Seattle, beyond the usual tourist haunts

In summer, daredevils hit the floating high-dive platforms in Green Lake. One can also rent kayaks, canoes, rowboats and more.
(Christopher Reynolds / Los Angeles Times)
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SEATTLE — Pike Place Market. The Space Needle. Pioneer Square. Check, check and check.

If you’ve hit these obvious Seattle destinations, you’re not a newbie. But maybe you’re not an insider either.

So, this 21-stop Seattle checklist is for you. It skirts those three attractions and several other popular stops to make more room for Ballard, Capitol Hill, Fremont and the University District — four asset-rich Seattle neighborhoods my family and I explored on a visit last summer. Right about now, as Seattleites embrace the (maybe) warmer weather and longer days of summer, these neighborhoods are increasingly busy.

In fact, were you to follow this tour to its end, you’d encounter salmon swimming upstream, free hairnets, absinthe floss, dodge ball, a Tuesday-night regatta, a tree of stainless steel and an address near the University of Washington where you can get chilaquiles with your kayak rental. These Seattleites take their summers seriously. Be warned, though: On bad days, Seattle freeway congestion can rival that of Los Angeles. (For current airfares to Seattle, see the chart on L6.)


Our list starts with three stops in Ballard, in northwestern Seattle.

Golden Gardens Park includes a stretch of beach with classic views of Puget Sound and mountains, a little loop trail, a fishing pier and at its northern end, an off-leash dog zone. While we were strolling on the sand, Guila Muir, a devoted, fiftysomething open-water swimmer, came splashing ashore in her blue goggles and orange bathing cap. The water, she said, was about 55 degrees. Then she dashed off to warm up. 8498 Seaview Place N.W.; (206) 684-4075,

Ray’s Boathouse & Café, which dates to 1973, offers fresh seafood and a wide window onto the sound and the Olympic Mountains. Its location is advertised by a towering red neon sign. Describing one dish, our waitress cited where the fish was caught and the names of the fisherman and his wife. In the fancier Boathouse dining room downstairs (dinner only), main dishes run $21-$55. In the more casual Café above (lunch and dinner), entrees run $11.95 (for a half-order of fish and chips) to $21.50. 6049 Seaview Ave. N.W.; (206) 789-3770,

Ballard Locks. OK, this is no secret, but it’s worth a visit, and it’s free. This concrete channel is how boats get from the sound (saltwater at sea level) to the Lake Washington Ship Canal, Lake Washington and Lake Union (fresh water, 20 to 22 feet above sea level), and it’s always interesting to join the old salts and fresh tourists watching big and little vessels as the water levels change. On a busy day, a worker told me, 500 vessels pass through. Next to the channel is a fish ladder for salmon; you can also watch through an underwater viewing window, and there’s a botanical garden handy — a nice mix for kids. By the way, officially, these are the Hiram M. Chittenden Locks, but nobody calls them that. 3015 N.W. 54th St.; (206) 783-7059,

South and east of Ballard lies Fremont, known for its bohemians and unpredictable statuary. This includes Vladimir Lenin at Evanston Avenue North and North 36th Street; the aluminum commuters “Waiting for the Interurban” at North 34th Street and Fremont Avenue North; spiritual leader Sri Chinmoy on the Burke-Gilman Trail under the Aurora Bridge; and a concrete troll, also under the Aurora Bridge, at North 36th Street at Troll Avenue North. The troll was a disappointment for me — a brilliant idea undercut by crude craftsmanship — but the rest of the family loved it. The real heart of Fremont is its independent spirit, including businesses such as the five that follow:

If Willy Wonka were a Whole Foods supplier, Theo Chocolate would be his factory. Theo, opened in 2006, bills itself as the first organic, fair-trade, kosher, bean-to-bar chocolate factory in the U.S. For $6 a person, you get an hourlong factory tour, samples included, personal fragrances forbidden. Fair warning: You will be asked to don a hairnet. In fact, you get a free hairnet with the tour. Reservations are required, except for the daily 2:30 p.m. walk-in tour. Even with as many as 10 tours offered daily, summer weekend tours are sometimes reserved weeks ahead. 3400 Phinney Ave. N.; (206) 632-5100,

Jive Time Records, where, in a time and place preoccupied with digital everything, aisles of vinyl await. And cassettes. 3506 Fremont Ave. N.; [206] 632-5483,


Next door is Ophelia’s Books, where owner Jill Levine told me how she bought the 14-year-old bookstore in early 2011 and insisted that the deal include the shop’s two resident cats, Oliver (black) and Claudia (calico). As Levine spoke, Oliver reclined on the counter right where a customer would place his purchases, if he could. (Since then, a clerk reports that Oliver has moved to a private home in Ballard. Claudia remains.) 3504 Fremont Ave. N.; (206) 632-3759,

Still on Fremont Avenue, Homegrown is part of a three-location Seattle chain offering sandwiches and salads with emphasis on sustainable practices. Lunch $6-$11. 3416 Fremont Ave. N.; (206) 453-5232,

Dusty Strings Acoustic Music Shop is a den of folkies selling guitars, DVDs and tube amps. They also make harps and dulcimers and give music lessons and workshops. The bad news is you’ve missed the ukulele festival (it was in late June). 3406 Fremont Ave. N.; (206) 634-1662,

Not far from Fremont, you’ll find Green Lake to the north, Lake Union to the south and these possibilities (among others) in between.

