Seattle is home to hundreds of parks of different sizes, which help to contribute to the city’s nickname as the “Emerald City”. Each park has a unique character that makes a visit a special experience, from the sizable Discovery Park stretching on over 2 square kilometers to small green areas and playgrounds. Many of them are operated by the Seattle Parks and Recreation.
The Washington Park Arboretum
The Washington Park Arboretum is one of the great little secret areas that Seattle has to offer. It’s located in the Madison Park neighborhood and consists of 230 acres of vines, shrubs, and over 40,000 trees that have benefited from the city’s often rainy weather. Make sure to bring a brown bag lunch or your picnic basket as you get to enjoy these additional highlights of the arboretum.
- A shoreline that is covered in lily pads.
- A Japanese garden which is open from February to November every year.
- Tea ceremonies, walking trails, and opportunities to canoe or kayak around Lake Washington.
The Washington Park Arboretum as a public park was initially developed on land that had been logged for six decades. Established in 1934, the willows and redwoods provide a unique environment to explore that has caused many to fall in love with this public park.
The gem of the Arboretum is easily the Japanese Garden. It is 3.5 acres in size and is a formal garden. There is a separate lake that offers turtles and koi. Special events are held throughout the year in these 50+ year old gardens. Music and storytelling are the most frequent festivals that are held in this portion of the arboretum. Admission fees to the park are variable based on the events, so plan ahead by listening to the official podcast of the Japanese Gardens.
It is just off of the 520 bridge that spans Lake Washington, so there will be times of high traffic when traveling to the Washington Park Arboretum. Plan accordingly for your trip and then enjoy this beautiful park, rain or shine.
One of the city’s green lungs because of its size, Discovery Park sprawls on 534 acres of land, being not only the largest of all Seattle parks, but also one of the most popular. Its location in the close proximity of the former Fort Lawton, from Discovery Park offers stunning panoramic views over the surrounding mountains and Puget Sound.
Discovery Park is home to numerous hiking trails, among which the very Loop Trail. This 2.8-mile long path goes around the park, and takes you through the woods, which from time to time give place to belvedere points, from where you can get some soaring views over Seattle’s surroundings.
Another popular option with hikers is the Wolf Tree Nature Trail, which is shorter, but nevertheless worth the while. If you are a fan of historic lighthouses, you should take the West Point Light Trail.
Most of the trails within Discovery Park are interconnected, so you can switch from one to the other at cross points and head to places like the North and South Beach, or the Daybreak Star Indian Cultural Center.
Alki Beach Park
Alki Beach Park is actually a network of green places and beaches stretching along the water’s edge, from Alki Point to Duwamish Head. According to historians, this Seattle park represents the place where the first settlers landed back in 1851, being greeted and supported by the Native tribe and the Chief of Seattle.
If you decide to tour Alki Beach Park, besides enjoying the beaches and the numerous opportunities for fun and outdoors activities, you can do some sightseeing as the Birthplace of Seattle Monument is standing right on the spot the settlers reached in November 1851. Alki Beach Park is also home to other art exhibits such as a replica of the Statue of Liberty the local authorities received in 1952 as a gift from Reginald H. Parsons and the Seattle Council of the Boy Scouts of America.
Art buffs, should head to Alki Bathhouse Art Studio, where they will have the opportunity to learn some new skills or just watch others practicing pottery or painting.
If you want to enjoy a quiet day working on your tan, you should know that Alki Beach Park features two and a half miles of beaches, and its western part has grass-covered shores, equipped with tables and benches, perfect for picnics. Those who love jogging, riding the bike or playing volleyball will also appreciate this Seattle park.
Lake Union Park
Conveniently located within less than half an hour walk from Seattle Downtown and a quarter of an hour away from the streetcar ride, Lake Union Park sprawls on 12 acres of lend providing Seattleites lots of opportunities for outdoors activities.
