Explore one of Seattle's oldest neighborhoods, with hip restaurants, boutiques and cafes.
Ballard is a historic neighborhood 20 minutes north of downtown Seattle, with deep Scandinavian roots. Norwegians and Swedes arrived here in large numbers in the 1890's to work in Ballard's shingle mills and fisheries.
10 best things to do in Ballard Seattle
Ballard has transformed into a hip neighborhood, with cool shops and restaurants along its historic core on Ballard Ave NW.
There's also a bustling farmer's market each Sunday, and a fabulous Nordic Museum that explores Ballard's Scandinavian history.
Ballard is home to the breathtaking Golden Gardens park and beach, with soaring views of the Olympic Mountains. Another major attraction is the Ballard Locks, where boats travel between Puget Sound and upstream lakes.
Here's the best 10 things to do in Ballard:
1. Shop and eat along Ballard Avenue NW
Start at the intersection of Ballard Avenue NW and Market Street, then head south for some retail therapy.
There's a little bit of everything here, with trendy boutiques, mid-century furniture stores, and chic home goods. The beautifully preserved, 19th century buildings are complemented by a canopy of green along the tree-lined street. So charming!
There are trendy boutiques with unique pieces you'd be unlikely to find in a department store. Check out independent boutiques like Tides & Pines, Horseshoe, Re-soul, Studio RA, and Scout and Mollys.
2. Hang out in trendy coffee shops
Hankering for a coffee? Try Caffe Umbria, Anchored Ship Coffee Bar, or Cafe Fiore (just off Ballard Avenue NW on Leary Avenue).
3. Visit Ballard's cool restaurants
Old Town Ballard is also bustling with chic restaurants. Their styled interiors are gorgeous and sophisticated.
Try the Bastille Cafe (french), Stoneburner (mediterranean), Staple and Fancy (italian), Bramling Cross (gastropub), Gracia (mexican), Shiku Sushi, and the Ballard Annex Oyster House.
4. Plan a night out at a swanky bar.
For a great night out, there's cocktail bars like the Noble Fur, or Little Tin Goods and Apothecary Cabinet, or Macleod's pub with malt whiskies and scotch cocktails.
5. Load up on local produce at the Sunday Farmers Market
The Ballard Farmers Market operates year-round every Sunday, rain or shine.
6. Learn about Seattle's Scandinavian roots at the Nordic Museum
The Nordic Museum (2655 NW Market) is a short walk from Ballard Ave NW. It's housed in a stunning space, with exhibits on the 12,000 year history of the Nordic region, starting with the Viking era. Ballard had a huge influx of Nordic immigrants from the 1840s onwards.
7. Take in gorgeous views at Golden Gardens beach
Beautiful Golden Gardens is a must-see, with a broad, sandy beach and panoramic views of the Olympic Mountains. On summer evenings there's no better place to a watch a sunset over the Olympics.
Kids can frolic in the creek, or climb the pirate's ship at the playground. There's also an ice-cream and burger shop near the marina, Little Coney. Golden Gardens is 7 minutes drive northwest of Ballard Avenue NW.
8. Visit the fascinating Ballard Locks
The Ballard Locks is also a popular Ballard destination and FREE to visit.
Once upon a time Seattle's freshwater lakes (Lake Union and Lake Washington), were separate from Puget Sound, making it difficult to transport goods.
Therefore, between 1911 to 1934 the Army Corp of Engineers carved out a navigable waterway between saltwater Puget Sound and the freshwater lakes, known as the Lake Washington Ship Canal. The canal runs along the southern border of Ballard, and is bustling with marine activity.
This ambitious project also included the construction of locks opened in 1917, to accommodate the 20-foot difference in water level between Puget Sound and the lakes.
Today you can visit the Hiram Chittenden Locks (referred to as the Ballard Locks by locals), and learn all about this incredible engineering feat at the Visitor Center. There are free movies, a gift shop, and some great exhibits upstairs. After getting up to speed on the history, step outside to observe boats in the lock chamber as water levels are adjusted.
9. Watch fish swimming upstream at the Ballard Locks fish ladder.
Walk across the platform to the other side of the locks to see a fish ladder where you can observe three species of Salmon swimming upstream from June to September. There's also a free video to describe the migratory habits of Salmon. On your way back, stop at the lovely botanic gardens near the Visitor Center.
10. Enjoy a meal at Ray's Boathouse with incredible waterfront views.
Just north of the Ballard Locks, reserve a table at Ray's Boathouse on Seaview Avenue Northwest. This is the place that Seattleites take out of town visitors to impress them! There's a balcony overlooking Puget Sound with glorious views of the Olympic Mountains.
On warm days you can watch paddleboarders or kayakers, and get lucky with the occasional seal spotting! Best of all it's fun to watch the boat traffic coming in and out of the ship canal.
Walk a short distance south from Ray's Boathouse, to the NW 60th Street Viewpoint.
This boat has just passed from the Ballard Locks, about to enter the open waters of Puget Sound.
These are the best Ballard hotels
The Ballard Inn and Hotel Ballard are both on Ballard Avenue NW.
Know before you go
- Location: 20 minutes north of downtown Seattle. Start at the intersection of Ballard Ave NW and NW Market Street.
- Parking: On-street metered parking.
Other fun things to do near Ballard Seattle
Drive 3-miles southwest to another popular Seattle neighborhood, Fremont. Fremont has a quirky, artsy vibe with street art, diverse restaurants and fun shops.