Ideas for enjoying the real life of Seattle (that often cost little or nothing).

Saturday, May 12, 2007

A Follow up on Ballard Past and Present

Yesterday, the Seattle Times published a front page story of the blending and clashing of the old and new Ballard. It also mentioned the Ballard Historical Society. Both the article and the Society's website are good reads.

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Monday, May 07, 2007

A Day (or so) in: Ballard

Note: This post is one of an intermittent series focused on experiencing the full and authentic flavor of specific Seattle neighborhoods. What to do and see, where to eat and drink, and other details are included, with an eye to keeping it affordable.

For a taste of both Old-School and New-School Seattle living in blended harmony, the neighborhood of Ballard is your destination. Situated in Northwest Seattle along the shore of Puget Sound, Ballard is the epicenter of Seattle’s long-standing Scandinavian community. It is also a hub of the fishing trade for the city.

Left: The brick-paved, tree-shaded shopping street of Ballard Ave. on a quiet afternoon.

With a staunch, proudly blue-collar image and long, independent-minded history, Ballard has become a magnet for artists and craftsmen as well as a new generation of fisherpeople and shipbuilders. You will find cafes that still serve up lutefisk (eeesh) and Maxwell House to the older generations of Swedes and Norwegeans and newer restaurants that list Copper River salmon and Café Vita espresso on the menu. The folks here are real, and there’s a wide range.

Right: One of the many funky little car mechanic shops in the 'hood... this one obviously with a sense of humor!

Below: A ship in drydock on the Ballard waterfront.

What to do, What to do….

Get a sense of Ballard Past by visiting the Nordic Heritage Museum. Apparently, it is the only museum in the U.S. to honor the immigrants from the Nordic countries. Here in Seattle, it is a relevant institution. Not only are there historical exhibits, but also ongoing events which are well attended, including a Christmas Pageant, concert series and Scandinavian art exhibitions.

Next Head to the Chittenden Locks to watch ships of all sorts move from the freshwater lakes to the salt water sound. You will see everything from huge container ships to single-person kayaks take the ride up and down. The Locks also host a well used fish ladder where many varieties of salmon can be seen migrating throughout the year. Finally, stroll the botanical gardens and find a nice perch over the locks for a picnic lunch.

Another great picnic spot is Golden Gardens park, just west of downtown ballard. It is a waterfront park with sandy beaches where you will find kids making sandcastles, beach volleyball games, and many, many sunbathers on the warmest days. From Golden Gardens, you can soak in views of Puget Sound and the Olympic Mountains and catch a stunning sunset over the water.

If it is art you crave, visit the neighborhood on the second Saturday of the month to participate in the Ballard Art Walk. Galleries stay open late and often showcase new exhibits for this event, sharing wine and appetizers.

If it’s performing arts you crave, visit Live Girls Theater to attend a play, comedy, or poetry reading. This theater supports women artists by showcasing their work.

If it’s music you seek, check out who’s playing at the The Tractor Tavern. A long standing venue for local talent as well as touring bands, the Tractor is a staple in the Seattle music scene (and they serve good beer!)

Shopping in Ballard

There are far too many great shops in Ballard to try to list them. Suffice it to say, perusing Ballard Avenue alone could be a weekend’s project. Market St., which crosses Ballard Ave., is also filled with shops, markets and cafes. Here are a couple resources to get you going:, and

Above: Ballard Ave. is chock-a-block full of fabulous shops from clothing and shoes to home furnishing and pet supplies

Eatin’ & Drinkin’

Right: Portalis is a sweet little wine bar on Ballard Ave.

Hattie’s Hat, a venerable Ballard institution is where you will find old-time Ballard stalwarts and young-folk mixing and matching.

Ray’s Boathouse is another Ballard Tradition, albeit more upscale than Hattie’s Hat. This is where you go to watch that sunset with a cocktail or morsel of salmon in hand.

Restaruante Michoacan, reportedly some of the best Mexican food in Seattle.

Volterra… amaaaaazing Italian.

Dandelion Café… a hip, newer eatery.

Larsen’s Original Bakery is where you will find the real thing when looking for a “Danish”.

Café Besalu, another great bakery that trends more modern than Larsen’s traditional.

Dish D’lish is a casual little eat in/take out joint by Seattle foodie celeb, Kathy Casey.

More Drinks…

More Eats…

Where to Stay???

If anyone knows of a good hotel, inn or B&B in Ballard, please comment! This is the one thing that seems to be missing from the world of Ballard.

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Thursday, May 03, 2007

Opening Day – Seattle Style

Everywhere else in God’s green America, Opening Day is synonymous with the start of baseball season. Not here. Not in Seattle. In Seattle, Opening Day, always the first Saturday in May, marks the official start of boating season. It is a long-standing tradition, dating back to 1913. The Seattle Yacht Club, which has hosted the event from its inception, has a great history of this big party on the water, which now includes crew races and huge parade of boats, yachts and ships of all kinds.

Above: Opening Day Parade passing through the hoglines of boats. Image from the Seattle Yacht Club website.

The races and parade pass through the “Montlake Cut”, a narrow canal that connects Lake Washington with Lake Union. Spectators-on-foot line both sides of the Cut, and spectators-on-boat create long hoglines that extend the canal up to ¼ mile or more into Lake Washington.

Left: Crew teams recovering at the end of a race. Image from the Husky Crew website.

Opening day is Seattle’s May Day, celebrating the return of warming weather, waxing days, and how we spend them… namely, on the water. Yachts, kayaks, dragon boats, row boats, canoes, sail boats, ski boats, fishing boats, skiffs, and inner tubes with beer holders will all be in attendance on Saturday to watch the races, tag along the end of the parade, and generally make merry.

Here is the schedule of events. Arrive early along the Cut with a picnic blanket and basket to claim a vantage point to cheer on the Husky crew teams.

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Wednesday, May 02, 2007

Hidden Treasure – Freeway Park

Tucked behind Seattle’s Convention Center and the Union Square buildings, and over a small cap covering a portion of the I-5 freeway, is Freeway Park, an intricate web of walkways, thick landscaping, and restful cubbyholes hiding in plain sight in the middle of the city's business district. The respite from the downtown streets is over 5 acres in size, but given its inconspicuous location, it is one of those special places in Seattle that you must know about (or be an intrepid and fortunate wanderer) to find.

Above: A bright red information kiosk with map stands among the lush plantings.

The park reflects the highrises of the city by use of a “Brutalist” hardscape using heavy forms of concrete to define the spaces of the park’s many “outdoor rooms.” This architecture is balanced by the dense plantings of evergreens and flowering shrubs, trees and annuals. There are highlights of sculpture and a large waterfall at its south end (only on in the late spring to early fall).

Right: An arbored "hallway" between garden rooms.

The park is strewn with benches and summertime lunch hour finds it packed with office workers reading, napping, or chatting over a brown bag meal. The one drawback of the park is the incessant drone of the freeway traffic. However, it is not overpowering and falls into “white noise” status after a while.

Left and Below: Two sculptures at the north end of the park, near the Convention Center.

Only 4 or 5 blocks from the center of Seattle’s retail district, Freeway Park provides a nice break from the shopping frenzy. To-go lunches can be found in the concourse at nearby Two Union Square.

Left: This Escher-esque edifice is a wall of falling water in the summertime.

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