Your Destination Guide to Seattle

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The Waterfront

The Waterfront
The Waterfront

© X-Weinzar

A green and white ferry boat floats across glittering Elliot Bay, its horn sounding as it pulls away from the dock. Seagulls glide and dip, looking for fried handouts from tourists at the fish-and-chip bar. A slight breeze carries the smell of the ocean and its inhabitants through the air, signaling your arrival at Seattle’s iconic waterfront. As in any port city, the bustling waterfront is a vital part of Seattle’s culture and economy. And even more than that, the mile-long stretch of shops, restaurants, popular attractions, and marinas is part of the heart and soul of the city.

The Seattle Aquarium, located on Pier 59, is home to octopus, salmon, jellyfish, sea lions, and otters, among other sea creatures. This popular attraction opened in 1977 and underwent a major facelift in 2007, adding 18,000 square-feet of space and a large hands-on tidepool exhibit where visitors can touch starfish, hermit crabs, and sea urchins. Beware that in the spring and fall, weekdays can be as busy as weekends due to school field trips. Late afternoons are usually a good time to avoid crowds and enjoy your visit.

Just south of the Seattle Aquarium is Waterfront Park, a public park with picnic benches and viewpoints galore. This is a good spot for resting tired feet or finding a good deal on a Seattle T-shirt from one of the street vendors. There are a couple of interesting sculptures here, as well. One is an abstract likeness of Christopher Columbus looking out to sea. Another is a nautical-themed sculpture – more than 18 feet tall, this statue swirls with seaweed, jellyfish, and octopuses.

The waterfront is the hub of aquatic transportation in Seattle, with access to the Bainbridge Island and Bremerton ferries, water taxis to West Seattle, and several private companies offering cruises of various lengths. Whatever the vessel, the views of the Seattle skyline from the deck of a boat are unparalleled.

At the North end of Alaskan Way, the street that runs along the waterfront, sits Myrtle-Edwards Park, a great place to sit down and enjoy unobstructed views of Puget Sound. Inside the park you’ll find plenty of benches overlooking the water, rolling grassy hills, and even a couple of small sandy beaches. You’ll also find access to the adjacent Olympic Sculpture Park and the Burke-Gilman bike trail.

The waterfront is home to a variety of seafood-serving establishments, from fish-and-chip bars to four-star restaurants serving the highest quality of fresh fish. Numerous souvenir shops are also scattered throughout the area, including the famous Ye Old Curiosity Shop located on Pier 54. Seashell picture frames, Space Needle key chains, shrunken heads, and Mexican jumping beans are among the knick-knacks and souvenirs found in this quirky and rather dusty shop. Next door sits Ivar’s, Seattle’s well-known chowder house, which has both an outdoor fish bar and a full restaurant at this location. Ivar’s Restaurant hosts an all-night happy hour with good prices on everything from clam chowder to fish tacos—not to mention some great views of the water.

The best way to enjoy the waterfront is on foot or on the deck of a boat, but if you plan on driving there are a lot of parking options. The easiest place to park is on the street, but you’ll have to pay one of the electric meters on weekdays and Saturdays until 6pm. If you need parking for more than two hours, there are several pay-lots nearby. The free waterfront bus (#99) that runs from the north end of Alaskan Way, near Myrtle-Edwards Park, to Pioneer Square, is a good way for pedestrians to get around.

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