You can walk, run or ride the 2.8 miles around Green Lake whenever you like, but the Green Lake Boathouse is a spring and summer thing. Usually open April through mid-September (subject to weather), the boathouse stands at the lake’s northeastern end, renting kayaks, canoes, paddle boats, rowboats and paddleboards for $17 to $20 an hour. Even if you’re just taking a paddle-boat spin for half an hour, as we did, it’s a chance to check out the grand old houses lining the lake and admire the daredevils using the floating high-dive platforms. (Yes, there are lifeguards.) There’s also a café open 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. and a Green Lake Park wading pool near Wallingford Avenue North and East Green Lake Drive North, open through Sept. 3 this year. 7351 E. Green Lake Drive N.; (206) 527-0171,

If you’re traveling without children and like the idea of a genteel suite in a grand old building on a quiet street, consider the Chelsea Station Inn Bed & Breakfast. The two-story brick B&B; features four units, each about 900 square feet with a living room, dining room, kitchenette and bedroom. It stands near the entrance to Woodland Park Zoo, a short walk from Green Lake Park. Rates from $159, depending on the day and season. 4915 Linden Ave. N.; (206) 547-6077,


For some people, it’s just not a vacation until they’ve purchased that inflatable unicorn horn. That’s why Archie McPhee is on this itinerary. From catalogs and the Web, plenty of people know of this vendor of goofball gifts and toys. (Absinthe floss, anyone? Onion-scented breath mint? Albino bowler oil painting?) But since 1983, the McPhee empire has included a retail shop, which thrives (with free parking) in Seattle’s Wallingford neighborhood. 1300 N. 45th St.; (206) 297-0240,

Gas Works Park is a 19-acre series of grassy (and formerly gassy) hills with a perfect perch overlooking Lake Union. The ruins of an old utility plant give the site a certain post-apocalyptic “Planet of the Apes” vibe, and the city says you can’t swim, fish or launch watercraft here because of hazardous substances still lurking in the sediment. But on Tuesday evenings in summer, you can watch the Duck Dodge sailing regatta (, a Seattle tradition that goes back nearly 40 years. With or without the regatta, the skyline at dusk looks great. 2101 N. Northlake Way; (206) 684-4075,

Speaking of views after dark, the place to get that classic Space Needle shot is tiny Kerry Park on the southern slope of Queen Anne Hill. It covers barely an acre, but that’s enough to give you the panorama of Elliott Bay, downtown and the needle, which turns 50 this year. (It was built for the 1962 World’s Fair.) 211 W. Highland Drive; (206) 684-4075,

Next up, four stops on Capitol Hill, a community known for its large gay population and rollicking night life. Then three stops in the University District, and one downtown.

Oddfellows Café & Bar took over an old Oddfellows Lodge in 2008, 100 years after the building went up. The restaurant is open from 8 a.m. until “late,” which in this bar-rich neighborhood means something. About 90% of the interior, furniture and fixtures are said to have been salvaged, recycled or repurposed. The ceilings are high, some of the walls are brick and dinner main dishes go for $12 to $18. 1525 10th Ave.; (206) 325-0807,

Elliott Bay Book Co., a local institution with big inventory and frequent readings, endured on Main Street at Pioneer Square for more than 35 years. Then in 2010, the bookshop moved to new Capitol Hill headquarters with wood floors and exposed rafters. 1521 10th Ave.; (206) 624-6600,


Cal Anderson Park is an urban reinvention story: The park was expanded and transformed in 2005 by covering an old reservoir. On the evening we showed up, the tennis court was packed with grown-up hipsters (and one brave kid) playing dodge ball. Other days they do bike polo, hula-hooping and “cardboard tube fights.” 1635 11th Ave.; (206) 684-4075,

Molly Moon’s Homemade Ice Cream is a chain with five locations and a seasonally evolving menu that recently included vegan coconut chunk, honey lavender and Earl Grey. The Capitol Hill Molly Moon’s stands across the street from Cal Anderson Park, around the corner from the Oddfellows Café and Elliott Bay Book Co. 917 E. Pine St.; (206) 708-7947,

Breakfast, lunch or dinner would be enough to lure me to the University District’s Agua Verde Café & Paddle Club, especially considering the prices and the Mexican regional dishes. (Most dinner main dishes about $8 to $14.) But this little café sits at the edge of quirky, scenic Portage Bay, which connects Lake Union and Lake Washington. The other half of the enterprise is a paddle club that rents single and double kayaks and stand-up paddleboards for $15 to $20 an hour. 1303 N.E. Boat St.; (206) 545-8570,

The Hotel Deca is a striking 16-story slice of Streamline Moderne, built in 1931 near the University of Washington campus in the heart of the often-scruffy University District. Rooms for two from $159. 4507 Brooklyn Ave. N.E.; (206) 634-2000,

The street parking and 27-step climb to the front door will scare away some people, but once you’ve ascended, the Chambered Nautilus Bed & Breakfast Inn is a pleasant hillside property in the University District. The main house is a handsome blue-and-white Georgian Colonial, almost 100 years old, and the four suites are basically one- and two-bedroom apartments, with full kitchens, in a newer neighboring building. Ten units in all. Rates from $149 in summer. 5005 22nd Ave. N.E.; (206) 522-2536,

OK, admit it, you’re going to Pike Place Market, even though you’ve already been a time or two. Don’t feel guilty for being an obvious tourist. But do leave time for another stop about a mile west. Olympic Sculpture Park rises at the edge of Elliott Bay. It’s a cunning use of 9 formerly industrial acres, with works by about a dozen artists, including a big, orange “Eagle” by Alexander Calder; a stainless steel tree (“Split” by Roxy Paine); and a series of rippling, rusty steel slabs from Richard Serra called “Wake.” Its café, Taste, is open 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. weekends in summer. 2901 Western Ave.; (206) 654-3100,