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Seattle Travel Guide


Around town you'll see bumper stickers with the slogan "Free Ballard." The unofficial motto of the northern neighborhood came about in 2002 as its growth—and the lack of responsible city planning to respond to it—caused a slew of zoning and quality-of-life headaches. The Ballard Chamber of Commerce used "Free Ballard" as a rallying cry to give frustrated residents a voice

and get the attention of City Hall.

Ballard is Seattle's sweetheart. This historically Scandinavian neighborhood doesn't have many sights outside of the Hiram M. Chittenden Locks; you'll spend more time strolling, shopping, and hanging out than crossing attractions off your list. It's got a great little nightlife, shopping, and restaurant scene on Ballard Avenue, and an outstanding farmers' market every Sunday.

Ballard used to be almost exclusively Scandinavian and working class; it was the logical home for the Swedish and Norwegian immigrants who worked in the area's fishing, shipbuilding, and lumber industries. Reminders of its origins still exist—most literally in the Nordic Heritage Museum—but the neighborhood is undergoing inevitable changes as the number of artists, hipsters, and young professionals (many of whom have been priced out of Fremont and Capitol Hill) increases. Trendy restaurants, upscale furniture stores, and quirky boutiques abound along NW Market Street and Ballard Avenue, the neighborhood's main commercial strips. But no matter how tidy it gets, Ballard doesn't feel as gentrified as Fremont or as taken with its own coolness as Capitol Hill—Ballard still stands apart from the rest of the city.

Ballard used to be its own city: It wasn't a part of Seattle until 1907 when Ballard residents voted to be "annexed" by the city. The citizens of Ballard were responding to a water crisis—which would be solved by becoming part of Seattle—as well as to myriad promises of new and better public services made by Seattle's mayor. Today Ballard residents old and new adopt the "Free Ballard" slogan for many reasons. Although a few people would like to see Ballard revert to being its own city, many simply see it as a way to express neighborhood pride—a way to remind them and the rest of Seattle that Ballard's unique heritage and way of life must be preserved despite being one of the city's hippest neighborhoods.

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