How to Seattle: Outdoors

Sure, the view is beautiful, but it’s gonna kill us all.

by Stranger Staff

If you love nature, you’ll love Seattle. We have 6,480 acres of parks, 4,563 miles of trails, more than 4 million trees, and stunning mountain ranges in every direction. Even a quick run to the drugstore can come with postcard-worthy views of orcas swimming in the bay. That said, it’s the splendor that surrounds us that will likely do us in. Mount Rainier? Active volcano. Puget Sound? Ideal conditions for a tsunami capable of 42-foot-high waves. All those picturesque rivers, lakes, and streams? Prone to flooding in the city’s 39 inches of annual rainfall. And those orcas? They’re sinking boats, now! (Google it! It’s true!) This beauty will kill us, but the views are worth the dance with death.

Strip Down to Your Skivvies at Denny Blaine Park

Madison Valley

Denny Blaine is my favorite place to be homosexual in the United States. The minuscule, lovably ugly Lake Washington beach tucked into a wealthy cul-de-sac has been a gay hangout for nearly four decades. A predominantly topless lesbian crowd earned it the nickname “Dykekiki,” but today it attracts queers of all kinds and plenty of straight nudists, too. No matter your body type or what genitals you have, DB’s a safe and surprisingly friendly haven for swimming in your skivvies. The magic comes from the deep love people have for it. After the city proposed building a children’s playground at the site this winter, hundreds of angry queers packed a community meeting in protest, ultimately killing the plan. After that outpouring, something tells me this summer will be especially glorious for Denny Blaine. Oh, and no parking signs do mean no parking. Chance it and I promise, you will be towed. (VIVIAN MCCALL)

Owl Prowl at Discovery Park

Magnolia

If you need a break from the depressing black hole that can be city living, I recommend prowling for owls like you’re in a Tove Jansson novel. Located just across from Ballard’s Hiram M. Chittenden Locks in the Magnolia neighborhood, Discovery Park is a gigantic wooded oasis with stunning waterside hikes, a historic lighthouse (more on that below), and several breeds of owls lurking amidst the trees. Owls are nocturnal creatures, but it’s not unusual to see one during the daytime. If you’re feeling particularly adventurous, go on the prowl after dark (the park closes at 11:30 pm); just don’t forget your binoculars. (AUDREY VANN)

Then Search for Sea Stars at West Point Lighthouse Beach

Magnolia

One of my favorite favorite things to do with out-of-towners is tide pooling at Discovery Park’s West Point Lighthouse Beach. Wear shoes you don’t mind getting wet and check for low tide. You’ll know you’re in the right place when you start seeing clams spitting everywhere. It’s like a mini Fourth of July celebration, but instead of fireworks, it’s tiny streams of water being shot up into the sky by buried clams. In the shallow pools, you’ll likely be able to see sea anemones, which are topped with rings of hairy-looking tentacles and look like something dangerous out of Stranger Things, but they’re harmless. You should be harmless, too—if you gently touch the outside of the sea anemones, they will react and close up. NATURE. But what you’re really there to see are the sea stars (the actual term for what common folk call “starfish”). They will be on the big rocks or boulders on the edge of pools and you will have to get low to see them. I have gotten on my hands and knees to spot three purple sea stars tucked under a rock and told a group of people nearby, “Hey! Did y’all see the sea stars here?” To which they replied, “NO! We looked all over that rock for one!” Didn’t get low enough. (RACHEL STEVENS)

Pretend You’re in a Romantic Comedy at Green Lake Park 

Green Lake

*All* the boats on Green Lake. ANTHONY KEO

Looking for a more stable, low-effort form of water recreation? Visit the Green Lake Boathouse on the northwest point of Green Lake Park. There, you can rent tippy vessels like stand-up paddleboards and kayaks (show-off) or, for $28, you can play it safe with an (almost) capsize-proof pedal boat. These large orange-and-blue crafts—which seat two or four people and have been featured in many a rom-com—let you leisurely tour Green Lake without much fear of taking an accidental dip in the lake. (ASHLEY NERBOVIG)

Paddle Around the Heart of Seattle (and Then Get a Burrito!) on Lake Union

University District

Lake Union. ZOSHUA COLAH 

Few activities make me feel more like a Seattleite than picking up a kayak at the Agua Verde Paddle Club and then paddling around Lake Union for a couple hours before returning to the restaurant to stuff myself with a burrito and a fruity bev of some kind. Boat rentals are $29 per hour for a double, so bring a friend and paddle around the perimeter. Wave at the people in the hot tub boats, peer into the houseboats and wonder how much they cost, gaze at the influencers making content in Gas Works Park, sit in awe of the bridge, and marvel at the seaplanes as they take off and land like ducks on the water. (The lake is actually an airport, so that’s kind of fun.) After taking in the views, return to Agua Verde and purchase yourself some premium Mexican fare. The salsas are all amazing, and the burritos will make you happy on the inside of your body. (RICH SMITH)

