August 19

Water World

Make A Splash From Sailboats To Seaplanes

Lake Union teems with activity from paddleboards to yachts and floatplanes. And small wonder, since this 580-acre aquatic playground unfurls views of the skyline, Space Needle, and the rusted, industrial splendor of Gas Works Park.

Get a feel for the area at Lake Union Park, an old navy base repurposed into a grassy, waterfront gathering space, right beside the city’s beloved Museum of History and Industry. The Historic Ships Wharf there shelters the 1921 Virginia V—a steamer that opens its decks for balls, excursions, and trivia nights—alongside two museum ships: the tugboat Arthur Foss and the floating lighthouse Swiftsure

Plunge into adventure with a kayak or stand-up paddleboard rental from Moss Bay or the Northwest Outdoor Center, which also hosts summertime sunset paddles through the ship canal and Ballard locks. Or step up the speed (well, a little…) with The Electric Boat Company, where you can captain a 10-person vessel.

The Center For Wooden Boats anchors the scene with its displays, drop-in family activities, and rentals of traditional crafts. Each Sunday, it offers free rides on everything from a schooner to a neat, little, 1950s cherry-red Thunderbird Sloop motorboat (sign-ups open at 10am, arrive early to ensure your choice). Argosy also runs two-hour cruises out of South Lake Union from March through October. However, you’re more likely to see locals touring their guests on the m/v Fremont Avenue’s Sunday Ice Cream Cruise. This tiny former ferry chugs past the studio of world-renowned glass artist Dale Chihuly and hundreds of vibrant houseboats, including the one made famous by the 1993 classic Sleepless In Seattle. Or book a 1.5-hour sailing trip for up to six people from Lake Union Charters And Adventures., which can send a 1926 oyster schooner to piers steps away from restaurants like Serious Pie and Chandler’s Crabhouse.

For more unusual experiences, look to the Kenmore Air terminal. Pontooned seaplanes fly to the San Juan Islands and British Columbia from there, and offer 20-minute flightseeing tours of Seattle for $101 per person. These docks also launch the dragon boats: Chinese racing vessels with fiercely carved prows. Each 42-foot ship holds 20 paddlers, a steerer, and a drummer. The club meets four times a week and invites curious people to try three practices for free.

Each Tuesday in summer, the Duck Dodge—a casual regatta once dubbed “the best beer can race” by Sailing World—swirls around the lake: a sight prized by photographers.

By Amanda Castleman, Photo Credits: Tyler Ray Photography and Courtesy Center for Wooden Boats

At The Center

SLU is the geographical center of Seattle