Once known as a Nordic neighborhood full of retirees (see this Almost Live video about the Ballard driving school) and fisherman, Ballard has changed dramatically in the last 20 years. The quaint old Ballard Avenue has retained its early 19th century charm, but is now filled with restaurants and bars, and while the brewery district in Ballard certainly still has an industrial feel to it, that is changing as an ever increasing number of breweries continue to open shop in Ballard. Throw in beautiful Puget Sound views from the beach at Golden Gardens Park and watching migrating salmon in the Locks, and Ballard is a popular spot for both tourists and residents alike.
Ballard is comprised of five sub-neighborhoods : Located on the western side is aptly named Sunset Hill, providing sunset views over the Puget Sound. Heading east of Sunset Hill is Loyal Heights and then Whittier Heights, which are predominately residentials parts of Ballard. Adams is what most people refer to as Ballard, containing Ballard Avenue, the Nordic Museum and the Locks. To the east of Adams lies West Woodland, a mix of residences, some industry and breweries.
Then there are some unofficial sections of Ballard, such as Stumbletown, a small area of bars and restaurants between 8th ave and 3rd ave on 65th St. Frelard refers to the southern section of Ballard in West Woodland that merges into neighboring Fremont, and the brewery district refers to the concentration of breweries in West Woodland that lie roughly between 14th Ave and 8th Ave south of 50th St.
Depending on where you are coming from, Ballard is not the easiest place to get to as it's tucked away in Northwest Seattle. When we lived in Ballard and had friends move to West Seattle, we joked it was quicker to get to Canada then visit each other. While plans are underway, and have been underway for well over 10 years, to add light rail to Ballard, that isn't happening anytime soon. So your only option for public transit is the bus - getting downtown and to the stadiums via bus is straightforward via the RapidRide D line, and if you need to head east towards the University District, check out route 44. But getting to Ballard from other neighborhoods, such as Capital Hill or West Seattle, via public transportation requires some planning.
Hiram H. Chittenden Locks, commonly called the Ballard Locks, were completed in 1917 and are listed on the register of National Historic places. The locks were constructed to provide passage between Lake Washington and the Puget Sound, and now are the busiest locks in terms of number of boats in the United States. In addition to watching the locks rise and fall, there is a visitor center, a fish ladder with a viewing room and an extensive botanical garden with lawn areas suitable for picnicking. And during the summer months, there are free concerts on the weekend (donations encouraged).
The fish ladder is part of the locks, but warrants its own mention on accord of being a great place to take kids to watch the salmon returning to freshwater to spawn in the fall. There is a glass viewing area where you can get up close to three different kinds of salmon : Sockeye, King and Coho. While there is no guarantee you will see salmon in the ladder, the best time to visit is from June through September.
The National Nordic Museum showcases Nordic history and culture over the last twelve thousand years and features items both from its proprietary collection as well as on loan from five Nordic countries' National Museums. The Museum also has a gift shop, as well as the Freya Cafe with sweet and savory treats.
Golden Gardens Park is an 87 acre park with stunning views of Puget Sound and Olympic Mountains. Best known for its large sand beach with volleyball courts, firepits and water access, the park also contains wetlands, a basketball court, play structures and swings for children, hiking trails and a one acre dog park.
The Ballard Farmers Market occurs every Sunday on Ballard Avenue throughout the year from 9am to 2pm and is one of the largest farmers markets in Seattle. There is a variety of produce from Washington State farmers, meat and seafood from local companies, and handicraft and food vendors as well.
While there are great breweries all throughout Seattle, Ballard's unofficial brewery district has become synonymous with beer in Seattle,with an impressive array of award winning and unique breweries. Visitors travel from around the region for this beer destination, with the likes of Rubens and Stoup gaining recognition and distribution well outside of Seattle and Washington State. A number of out-of-town breweries like Great Notion and Bickersons Brewhouse have opened tasting rooms in Ballard, as have Seattle breweries from other neighborhoods like Old Stove Brewing and Cloudburst Brewing. If you have a group looking to experience Ballard's breweries and want to mix in some exercise, consider a cycle saloon adventure!
The historic Ballard Avenue has a large number of bars and restaurants and makes for a popular night out in Seattle. From long term staples like the mexican restaurant La Carta de Oaxaca to relative newcomers like the Rough & Tumble Pub, you will find a array of cuisines and price points. Covered street seating on Ballard Avenue was introduced during Covid, and fortunately extended providing more space for dining. Ballard also has a number of small clusters of restaurants and bars outside of Ballard Avenue, including Delancey and Essex on 70th, Joli and others on 65th (also known as Stumbletown) and Picolinos and Baker's in Sunset Hill.
You will find live music at a number of bars throughout Ballard, but three small venues on Ballard Avenue have been hosting live music for years : the first is Conor Byrne Pub, which happens to be where The Head and The Heart got their start. Tractor Tavern has been hosting live shows since 1994 and this smallish musical venue features a mix of local and national acts, providing the perfect place to get up close and personal with your favorite musician. And finally, the Sunset Tavern has been in Ballard since 1976, with a front bar called Betty's room, and a music space in the back known as the Dragon Room.
Shilshole Marina is operated by the port of Seattle and one of the larger marinas in the Puget Sound. In addition to moorage for boats, there is a small commercial space with a cafe and shops, a well landscaped plaza with a picnic area and even a bocce ball court.
Given its proximity to both the Puget Sound and Salmon Bay, it should be no surprise kayaking and paddleboarding are popular activities around Ballard. Ballard Kayak and Paddleboard offers rentals as well as tours. If you have your own gear, the boat ramp at Golden Gardens is a popular spot, as well as the 28th Ave NW Street End Park, which has a kayak and paddleboard launch.
Even though Ballard FC actually play at the Interbay Soccer Field, which is just across the Ballard Bridge, their home base is considered Ballard. Ballard FC was formed in 2001, played their first match in 2022 and have already built up a strong supporter base. They compete in the USL League 2, which is a semi-professional development soccer league, and made the conference finals in 2022. If you are in Ballard, enjoy soccer and can't catch a Sounders game, consider attending an ever lively Ballard FC game.