In a city surrounded by natural wilderness—snow-capped mountains, forested islands, and both salt and freshwater bodies of water—what need have we of parks? Seattle’s founders seemed to have shared this mindset, and the city’s parks accordingly fall into two categories: big, sprawling and natural or tiny and tidy. Both are precious to the life of the city and ensure that those who live here (or are just stopping through) have plenty of green space to choose from.
The 534-acre Discovery Park is aptly named. A visit there is a voyage of discovery. A handful of paved and dirt paths, a large playing field, and a Native American cultural center are really the only marks of man on this raw and beautiful park. Located on the end of the Magnolia peninsula, the park includes thick woods, marsh, and rugged coastline, as well as a wide array of wildlife, including coyote and the occasional bear.
Seattle’s most classical park, Volunteer Park was designed by the Olmstead Brothers and features a landmark conservatory, beautiful climbable brick water tower and terrific lines of sight to Mt. Rainier as well as more common features like its wading pool, four tennis courts, and play-fields. Located at the north end of Capitol Hill, the park hosts everything from weddings to film shoots to Georgian Society events. Bring a racket, a picnic or a date—or all three.
Viewed from above, Seward Park is an odd site. A forested peninsula out of densely inhabited south Seattle at a right angle and extends into Lake Washington. If Seattle was Sim City it would seem to be a bug or player’s error. No error, however, Seward Park was part of the Olmsteads' intricate plans for the city’s park system and promised to be a lake-surrounded respite for a hot and busy city. The crown jewel is the 100+ acres of old-growth forest, a scarcity even in state and national parks.
Officially two distinct parks, Ravenna and Cowen are split by a deep ravine and connected by some of the most fascinating trails you’ll see in major city limits. Portions of the park are fully domesticated, with a big playground and thrilling-dangerous zip line, but much is dedicated to untouched wildlife, including a wetland.
A summertime favorite, Golden Gardens is the less touristy sister to Alki and farther off the beaten path and a bit more rugged. More than just the sprawling beach, Golden Gardens extends past the working freight railroad and includes wetlands and forested hiking trails. The beach is the main attraction and a summer evening spent watching the sunset is a real treat.
Tashkent Park is named after one of Seattle’s many sister cities, the captial of Uzbekistan. A perfect little urban oasis, Tashkent has a playground and free Wi-Fi and is a perfect place for a book, a smoke, or just some time to reflect.
Kerry Park might have slightly better views, but Magnolia Park tops it in ambiance. Few know about the spot, much less make it out that far, but the view of the Sound and downtown are breathtaking, as is the slope towards the sea-cliff. The tall trees are not Magnolia trees but Madrona trees, misidentified by the Vancouver Party’s passing ship.
A one-of-a-kind urban park, there’s very little that’s natural about Freeway Park. A series of winding staircases, aggressive concrete architecture, and the never-ending roar of the interstate above make this park an acquired taste. Some Seattleites complain about the place, but if you want to practice your parkour, there's likely not a finer spot.
Viretta Park is famous for one thing: “Kurt’s bench.” The bench that Kurt Cobain may have spent lazy afternoons on in the early 90s is covered in dedications both passionate and humorous. Some leave artifacts, others curl up and commune with the departed songsmith. Apart from the cultural curiosity, though, the park is a rather nice, rugged little spot. Only a short hike down to the Lake, it’s quiet outside of tourist season and allows the visitor to find his or her own personal “nirvana."
Seattle’s very first park, named after the ubiquitous Denny family, Denny Park has had a rough history. First, a cemetery before the graves were removed, then made completely inaccessible by the first phase of the Denny Regrade, and then bounded by loud, pedestrian-unfriendly arterials. Today, the park is in the midst of intense renovation and promises a return to glories past. In the booming South Lake Union area, it would be great to see.