It almost goes without saying that this majestically scenic city and region, surrounded by ocean, lakes, and mountains, offers some outstanding recreational opportunities. Get active, the way the Seattleites do, and you’ll enjoy the Seattle experience even more.
Because the waters of Puget Sound stay chilly year-round, the saltwater beaches in the Seattle area are not really swimming beaches. They are primarily places to play in the sand, gaze across the water at the Olympic Mountains, and enjoy a picnic. However, Seattle is bordered on the east by Lake Washington, a large lake with numerous parks and small beaches along its shores. Even though the waters never get truly warm, the lake is still popular for swimming.
Seward Park, 5895 Lake Washington Blvd. S. (tel. 206/684-4396), southeast of downtown Seattle, is a good place to hang out by the water and do a little swimming. From downtown, take Madison Street east to Lake Washington Boulevard and turn right. Although this isn't the most direct route to Seward Park, it's the most scenic. Along the way, you'll pass plenty of other small parks, including Mount Baker Beach. There is, however, one caveat: A parasite spread by geese and known as swimmer's itch is commonplace in the waters of Lake Washington. Consequently, you should always change out of your bathing suit and shower as soon after swimming as possible.
Alki Beach, across Elliott Bay from downtown Seattle, is the city's most popular beach and is the nearest approximation you'll find in the Northwest to a Southern California beach scene. The paved path that runs along this 2 1/2-mile beach is popular with skaters, walkers, and cyclists, and the road that parallels the beach is lined with shops, restaurants, and beachy houses and apartment buildings. But the views across Puget Sound to the Olympic Mountains confirm that this is indeed the Northwest. (Despite those views, this beach lacks the greenery that makes some of the city's other beaches so much more appealing.) April through October, a water taxi operates daily between the downtown Seattle waterfront and Alki Beach. Other months, the water taxi operates Monday through Friday only. (By the way, Alki rhymes with sky, not key.)
For a more Northwestern beach experience (which usually includes a bit of hiking or walking), head to one of the area's many waterfront parks. Lincoln Park, 8011 Fauntleroy Way SW (tel. 206/684-4075), south of Alki Beach in West Seattle, has bluffs and forests backing the beach. Northwest of downtown Seattle in the Magnolia area, you'll find Discovery Park, 3801 W. Government Way (tel. 206/386-4236), where miles of beaches are the primary destination of most park visitors. To reach Discovery Park, follow Elliott Avenue/15th Avenue north along the waterfront from downtown Seattle; take the Dravus Street exit and turn left onto Dravus Street; take a right on 20th Avenue West, which becomes first Gilman Avenue West and then West Government Way, which leads to the park and the park's visitor center.
Golden Gardens Park, 8498 Seaview Place NW (tel. 206/684-4075), north of Ballard and Shilshole Bay, is my favorite Seattle beach park. Although the park isn't very large and is backed by railroad tracks, the views of the Olympic Mountains are magnificent, and on summer evenings, people build fires on the beach. Lawns and shade trees make Golden Gardens ideal for a picnic. To reach this park, take NW 54th Street west from Ballard, which is reached by following Elliott Avenue north from downtown.
Seeing the Light at Alki Point -- When the first settlers arrived in the Seattle area, their ship dropped them at Alki Point. Today this point of land jutting out into Puget Sound is still important to mariners as the site of the Alki Lighthouse, 3201 Alki Ave. SW (tel. 206/217-6203). The lighthouse is open for tours from June through August on Saturday and Sunday afternoons from 1 to 4pm.
With its the steep hills and heavy street traffic, Seattle isn’t the easiest place to ride a bike. The first pilot bike-share program failed but as of summer 2017 there were a couple of other new dockless bike-share programs in the city. Spin (www.spin.pm) features bright orange bikes in the downtown area with (this being tech-savvy Seattle) on-bike GPS and a cellular modem. LimeBike (www.limebike.com) has, yes, lime-green bikes that are mostly in locations around the University of Washington. With both of these programs you download an app to find, unlock, return the bike to a different location, and pay for the ride ($1 for a 30-minute ride). These are not all-day bike rentals; they are basically for short hops around the city. If you are going to ride bikes around Seattle, please wear a helmet—they are not provided with the bikes.
