least, if you have a clear day) include the Olympic Mountains to the west, and of course Puget Sound.
For a few more photos of the features of the park, see my Lincoln Park Travelogue.
Bus route 55 is on the nearest public street to the park, and provides reasonably quick service to downtown.
If you are driving, take highway 99 / Alaskan Way viaduct south, turn onto the West Seattle Freeway, and keep on the main road, which eventually turns into Fauntleroy Way. Turn right at the southern end of the park (you will see the forest and Puget Sound on your right) before passing the park. If you come to the ferry terminal, you have gone two blocks too far south.
The official address of the park is 8011 Fauntleroy Way SW
If you want to get off the beaten path, you should really leave Seattle. Hiking opportunities are limitless in the summer. Skiing is a good choice in the winter. Take a ferry to the Olympic Peninsula, admire the wild flowers on Mount Rainier, survey the damage caused by Mount St. Helens. Seattle is only a small, albeit culturally-diverse, part of the state of Washington. Get out and see some other parts for yourself.
Located in the northwest corner of the Ballard area, and far outside most tourist iteneraries, you will find this park to feature trails through forest land, beaches that are extremely popular with the locals, and an off-leash dog area that is fenced to keep some control over where the unleashed dogs go.
Views, particularly from the beach, are of the Olympic Mountains and Puget sound in the foreground.
For walking with views of the Olympic Mountains and Puget Sound, a better location is Discovery Park. The beaches here in Golden Gardens park are better, closer to parking, and better equipped with picnic tables, benches, and other such facilities. Golden Gardens is also right next door to a very large marina complex, for those who are coming to visit Seattle by boat.
Getting Here: I arrived by bus on route 48 at the top of the hill, and walked down the staircase from the intersection of NW 85th Street, 32nd Avenue NW, and Loyal Way NW. Bus route #17 from Ballard gets a little closer to the north end park entrance. The closest bus route to the beach is #46, but it only operates every once in a while during weekdays, and appears to be primarily aimed at commuters that live in the marina to the south of the park.
Driving here involves getting to the Ballard Locks (follow the signs) but continue past the locks on the main road, which at first is NW 54th Street, but soon after the locks changes names to Seaview Avenue NW. The beaches will be on the left side after you pass the very large marina. The forested section of the park is on the right on the hillside.
The address is 8498 Seaview Pl. NW
You will hear of the Seattle Zoo referred to as the "Woodland Park Zoo" and so it is, as that is the name of the city park where it is located.
However, you will find that aside of the zoo, this park is nowhere near as busy as the zoo implies. People think of Woodland Park as being the zoo and zoo only, and forget that there is a "rest of the park" to Woodland Park.
The main body of the park outside the zoo area includes a number of walking trails, picnic areas (both covered and uncovered), and an outdoor but covered horseshoe area (see photo 5). As the name "Woodland Park" implies, much of the park is in forest, though there are also a number of large expanses of open grass.
Organized sports use facilities here for lawn bowling, bocce, and 6 wicket croquet.
The forested area of the park is connected to the zoo, rose garden, and war memorial area by way of several pedestrian bridges that cross over the top of Highway 99, providing a wonderful traffic-free way of getting to the various popular attractions on the west side of the highway and the much more quiet forested area on the east side of the highway.
To the east of Woodland park, the park adjoins Green Lake Park. This is also a very popular park with a walking loop around the entire lake. However, the road between Woodland Park and Green Lake Park is busy without any crossing method available other than just wait for traffic and hope for the best. No traffic signals, no pedestrian bridges, no nothing other than hope for the best. This method can take a very long time, if you run across a lot of drivers that are in a huge hurry to get places.
Other Places inside Woodland Park include:
+ The Woodland Park Zoo (as mentioned)
+ The Rose Garden (just east of the zoo entrance)
+ The War Memorial
Getting Here: highway 99 north from downtown Seattle. You can follow signs to zoo parking, but parking there costs $5 per car. For park itself, parking is free if you turn right off of highway 99 north of the pedestrian underpasses.
Bus route 5 runs past the entrance to the zoo, and several serve the area around Green Lake Park. Route 358 has a stop several blocks north of the very north edge of the park. Route 44, Ballard - University District is several blocks south of the park.
As part of the University of Washington campus, the Union Bay Natural area is one of several areas owned by the University that have been reserved for naturally preserved space. During winter months, there are hundreds of water birds that winter here in the waters surrounding the natural area. Naturally, this attracts predator birds such as red tailed hawks to the area as well.
The dedicated purpose of the natural area is "to maintain and enhance vegetation, wildlife, and landscape values, while serving as an outdoor laboratory for research, teaching, and public service."
The managing department is the Center for Urban Horticulture, part of the University of Washington's College of Forest Resources.
There are approximatley two miles of trails, some of which are gravel and other of which are dirt.
The trail that runs along the edge of Union Bay provides views of Mount Rainier and a considerable expanse of the Cascade Mountains.
Much of the area is open grasslands, with the occasional winter marsh or pond of accumulated water in the small depressions in the ground.