This article helps you find the right way to enjoy the outdoors during Fall in Seattle. It won’t be the same things everyone writes about. In addition to a thoughtful offering of the “where,” I provide you with the “how” by including six fundamentals to make a better nature connection.
This list of 25 favorite Fall in Seattle outdoor things to do is grouped into five key categories to inspire your customization: leaf peeping drives, urban hiking, expressive art & architecture, botanical gardens & parks, and the bounty of water surrounding the Emerald City.
Table of Contents — Fall in Seattle outdoor things to do
Tips to elevate your nature connection
Leaf peeping adventures — Fall in Seattle colorful drives
- Federal Way parks and gardens
- Point Defiance Park — Tacoma
- Bainbridge Island and Kitsap Peninsula
- Skagit Valley harvest time
- Nisqually Refuge
Urban hiking — Fall in Seattle exploration
Expressive art — Outdoor Fall in Seattle things to do
- Art of Seattle University
- Olympic Sculpture Park
- International Fountain and art of Seattle Center
- Chinatown and UPS Waterfall Park
- Amazon Spheres and “Tron City”
The best parks to enjoy Fall in Seattle
- Explore a Japanese-inspired garden
- Wander among the flowers (botanical gardens)
- Play in the giant’s world — find an ancient fir forest
- Get garden envy at a neighborhood P-Patch
- Play on the Peninsula — Bloedel Reserve and Heronswood Garden
Seattle waters nourish the soul any time of year
- Elliott Bay Trail
- Alki Beach — West Seattle things to do in Fall
- Ballard Locks
- Fisherman’s Terminal
- Ferry to Bremerton
Try a Mystic Nature Experience with Matthew Kessi
Fall in Seattle is a glorious time of year!
The pace in the Emerald City settles down after a busy summer tourist season, and a contemplative feeling sweeps through the city. My favorite parks and gardens are still alive with color — late-season flowers and then the changing leaves.
The Salish Sea continues to ebb and flows below moodier autumn skies that can’t help but inspire wanderlust with a cozy jacket. Neighborhoods continue to show their quirky sides, and the weather holds up well into Halloween.
As the Fall in Seattle opens up to organic splashes of color with textures changing from green to red, orange, and yellow, it seems blasphemous to be indoors. Nature is all around us, so this article will arm you with inspiration to venture out and explore — perhaps finding something new for you in the city.
Check the links in each section to other articles I’ve written that provide even more ideas. Also, read to the bottom, where you’ll find an interactive map with specific location details and a few additional items not described in the text below.
Finding a more profound nature connection this Fall in Seattle
Yes, the changing leaves and exquisite textures feel like a cashmere sweater around your heart this time of year. That’s all part of enjoying the outdoors in Seattle.
But how about pushing further to new, more enlightening experiences in the organic world? No matter if you’re happy or sad, Mother Nature wants to help. Try these six steps guaranteed to elevate your nature connection.
These fundamentals were developed over my lifetime, guiding myself and others through nature. For more details on this, jump over to another article, Six steps to elevate your nature connection.
Perhaps you’re interested in a more detailed outline of what finding a deeper nature connection looks like. Look at another recent article: 5 inspiring walks this Seattle Autumn.
Whether walking down your street or venturing into one of the locations on this list, take a few moments to engage with your purpose in nature. What outcome would you like?
Reach out to the land
Nature will hold you tighter when offering a thoughtful gesture of respect. Ask for permission to enter as if knocking on a neighbor’s door. You could say, “I come with an open heart,” or something similar.
Yes, that means putting your phone away! It’s okay if your mind isn’t clear, but try to set yourself up for success. Technology will be waiting when you return, but give yourself the gift of space from the frantic world.
The first 15 minutes are crucial in setting the pace of your nature experience. Make a conscious effort to do everything slowly — maybe as you’d imagine slow motion. Try to stay as quiet as possible.
You’re walking in a world with millions of little miracles — smell the leaves and look up at the trees.
Allow your experience to integrate into your life. On the way home, review your favorite nuggets of gold. One could be the maple trees swaying in the wind — colorful leaves detaching and drifting to the freshly cut green grass. Go a step further and write down notes.
Leaf peeping adventures — Fall in Seattle short day trips.