The West Seattle bike path along Alki Beach is another good place to ride; it offers great views of the sound and the Olympic Mountains. If you’d like to pedal this pathway, you can rent single-speed bikes at Alki Kayak Tours, 1660 Harbor Ave. SW (www.kayakalki.com; [tel] 206/953-0237), which charges $10 per hour. To get there in scenic style, take the water taxi from the downtown waterfront to West Seattle; the dock is right at the Alki Kayak Tours building.
While Seattle isn't a name that springs immediately to the minds of avid golfers, the sport inspires just as much passion here as it does across the country. Should you wish to get in a round while you're in town, Seattle has three conveniently located municipal golf courses: Jackson Park Golf Course, 1000 NE 135th St. (tel. 206/363-4747); Jefferson Park Golf Course, 4101 Beacon Ave. S. (tel. 206/762-4513); and West Seattle Golf Club, 4470 35th Ave. SW (tel. 206/935-5187). This latter course has great views of the Seattle skyline and gets my vote as the best of the city's municipal courses. All three charge very reasonable greens fees of $33 to $37. For more information on these courses, contact Premier Golf Centers (tel. 206/285-2200; http://premiergc.com).
Within Seattle itself, there are several large nature parks laced with enough trails to allow for a few good, long walks. Among these are Seward Park, 5895 Lake Washington Blvd. S., southeast of downtown, and Lincoln Park, 8011 Fauntleroy Way SW, south of Alki Beach in West Seattle.
Seattleites’ favorite spot for a quick dose of nature is Discovery Park, 3801 W. Government Way (tel. 206/386-4236), northwest of downtown, at the western tip of the Magnolia neighborhood. Covering more than 500 acres, this park has many miles of trails and beaches to hike—not to mention gorgeous views, forest paths, and meadows.
My favorite area hike, the trail up Mount Si, is also the most challenging hike near Seattle. The rugged, glacier-carved peak, which is a 30- to 45-minute drive east of downtown on I-90, rises abruptly from the floor of the Snoqualmie Valley outside the town of North Bend and has an exhausting trail to its summit. However, the payoff is awesome views. (Take lots of water -- it's an 8-mile round-trip hike.) From I-90, take exit 31 (North Bend), drive into town, turn right at the stoplight onto North Bend Way, drive through town, turn left onto Mount Si Road, and continue 2 miles to the trail head.
Farther east on I-90, at Snoqualmie Pass and just west of the pass, are several trail heads. Some trails lead to mountain summits, others to glacier-carved lakes, and still others past waterfalls deep in the forest. Because of their proximity to Seattle, these trails can be very crowded, and you will need a Northwest Forest Pass ($5 for a 1-day pass) to leave your car at national-forest trail heads (though not at the Mount Si trail head, which is on state land). My favorite trail in this area is the 8-mile round-trip hike to beautiful Snow Lake, a cool pool of subalpine waters surrounded by granite mountains. The trail head is just north of I-90 on Alpental Road (take exit 52). For more information and to purchase a Northwest Forest Pass, contact the Snoqualmie Ranger District, 902 SE North Bend Way (tel. 425/888-1421, ext. 200; www.fs.fed.us/r6/mbs), in North Bend.
The waterfront, from Pioneer Square north to Myrtle Edwards Park, where a paved path parallels the water, is a favorite downtown jogging route. The residential streets of Capitol Hill, when combined with roads and sidewalks through Volunteer Park, are another good choice. If you happen to be staying in the University District, you can access the 27-mile Burke-Gilman/Sammamish River Trail or run the ever-popular trail around Green Lake. Out in West Seattle, the Alki Beach pathway is also very popular and provides great views of the Olympics. You can access this trail via water taxi.
If you’d like to try your hand at sea kayaking, standup paddleboarding, rowing, or sailing, head to Moss Bay Rowing, Kayaking and Sailing Center, 1001 Fairview Ave. N. (www.mossbay.net; tel. 206/682-2031), which rents all types of water vehicles at the south end of Lake Union near Chandler’s Cove. Rates range from $14 per hour for a single kayak to $20 per hour for a double. From downtown Seattle, this place can be reached on the Seattle Streetcar.
If you're interested in renting a wooden rowboat or sailboat, head to Lake Union and the Center for Wooden Boats, 1010 Valley St. (tel. 206/382-2628; www.cwb.org); rates range from $20 to $50 per hour. This center can be reached from downtown on the Seattle Streetcar. The same equipment can be rented at Alki Kayak Tours on Alki Beach in West Seattle, described under “Biking,” above.
