Seattle Off The Beaten Path Tips by glabah Top 5 Page for this destination
Seattle Off The Beaten Path: 291 reviews and 605 photos
view from top of Volunteer Park: artwork & Needle
Going east and slightly north of downtown Seattle, you will hit the Capitol Hill area of the city. Among the large old houses of this community, you will find Volunteer Park, which features a view of the Space Needle with the Olympic Mountains behind it. There are a number of gravel trails, an old water tower has been converted into a viewing platform which provides even more expansive views of the surrounding area, and a conservatory (built in 1912) with plant species from all over the world. This park is also the home of the Asian American Art Museum, which is a division of the Seattle Art Museum.
I have put the Volunteer Park Water Tower into a separate tip as it is an attraction in its own right due to the wonderful view from the top. I have also put the Volunteer Park Conservatory in its own tip.
The name Volunteer Park was adopted in 1901 as a memorial to the "volunteers" that served in the Spanish American war. A number of other monuments and public art works have been added over the years.
In many ways the park is a fairly typical city park: it has a lot of trees and open grass space. There is an open outdoor ampitheatre area where sometimes you can find students from the University of Washington or other local universities practicing their plays. There are gravel and paved trails throughout the park. The busiest road is that which runs directly on the east side of the park, and that is easy to get away from.
The official address of the park is 1247 15th Ave. E. The best bus route to take to get here is bus route 10, which also serves the Capitol Hill community. You can drive, but on a really clear day it will be difficult to find parking as everyone else will be here for the views and to enjoy the sunlight. Bus route #10 is somewhat slow, but it does run fairly frequently.
Downtown Seattle from 12th Ave S Viewpoint Park
Seattle has a number of lesser known viewpoints. The 12th Avenue South viewpoint isn't hugely spectacular, but it does allow a view of the Seattle skyline and on a clear day the Olympic Mountains. Much of the foreground is dominated by the much less scenic Port of Seattle, Interstate 5 an surrounding industrial areas, unfortunately.
There are several benches and mowed grass, and that pretty much is the complete list of what is in this small park.
On a nice day it can be a fairly popular place.
Unlike a few other viewpoints, it doesn't have a major busy road going right by it. There is some noise from Interstate 5 that filters up to it, but it isn't as bad as some of the other places that have heavy traffic noise.
How to Get Here:
If driving from downtown, take Dearborn, Jackson or other over to 12th Ave S. Follow the main road south past the top of the hill, and just south of the crossing with Beacon Ave look for S. Forest Street. Turn right and go to the very end of S. Forest Street. Located at the intersection of S. Forest Street and 12th Avenue S.
The park is approximately a 6 block walk from the nearest transit service, which really isn't that far and mostly level. Though it is a slightly further walk, my suggestion is to take bus route 36 or 60 to the stop at Beacon Avenue S. and 15th Avenue S. You can then use a mixture of whatever roads you want to go south and west to McClellan and 12th, which is the north end of the park. The bus stop at the Beacon Hill Light Rail station (just south of Lander Street on Beacon Avenue) is slightly closer to the park, but it also means trying to cross 15th Avenue. While this isn't a vastly busy road it also isn't quiet either, and has enough traffic you will probably spend a bit of time waiting to get across it. The stop at Beacon Avenue and 15th puts you on the west side of 15th so you don't have to cross it.
Alki Point and its Lighthouse and Space Needle
Some of the best views of the Seattle skyline are available in the much more suburban communities known as West Seattle and Alki.
Alki was the first American settlement in the area, and was so named as "Alki" means "some day" in Chinook trade jargon. The name was Alki New York or basically "One Day New York will be Here" but the community failed. It is not a place where large boats are able to land, and was otherwise unsuitable for the early settlers. By the 1860s the community was abandoned in favor of the place that would become Seattle.
It is possible to reach West Seattle and Alki Point by driving or by bus, but another option is the King County Water Taxi, which provides an attraction in its own right. It is cheaper to take the bus, and that keeps you from having to deal with parking issues. Also, you are able to walk the entire walkway one direction and take the bus back if you so desire.
Today, West Seattle and Alki Point have a small assortment of restaurants, including two with a great view of the Seattle skyline: Salty's (which is kind of expensive) and the Alki Crab and Fish (much more reasonably priced).
All along the base of the peninsula there is a walking and biking pathway that goes through the waterfront parks and viewpoints. This continues several miles and goes to a series of parks. This includes Don Armeni Park and Anchor Park. At the far west end of the Alki Peninsula it reaches Alki Beach Park and the Alki Statue of Liberty.
If you continue on past the lighthouse, you will come to the Avenue of Stars and Constellation Park.
In memorial of the early pioneers that attempted to settle here and found it unsuitable as a first community, there is the Log Cabin Museum located close the community of Alki itself.