At Lake Union Park you will find waterfront steps, wading pools, landscaped mounds, spray fountains, tree grove and green lawns – everything you need for a relaxing walk.
Photography fans will appreciate the views you can get to the worldwide famous Gas Works.
This is one of the most popular Seattle parks with the locals, but also with tourists as the Museum of History and Industry and the Center for Wooden Boats are both located within the park.
Olympic Sculpture Park
Opened in January 2007, the Olympic Sculpture Park is a part of Seattle Art Museum, and is a standing proof of how an industrial fuel storage site can turn into an urban park and an outdoor space devoted to art. This popular Seattle attraction consists of 9 acres of land and is home to many art exhibits lined alongside Z-shaped platforms.
Olympic Sculpture Park has been granted numerous awards for its exquisite design that combines landscape, architecture, urban engineering, nature restauration and art.
Descending towards the water, the Olympic Sculpture Park is a great venue for landscape lovers and photographers as the views over Elliot Bay, Puget Sound, Mount Rainier and the Olympic Mountains are simply stunning.
The pedestrian route starts at an exhibition pavilion, and takes you along the alleys through charming gardens, each one of them focusing on a particular type of landscape specific to the Pacific Northwest: The Greensward, The Meadows, The Valley, The Shore, The Grove, and The Tides. All of them are home to metallic sculptures of different sizes – the work of local artists and especially commissioned for this Seattle park.
One of the largest Seattle parks, Lincoln Park is located right on the Puget Sound waterfront. A lot less crowded and touristy than Alki Beach, Lincoln Park is the place to visit if you want to see what the city looked like a century ago.
This is a great location for a walk as the park has nicely paved alleys which go along the beach. If you want to admire a beautiful waterfront, head to North Beach. Here the beach is surrounded by trees, and you can enjoy the shade while soaking up the views of the ferries. If it’s a sunny day, you might even catch sight of the whales.
The locals come here also for the playgrounds and sports facilities as at Lincoln Park you can find public facilities for playing tennis, soccer, softball, volleyball and baseball.
Gas Works Park
Standing on Lake Union’s shore, Gas Works Park is one of the most interesting Seattle parks. It is located in the center of the city, on the premises of a former industrial plant that manufactured gas from coal, and became inactive when the city switched to natural gas back in the 1950’s. The land was purchased by the local authorities in 1962, and in 1975, Gas Works Park was inaugurated.
The area’s history is still visible on site as a number of pieces belonging to the old gas plant can still be seen in the park. Some are just silent reminders of the past, others have been reconditioned and turned into play barn for kids.
Besides being a green areas for the locals to enjoy, Gas Works Park is also a quirky tourist attraction in Seattle, not to mention a unique landmark. The park’s architect Richard Haag was granted the American Society of Landscape Architects Award for the design of Gas Works Park.
The park is also a good picnic venue and a belvedere point, with amazing views of Seattle skyline. If the playground is located in the plant’s exhauster-compressor building, the picnic shelter uses the plant’s boiler house.
The hill inside park is a popular venue for flying kites. On top of the hill, you will find a beautiful sundial made of concrete and nicely decorated with rocks, shells, and pieces of glass. Stand in the center and your body’s shadow will indicate the hour and the season.
If you are fund of hiking, you should know that the 12.5-miles long Burke-Gilman Trail runs along the park, going towards Kirkland Log Boom Park.
A rather small green area standing on the Magnolia Bluff, and within walking distance from Magnolia Village, this is one of the most scenic Seattle parks providing great views over Puget Sound. Magnolia Park is home to impressive Madrona trees.
Actually the name of the park comes from these trees, but the Navy geographer who picked the name of the pack back in 1950 mistook them for magnolias.
If you are in Seattle at different times of the year, it is worth visiting this park several times. In autumn, the changing color trees make the landscape look totally different than in the spring, when the trees are blossoming.
