Exploring the Seattle Waterfront by Boat

By: Crai S Bower

January 31, 2014

The scents emanating from Theo Chocolates can cause a kayaker to swoon. Located in the old Fremont trolley barn, the Northwest’s best chocolatier is located just a block away from the Ship Canal. EverGreen Escapes runs guided kayaking tours along the canal from Lake Union to Salmon Bay, a route that passes the large processing boats in Fisherman’s Terminal and through the historic Ballard Locks, taking in the vast and scenic Seattle waterfront.

Paddlers with EverGreen Escapes, the region’s foremost local adventure company, stroke their way under the colourful Fremont Drawbridge. The 97-year old Fremont Bridge, adorned with a neon Rapunzel, was built for trolleys. The low bridge opens 35 times a day, more than any drawbridge in the United States.

“Our clients expect to experience the Ballard locks, see salmon leap and view the occasional sea lion,” the guide explains, “But the whiff of award winning chocolate always comes as a surprise. If Theo’s tasting room is open, we’ll often tie up and check it out.”


Seattle by Boat | Ballard Locks

A single scull boat travels along the Ship Canal © Crai S Bower

Guided kayaking is one of several ways to join 85% of Seattleites who spend time each year on the water in Seattle, but you don’t actually require a guide to paddle, row or sail yourself around the lakes, cuts, canals or Puget Sound.


The Center for Wooden Boats rents vessels of all kinds, including sailboats, from its floating depot at the south end of Lake Union. (Sailing requires a one-hour orientation and proof of experience.) Agua Verde, a popular Mexican restaurant located on Portage Bay, also rents kayaks. You can also rent sunfish, paddleboards, paddleboats and other boats from the west end of Green Lake during the summer.


Seattle by Boat | Rowboat

A Seattle resident takes to the waters in his rowboat © Crai S Bower

There are several, less strenuous, modes of voyage from which to choose when discovering Seattle’s waterways. Argosy Cruises serves passengers interested in all forms of exploration, from one-hour harbour surveys to dinner/dancing and “murder mystery” voyages. The “Taste of Seattle History” cruise includes a Northwestern-themed lunch and extensive narration that details the city’s history, quite appropriate given that the area’s first white settlers, the Denny Party, rowed from the southern Puget Sound to their Alki Beach landing.


Argosy also invites passengers out for more extensive dinner sailings, including during the holidays when their vessels lead the popular Christmas Ships flotilla. Hundreds of ships of all sizes – including many kayakers and the occasional stand up paddle boarder – string festive lights from bow to stern, sailing throughout Lake Union and Lake Washington. Carollers, led by a different local choir each night, serenade the gathered masses on the shore.


Seattle by Boat | Seattle Skyline

The Seattle skyline as seen from Lake Union © Crai S Bower

The best and cheapest date in Seattle involves our most ubiquitous boats, the Washington State Ferries, the largest ferry fleet in the U.S. and third largest in the world. Simply take the pedestrian bridge directly from 1st Avenue and Marion Street to the ferry building, book passage to Bainbridge Island, walk on to the ferry and enjoy the best available city and mountain views along the Seattle waterfront. Upon arrival, take some time to explore the Bainbridge Island village or simply stay onboard for the return sail.


Seattle by Boat

The moon rises between two masts © Crai S Bower

Seattle boasts many attractions from Pike Place Market to Seattle Center to the Olympic Sculpture Park. But this city, which was founded from and thrived because of the Inland Sea, is best experienced when we take the time to paddle, sail or float about for ourselves.


Travelling to Seattle? Then book a flight with Virgin Atlantic and Delta to one of over 80 US cities.


Have you spent time along the Seattle waterfront? What was your favourite aquatic experience? Share you thoughts with us in the comments below.


Written by Crai Bower

Crai S Bower

Award winning travel writer, photographer and broadcaster Crai S Bower contributes scores of articles annually to more than 25 publications and online outlets including National Geographic Traveler, Journey, American Way magazines and T+L Digital.

Categories: Our Places