Further up the hill there is yet more to be discovered. This includes such things as Admiral Viewpoint.
See my West Seattle and Alki pages for more.
Fremont Brige Troll is under Aurora Avenue Bridge
By far the most famous feature of the Fremont District in Seattle is the Fremont Bridge Troll, but there is more to the story and neighborhood than just the troll.
This was once a very working class neighborhood with marine based industries along the water, and a railroad where the Burke-Gilman Trail now exists. As those industries closed the area became less expensive to live in, and so a certain group of artists moved in and started doing various creative things to the area.
Thus, as it became popular, many started asking about what was going on in Fremont. Eventually, the buzz was strong enough that a sign was erected declaring Fremont to be The Center of the Universe.
While the Fremont Troll is probably the most famous of the art works in Fremont, it isn't the largest. By far the largest are the remains of the manufactured gas plant, which was partially preserved as Gas Works Park on Lake Union. The Fremont Rocket is another large artwork, and there is also a statue of Vladimir Lenin to make things really off the wall. Tucked away in a far corner there is Peace Park. In fact, there are so many out of the way things that Fremont Hysterical Markers and maps are positioned to help visitors find their way around.
Every year, huge crowds arrive in Fremont for the Fremont Solstice Festival, which is a parade of eccentric getups. However, before the parade happens there is a semi-official naked bike ride that has basically become part of the weekend events.
The web site below gives you a bit more information, or go over to my Fremont Page.
Seattle Pinball Museum in International District
With a very deep room filled with pinball machines, this tiny and relatively unknown museum in the International District is most certainly one of the places few people hear about when considering attractions in Seattle. However, if you want a good rainy day place to visit and are a fan of pinball, this is a place to consider.
It is a bit more expensive now than it once was ( Not too long ago it was $10 for all you can play, but is now $13 for a single entry and $18 for an entire day unlimited.) but is still a place that can be an economical choice if pinball is your thing and you can spend a few hours playing.
While some of the games are fairly new, some of the others date back to the 1960s. Some of these are currently undergoing repair.
Refreshments such as beer and soft drinks are available.
The museum is closed on Tuesdays and Wednesdays.
Mount Saint Helens over Silver Lake, 28 Nov 2011
From time to time, posted in the Seattle Travel Forum, there are questions about visiting Mount Saint Helens National Volcanic Monument. Usually, these are people who would like to do this trip as a day trip from Seattle. Obviously, following the 1980 eruption Mount Saint Helens became a tourist attraction for the region, but today it is not quite as much of a magnet as it used to be.
Before we get into that, however, I would like to point out that Mount Saint Helens National Volcanic Monument has its own set of travel documentation here on VirtualTourist. So, please take a look at the Mount Saint Helens National Volcanic Monument Section:
Now, it is possible to visit Mount Saint Helens as a day trip from Seattle. However, it will be a fairly long day, and so it is my suggestion that if you are going to try this that you look at spending the night at Castle Rock, Chehalis, or one of the other communities quite far south of Seattle that is on the way to the mountain. It is a two hour drive, under the absolute best of circumstances, to get from Seattle to Castle Rock, and the best parts of the National Volcanic Monument are another hour up the hill from there. The hour drive up to the Johnson Ridge Observatory and return, this is already six hours (three hours each way) of driving alone. There are three good sized museums and visitors centers along highway 504, and if you spend a little bit of time at each of those, plus take photos at the various viewpoints along highway 504, plus explore the area a little bit, this has now become a 12 hour or so trip - not including whatever traffic you hit coming south out of Seattle in the morning, and this traffic can be quite congested.
Furthermore, this leaves out seeing entire sections of the National Volcanic Monument, as there are many sections you can not access from highway 504. Highway 504 is the most popular route for tourists to visit as that gets you to several of the main viewpoints.
It all depends on what it is that you want to do, but if it were me I would not try to do all this in only a day. Spending the night closer to the mountain at Castle Rock or Kelso will allow you to be two hours closer to the mountain and get an earlier start to your day, as well as avoid potential traffic problems going at least one direction.
I would also like to make an important point about weather and time of year: Highway 504 travels to Johnson Ridge Observatory and is the main tourist route, but this highway becomes snowed in in the winter due to its going to high elevation. Therefore, during the season where there is snow covering the road (and the specific days that this happens depends on the weather that year) you will not be able to go as far upward as Johnson Ridge Observatory.
The one visitor's center that is sure to be open in almost all weather is the State of Washington Silver Lake Museum and Visitor's Center at Seaquest State Park. You can see the mountain from there and the information about the eruption is second to none. However, as it is close to Interstate 5 it doesn't get very close to the mountain.
