If you’re looking for the perfect neighborhood in Seattle to host your next vacation, look no further than Ballard. As one of the city’s oldest neighborhoods, Ballard bursts at the seams with landmarks and oozes historic charm. Here, you’ll find sprawling urban parks, high-end restaurants, and the ocean at your feet.
Ballard is home to some of its loveliest waterfront views in the coastal city of Seattle. If you’d like to get down to the city’s maritime roots, take a stroll at Golden Gardens Park or set sail from Shilshole Bay Marina.
Add a little local seaside flair to your Seattle trip with this complete Ballard guide, including what to see & do, where to eat & drink, and where to stay!
Looking for more ideas for your trip? Check out our Seattle Travel Guide for more recommendations on when to visit, where to go & what to do!
What to see & do in Ballard
One of the most popular things to do in Ballard is watching ships pass through the Ballard Locks from the Ship Canal, a 20-foot difference from sea level. You’ll love seeing the water rise and fall while big boats line up to wait for their turn. There are also beautiful botanical gardens on-site, making visiting the Ballard Locks a multifaceted activity that your whole travel crew will enjoy.
If you head below sea level at the Ballard Locks, you’ll find an underwater viewing area where you can watch salmon and other big fish swim by.
For a more exciting experience at the Ballard Locks, why not travel through them yourself? You don’t need a big boat to participate—even a kayak can pass through!
National Nordic Museum
Traveling with a museum lover? The National Nordic Museum is one of Ballard’s best. At this popular museum, you’ll learn about the histories of the Nordic countries (Finland, Iceland, Denmark, Sweden, and Norway) and Nordic immigration to Seattle through several mixed media galleries.
The permanent collection at the National Nordic Museum is 80,000 artifacts strong. The museum also frequently receives items on loan from the respective national galleries abroad.
Looking for a quick snack before leaving? Why not book a traditional Fika at the Freya Cafe? This gathering for food with your family and friends might end up being the highlight of your trip to the National Nordic Museum!
Golden Gardens Park
Despite its name, Golden Gardens Park has no botanical gardens to speak of. But you know what this popular Seattle park does have? Oodles and oodles of outdoor adventure! Located along Puget Sound, this urban nature park, where the forests meet the bay, should be at the top of every naturalist’s Seattle travel bucket list.
Golden Gardens Park has mile after mile of woodland trails to choose from. It’s also home to a popular fishing pier if you prefer an activity with a slower pace.
Visiting on an extra lovely summer day? Strip down to your skivvies and splash around in the waves or sunbathe in the sand at the park’s beach.
Oh, and this attraction also offers free parking, which can be hard to come by in the big city!
Shilshole Bay Marina
Looking for somewhere to spend some downtime by the bay? Shilshole Bay Marina is the perfect place to unwind with epic views, leisure trails for an evening stroll, and a handful of top Seattle attractions in spitting distance. Nestled between Golden Gardens Park and Ray’s Boathouse (one of the best seafood spots in the city), the marina is an easy addition to any Seattle itinerary.
Spend a quiet afternoon at the Shilshole Bay Marina, sitting on the dock and watching the sailboats go by. Or, if you really feel like treating yourself on this holiday, you could even charter a skipper to sweep you out to sea.
Whether you’re watching from the shore or heading out into the bay, be sure to keep a keen eye. During the summer months, a pod of orca whales calls Puget Sound home; you may be lucky enough to see them!
Sunset Hill Park
Welcome to Ballard’s best lookout spot: Sunset Hill Park. Even if you only have a few minutes to spare, making a quick stop to take in the Olympic Mountains across the water and the marina below is a must. At only a 1/4 mile, it won’t take you long to explore, but this little park packs a big punch.
As its name suggests, Sunset Hill Park might deliver the most beautiful sunset in Seattle. Whether you want a reflective moment alone or you want to plan a romantic picnic as the sun sinks over the horizon, this is the place to do it.
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Since catching a sunset at Sunset Hill Park is one of the most popular things to do in Seattle, be sure to arrive a bit early to secure the perfect spot.
Ballard Farmers Market
Every Sunday, from 9 am to 2 pm, Ballard Avenue transforms into a wonderland for Seattle foodies: the Ballard Farmers Market. People come from all over the city to frequent this market; you won’t want to miss it. It’s well-loved for its good vibes, high-quality vendors, and pretty locale—what a great way to end the weekend!
During your visit to the Ballard Farmers Market, you may want to grab the fixings for a farm-to-table picnic. Specialty produce, fish sourced directly from the bay, freshly baked bread, and local cheeses will make for a delicious lunch spread.
