Lots of Lakes; Waterways and Sunshine

✍️ 🕑 July-August 2022 • Series: Steve in Seattle • Tags: lakesmuseumssunsetsCity Parksindustrial historyWashington State • Places: Golden Gardens Park Ballard Locks & Fish Ladder Museum of History and Industry (MOHAI) Gas Works Park Warren G. Magnuson Park Madrona Park Seward Park Lake Sammamish

Sailboat on Lake Union, taken from Gas Works Park
Sailboat on Lake Union, taken from Gas Works Park

There is a clear and obvious reason why people live in Seattle.

They might be miserable and sun-deprived and antisocial (but pretending they're not) for most of the year, but there's a special time in which that is absolutely not so. It's called "summer", and it runs from the end of June until sometime in September. Once it expires, it's back to the gloom.

I could feel my body react to the sunlight, the warmth, the near-perfect temperature with no humidity when it started. Suffice to say, I was pleased and smiley.

One barista, who moved to Seattle from Los Angeles at the beginning of the summer encapsulated the mood as follows, "I came to Seattle, and everyone was just smiling all the time. And I was wondering, what is wrong with all of you people."

The summer is when it is warm enough to enjoy any of the lakes around Seattle. It's when the snow has melted enough that the mountain peaks become accessible to the less intrepid. It's when the mountain is out, meaning that the sky is clear and Mt. Rainier can be seen from numerous vantage points around Seattle.

Admiring the Puget Sound at Golden Gardens Park
Admiring the Puget Sound at Golden Gardens Park

It's also when I had a series of guests visiting me, each of whom could leave content that they got the completely wrong idea about living here the rest of the year.

As I've entertained guests from out of town, some of the most enjoyed places we've visited have been lakes. As Seattle's heatwaves have come and gone, I've enjoyed the sunshine on Lake Washington and Lake Samammish. I've hiked to and from alpine lakes. I've taken a decent lil number of photos at lakefront parks, including a few that were on my "to-visit" list for a while, so when all is said and done, I am absolutely a lake person these days...

Which of Seattle's lake front parks features these 'fins' as an art installation? Read on to find out...
Which of Seattle's lake front parks features these 'fins' as an art installation? Read on to find out...

The focus of this post, though, is gonna be lakes & rivers. (And sound and locks.)

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Map

I make a lot of references to geography in this post, so for orientation purposes, here's a rudimentary map:

 
All map data generated by Where-Is-Steve is somewhat sketch & should not be relied upon in a life and death sitch.

Golden Gardens

We're starting from West to East.

The Westernmost waterway accessible in Seattle proper is the Puget Sound, which connects to the sea. There are some nice beaches on the sound, down in Alki, or up around Discovery Park.

This July, though, I finally got around to visiting Golden Gardens Park for the first time. It's home to a lovely beach, a spot that was absolutely hopping during the heatwaves.


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Image On Where-Is-Steve

Image On Where-Is-Steve

Is it a place to go out of your way to visit as a Seattle tourist? Maybe not, but as a local, it is an utterly lovely place to hang out.


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The park officially closes at 10PM, but cops will come by on golf carts to put out bonfires at 9:30 PM.
The park officially closes at 10PM, but cops will come by on golf carts to put out bonfires at 9:30 PM.

Ballard Locks

Puget Sound connects to the Ballard Locks 🎵
and the Ballard Locks are connected to Lake Union 🎶
Lake Union is connected to the Montlake Cut 🎵
And then to Lake Washingtooooooon 🎶

So yeah, the dream of Seattle industrialists was to connect all these waterways up together with artifical canals (and the absolute destruction of some pre-settlement waterways.)

The problem, of course, is that the Puget Sound is saltwater and at a lower elevation than the bodies of water to the east, so ship locks were constructed to prevent the mixture of water.


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After the locks were built, various other local waterways were drained to feed them, decimating local salmon runs. The salmon were redirected through the locks, with a fancy-schmancy viewing window, and have become a tourist attraction. Such is progress!


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I enjoyed bringing or sending my houseguests to the locks, though a couple felt they were a bit too touristy. Whatever.

You got fish behind that glass!


Lake Union

Continuing from the locks, the next body of water is Lake Union, named after the industrialists' dream of interconnected waterways. It has historically been a hub for Seattle industry and all sorts of nastiness, and you can absolutely see that legacy in the present. Case in point:

Gas Works Park

I first visited Gas Works Park years & years ago, when I was visiting Seattle for work. It was one of the "parks" that I went out of my way to visit when I was in town for business in years past.

I feel like I probably went some time during the day on a weekday, and that's not when this park shines. I don't think I understood its unique splendor.


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Rather uniquely amongst city parks, Gas Works Park is the site of the last remaining gasification plant in the United States. Here, coal was turned into a flammable vapor for streetlights and other municipal purposes.

