In a city filled with lakes and surrounded by the Puget Sound, Lake Union stands out. For one, the lake is located right in the middle of downtown Seattle, close to everything. And while it’s not as massive as Lake Washington, Lake Union is filled with ways to enjoy Seattle’s unique maritime culture—from kayaking to seaplanes to hanging out by the shore at a park or restaurant.
Go Kayaking and Stand Up Paddleboarding
Kayaking and paddleboarding are some of the cheapest and easiest ways for just about anyone to get out on the water, and Lake Union is a great place to rent either watercraft and go. While taking these smaller water vessels on the open Puget Sound takes a bit of skill to navigate swells and currents, Lake Union is calmer (though, you’ll have boat wakes to contend with, but a quick lesson from your place of rental can help you know what to do).
Plus, the slower pace of kayaking allows you to take in the sights. There’s a lot to see—enjoy views of the city and the Space Needle, watch seaplanes land, paddle past some houseboats or sailboats and in general enjoy the urban appeal. Feeling adventurous and have your rental booked for a while? You can venture into the Ship Canal, too. Just make sure you’re clear on boating etiquette (ask at the rental shop if you aren’t) as Lake Union is filled with plenty of people out on the water. Rental places are located on Westlake and Fairview Avenue and include Northwest Outdoor Center and Moss Bay.
Take a Cruise or Rent a Boat
If kayaking or paddleboarding aren’t for you, no worries. There are lots of ways to get out on Lake Union without having to paddle your own water vessle. Ride the Ducks, the famous amphibious vehicles you’ll see touring around Seattle, take a dip in Lake Union as part of their land and water tours. The tours are silly and comedic and perfect for families. Outside of cruises, you can also rent all kinds of boats, traditional and non. You can even rent the world’s only hot tub boats on Lake Union!
Visit the Center for Wooden Boats
Yet another way to get out on the water at Lake Union is to venture to the Center for Wooden Boats where you’ll find options… wooden boat options. If you want a cursory overview of what it’s like to go out in one of the center’s wooden boats, show up for a free Sunday public sail. If you want to delve a bit deeper, the center offers adult and youth sailing lessons. Finally, you can rent a variety of watercraft. If you have no experience on the water at all, anyone can rent a rowboat or pedal boat. If you’ve kayaked or canoed before, you can rent those. Or if you have some sailing experience, you can even rent a sailboat here.
Explore Gas Works Park
Gas Works Park is a great all-around urban park with stellar views of the city skyline, the lake and some interesting appeal of its own to boot. The park is on the former site of the Seattle Gas Light Company gasification plant, and still has the ruins of the plant—the only remaining coal gasification plant in the entire country. The bulk of the plant’s remains are fenced off, but are some of the best photo opportunities in the city.
Other parts of the plant have been tidied up and colorfully painted and are now located in a play area where kids (and adults too!) can climb on them and explore. The park is also a great place to fly a kite on the kite flying hill that gets plenty of wind. Gas Works Park plays a role in a few major events, too—it’s the location for the Seafair Summer 4th July 4th celebration each year and an amazing place to watch fireworks.
Have Lunch With a View
Where there is shoreline in Seattle, there are restaurants, and Lake Union is no exception. Most of the restaurants along its shoreline are nestled on its south end near the South Lake Union neighborhood. Notable examples include Daniel’s Broiler (an upscale steakhouse), Chandler’s Crabhouse (upscale seafood with a focus on all things crab), Duke’s Seafood & Chowder (a local chain known for their range of chowders and fish and chips), The White Swan Public House (pub-style atmosphere and food, but with an upscale twist) and I Love Sushi on Lake Union (sushi!). All five restaurants have a view.
Walk the Cheshiahud Lake Union Loop
The Cheshiahud Lake Union Loop is a six-mile loop trail that connects points of interest around the lake, including Gas Works Park and Lake Union Park, the Museum of History and Industry, and there are a number of restaurants along the path too. It’s perfect for a jog or a stroll.
Take a Ride on Kenmore Air
Hang out on Lake Union long enough and you’ll spot seaplanes taking off and landing. Kenmore Air operates one of its terminals on the lake. You can take off from Lake Union and visit the San Juans, Victoria or the Inside Passage, but the finest way to get a different view of Lake Union and the rest of Seattle is to take the Seattle Scenic Seaplane Tour. On the 20-minute tour, you’ll see the University of Washington campus, downtown Seattle and Seattle’s stadiums, and many more sights around town… but from the air.
Visit Lake Union Park and MOHAI
Perched right on the water and within Lake Union Park, the Museum of History and Industry (MOHAI) is one of Seattle’s top museums and worth a visit. The museum’s eclectic exhibits tell the story of local history and industry, with a broad definition of industry. Exhibits delve into the history of Seattle, and include cool local artifacts like the first commercial plane built by Bill Boeing, the neon R from the Rainier Brewing Company, and a very cool World War II-era periscope that serves up views of downtown Seattle.
Browse the Houseboats
If you remember the movie Sleepless in Seattle from the late 1990s, you likely have a vision of houseboats to go with it. The houseboat in the movie was in the community of floating homes on Lake Union. While you can’t exactly stroll up to the houses to take a look, you can paddle by if you rent a kayak or other boat, or watch for tours of the homes that happen every few years.