lush, crisp, and a hiker’s haven, the emerald city is essential to any recreationalist’s bucket list.
The Pacific Northwest has long been regarded as a mystical, elusive region of thick forestry and sky high mountains — and Seattle sits at its core. Referred to by locals as “a small big city,” Seattle is both bustling enough for city lovers and tranquil enough for those who need to unplug. According to our local Seattlite and Recreational runner Rahhel Woldu, “our access to the outdoors is simply unmatched.”
NFL fans might already know this, but Seattle people are diehard for Seattle. With them, it’s never just lip service — once you’re anointed into the local community, their loyalty is unconditional. “We’re all about gathering people together for a greater purpose,” says Rahhel. “If someone needs us to commune for an event or a cause, it’s like … ‘say less.'” Basically? Seattle may be rainy 152 days of the year, but its people are sunnier than most.
With the help of returning contributor Rahhel Woldu and local photographer Adam Wells, we’ve updated our Recreationalist’s Guide to Seattle with all the best vantage points for admiring the Pacific Northwest the right way.
Located in the upper half of Seattle’s hourglass geography, Fremont is a great place to start your Recreational itinerary.
As a runner, our featured Recreationalist Rahhel Woldu loves frequenting the Fremont Bridge. Run its neighboring blocks, the length of the bridge, and back for a breezy route. Then stop by Red Star Taco Bar for some fuel.
Burke Gilman Trail
A 20 mile paved trail that spans the south edge of north Seattle’s hourglass shape, Burke Gilman Trail is perfect for “anyone who wants a long bike ride,” says photographer and Seattle local Adam Wells.
From Fremont, bike west toward Golden Gardens Park for waterfront views or east toward Unversity District to tour University of Washington’s lusciously green campus.
Inspired by the Victorian-styled architecture that’s still sprinkled across this historic neighborhood, Queen Anne is home to some of Seattle’s iconically elevated views of both the city’s bustling metro and the calm Puget Sound.
You may have heard of this epic hilltop park before — Kerry Park sits on a whopping 500 foot incline and offers panoramic views of the Seattle skyline and a peek of the water.
If the seats in Kerry Park’s main area are all taken, look out for a more secluded spot down at the end of the street.
Lower Queen Anne
Once a neighborhood that Rahhel called home, this subsection of Queen Anne is “nice because it’s away from the city center but you still feel close.”
Grab a cup of coffee at Caffe Ladro, then stroll down 20 minutes to the Olympic Sculpture Park. The park is essentially one “large scale art exhibit, set against the backdrop of the Puget Sound and Olympic Mountains,” according to Adam. Try to top that.
This young, bustling, and diverse neighborhood is altogether known to Pacific Northwest locals as the “beating heart of Seattle.” Most recently, amidst 2020’s social and political strife, the city center has become a gathering vessel for social protests, peaceful discourse, and (socially distant) community events.
Cal Anderson Park
One of the central nerves of Capitol Hill, Cal Anderson Park is perfect for spending an afternoon people watching or moving about on its spacious lawns.
“I usually enter toward the southeast backend and stroll past the Lincoln Reservoir and Cal Anderson Reflecting Pool,” says Rahhel. “As you make your way to the actual park, you’ll see basketball and tennis courts, turf fields, and a skate park.” A five star combo.
Across the street, take a salsa class at Century Ballroom if you’re feeling bold. On that same block, visit The Elliot Bay Book Company for your next read and Molly Moon’s Homemade Ice Cream for a classic Seattle waffle cone.
Capitol Hill has no shortage of food and coffee choices fit for every type of eater. For a speed round breakdown:
Rahhel recommends Cafe Pettirosso for great brunch, Big Mario’s Pizza for a classic sold-by-the-slice, and of course, Seattle’s infamous Dick’s Drive-In for its traditional burgers. “The fact that they haven’t changed their menu over decades is a pretty cool testament to Seattle’s historical preservation.”
For all the diehard coffee lovers: Adam recommends Espresso Vivace if you care about the flavor profile more than the energy boost, Joe Bar for the quintessential Seattle roast, and Analog Coffee for its ambiance. “Analog only spins vinyl, and its interiors are just perfect.”
The “quintessential park for evening picnics,” Volunteer Park is also known as the final resting place of Seattle legends like Bruce Lee.
Rahhel recommends finding a spot near the Volunteer Park Conservatory, where you can admire its botanical garden and soak in some Vitamin C (when you’re lucky).
You may know Central Seattle as the home of iconic landmarks like the Pike Place Market, Seattle Public Library, and CenturyLink Field (which are all worthy visits on their own merit). But, for when you want to get a little more Recreational amongst Seattle’s downtown frenzy, Rahhel’s got two absolute must-gos.