See my Seaquest State Park Travel Page
and my tip about the Volcanic Museum at this state park:
So, before you make plans, check to make sure that the places you want to get to will be open during the time of year that you will come, as winter closes a lot of things in the mountains.
There is far too much to do at the monument to describe in one small tip, as there are dozens of trails and multiple access points. It is possible to spend a week here if you have the time.
Due to significant cutbacks of federal funding for Mount Saint Helens National Monument, the fee system at Johnson Ridge Observatory as well as Clear Lake and several other locations are not part of the National Park Pass system. If you wish to go to those places you must purchase a separate day pass. Other parts of Mount Saint Helens National Monument are covered by the Northwest Forest Pass or National Park Pass, depending on the location. The museum at Seaquest State Park is now state funded and has a separate admissions structure.
Due to damage caused by numerous irresponsible owners, dogs are now prohibited from the vast majority of the most sensitive parts of the monument (most areas along highway 504). There are marked pet exercise areas.
Below is the official web site of the National Volcanic Monument:
loop trail beside Green Lake is paved + gravel
While by no means an "off the beaten path" location for locals, Green Lake Park is not a typical tourist destination. The park features Green Lake at it's center, which is almost as large as Lake Union. A paved trail with gravel edges circles the entire park near the water's edge, and since there are no road crossings this is an extremely popular place for people to go for a walk or jog or ride bikes as a family, or other similar recreational activities (for example, the young woman who was walking, whirling a hula hoop around her waste, and eating an ice cream cone all at the same time).
If you have wheels (bike, roller blade, skate board, etc), you are supposed to go around the lake in a counter-clockwise direction, but walkers and other foot traffic may go either direction.
Other activities include fishing, pedal powered boats (see photo 2), canoes and kayaks, picnic tables, and swimming areas in the lake. There are certain rules that must be followed for swimming (for example, if out a certain distance from shore, you must have someone in a boat within a certain distance of you at all times, etc.).
There is a stadium on the west side of the lake for crewe and other rowing spectator sports.
The park is also the home of the Bathhouse Theatre, which is the old lake side bath house that has been converted into a theatre. At least some of the performances in this building are free.
How to Get Here:
Driving: Aurora Avenue / Highway 99 going north and find a place to park near the lake.
Bus: various routes, including #48 from the University District, #16 and #26 from downtown, other routes depending on where and when you come and what part of the lake you are trying to get to.
Fisherman's Terminal: safe inland harbor for boats
in the early 1900s, there was a need for a sheltered harbor for the fishing fleet of small boats that were based in Seattle. Thus, the development of the "Fisherman's Terminal" soon after the "Ballard Locks" connecting Lake Union to Puget Sound were constructed, this terminal was developed for the fishing fleet.
Just how this turned into a tourist attraction I will never understand, and probably the Port of Seattle would rather it not be a tourist attraction. However, it is a tourist attraction now, and there are several tour companies that send their tour buses here.
However, quite honestly there isn't that much here for tourists to see. There is a monument to fisherman lost at sea, there are several restaurants (with a sea food theme, of course), and several places that are designed to provide services to the fishermen (such as mailing services, laundry, and boat insurance). There are a number of huge sheds for drying the nets, but not even those are open to the public. Signs kindly remind visitors that this is an active Port of Seattle facility and that people should not make a nuisance of themselves here, or obstruct those trying to get work done.
Interpretive signs are along the edge of the water at the base of the monument, which explain a little bit about the fishing industry and the items used in fishing.
There is an annual Fisherman's Fall Festival which celebrates the annual return to Seattle of the North Pacific Fishing Fleet. This is held in late September every year.
There are several places to eat here:
Highliner is a pub and Chinook's is part of the Anthony's chain. Both are reviewed in my Magnolia Bluff page.
Discovery Park historic housing, Olympic Mountains
Seattle has a few parks that are fairly good sized, and Discovery Park is one of them. This park is large enough to contain a number of different activities and attractions. I have written a few separate tips about this park which I have put in my Magnolia pages as that is the name of the community where the park is actually located (several miles to the northwest of downtown Seattle). If you are viewing this tip in the Seattle Travel Guide, you will not be able to see the hyperlinks built into the text, so you will have to view it through my Seattle travel page if you want to see the links to the various other tips that help describe this park.
The park used to be Fort Lawton, and parts of the military base in the park are still active so you will want to stay away from those areas.
Probably the biggest attraction in the park is the Loop Trail, which is mostly gravel and passes through dense forests of the park as well as along the edge of the south bluffs, providing some good views of the surrounding area, Puget Sound, and in the distance on a clear day it is possible to see the Olympic Mountains.