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Running a little short on time? Stop in for a snack at one of the many street food stalls or hunt for one-of-a-kind souvenirs crafted by local artisans.
Where to eat & drink
Have you ever eaten at a Mexican steakhouse? Not only does Asadero Ballard serve up some spicy fusion, but they also take it one step further by serving only the finest cuts of Wagyu beef. (And, for meat-loving foodies, a good Wagyu steak is always worth traveling for!)
At Asadero Ballard, you can choose between Australian, Japanese, and American cuts of various gradings cooked over a wood fire stove. Finish off by chowing down on some of the fanciest tacos and tortas you’ve ever seen.
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Searching for Seattle’s best Thai food? Look no further than Pestle Rock, specializing in Isan regional cuisine. From tapas-style small plates to stir-frys piled high, the menu is sure to feature everything you need to satisfy your craving.
Pestle Rock also has an extensive bar menu. It features over 12 specialty cocktails with Thai flavors such as lychee, tamarind, and lemongrass, not to mention 25 different whiskeys. Forget settling for bar rail pours!
For all the salty, briny goodness of the Pacific Northwest, head on down to The Walrus and the Carpenter. This Ballard restaurant has a subtle and sophisticated nautical vibe, with bright whites and adorable hand-drawn artwork of walruses and—you guessed it!—carpenters.
Contributing to the seaside vibe at The Walrus and the Carpenter is the open kitchen, crowned with a coral reef chandelier and teeming with ice buckets of oysters. Menu highlights include several varietals of sparkling wine, a huge selection of oysters, and accompaniments such as blistered shishito peppers and marinated olives.
When it comes to waterfront dining, Ray’s Boathouse is Seattle’s shining star. Floor-to-ceiling windows promise diners panoramic waterfront views. You’ll be left wondering what’s better: the views or the food!
Ray’s Boathouse partners with sustainable local fisheries as part of their commitment to ocean-to-table dining; everything is freshly caught and prepared right at the seashore. With menu features ranging from Albacore to sablefish—not to mention a delicious anchovy burrata appetizer—you’ll want to eat here again and again. Just look for the iconic neon sign towering high into the sky at the boathouse and get yourself a table; you won’t regret it!
Percy’s & Co. Seattle is the perfect bar for you if you want to live the high life for a moment in time. This cocktail lounge has an undeniable old-world feel, with an exposed brick wall, black accents, and giant oak bar shelves. It’s the perfect backdrop for sipping a classic vesper martini if you ask me.
If you need a little more than a libation to fuel you for the evening ahead, order a plate of candy from Sweet Mickey’s Candy Shoppe, another Ballard Icon. How sweet is that? Bigger appetites may want to consider the farmers market special, a daily showcase of the finest local ingredients.
At Little Tin Goods & Apothecary Cabinet, the speakeasy meets a Hawaiian tiki bar. Just picture tons of wood, rattan, and tropical plants in a heated greenhouse patio, and you’ll get the idea.
It’s all about the art of a good cocktail at this venue. Be sure to try their signature “Big Trouble in a Little Tin.” They also offer a selection of Ono dumplings to enjoy if you start to feel a little peckish. Plus, this bar is dog friendly, so you don’t have to be away from your furry travel companion.
If you love craft beer and a laid-back atmosphere for hanging with friends, Ballard Beer Company is everything you’ve been looking for. This taproom and bottle shop is always ready for a good time! The brewery has a handful of board games to keep you busy while you sip and a mega chalkboard so you can leave your mark with a graffiti tag, a simple doodle, or a full-blown work of art.
Add some spice to your date night abroad by visiting Ocho, Seattle’s best Spanish tapas bar. In the evenings, the restaurant is transformed with a moody atmosphere and twinkly lights that are perfect for a romantic outing.
Ocho has an ultra-affordable happy hour daily with a wide selection of drinks and apps under $5. They’ve even become one of the more popular places to grab a boozy weekend brunch with friends if you’re down to visit twice.
Where to stay
Although Ballard isn’t often listed among the best areas to stay in Seattle, it’s a great option for experiencing the more local side of Washington’s biggest city. Accommodation options here are minimal, though, with only a couple traditional hotels and owner vacation rentals making up the mix.
Juliette balconies, giant soaking bathtubs, and victorian decor…oh my! Hotel Ballard is the charming, old-world accommodations of your dreams. One of the best features of the hotel is the Stoneburner Restaurant rooftop terrace, where you can relax in extravagant leather club chairs by an outdoor fireplace while you sip your happy hour delight.
Even the athletic club here is full of historic charm. You’ve probably never worked out in a space with exposed brick walls and chandeliers, but trust us when we say: You’ll never want to go back to your daily gym back home after this!