Thirty-four-foot-deep Lake Union is the wading pool of the Puget Sound region, having once been called “Small Lake” by local Duwamish Indians. In the tribe’s native tongue, the name literally meant, “small great amount of water.” Today’s name holds all of the prestige and none of the irony--the lake unites Lake Washington and Puget Sound.
Over 500 houseboats line the perimeter of the lake—the largest houseboat population in the country and the largest in the world outside of Asia. These boats began appearing at the start of the 20th century when the cost of living on land was too high for loggers and fishermen who had to subsist on meager earnings. The earliest houseboats were nothing more than a floor of logs lashed together with rope with a small shack built on top. Today, visitors kayaking past these moored homes spy rows of floating homes with decks and planter boxes, the most famous having been featured in the romantic comedy Sleepless in Seattle.
The lake is a popular destination for kayakers and rowers. A handful of kayak rental shops, including the Northwest Outdoor Center, offer rental equipment, classes, and retail merchandise. Rowing centers located on the lake include the Lake Washington Rowing Club and the headquarters for the University of Washington’s rowing team. Two seaplane bases are stationed along Lake Union. Nearby is the international aerospace corporation Boeing, which offers tours of both the Everett factory and the Future of Flight Aviation Center in Mukilteo every day of the week. For more information, visit the company’s tour website at www.boeing.com/commercial/tours/index.html.
Parks along the lakeshore provide acres of grassy knolls and miles of paths perfect for an afternoon stroll. Gas Works Park is the largest of these, and offers a panoramic view of the Seattle skyline from the top of its central hill. Twelve-acre Lake Union Park, with its Historic Ships Wharf and the Center for Wooden Boats, educates visitors about the maritime history of the city.