Sprawling on 12 acres, this family friendly neighborhood park is a great location for barbecues and picnics. The best thing about Magnolia Park, besides the views on Puget Sound, is that is never crowded.
Fremont Canal Park
If you want to go for a short hike, this Seattle park located a bit off Burke Gilman Trail is a great choice. You will also find here many benches, as well as
shelter close to the water and a viewing platform for landscape lovers and photographers.
There are no special facilities for kids in the park, but you come here with your young ones, you can bring some bread. They will have fun feeding ducks.
The peak season in Fremont Canal Park is the month of June, when Fremont Fair and Solstice Parade are held here.
Belvedere Viewpoint Park
Located in the West side of the city, this is one of the most panoramic Seattle parks, providing greats view over Elliott Bay and downtown Seattle. On sunny days, you can see as far as the Cascade Mountains and Mt. Rainier from here.
But Belvedere Viewpoint Park is not interesting only during the day. As soon as the darkness covers the city, this viewpoint starts shining, presenting Seattle’s different light colors.
The park is made up of two parts, standing on both sides of the Admiral Way. The Eastern part is famous for its 25 feet high totem pole. Carved from a western red cedar, it is believed to be a welcoming symbol. The original one was crafted by the Bella-Bella Indians from the Queen Charlotte Islands, in Canada. It belonged to
“Daddy” Standley, the owner of Ye Olde Curiosity Shop on the downtown waterfront, who donated it to the city of Seattle back in 1939.
In 1966, the pole was in a severe state of decay. Deemed beyond repair, it was replaced with a replica designed by Boeing engineers Robert Fleischman and Michael Morgan. Another replacement was done in 2006. The latest version was crafted by Michael Halady – Chief Sealth’s descendant.
This totem is charged with symbols. It features at the bottom a hospitable figure symbolizing the welcoming of the Duwamish people. Above the figure you can see a ship standing for the early settlers’ arrival. The Chief Sealth stands above three symbolic Duwamish Tribe faces.
Marshall Park is probably one of the smallest parks in Seattle, but it is a great place to admire the views not only over the Olympic Mountains and Puget Sound, but also over Alki Beach and the Waterfront. Despite its small size, Marshall Park is home to some arts exhibits donated by various artists.
Formerly known as Phelps Place, Marshall Park has undergone a massive expansion back in 1960, when it also got its current name. In the late 1970s, Betty Bowen Viewpoint was also incorporated by park, which is now home to a memorial to Betty Bowen, a beloved matron of the arts.
Beer Sheva Park
A rather small, yet very cozy and quiet green area, Beer Sheva Park is a great spot to go if you want to admire the views of Lake Washington, Mercer Island and the Cascade Mountains.
Formerly known as Atlantic City Park, the park has received its current name back in 1978 after Seattle’s Israeli sister city.
In Beer Sheva Park you will find picnic tables, and a nice playground for kids, including a climbing all and monkey bars. If you want to row a boat, you can do that too. There is also a nice area for bike riders.
Bhy Kracke Park
Another hidden gem of the city of Seattle, Bhy Kracke Park is stand on only 1.5 acres of land, on the eastern side of Queen Anne Hill, providing soaring views of the Seattle’s skyline, the Space Needle, Lake Union and the Cascades.
Tucked in the middle of a residential area, this small Seattle park is located off ht beaten tourist path. However, all those who managed to find it, really enjoyed the upper hill part of the park. It has benches, on which you can sit, have some rest and enjoy the views. There is also a fountain, in case you get thirsty.
As you go down the hill, you will find the kid-friendly side of park, with a nice playground and picnic facilities.
The park took its name after Werner Kracke, a resident of the neighborhood who donated the land and the funds for the park’s development. His nickname was “Bhy” or “Bye” because he was fund of the phrase “by cracky” that was very trendy in the late 1800s.