Big ray energy at Denny Park. Shop Rahhel’s full look at Outdoor Voices.
Have a Saturday to spare? Start your morning with a round of hoops or ping pong at Denny Park.
After, Rahhel recommends strolling around the South Lake Union Saturday Market for the freshest Seattle produce and flowers. Stop by her favorite food truck, People of the Chubbs, for chicken and cheese flautas while you’re at it.
This iconic Seattle neighborhood needs no explanation — Pioneer Square is a social center that you’re bound to come across.
For when you’re needing an afternoon relax, grab a good read and visit the Waterfall Garden Park. “It’s small, but it gives you the vibe of going on a hike in one of Seattle’s mountains, without having to leave the city,” says Rahhel. A bit of cool history too: the park now sits on the site of the first UPS location in the States.
After you’re chilled out, walk across the street to Good Bar for a wrap-up cocktail.
Mountains, urban squares, and now sand! Alki Beach is one of Seattle’s more well-known beaches along the Puget Sound coast.
Break in your roller skates along the nearly five mile Alki Beach Boardwalk to soak in views that can’t be rivaled. At the very end, you’ll find Constellation Park, “a separate lookout point that’s secluded and insanely beautiful,” says Rahhel.
While you’re there, Adam recommends grabbing a bite at Harry’s Beach House to nail that classic beach walk vibe.
Woody and luscious, with tons of trails, playgrounds, and room for running around, Seward Park is one of Seattle’s most epic Recreational spots.
According to Rahhel, “They’ve now closed off the streets to create more space for folks to not feel so restricted while still social distancing.” Host a picnic, rent a boat, or take a dip in the lake. Or run the length of its outer edge for “the craziest views of Lake Washington.”
Alki Beach and Seward Park live on exact opposite ends of the lower half of Seattle’s hourglass. Photos by Rahhel Woldu.
Do yourself a favor and seek out Green Lake Park in northern Seattle. The outdoor basketball courts are perfect for a casual game of pick-up. After you’ve built up a sweat, wind down on the breathtaking lakefront route.
Fun Fact: The Seattle Supersonics gave the court a renovation before leaving town in 2008. Some of the best basketball players in the city play pick-up games at the Green Lake Community Center — and it’s not uncommon to see a pro drop in either.
Located in Seattle’s Magnolia neighborhood, Discover Park has no shortage of trails to trek, cliffs to climb, and views to adore. Rahhel recommends starting your hike near the Visitor Center.
In south Seattle, there’s a hidden “locals-only” lookout point at Jose P. Rizal Bridge and Park, located on the west slope of Beacon Hill. Named after the Filipino American activist, the history of this park’s namesake is worth the trek alone.
Rahhel recommends checking out Black-owned catering company Nu Bilu, whose name translates to “come eat” from a native dialect in Eritrea, East Africa. Look out for their weekly Instagrams of gourmet foods that are available for ordering and pickup.
The T-Dock at Lake Washington overlooks the entire waterfront and glances over downtown Bellevue. According to Rahhel, “this T-dock actually has a ladder so you can climb out of the lake, unlike some of the others where you have to lift yourself out.”
Indulge in $5 Margarita Mondays at Meet the Moon afterward.
Take a ferry from mainland Seattle to Bainbridge Island or Whidbey Island for an easy forest hike. You can’t go wrong either way — just pick a spot in the woods and get lost. You’re bound to come across some incredibly picturesque Seattle views.
Day trip! Get out to Lake Serene Trail in the Mount Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest for a lakefront hike with several pockets of waterfalls and valley views. In Rahhel’s words: “The first two miles are pretty easy, with a bit of an incline. From there, you can choose to go another mile on the Bridal Veil Falls Trail or another two miles on the main trail to Lake Serene. The extra mile is definitely worth the side trip to see the falls.”
Before you head off to The Emerald City, buff up your cultural index right from the couch. Head to wildsam.com for the full Field Guides collection.
“Where’d You Go, Bernadette?” by Maria Semple. Buy here.
Ceramics by local artisan Natasha Alphonse. Shop here.
A Seattle-made skateboard by Subsonic. Buy here.
Comedy podcast “Spilled Milk”, hosted by Molly Wizenberg, Matthew Amster-Burton, and Abby Cerquitella. Listen here.
“Twin Peaks” on Netflix. Stream here.
Editor’s Note: Given the current state of the world, The Recreationalist does not encourage long distance travel to any particular region. Instead, these guides were crafted to pay homage to the local people, communities, and cultures that have kept these cities strong for generations, and perhaps even for learning a new thing or two about the place you call home.
Featured photos by Rahhel Woldu.
Culture list and illustration by WILDSAM.
Did we miss anything? Comment your favorite Recreational spots around Seattle below.