The Pacific Northwest offers its distinct brand of colorful wonderland in the fall. And while the urban hiking options I list below are lovely for the core of Seattle (I’m partial to my neighborhood of Capitol Hill for colorful leaves in the area), sometimes wandering outside the city can yield just the right inspiration for the soul. The following ideas are a few of my favorites that aren’t too far away.
Federal Way parks and gardens
Federal Way is a suburb wedged between Seattle and Tacoma — about 30 minutes to either. The area here is full of deciduous trees making their fall transformation. Take a drive to Dash Point or Saltwater State Park (just beyond city limits) to stroll on forest paths that meet the flowing tides of the Salish Sea. Both State Parks require a $10 parking pass or the Annual Discover Pass ($30 for the year).
Beyond the parks, I love PowellsWood Garden for its forest of vivid colors, made up of grand maples, birches, and aspens in a canyon trail that offers tranquility. I’ve also been inspired to write about West Hylebos Wetlands Park. This understated city park has a boardwalk that feels like you’ve entered a portal to another world — complete with cedar, maple, ancient sinkholes, and fresh springs.
Finally, the Rhododendron Species Botanical Garden and Pacific Bonsai Museum are tucked under a grand canopy of maple and fir, adding spice to an enchanting experience. I write about both in separate articles linked above.
Point Defiance Park — Tacoma’s urban forest
My mom grew up on the edge of Point Defiance Park, so I’ve visited this wonderland of nature throughout the seasons of my life. This 760-acre urban forest inspired me to write a separate article with all the information, Point Defiance Park — Tacoma’s urban wilderness. This place has something for everyone, and if you’ve not explored Tacoma in general, you’re missing out — check out the Proctor and Stadium Districts for starters.
The showstopper in the fall season is Five Mile Drive, with breathtaking canopies of ancient maples that seem to hover over the roadway. While most of the drive closed this year due to unstable cliffs, you can still bike or hike various distances from accessible parking areas. I love the colors of the canopy above the Rhododendron Garden, which is an easy hike from the zoo parking lot.
Bainbridge Island and Kitsap Peninsula
The ideal day trip for new visitors to Seattle is a jaunt on the Washington State Ferry to Bainbridge Island. Yes, the cute main street of Winslow is convenient, tasty, and fun, but it doesn’t really deliver the wow of fall colors. I’ve put together an excellent road trip that includes several different things to do, such as the Suquamish Museum and Heronswood Garden (also mentioned below), with all the details: Salish Sea day trip — Bainbridge Island and the Kitsap Peninsula.
This itinerary is an excellent choice to engage the spiritual side of nature while surrounded by stunning fall leaves — including the magical Grand Forest West. This 121-acre park is an excellent destination because the trails are easy and offer exciting views of both mossy cedar and deciduous gold.
Skagit Valley harvest time
There are other places for harvest season fun, like farms around Aurora and beyond Woodinville. I’m just partial to the Skagit Valley for all the variety of things to do throughout the year. This breadbasket of Western Washington is an hour (plus) drive from Seattle and offers a little bit of something for everyone.
Try Gordon Skagit Farms and crunch on a fresh apple, or launch a pumpkin at Burlington Harvest Festival and Pumpkin pitch (last weekend in September). Christianson’s Nursery, a perennial gem, serves up a great fall vibe, and many more “harvest loop” inspirations can be found on the Skagit Valley Website. If you’re interested in a fun place to stay for a few days to enjoy the scene, look at the information in my article about La Conner.
The Skagit Valley and the neighboring Salish Sea are well discussed in my comprehensive guide to driving between Seattle and Vancouver, Canada. The article includes a beneficial interactive map with my favorite places to stop along the way.
Billy Frank Jr. Nisqually National Wildlife Refuge
This serene valley of land just adjacent to the Salish Sea is often overlooked as travelers rush between Portland and Seattle on busy I-5. Yet, the forests that line the Nisqually River offer excellent fall color that ushers you toward an impressive boardwalk.
Continue for two miles to a gazebo that straddles either mounds of seaweed, turf, and sand or seawater’s salty goodness, depending on the tides. It costs $2 cash to park in the lot adjacent to exit #114 on I-5. If you’re interested in more details, try my article.