Located in the Broadview neighborhood, this park is unique with its sandy beach, an orchard, and a creek to explore. It covers 200+ acres and also includes an environmental learning center which offers various educational programs throughout the year. Many of the programs are based on sustainable infrastructure, including recycling, salvaging, and solar energy generation.
You’ll also notice some great views of the Olympic Mountains across the water on a clear day. There’s a salmon-themed playground for the kids to have fun as well. Just beware of the railroad tracks that separate the beach from the rest of the park. Trains run regularly through the area.
Dr. Jose Rizal Park
There’s also a small play area for kids, picnic tables, and bathroom facilities.
This Ballard park is home to an historic bathhouse and there are walking trails and picnic areas to enjoy, but it’s the beach that draws all of the attention here.
There are sand dunes that regularly form along the wetland marsh, establishing a habitat for many birds.
This is one of the most loved Seattle parks. The locals head there whenever the rays of sun start shining.
It has a full range of activities, including dedicated bike trails, to enjoy. An indoor pool is also available.
This is the place to go if you want an amazing view of the Seattle skyline.
You’ll even get Mount Rainier in the background on a clear day. At night, the lights of the city just sparkle. Sunrise and sunset here are gorgeous.
This park is consistently rated one of the most beautiful in the city.
With over 300 acres of old growth forest to explore, it is easy to see why.
A 2+ mile bike and walking path will let you experience plant gardens, miles of shoreline, an amphitheater, and even access to an art studio.
This park is also partnered with the National Audubon Society for sponsored programming.
If you want to explore Elliott Bay without having your feet on land, then this is the park for you. It has a protected scuba diving area in addition to its boat launch so there aren’t any worries about overhead boats. There’s also a wonderful view of the city.
This is your typical urban park for sports and picnics, but with a twist. There are several nature areas with paved trails so you can enjoy some time in the Seattle sun with a bike or while pushing a stroller with ease. There is also a playground for the kids. The park is also at one of the highest points in the area, which means the views can be quite wonderful.
Matthews Beach Park
If you want to have a swim during a visit to Seattle, then this is one of the best freshwater beaches in the area to offer that opportunity. With more than 20 acres of park space to enjoy, you can bring a picnic lunch and enjoy the trails or the play area. Boats are allowed to launch from the park as well, but they must be hand-carried.
This park offers 35 acres of urban forests and running water to explore. It’s one of the best ways to escape the hustle and bustle of Seattle’s urban life. It used to be a homesteading area in the early 1900’s and instead of being developed, it was preserved. There is a play area in addition to the hiking trails that wander through the woods.
This small Leschi park was created in 1907 and is primarily known for its hiking trails through the dense vegetation that grows in the area. The local neighborhood has been working on improving the trails in the area for nearly 20 years, providing benches, footbridges, and other ease-of-use items to make exploring the park fun for all ages.
The network of trails in this small wooded area within the city is the perfect place for riding a bike, taking a walk, or walking your best friend. There are not any facilities in this park and the development of the trails is fairly rustic, but on a warm summer day in the city you can’t beat the experience this park can provide.
As one of the newest parks in the city, this small pocket park used to be the playground of the elementary school that sits next to it. Now it offers an open green space for playing and picnics, a few walking baths, barbecues, and playground equipment. It’s also one of the best places in the city to catch the fireworks shows that are presented during the various holidays.
This park might just be the best kept secret of Seattle’s Parks and Recreation department. You’re allowed to camp overnight in the cabins that are available here, rock climb, enjoy a nature hike, or take on the high ropes challenge course that has been offered. Owl sightings within the park are fairly frequent and there are business accommodations offered as well. If you want to learn about natural history in Seattle, this is one of the best places to experience.
The best of the best of Seattle Parks and Recreation offer you the chance to get outside and enjoy the fresh air in a way that you prefer. Whether you want to have a barbecue, enjoy some time at the beach, or stretch the legs and explore the woods, every park here has something that will meet your needs. Get out, have fun, and enjoy all that the Emerald City has to offer.