Ballard is one of Seattle’s best neighborhoods for a reason—it’s filled with lots of things to do, but without the crowds that downtown has. It’s got tons of tasty places to eat and events that fill the streets and spaces of the area. In short, Ballard is a fun place to live or hang out.
The neighborhood was founded by Scandinavian immigrants in the 1800s, which gives it an atmosphere that much of the rest of Seattle doesn't have. The streets are filled with old warehouses and historic buildings converted into restaurants and pubs and historic landmarks aplenty. While the Ballard Locks are a major attraction and get a lot of buzz, there's a lot more to the neighborhood.
Here are the top reasons why Ballard is worth checking out (including the locks... just because they're popular doesn't mean they're not worth seeing).
Ballard Locks and Salmon Ladder
Ballard is perhaps most famous for the Hiram M. Chittendam Locks (colloquially called the Ballard Locks). Boats of all shapes and sizes load into the locks to move between the canal and the Puget Sound—workers raise or lower the water level depending on which way traffic is going. Standing on the platforms on either side of the locks and watching the process is interesting, educational and sometimes entertaining as you never know what kinds of personalities might be operating the boats.
Cross over the locks and to the far side of the structure and you'll find a salmon ladder. In salmon season, it's not uncommon to spot salmon jumping out of the water from the surface all along the canal, but take the set of stairs down into the interior of the ladder and you can see the salmon battling the current underwater through glass panels. It’s a surefire hit with young children, but just about anyone will be a little mesmerized by these large fish swimming against the current.
Ballard is a little slice of microbrewery heaven! A number of brew pubs and taprooms are strategically located throughout the neighborhood, creating a situation that is nothing less than stellar for beer fans. Microbreweries include Reuben's Brews, Maritime Pacific Brewing Company, and Hale's Ales—new breweries join the list all the time. If Ballard doesn't have enough beer for you, there's more in the Fremont neighborhood just next door.
Golden Gardens Park
Hands down, one of Seattle's best parks, Golden Gardens Park has everything that makes the Northwest an awesome place to live. Sandy beaches where you can kick back, plenty of places to hike along the water or through forests, and some really stunning views of the water and Olympic Mountains. Other perks of the park include an off-leash dog park, fishing areas, a boat launch and fire pits. But if all you do is relax for a sunset here, you’ll be richer for the experience.
Ballard has strong Scandinavian and maritime heritage that it doesn't plan to forget. Each May 17th, Ballard celebrates Syttende Mai, which marks the signing of Norway's constitution. Ballard's celebration includes the largest Synttende Mai parade outside of Norway!
Another festival that is a reason to visit Ballard all on its own is Seafoodfest—a self-explanatory July party centered around the bounty of the sea. You'll find food trucks and vendors serving up seafood in all forms, as well as a salmon barbecue where you can buy a plated barbecue meal. Because Seafoodfest doesn't mess around, the event also has the Beerfest Beer Garden where you can sample many of the brews crafted right in Ballard. The festival scene doesn't end there either. Viking Days, Fisherman's Fall Festival and Yulefest are just a few more Ballard festivals to watch for.
Ballard Farmers Market
Seattle has no shortage of farmers markets, but Ballard Farmers Market on Ballard Avenue is one of the best. For one, the variety of vendors is solid. You'll find flowers, meat and seafood, produce, as well as arts and crafts. Many vendors offer free samples so you can try what you'd like to buy. The market is open all year round, each Sunday from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m., no matter the weather (but it can be closed if a major holiday like Christmas falls on a Sunday). If you don't have any food shopping to do, come simply to hang out and enjoy some live music.
Shilshole Bay Marina
If you haven’t figured it out already, Ballard is a maritime kind of place and Shilshole Bay Marina backs that up. If you're a sailor or boater, Shilshole has moorage for 1,500 boats as well as a boat ramp. If you're looking to become a boater, you can find sailing and boating classes out of the marina, as well as several clubs, brokerages and boat maintenance businesses.
Unless you seek big box stores only, much of Seattle's best shopping can be found in neighborhoods outside of the downtown core. Ballard is one such neighborhood. Along Ballard Avenue NW between 20th Avenue NW and continuing a block or so onto 22nd Avenue NW, shoppers can meander through everything from clothing boutiques to home decor shops. Shops are all local, but even better—the area is on the National Register of Historic Places so perusing historical markers can be part of the shopping adventure, if you like a little history with your retail therapy.
Along with a thriving beer scene, Ballard has a pretty lively dining scene, too. If you’re in the mood for seafood, you’re in for a treat—Anthony’s Homeport, Chinooks and Ray’s Boathouse are all within the bounds of Ballard. Along Ballard Avenue NW are even more dining choices, from seafood havens like The Walrus and The Carpenter to Pestle Rock (Thai) and beyond. Don’t be afraid to wander and see what you come across.
Visit the Nordic Heritage Museum
Ballard is proud of its roots and nowhere (well, nowhere except for maybe the May 17th parade) is that more apparent than the Nordic Heritage Museum. The museum focuses on Nordic heritage both in the homelands of Scandinavia and here in the Northwest. There are also special events and kids’ activities, and special exhibits make sure there’s always something new.
If you’re exploring a maritime area, the best way to kick things up a notch is to get out on the water. Rent a kayak from Ballard Kayak—from the water, see the yachts docked along the Ship Canal or explore Golden Gardens from another angle. Ballard Kayak also leads tours and you can even go through the Ballard Locks on a kayak on one of their tours. Ballard Kayak is open in the spring and summer each year.