Take the Path Less Traveled at Carkeek Park

Broadview

This city is rich with an embarrassment of outdoor spaces. Discovery Park and Golden Gardens tend to take all the glory, with their showy beach bonfires and sweeping territorial views, but for my money, Carkeek is the best park in city limits. Just a little bit north of Golden Gardens, Carkeek is a breathtaking 220-acre pinch of the Olympics. The 3.5-mile loop that starts and ends at Piper’s Creek takes you from wetlands, orchards, and mossy little bridges up to big views of the Sound, past the beach (no dogs allowed), and into rolling hilly forests. (KATHLEEN TARRANT)

Freeze Your Ass Off with a Cold Plunge

Various locations

 

 
 

 
 

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A post shared by Puget Sound Plungers (@pugetsoundplungers)

If you spend any time at Golden Gardens or Alki Beach, you’re gonna see people in the water and wonder, “Isn’t it cold?” Yes! It is! Quite cold. The average sea surface temperature for Elliott Bay, for example, is 59 degrees Fahrenheit in August. But you should jump in anyway! People pay good money for cold plunge baths at high-end spas, and here in Seattle, we get that shit for free. If you’re new to plunging, I highly recommend starting with one of the local organizations that facilitate group events; I really like Coldwater Collective and Puget Sound Plungers. Both post their weekly schedules on Instagram, along with tips for first-timers, and it’s way more fun yelling and swearing and splashing around with other people feeling your pain. (Wear a warm hat! It really does make a big difference!) Your first time will probably suck. I lasted about 20 seconds before bailing and swearing it off for good. But 24 hours later, I wanted to try again. I loved the tingly feeling on my skin and the rush of endorphins. Now I go at least once a week and half the time, I spot some cute sea critter playing out in the water, too. (MEGAN SELING)

Pick Blackberries by Boat at Gas Works Park

Northlake

Don’t buy blackberries in Seattle! Come August and you can pick them pretty much anywhere. Yes, I know they are invasive, but they are also delicious. There are places that get immediately picked over, but I have found a hack! If you travel by boat, there are many places along Lake Union that have the freshest and plumpest blackberries that no one has touched. I bring a bucket (and gloves, because OUCH THORNS) in my canoe and go near Gas Works Park to pick enough to make a pie. And yes, the water quality isn’t the best in Lake Union, and yes, Gas Works used to be an actual gas plant, so the berries might be toxic. But if I’ve learned anything from spending hundreds of hours of my youth watching Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, I can only assume that—worst-case scenario—I will become some kind of crime-fighting blackberry who is mentored by a wise mutant rat. THE PIE IS WORTH IT. (RACHEL STEVENS)

Witness the Miracle of Life at the Ballard Locks

Ballard

Are you in Seattle to gawk at leggy birds? Look no further than the Ballard Locks! It’s a concrete mass separating saltwater from freshwater that functions as a boat elevator and fish ladder between Puget Sound and Salmon Bay. This landmark, the busiest boat locks in the United States, harbors a Janus-faced past and present: an artificial scarring of the landscape that displaced Coast Salish people during its construction—as commemorated on some plaques outside the nearby Pagliacci??—but also a hotspot for wildlife. Demure seals, charismatic salmon runs, yappy sea lions, yacht owners in the throes of a midlife crisis, etc., etc. The Janussery continues at the blue heron rookery in Commodore Park (the Magnolia side), a lovely site where loving (leggy) heron parents raise their chicks. The bird colony, though, is also used by local NIMBYists to delay local affordable housing construction under the guise of “ecological preservation.” J’accuse! But also tell the heron I said hi. (ADAM WILLEMS)

Enjoy a Perfect, Whole-Ass Afternoon in Volunteer Park

Capitol Hill

Isamu Noguchi’s Black Sun sculpture at Volunteer Park. ANTHONY KEO

One of the best afternoons you could possibly have in Seattle happens all in and around one park. If you’re able, begin with a walk up the water tower (aka the Poor Man’s Space Needle) to survey your surroundings, catching the downtown and Elliott Bay to the west and the Cascade range to the east. Then head over to the conservatory, where you’ll find rooms of orchids, carnivorous plants, seasonal flowers, and cactuses that look like frost trolls, bongos, and donkey tails. On the way there, say hello to the ducks in the ponds, and peep the actual Space Needle through Isamu Noguchi’s Black Sun sculpture. (Everybody says that sculpture inspired Soundgarden’s “Black Hole Sun” song, but unfortunately everybody is wrong.) Break for lunch at the nearby Volunteer Park Cafe, and then spend the rest of the day in the Seattle Asian Art Museum. This afternoon works in all weather, but in the summer, you might emerge from the museum in time to catch some Shakespeare in the park at the newly renovated auditorium. Planes fly over the park every 30 seconds, so you might want to wear a hard hat while you picnic until Boeing gets its act together. (RICH SMITH)

Look at how much more fun you can have with our 99 Things to Do checklist! Download yours here!


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