Urban hiking — the outdoor allure of exploring Seattle’s diverse streets in the Fall
I’ve lived in Seattle since 2011 and love my experience in such a beautiful city with water, trees, and mountains in every direction. During the pandemic, I took to the streets and spent countless hours wandering the neighborhoods of Seattle — call it “urban hiking.” Fall in Seattle provides a perfect, albeit sometimes misty, opportunity to experience authentic neighborhoods bursting with many personalities.
Link Light Rail opened up new stops north of Capitol Hill that provide more options to be creative and explore new areas within Seattle. Below you’ll find five of my favorite urban hikes that might not be on your radar.
The beauty of these suggestions lies in the tiny details like the homes proudly decorated, gardens lovingly cultivated and art masterfully displayed in unexpected areas. While you won’t find crowds, there just might be a connection to something new. Enjoy, and be sure to let me know what you think!
Art of the CHOP — Seattle’s Capitol Hill — outdoor things to do in the Fall
I’ll begin this section with what makes an urban hike in my neighborhood — Capitol Hill — so fresh and vibrant. Visual stimulation is everywhere. Much of it consists of a mix of art — expressions associated with the Black Lives Matter protests that started in June 2020 after the murder of George Floyd.
I present a real-time account of the art in a photo essay written in June 2020 titled Art of Seattle CHOP. CHOP stands for Capitol Hill Occupied Protest and consisted of a small portioned area in the heart of Capitol Hill near the Seattle East Precinct Police Station. Today, you’ll find large letters spelling out “Black Lives Matter” on Pine Street between 11th & 12th Avenues.
Capitol Hill is central in the city and easy to reach by Link Light Rail. The tight commerce core between Pike/Pine offers quirky shops and the celebrated Elliott Bay Bookstore. I like Cafe Vita for coffee and Honey Hole Sandwiches, Bimbo Burritos and Oddfellows Lodge for food — but there are so many great restaurants in the area to try.
From this central business district, I suggest wandering up to 15th Avenue East and on to statuesque Volunteer Park, also featured in a more concise article about how to enjoy nature in Seattle during Autumn.
Ballard — diversity of maritime history in Seattle
Seattle is a maritime city, having grown up as a shipping center — first for timber export, then prospectors heading to Alaska to seek fortunes of gold. Throughout this history, the rich bounty of fishing provided for many in the area, especially new immigrants from Scandinavian countries, who settled along the waterways in and around Ballard.
Today, the fishery industry still relies heavily on Salmon Bay (see Fisherman’s Terminal, below) as a freshwater port to operate and maintain large fleets of vessels dispatched to Alaska several times a year. But just a few blocks from the wharf areas, a different version of Ballard exists — one with delicious eateries, coffee shops, and key attractions.
For an energizing five-mile exploration, start at Ballard Coffee Works, right in the heart of the popular enclave, and work along NW Market Street toward the National Nordic Museum. Ballard Locks (see below) make for a great stroll. Although most people go directly to the mechanical marvel of the enormous gates holding back tons of water, I love to wander around the circle of the Carl S. English Botanical Garden.
Your walk will continue past an assortment of waterfront businesses with little parks that peep out to the water. Then comes a large marina that flows into Golden Gardens park. Follow a lovely stretch of coastline to the Grove at Golden Gardens and beyond Golden Gardens Wetlands. Little Coney is a fun place to grab ice cream along the way, and the food is not just convenient but also tasty at Miri’s at Golden Gardens.
South Park — the one not on TV
I’d never really heard much about South Park until the closure of the West Seattle Bridge required driving a maze of roadways to get between the central part of Seattle and the waterlogged peninsula. I noticed the brightly colored buildings and made it a point to return to wander this part of the Duwamish Waterway that might appear to the untrained eye to be just another industrial zone.
This tiny neighborhood is an area where the Duwamish Tribe is believed to have used summer camps for fishing before contact with European settlers. The Army Corps of Engineers reworked the winding river in the early 20th century to allow an easier path for marine commerce. Slowly, the water bounty dwindled, and the summer fishing camps dispersed.
Today work is underway to reclaim parts of the Duwamish River, and I feel it’s essential for any Seattleite to learn and understand the land we inhabit. An urban hike around South Park is one way to start in this direction. Several anchor restaurants serve fantastic multi-cultural fare. Visit the quirky local coffee shop, Resistencia — to start the experience. Read the placards on display around the historic (and renewed) South Park Bridge and follow Dallas Ave S to get a feel for the former bank of the river. The neighborhood is walkable and charming, with lots of surprises along the way.
