Seattle's Best Parks

Mountain ranges, ocean waters, and islands may surround the city, but Seattleites are often content to stay put on sunny weekends. Why? Because the incredible park system makes for fantastic outdoor adventures, offering everything from throwing beach rocks into the ocean against the backdrop of the Olympics to hiking under canopies of old growth, and from eating ice cream next to gurgling fountains in the center of town to wandering pathways of traditional Japanese gardens.

Luckily for today's residents, more than a century ago, the city's Board of Commissioners had the wisdom to hire the Olmsted Brothers (who had inherited the firm from Frederick Law Olmsted, designer of New York's Central Park) of Brookline, Massachusetts, to conduct a survey of the potential for a park system. J.C. Olmsted's visionary plan not only placed a park, playground, or playing field within walking distance of most homes in Seattle, it also created a 20-mile greenway connecting many of the urban parks, starting at Seward Park on Lake Washington and traveling across the city to Woodland Park and Discovery Park. Later the architect created plans for the campus of the University of Washington and the Washington Park Arboretum.

What follows are our top picks for best parks in the city.

Best for Families and Picnics

Cal Anderson Park. An urban park in every sense, this Capitol Hill expanse has a lovely water sculpture, a playing field, and green space. Grab an ice cream at nearby Molly Moon's (917 E. Pine St.) and enjoy. 1635 11th Ave., Capitol Hill.

Gas Works Park. Reachable by the Burke-Gilman Trail, this Wallingford park gets its name from the remains of an old gasification plant. Twenty acres of rolling green space look out over Lake Union and the city skyline. North end of Lake Union at N. Northlake Way and Meridian Ave. N, Wallingford.

Volunteer Park. Capitol Hill's best green spot houses a plant conservatory, the Asian branch of the Seattle Art Museum, a water tower, paths, and an Isamu Noguchi sculpture (along with a great view). 14th Ave. E at Prospect St., Capitol Hill.

Best for Seasonal Blooms

Kubota Garden. It may be far south, but Kubota Garden is striking, with 20 acres of landscaped gardens blending Japanese and native plants and techniques. 817 55th Ave. S, South Seattle.

Washington Park Arboretum. The park system's crown jewel may well be this 230-acre expanse, with flowering fruit trees in early spring; vibrant rhododendrons and azaleas in late spring and early summer; and brightly hued trees and shrubs in fall. 2300 Arboretum Dr. E, Washington Park.

Best Views

Alki Point. West Seattle comes to life in summer, and there's no better way to enjoy it than walking along this beachfront path to enjoy the sparkling views of Puget Sound, the Seattle skyline, and the Olympics. 1702 Alki Ave. SW, West Seattle.

Carkeek Park. North of Ballard, Carkeek has awe-inspiring views of Puget Sound and the Olympics. Its Pipers Creek, playgrounds, picnic areas, and forest trails make this a fun family spot. 950 N.W. Carkeek Park Rd., Broadview.

Discovery Park. Seattle's largest park, in Magnolia, is all about variety, with shaded forest, open meadows, pebbled beach stretches, and even sand dunes. A lighthouse, plus sweeping views of Puget Sound and the mountains make this an extremely picturesque spot. 3801 W. Government Way, Magnolia.

Golden Gardens. This Ballard park, perched on Puget Sound, is the best place for beachcombers. Loads of facilities and a pretty pathway make this spot even more special. 8498 Seaview Pl. NW, Ballard.

Myrtle Edwards. Adjacent to the Olympic Sculpture Park, Myrtle Edwards has a short bike-and-pedestrian path along Elliott Bay, with vistas of the Sound and the mountains. 3130 Alaskan Way W, Downtown.

Olympic Sculpture Park. The Seattle Art Museum's 9-acre outdoor playground, located in Belltown, has fabulous views of Elliot Bay and the Olympics, complemented by huge works of art by the likes of Alexander Calder. Western Ave. at Broad St., Belltown.

Best Walking Trails

Green Lake. The almost 3-mile loop around the lake is a favorite spot for joggers, bikers, kids, and dog walkers alike. You can rent a paddleboat and explore the waters. E. Green Lake Dr. N and W. Green Lake Dr. N, Green Lake.

Seward Park. Old-growth forest, views of the mountains and Lake Washington, and a very fun walking loop make this a beloved spot at the southwest side of Lake Washington. 5902 Lake Washington Blvd.

Warren G. Magnuson Park. Northeast of University District, this large green space has great playgrounds, walkable trails, and one of the largest off-leash dog parks in the city. Sand Point Way NE at 65th St., Sand Point.

Best Ocean-side Parks

Lincoln Park. With old-growth forest and rocky beaches, as well as facilities like a pool and tennis courts, this is a West Seattle favorite. 5551 S.W. Admiral Way, West Seattle.

Best Parks on the Eastside

Bellevue Botanical Gardens. Perennial borders, colorful rhododendron, rock gardens, and the lovely Lost Meadow Trail fill the 36 acres of this spot in Bellevue. 510 Bellevue Way NE, Bellevue, Eastside.

Marymoor Park. Six hundred and forty acres of fun can be found at this huge Redmond green space, including a climbing rock, tennis courts, game fields, an off-leash dog area, and a path along the Sammamish River. 6046 W. Lake Sammamish Pkwy. NE, Redmond, Eastside.

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