December 2014…Phillip and I pack up our Wallingford apartment and bid Washington goodbye, heading south to the San Francisco Bay Area. A homecoming six years in the making, I now find myself a born-again Californian, re-learning my way around town and pining for the Pacific Northwest (pun intended). But before the ravages of time lead me to completely forsake the Evergreen state for the Golden one, I want to make a record of some of my favorite places in the Puget Sound as they were when I knew them best.
Many are quick to call Seattle rainy, though I’d argue that it really needs to be thought of as green. Evergreen, in fact (progressive state drug laws notwithstanding)! Summer, winter, autumn, spring, Seattle is a lush, coniferous wonderland, and you needn’t look far for an escape from the city. Dozens of parks dot the landscape and line the coast; a fine network of trails winds its way from Lake Washington out to the Sound. There’s a hike, a walk, or a ride for every kind of nature enthusiast, though I do wish there were more Tuileries-style park cafés. Arm yourself with a sturdy pair of rubber boots and a good coat, and you can enjoy the parks all year round!
Green Lake Park // Green Lake // between Highways 99 and 5 in north-central Seattle
Although my first move to Seattle was a rushed affair, I had the good luck to find an apartment just blocks from Green Lake, though I didn’t realize at the time just what a gem was right around the corner. It is one of Seattle’s best resources and it certainly is not underutilized. On any given day, you’re more than likely to find youth soccer, pick-up basketball, rowing, strolling, or a boozy singles’ kickball league , among many other things. At just about three miles around the lake, it’s a perfect, peaceful spot to unwind and stretch your limbs after a noisy day.
Golden Gardens Park // Ballard // 8498 Seaview Place NW
If you take the Burke-Gilman trail west as far as it goes, you’ll end up in Golden Gardens, part wetlands, part sandy beach. Most days you can even see the Olympic Mountain range across the Puget Sound. It’s a popular place for bonfires, volleyball, and watching sea lions lounge. But this place is special to me as it was the destination of the first bike ride that Phillip and I went on now over three years ago. I was out of cycling shape and worried that I would barely make the five and a half mile journey, much less the round trip. But Phillip, ever the forward-thinker, scheduled several breaks into the afternoon – a chocolate tasting, hot tomato soup…and even though I huffed and puffed, I arrived at Golden Gardens feeling happy as a clam. What crashing waves; what rugged shore! A visit to Golden Gardens is a perfect introduction to Washington’s wilderness.
Seward Park // Seward Park // 5900 Lake Washington Boulevard S
Seward is one of my favorites, and most of it has to do with the leisurely, scenic bike ride that you can take to get there. The savvy visitor knows that the best views are from Lake Washington Boulevard as it curves along its banks, all the way to the park’s entrance. On certain summer Sundays, a 3-mile section of the route is closed off to motorized traffic, making the trip all the more pleasant for walkers, joggers, and cyclists. Jutting out into Lake Washington, Seward Park boasts an old growth forest, historic cabins, a 2.4 mile long walking path, and one of our most cherished swimming spots. With an Audubon Center at the park’s gates, it’s a great spot for birders, beginners and life-listers alike, to learn about the local winged population and to perhaps catch a glimpse of America’s most revered bird.
Gas Works Park // Wallingford // 2143 N Northlake Way
The crown jewel of Seattle picnicking spots, Gas Works Park is the best place to be on a warm day. Formerly the site of the “sole remaining coal gasification plant in the United States,” it was decommissioned in 1956 and reopened as a park ten years later. Much of the original equipment remains, though its primary use today seems to be for hopping around and yelling “Parkour!” when the mood strikes. As Phillip and I lived just five blocks away, we made a habit of cruising down on our bikes to people watch, nap, read, or sneak a glass of wine at sunset. We’ve been witness to kite flying, blackberry picking, skinny dipping, and fire dancing from our perch atop its famed hill. Each year on July 4, you can join the masses to celebrate the holiday with fireworks, John Philip Sousa marches, and a spectacular view of downtown. A visit to Gas Works is a must for any Seattle itinerary – in fact, every guest I’ve ever had has visited the park at some point!
Volunteer Park // Capitol Hill // 1400 East Prospect Street
You are unlikely to struggle for things to do on a visit to Volunteer Park. Over the course of many visits, Phillip and I have toured the Asian Art Museum, strolled through the Conservatory of exotic plants, climbed to the top of the Water Town for a 360-degree view, and attended a free performance of Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar. Not to mention, only a block away there is the charming Volunteer Park Café, a good place to stop for a snack or a coffee. Volunteer Park has it all! If there were to be a downside, it would be the climb to the park (the “hill” in “Capitol Hill”), steep for the bicycle-dependent living in north Seattle, as we were. And still, we found ourselves coming back to Volunteer Park again and again for a bit of solitude and relaxation.
Discovery Park // Magnolia //3801 Discovery Park Boulevard
Seattle’s largest park is also one of the best, though not purely for that reason. From its dramatic location on Magnolia Bluff, it is not unusual to get views of both the Olympic and Cascade Mountain Ranges; to hike through dense forest and on a sandy beach; to wander through wide, grassy prairie and along the edge of steep, rocky cliffs. Following the 2.8-mile long Discovery Park Loop Trail, you can experience a little bit of everything, though I’d recommend veering slightly off path for a chance to visit the West Point Lighthouse, aptly located at the westernmost corner of the park, and the westernmost point in Seattle. Suitable for all levels of activity, you can keep to flat, paved trails, or descend down to the beach (I recall a memorable half hour that Phillip, a friend, and I bushwhacked our way back up a loose, forested cliff – two steps up, three steps down…). To travel far from the city without actually traveling far from the city, add Discovery Park to your list.
The trouble with moving away is that when you return, it’s never quite as you left it. Have any perfectly picturesque park cafés popped up? Have I missed any must-do hikes? What are your favorite parks in Seattle?