Supersize this experience by driving 3.4 miles up the road (S Marginal Way) to the Duwamish Longhouse and Cultural Center to learn more about the Duwamish people. Terminal 107 Park, across the street, has some open views of the Duwamish Waterway and reclamation areas with traditional fishing nets.
University of Washington — campus, parks, and nature
The University of Washington is a vibrant area full of the things you’d expect a large international school to hold. While the pandemic has left areas of the “U District” a little disheveled, an urban walk is quite interesting in these parts. There are the beautiful grounds of the quad and other areas of the college, the quirky, eclectic mix of shops and restaurants on “the Ave,” and a variety of beautiful parks and nature areas that hold peaceful spaces on the shores of Lake Washington.
There are many options for a cruise through this area of town, including one five-mile version that starts and stops at the Link Light Rail line near Husky Stadium. From this location, head through the Quad area of the University toward the Burke Museum. Eventually, make your way north on University Way NW (The Ave) to Ravenna Park. Trails descend into a valley of thick vegetation that is ideally suited for a fall walk in Seattle.
Once through the park, University Village isn’t too far away, with meticulously-groomed grounds providing fantastic seasonal organic expression — from flower beds to hanging baskets. Take a stroll en route to the serene Union Bay Natural Area, which is stunning when the leaves begin to change colors. Follow the trails along the lake to various nooks with benches that inspire gazing out to watch the waterfowl and boats gliding through the lake.
Columbia City — a historic gem of South Seattle
Columbia City is an enclave of South Seattle that oozes with history. A defined main street in the center harkens back to the 1950s when every borough had a movie theatre, drugstore, and meat shop. The local butcher is still in business.
Olympia Coffee is a great place to start the day, maybe before a tasty meal at Geraldine’s Counter (made from scratch comfort food). There is a lot in the several blocks around this intersection (S Ferdinand & Rainier Ave S), from art galleries to bakeries to brewpubs. But the best part is to take a self-guided historical tour by visiting the Rainier Valley Historical Society, where they provide pamphlets for the neighborhood discovery stroll.
A walking street also starts at the circle at 37th Ave S (at Ferdinand), and the Farmer’s Market is on Wednesday’s 3-7 PM (through the middle of October). The best part about Columbia City is that it’s conveniently located on the Link Light Rail line, making it a breeze to get here on a layover at Seatac Airport or from Downtown Seattle.
Add another layer of nature to your visit and walk to and through nearby Seward Park. That’s about 1.5 miles each way (30 minutes), not including whatever length of walk you desire at the beautiful park. If you go, skip the busy outer beach walk and venture into the center of the peninsula where the old-growth cedar and fir hang out.
Urban art and architecture — Outdoor Fall in Seattle things to do
Seattle’s rich art culture is alive in formal museums, architecture, outdoor exhibits, and murals. The events of 2020 brought a new edge to the art expressed in the city — atop plywood window coverings and blank brick walls.
Those taking the Link Light Rail line from Seatac Airport to central parts of the city will enjoy numerous murals only visible from the urban connector — especially between Beacon Hill and Stadium stops. The following are my favorite places to experience Seattle’s art and architecture.
Fall in Seattle outdoor things to do — explore the art of Seattle University
Seattle University sits quietly tucked amid a whirlwind of activity — wedged between Capitol Hill and First Hill in the city’s heart. I love to stroll through the well-maintained campus grounds enjoying the art which seems to pop out from all directions.
The campus chapel won design awards when it was built in the 1990s, and there is even a modest Japanese tea garden tucked among school buildings. Don’t forget to try out the labyrinth recently installed as a piece to encourage inner peace. Since this is near my neighborhood, I stroll by here a lot and wrote an article titled, The most inspiring art of Seattle University.
Olympic Sculpture Park
The setting of this patch of thought-provoking exhibits could hardly be matched on a clear day. This front-row view of the Salish Sea is soulful in any weather, but on a clear fall day when the Olympic Mountains emerge in all their grandeur, it’s hard not to feel the delicate balance between the city and nature.
The diagonal pathways meander through casts of metal and grasses planted strategically, bringing to life the feeling of wandering through the dunes at the beach. All the while, the Space Needle hovers above this scene.