On the University of Washington campus behind Husky Stadium, you'll find the Waterfront Activities Center (tel. 206/543-9433; http://depts.washington.edu/ima/IMA_wac.php), which is open to the public and rents canoes and rowboats for $8.50 to $10 per hour. With the marshes of the Washington Park Arboretum directly across a narrow channel from the boat launch, this is an ideal place for beginner canoeists to rent a boat.
In this same general area, you can rent kayaks at the Agua Verde Cafe Paddle Club, 1303 NE Boat St. (tel. 206/545-8570; www.aguaverde.com), at the foot of Brooklyn Avenue on Portage Bay (the body of water between Lake Union and Lake Washington). Kayaks can be rented from March through October and go for $15 to $20 per hour. Best of all, this place is part of the Agua Verde Cafe, a great Mexican restaurant! Before or after a paddle, be sure to get an order of tacos.
At Greenlake Boat Rentals, 7351 E. Green Lake Dr. N. (tel. 206/527-0171; www.greenlakeboatrentals.net), in north Seattle not far from Woodland Park Zoo, you can rent canoes, kayaks, sailboats, rowboats, pedal boats, sailboards, and stand-up paddle boards for a bit of leisurely time on the water. A paved path circles the park, which is one of the most popular in Seattle (it's a great place to join crowds of locals enjoying one of the city's nicest green spaces). Kayaks, canoes, rowboats, pedal boats, and paddle boards all rent for $15 per hour, and sailboats go for $20 per hour.
And now for something completely different. If you're not up for paddling, how about an electric boat? The Electric Boat Company, Westlake Landing Building, 2046 Westlake Ave. N. (tel. 206/223-7476; www.theelectricboatco.com), rents boats that will hold your whole family (up to 10 people). The boats rent for $89 per hour (2-hr. minimum) and are a fun and safe way to cruise around Lake Union and check out the houseboats. You can even stop at one of the lakefront restaurants for a meal or drinks.
One of the reasons Seattleites put up with long, wet winters is because they can go skiing within an hour of the city. And with many slopes set up for night skiing, it's possible to leave work and hit the slopes before dinner, ski for several hours, and be back home in time to get a good night's rest. The ski season in the Seattle area generally runs from late November to late April. Equipment can be rented at the ski area listed below or at R.E.I., 222 Yale Ave. N. (tel. 888/873-1938 or 206/223-1944; www.rei.com).
Cross-Country Skiing -- In the Snoqualmie Pass area of the Cascade Range, less than 50 miles east of Seattle on I-90, the Summit Nordic Center (tel. 425/434-6778; www.summitatsnoqualmie.com) offers rentals, instruction, and many miles of groomed trails. An all-day trail pass costs $18 for adults and $16 for seniors and children.
Several Sno-Parks (designated cross-country ski areas) are along I-90 at Snoqualmie Pass. Some have groomed trails; others have trails that are marked but not groomed. Be sure to get a Sno-Park permit ($20-$21 for a 1-day pass; $40-$41 for a season pass), which is required if you want to park at a cross-country ski area. Sno-Park permits are available at ski shops; pick one up when renting your skis.
Downhill Skiing -- Jointly known as the Summit at Snoqualmie (tel. 425/434-7669 for information, or 206/236-1600 for the snow report; www.summitatsnoqualmie.com), the Alpental, Summit West, Summit Central, and Summit East ski areas are all located at Snoqualmie Pass, less than 50 miles east of Seattle off I-90. Together these four ski areas offer 1,916 acres of skiable slopes, plus rentals and lessons. Adult all-day lift tickets cost $58 for adults, $39 for seniors and children 7 to 12, and $12 for super seniors (over 70) and children 6 and under. Call for hours of operation.
Seattle Parks and Recreation operates dozens of outdoor tennis courts all over the city. The most convenient are at Volunteer Park, 1247 15th Ave. E. (at E. Prospect St.).
If it happens to be raining and you have your heart set on playing tennis, indoor public courts are available at the Amy Yee Tennis Center, 2000 Martin Luther King Jr. Way S. (tel. 206/684-4764; www.seattle.gov/parks/Athletics/Tennisct.htm). Rates here are $32 for singles and $40 for doubles for 1 1/4 hours. This center also has outdoor courts that cost $12 for 1 1/2 hours.
Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.