The gasworks are, unfortunately, popular with graffiti artists. Don't get me wrong, I like the tagging, but maybe not on hideous toxic industrial remnants of *historical* significance
The gasworks are, unfortunately, popular with graffiti artists. Don't get me wrong, I like the tagging, but maybe not on hideous toxic industrial remnants of *historical* significance

Unsurprisingly, the byproducts of this plant were toxic, and though EPA cleanup has ensured that the soil here is no longer dangerous, visitors are advised not to swim here or to use the water around the park. I don't think that this is widely publicized enough.


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The modern park contains remnants of the gasification plant, kept as a park feature. It's actually an interesting feat of design, where they exist side-by-side with a purpose built playground, and a large, artificial hill popular with kite-fliers and sunset watchers.


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Detail: the Space Needle in its anniversary copper paint coat
Detail: the Space Needle in its anniversary copper paint coat

Its position looking south at Downtown Seattle, allows for quite panoramic views of the skyline.

Pink hour views across the lake
Pink hour views across the lake


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A large gathering of drummers
A large gathering of drummers

The true stars of the park, though, are the people of Seattle. It's a unique outdoor space, and it attracts unique people. If you ever want to bop with a drum circle, or see some bikers do their thang, this is the place to be.



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Playing with fire, one second exposure
Playing with fire, one second exposure

Or like, y'know, have a lovely picnic. Also an option.


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The artificial hills
The artificial hills

South Lake Union / MOHAI


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The Museum of History and Industry is an interesting idea on paper. Why not learn about Seattle's history and industrialization from an area that was at the heart of its many transformations.

Unfortunately, the museum doesn't live up to expectations.

Its ground floor gallery on "innovation" celebrates the platitudes of companies like Jeff Bezos, who coincidentally donated $10 million to the museum. Other companies with ties are on display as innovators. I cannot believe, for example, that I managed to go somewhere that printed quotes from Steve Ballmer on the wall as someone with business insights.

The history exhibits are somewhat passable, but dated. I'm not sure the Seattle area needs another museum celebrating pioneers and whitewashing the exodous of the native population, who helped support settlers for many years before being banned from the city. But like, hey, there's definitely some cars and stuff.

Outside the museum, you're just a smidge north of the neighborhood that has been transformed by Amazon's real estate acquisitions and hiring sprees over the last decade or so.

But, you're also near the Center for Wooden Boats, and some lovely piers.


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Image On Where-Is-Steve

Image On Where-Is-Steve

Lake Washington

So now we've hit Lake Washington. Hurrah!

We can send logs and stuff to the ocean more easily. Yippee!

Also, we have two floating bridges, the world's longest (WA-520) & second-longest (I-90) in the world, built on anchored pontoons because the engineers said the lake was "too deep and mucky."

We also have a legacy of pollution, cleaned up partially, but still ongoing thanks to the classic American Infrastructure Phenomenon of raw sewage entering the water after rainstorms.

Thankfully, the rainstorms stayed away, but believe you me, I took care & showered after my dips in Lake Washington.


Magnusson Park

Magnusson Park is a lovely, chill park, on the Northeast side of Seattle.


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It's relaxing and enjoyable, and as nice a park as any for a dip or a float.


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Not far from the lakeshore, there's an art installation called "Fins."


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The art is made of pieces of decommissioned naval submarines, and absolutely resembles their namesake.


Madrona Park

Madrona Park is a tiny lil park on the shores of Lake Washington, between the two floating bridges.


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As far as city parks go, it ain't much, but it is a nice, convinent stop for water access -- at least when the beach isn't closed due to sewer overflows, algae blooms, or other climate-change exacerbated toxicity.

Look across the water, and you can see the skyline of Bellevue, a 'city' where I've been spending more time lately.
Look across the water, and you can see the skyline of Bellevue, a 'city' where I've been spending more time lately.

Seward Park

Seward Park is home to the only old growth forest left in the city.

Me in my boat. (Photo credit: H.H.)
Me in my boat. (Photo credit: H.H.)

Oh, and also, it's a thumb-shaped peninsula sticking out into Lake Washington, so it has a beach that's quite popular for floaties, kayaks, and stand-up paddleboards.


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Lake Sammamish

Last & least here is Lake Sammamish, a lovely freshwater lake that's only a short drive from Seattle. A friend quipped that you need to be a billionaire to have property on Lake Washington nowadays, but any millionaire can get a lake house on Sammamish. This may be true.

I hung out at a couple of lake houses here, and I am not qualified to venture any serious guesses as to how many 0's follow their owner's net worth. The lake is lovely, and pleasant for a swim.

It is, however, ridiculously popular with people using motorized boats to go back and forth and around the lake at high speed. The lake is only eight square miles. Don't they get bored of zooming around?

In any case, if I was closer friends with the owners of any of those lakefront houses, you'd best believe that this is the place I'd be grilling sausages and cracking open beers.

Thanks for reading!

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