Take the pedestrian walkway over the railroad tracks from the nine-acre park to meet up with the Elliott Bay Trail — which brings you north along with the sound as far as you fancy (also mentioned below).
International Fountain and art of Seattle Center
The Seattle Center was initially created to house the 1962 World’s Fair — firmly launching the iconic Space Needle into the city’s identity. A cluster of futuristic pavilions was constructed for the event that showcased all the space-age technology that would build the world’s future.
Most of the original buildings were dismantled, but a few remain, such as the mid-century gem that houses the Pacific Science Center. Although recently renovated, Climate Pledge Arena’s roofline remains intact, resembling a ceremonial hat worn by traditional Coast Salish tribes. I enjoy strolling through this collection of architecture because artwork emerges from every direction. Look for the giant daisies extended up toward the Space Needle or the effervescent curvature of the Museum of Pop Culture’s metal exoskeleton.
Continue wandering through the collection of buildings to the giant round ball wedged in the bottom of a sloped concrete basin — like a pinball waiting to drop through a hole. The International Fountain (shown above) was built for the World’s Fair to showcase space exploration. Recently restored, the massive spray of water shooting from various conduits around this giant ball inspires a child-like urge to run through the streams of mist and spray — even if another spray is coming from above. An activity perfect for a brooding fall in Seattle day.
Chinatown and UPS Waterfall Park — great Fall in Seattle outdoor thing to do
Chinatown is a fun place to visit. Some of the best Asian cuisines live in this historic neighborhood, along with colorful dragon gates and other art. Occidental Square offers exciting sculptures, and it’s hard not to be inspired by the beautifully flowing UPS Waterfall Park.
Grab a bite to go from Honey Court Seafood Restaurant or any of the great Chinese restaurants in the area, and have a seat below the metal pergolas that frame the rock wall that, at the time, was the most expensive US park to build per square foot.
Amazon Spheres and “Tron City”
Seattle’s downtown seems to be morphing every day. Skyscrapers continue to shoot up, sleek steel and glass monuments to the ongoing prosperity of tech giants in the area, most notably Amazon.com. While the glass orbs known as the Amazon Spheres enjoy most of the notoriety, I love wandering through “Tron City,” as I call it.
Just look up, in every direction, at a new city-forming. There are a few Amazon grab-and-go stores that require no exchange of money. Download the app, load a credit card, scan the code to enter, and take whatever you want off the shelves. Perhaps buy a picnic lunch to enjoy at one of the brightly painted red metal benches nearby. Mbar, which I featured in the article about the best rooftop bars to view the Seattle skyline, serves sophistication with a Birdseye view of all that’s new on the tech horizon of the Emerald City.
The best parks to enjoy Fall in Seattle.
Seattle area parks exhibit the inspiring beauty of Pacific Northwest nature in unique ways each season — but can be particularly inspiring in fall. In other articles, I write about the Best Botanical Gardens, P-Patches (community gardens), and Places to View the Seattle Skyline, which highlight a number of my favorite parks.
The autumn breeze flows in time with the changing colors — first late-season flowers, then blushing bushes, followed by magically golden trees. The experience is about the elements coming together to showcase Mother Nature’s version of letting go right on time. If you’re interested in my how-to guide to diving deeper into connection with nature, check out my article Seattle Autumn — 5 inspiring walks to elevate your nature connection. The following collection is my list of favorites to enjoy the transformative time of Fall in Seattle.
Explore a Japanese-inspired garden
Ah… my heart opens the moment the topic turns to Japanese-inspired gardens in Seattle, especially in fall, when the layers of texture start to draw contrasting lines. Imagine crimson-red leaves pushing through twisted branches of laceleaf maples while a tranquil brook bubbles over strategically placed rocks designed to welcome tranquility. Bamboo shoots hold a commanding presence despite the deep green moss, and proud pagodas provide vantage points to survey the landscape.
Japan and the Pacific Northwest have enjoyed solid ties for over a hundred years. While the official Seattle Japanese Garden in the Washington Park Arboretum is stunning, many other examples of inspiring fusion between traditional Japanese style and Pacific Northwest botany exist. My article, The most inspiring Japanese gardens in Seattle can provide you with more helpful information.