Branches from this trail lead to North Beach and South Beach that provide additional viewpoints of the surrounding area. PLEASE NOTE that due to the damage done to the beach environment that the city of Seattle now prohibits dogs from beaches in City of Seattle parks. The only exception to this is the off-leash dog park beach at Magnusun Park, on Lake Washington.
Connected to the Loop Trail by either the North Beach Trail or the South Beach Trail is the West Point Light, which is the lighthouse at the base of the hill. It has been replaced by a simple light tower, and there have been some plans to make the light house part of the light publicly open on an occasional basis for tours. However, budget shortages curtailed these plans for a few years.
Other branches of the loop trail provide a link to lesser visited areas of the park. These include:
+ The Fort Lawton Cemetery mostly dates from the active military era of the park, especially during World War II.
+ The Daybreak Star Indian Cultural Center was formed at the insistence of local protesters, who were attempting to get better social services for First Nations groups living in the Seattle area. The center also includes a small art gallery and a few cultural resources such as a Native Plant Garden with plants important for use in the First Nations culture, and two small trail systems that I have divided into the Pond Trails and the Wolf Tree Nature Trail, which are very short trails but add to the areas of the park that may be enjoyed by visitors.
The number of ecosystems in the small area of the park mean that the area attracts some wildlife. In 2009 that included a cougar (it was caught and relocated) but usually the wildlife seen by people is limited to birds of various types. In the summer months listen for Anna's and rufous hummingbirds. In the winter months a number of different birds winter on the water along the beaches.
Some of the roads inside the park are limted access, for the remaining military residents or others, other roads are limited access but pedestrian traffic and bicycles are allowed, and others are public roads. Carefully follow the signs posted at each location to make sure you don't go into places where you should not go.
The best place to get started in the park is probably the main visitor's center, located near the main entrance to the park, at 36th Avenue West and West Government Way. This center is open and staffed during certain hours. The largest parking lots are located at Emerson Street and 43rd Avenue, and at the end of Illinois Avenue (follow signs to Daybreak Star until you reach a large open parking area near a bus stop).
How to Get There:
Go north to the Magnolia district of Seattle, and continue north and get on W. Government Way. Head west (up the hill) until you enter the park. From many major roads, follow signs to Daybreak Star.
An additional park entrance is located at W Emerson Street and 43rd Avenue West.
Bus routes 24 and 33 serve the area, but 33 is the best bus route to take. It is the most direct route from downtown Seattle and goes into the park itself. However, it should be noted there are no bus stops right at the Discovery Park Visitor's Center.
Getting Around In the Park:
All of the trail intersections are very well marked inside the park, and it is best to use them for navigating inside the park. You can purchase simple maps of the park for $1 at the visitor's center, but they are fairly basic maps.
I have written quite a bit about Discovery Park, but to avoid creating dozens of tips about it in the Seattle section and cluttering things up, please take a look at my Magnolia Bluff (the community where the park is actually located) and see the rest of the tips I have written about this park there.
Downtown Bellingham has Surviving Older Buildings
Too far away from Seattle to really be considered part of the same urban area, and yet close enough that people make the trip between the two regularly anyway, Bellingham is the heart of a much smaller urban area. Here, it is the largest urban center in a series of communities that serve as the gateway to North Cascades National Park.
The city itself has so far been able to retain a number of its historic buildings, and so the downtown has a much more interesting appearance than just another place with a bunch of cookie-cutter structures that look just like those built everywhere else in the last 20 years.
One of the reasons the community has a nice personality is that it is the home of Western Washington University, and university towns always seem to have a bit of their own unique flavor. This is also the end point for the Alaska Marine Highway - the ferry system that connects Alaska to the lower 48 states. There is a small amount of industry here, though it was not so long ago a much more active part of the community. There continues to be some activity around the old port complex, but some of this industrial activity has shifted to areas outside the city.
There is a fairly good sized sculpture park and art gallery in Bellingham, as well as several large parks and other outdoor amenities. This includes the very popular Whatcom Falls Park (see photo 3) which may not have a huge spectacular waterfall but is attractive nonetheless. A walkway exists along part of the old waterfront, and the downtown area has a number of independent stores and restaurants.
Seattle is connected to Bellingham by two Amtrak trains per day, plus a third Amtrak connecting bus. There is also BoltBus, and if you really want to do the Seattle to Bellingham trip cheap during the weekdays a series of transit buses (SoundTransit from Seattle to Everett, Skagit Transit from Everett to Mount Vernon, and Whatcom Transit from Mount Vernon to Bellingham. It is also possible to drive Interstate 5. Amtrak yields the better scenery though, as it travels along Puget Sound for part of the way, and in other places avoids going through the not very attractive suburban sprawl along the highway.
As Bellingham really isn't part of Seattle (it is much too far away) I have put the little information I have gathered about Bellingham into my Bellingham page at
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