Frolic outside in the fall colors of a favorite botanical garden
The Bellevue Botanical Garden is a fantastic experience any time of year. I love the dahlia garden, with abundant varieties of fiery reds, purples, and pinks flowing as if lighting the way to the shade gardens. Wander among the gravel paths and ascend the strategically placed stone slabs to the original mid-century style residence of Cal and Harriet Shorts. They generously deeded the land to start this garden in 1981.
The flower beds seem to magically shift into the brilliance of each moment of every season, making this space one of the most inspiring in the entire Seattle area — especially for the price (free). This is one great example of the plethora of botanical gardens available — many with free entry — to explore in the transitioning season of Fall in Seattle. I’ve written numerous pieces on this subject, and for a more compressive list of favorites, check out my article about the Best botanical gardens in Seattle.
Play in a giant’s world — find an ancient fir forest
Not every old-growth fir tree has been razed from the land over the past hundred years. There are remarkable remnants of the ancient wonders in several places around Seattle — welcoming despite the mysterious mist sometimes found in fall.
Check out the sprawling hill above Azalea Way in the Washington Arboretum — full of unique redwood, cedar, and fir varieties. Although they are not old-growth, they’ve been providing shade to the world for a hundred years.
Alternately, head to West Seattle and follow the creek through Schmitz Preserve Park — filled with age-old cedar and Douglas fir and teenagers expressing their independent streaks. Even busy Seward Park has a beautiful secret deep within the running trails no one visits — which feels like entering another world. Ravenna Park and several more green spaces can offer this magic — so run for the forests! And be sure to hug a tree.
Get garden envy this Fall at a local Seattle P-Patch
One of the first things I noticed when I moved to Seattle during the harvest season was the variety of public gardens right on the street for the world to enjoy. Community members assemble to lovingly cultivate flowers and produce — the colors stay inspiring and bright well past September.
While the reward begins to diminish later in October, along with the weather, I still find these organic spaces inspiring and peaceful any time of year. I love this concept so much that I created a photo essay titled, Seattle P-Patch photos — community gift of color In unexpected corners. For more information and the locations, check out the Seattle P-Patch website.
Play on the (Kitsap) Peninsula — Bloedel Reserve and Heronswood Garden
Although not in Seattle proper, two extraordinary gardens in Kitsap County are worth a trip across the Salish Sea in the fall. Bloedel Reserve (Bainbridge Island) and Heronswood Garden (Kitsap Peninsula near Kingston Ferry) provide surprise and delight around every bend.
I’ve written about Bloedel Reserve in a photo essay highlighting fall colors’ beauty. The internationally-awarded grounds are expansive with several zones: meadow, wetlands, forest, formal residence gardens, Japanese garden, and the luscious moss garden. The Japanese teahouse inspired by the native longhouses of the Coast Salish Tribes is exquisitely unique — surrounded by the most precisely raked gravel zen garden. It is not to be missed!
Timed-entry tickets are required. Adult tickets are $20, and I suggest securing entry first thing in the day, at 10:00 AM (Tuesday through Sunday), and then following up this experience with a short 10-mile drive through beautiful fall foliage to Heronswood Garden. This 15-acre space is owned by the Port Gamble S’Kllalam Tribe, who have infused rich life into the organic oasis. Enjoy the three distinct zones: a fern garden, a northwest garden, and a formal English Garden.
This trip is a great day jaunt from the Seattle area and serves up a drive through brilliant fall leaves. Follow my exact itinerary in the article, The best way to revive in a Salish Sea day trip — Bainbridge Island and the Kitsap Peninsula.
Seattle waters nourish the soul any time of year.
Water is ample in every direction around Seattle, any time of year. That’s what keeps our world green, especially fueling the energetic layers of fall texture. While there are plenty of great places to access the water, those listed below are my absolute favorites for the season. I’ve also placed a few additional options on the interactive map below.
Be sure to take an extra layer because microclimates along the water can differ from other parts of the city. When considering a saunter along the Salish Sea (Alki Beach mentioned below), research the tides, as they can change as much as 14 feet between low and high marks. Otherwise, the lake levels stay pretty constant.
Elliott Bay Trail — outdoor Fall in Seattle sea breeze
Reclaimed from heavy industry in the 1980s, this inspiring series of bike and pedestrian pathways connects visitors with the best elements of Seattle. Work continues to update the shoreline that shares space with the deep dark green water of the Salish Sea — new beaches are being formed to help support more natural habitats for salmon and other water life.
Start at the Olympic Sculpture Park (mentioned above) near Pier 70 and continue for about 1.5 miles to Elliott Bay Park (photo above). Even if the breathtaking views of the Olympic Mountains aren’t available, the urban mix of industry, ships, and famous skyline icons offer an interesting juxtaposition with Seattle’s connection to nature. Take a substantial jacket because there is no protection from the elements on this three-mile outing — especially if exploring around sunset.
West Seattle & Alki Beach — King County Water Taxi
I love Alki Beach (Al–Kai) and West Seattle so much that I wrote about this fantastic waterlogged peninsula in another article: The best things to do in West Seattle, including Alki Beach. This stretch of beach and boardwalk is full of life and exciting things to see.
If you’re beginning in central areas of Seattle, a great way to avoid driving is to try the King County Water Taxi, which departs from the brand new Pier 50 Terminal in Downtown Seattle ($5 each way with ORCA or $5.75 non-ORCA) and drops you off at Seacrest Dock near yummy Marination Ma Kai on Harbor Drive.
It’s a flat and ridiculously scenic 2 miles and 40 minutes walking to all the hustle and bustle of Alki Beach. By that time, you’ll be ready for food and beverages by the beach — and there are plenty of solid options. The lighthouse at the end of the spit is walkable along the shore at low tide, but check the tides to avoid getting stranded.
Ballard Locks — the interchange of saltwater and freshwater Seattle
The Ballard Locks inspire visitors with the mechanical marvel of giant gates providing the boundary where the freshwater from city lakes reaches the salty goodness of the Salish Sea. The grounds are free to enter, and paid parking is available.
Follow signs to the main attraction and walk on narrow passages over the giant steel doors that tirelessly hold back tons of water, juggling up and down all day long. Continue toward the other side of the channel to the salmon ladder, where you might find some late-season King or Coho working up the energy to jump up another wrung on the ladder.
Most people seem to beeline to the action of the locks, but I also enjoy a peaceful stroll around the gently looping Carl S. English Botanical Garden. There are many rare plants and trees in this green space, so be sure to pick up a map of the species — near the Army Corps of Engineers visitor center.
Fisherman’s Terminal — Interbay
Seattle hosts an armada of fishing vessels that work hard to bring the catch from Pacific Northwest waters up to the Aleutian Islands in Alaska. A good portion of the Alaska fleet is based around the docks of Ballard, Fremont, and the fishery industry Mecca, Fisherman’s Terminal.
Chow down on excellent fresh fish-n-chips at Chinooks at Salmon Bay before wandering around the public docks. Watch crew members mending fishing nets, painting boats, refueling, and doing everything necessary to prepare for the next bounty. This beehive of activity is only about 2 miles from the Ballard Locks (mentioned directly above).
Take the Washington State Ferry to Bremerton
Nothing beats floating through the Salish Sea on a ferry. No matter the weather, walk onto a trusty workhorse at Coleman Dock in Downtown Seattle. At the time of this update (September 2022), the passage costs $9.25 per person for the round trip. Machines sell tickets, or ORCA (Seattle Transit) cards are accepted — right as you walk through the boarding gate. Since the fare is only sold as a round-trip, no tickets are taken when boarding the eastbound return to Seattle. Be sure to spend some time on the deck, looking for kelp beds and the elusive Orca whales.
The view of the skyline of Seattle is impressive as the boat pulls away from the city, and an hour later, you’ll feel the bump of the ferry into the Bremerton pilings. If you’re interested in Bainbridge Island, check out the mentions above in this article. Bremerton makes for a fun boat trip with the same allure and views, but the destination feels more local. For more information on a day trip to Bremerton, check out my article, Bremerton day trip from Seattle.
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Let me show you how paying attention to nature opens the door to seeing yourself — and the world — differently. Transformation is closer than you think.
I offer Mystic Nature Experiences, 90-minute in-person guided journeys in select parks and gardens in Seattle, Tacoma, and Portland.
Interactive map — outdoor Fall in Seattle things to do
This map is a collection of my favorite nature connections in Seattle — including some lesser-known Seattle botanical gardens and others around the Salish Sea area. I have been to all these locations and hope you enjoy them as much as I do.
These suggestions are my point of view — I do not receive compensation for placement on the map or written articles unless expressly noted.
Have questions or comments?