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12 Best Parks in Seattle

Written by Brad Lane
Sep 15, 2021

Seattle's city parks hit the sweet spot between urban and natural design. Early city builders constructed Seattle intending to provide green space within a half-mile of every home. And with a surplus of pocket parks and bike paths, that intention might be true. But some parks stand above the rest, and whether you're visiting the city or you're a long-term resident, it's worth exploring the very best of Seattle's parks.

Like Discovery Park, a few iconic parks offer a taste of the Western Washington landscape. These landscapes include lush vegetation reminiscent of rainforest and panoramic views of Puget Sound. Other shoreline parks on the opposite side of the city offer freshwater views across Lake Washington.

Alongside slices of Pacific Northwest paradise, walking through many of Seattle's best parks offers a trek through history, from Olmsted Brothers' signature designs to retired military forts. It's not required to know each park's history to enjoy a visit, but at places like Gas Works Park, it's unavoidable to experience.

If you're planning a specific activity, you can research more information on Seattle city parks before you visit. Enjoy your next city adventure with our list of the best parks in Seattle.

Note: Some businesses may be temporarily closed due to recent global health and safety issues.

1. Discovery Park

West Point Lighthouse, Discovery Park
West Point Lighthouse, Discovery Park | Photo Copyright: Brad Lane

Discovery Park is the largest city park in Seattle. It encompasses 534 acres on a peninsula extending from the Magnolia neighborhood, northwest of downtown. Several trails extend throughout its varied landscapes, and it's also home to a magnificent sandy shoreline overlooking Puget Sound, including the iconic West Point Lighthouse.

The varying landscapes and sheer size of the park add to the feeling of escape. The site sits on the former Fort Lawton, which dates to the late 1800s. And alongside the grassy meadows surrounding the retired army structures, it's a place of lush coastal beauty and miles-long views across the water.

Trail in Discovery Park
Trail in Discovery Park | Photo Copyright: Brad Lane

The best way to explore Discovery Park is to show up and start roaming. The two most prominent parking areas are the East and South lots near the entrances. The Loop Trail is the most popular route to explore, circling the inland area of the park with a nearly three-mile path. The Loop Trail also connects to the Beach Trail, where visitors find the West Point Lighthouse bisecting one of Seattle's best beaches.

2. Alki Beach Park

Alki Beach Park
Alki Beach Park

Alki Beach Park is a quintessential city space on the shoreline. The park is in West Seattle, accessible from downtown via water taxi. It features 2.5 miles of Puget Sound shoreline and a popular walking path. And unlike some other city beaches, the sand at Alki Beach feels good between the toes.

The view across Puget Sound is also spectacular at Alki Beach Park, including the not-so-distant Seattle skyline. On sunny summer days, beach towels and umbrellas inundate this destination beach. But with plenty of space for everyone to spread out their things, overcrowding isn't necessarily an issue. Parking can be challenging on the weekends, though.

The sprawling shoreline at Alki caters to several activities. There's plenty of room for young kids to run around and burn off some energy. And for those willing to brave the water temperature, it's only a few steps to splash into the shoreline. A bench-lined walking path parallels the beach, offering ample space to stroll and people watch.

3. Golden Gardens Park

Beach at Golden Gardens Park
Beach at Golden Gardens Park | Photo Copyright: Brad Lane

When it comes to parks in Seattle, Golden Gardens has it all. It's in North Seattle and comprises the far northwest corner of the Ballard neighborhood. Alongside ample green space and wetlands, the park is also home to a sprawling sandy beach that caters to the crowds that gather throughout the summer.

The beach has approximately 300 feet of sandy shoreline, with plenty of room for activities like volleyball and setting up an umbrella. And alongside suntanning and beach games, bonfires in designated fire pits are some other popular activities.

Golden Gardens Park
Golden Gardens Park | Photo Copyright: Brad Lane

And Golden Gardens is much more than its incredible beach. Hiking trails at the park navigate through lush Pacific Northwest landscapes. An off-leash dog area is also on the park's north side and is very popular with pet owners. Other park amenities include a concession stand and restroom facilities.

The views aren't bad at Golden Gardens either. Puget Sound backdrops the entire beach, with the Olympic Mountains on the horizon. Expect to spend a few hours enjoying this easy escape from the city.

4. Seward Park

Shoreline at Seward Park
Shoreline at Seward Park

Seward Park is a unique natural space in southeast Seattle. It encompasses Bailey Peninsula jutting out from the shoreline. The entire peninsula is the park, with approximately 300 acres to explore. The isolated geography of the peninsula and the park's location in a quieter southeast Seattle neighborhood offers a great place to reconnect with nature.

The paved 2.4-mile pedestrian path navigating the park also assists in escaping the hustle and bustle of the nearby city. Countless dirt trails spiderweb from this main pedestrian path, leading through verdant landscaping. Much of the back half of the park is an old-growth forest with towering western red cedars and bigleaf maples. Keep an eye out for the frequent eagles and hawks flying throughout the area.

Ample shoreline at the park encourages activities like suntanning, swimming, and boating. The park is also home to an amphitheater, pottery studio, and the Seward Park Audubon Center. While going to Seward with a plan works, many opt for showing up with a free afternoon to explore.

5. Washington Park Arboretum

Pond at Washington Park Arboretum
Pond at Washington Park Arboretum | Photo Copyright: Brad Lane

The Washington Park Arboretum has 230 acres of urbane respite in the Madison Park neighborhood near Union Bay. The University of Washington and the city of Seattle co-manage this wonderfully landscaped space with help from the Arboretum Foundation.

Several trails wind throughout the park, with interpretive information and plant identification on the trail's edge. Picnic benches also line the natural space, offering several places to stop and enjoy the colorful scene. The Graham Visitor Center, on the north end of the park, is the place to go for park maps, restrooms, and other visitor resources.

Path through Washington Park Arboretum
Path through Washington Park Arboretum | Photo Copyright: Brad Lane

Visitors encounter a wide variety of plants along the trails of Washington Park Arboretum. A few notable examples include Japanese maples, azaleas, and rhododendrons. The arboretum is open every day of the year from dawn to dusk, always with free admission.

6. Carkeek Park

Carkeek Park
Carkeek Park

Carkeek is a relatively popular but less crowded natural space with a beautiful beach. It's in northwest Seattle, on the southern end of the Broadview neighborhood. The park comprises approximately 200 acres, including a generous stretch of Puget Sound shoreline.

Pipers Creek winds through the park before hitting the saltwater of Puget Sound. Alongside this riparian corridor, other landscapes in the park include lush forests, open meadows, and the coastal shoreline. This diversity in habitats leads to a range of activities that cover almost every interest.

Trail runners and hikers find ample dirt paths to follow in the park. Families tend to gravitate toward the large lawn area and playground. And history buffs will enjoy visiting the historic Piper Orchard. And with the park's western orientation, Carkeek Beach is a stunning place to visit for simmering sunsets.

7. Volunteer Park

Volunteer Park Water Tower
Volunteer Park Water Tower | Photo Copyright: Brad Lane

Volunteer Park is on the north side of the Capitol Hill neighborhood in the heart of the city. This stunning natural space was first developed in the late 1800s and designed by world-famous landscape architect John Olmstead. Today, it's considered a crown jewel of Seattle's Olmsted Brothers Park & Boulevard system.

The park encompasses just over 40 acres of public space. It's home to the Volunteer Park Conservatory and Asian Art Museum, operated by the Seattle Art Museum. The conservatory has five unique environments to explore within its historic Victorian Greenhouse. And the Asian Art Museum displays regional works within a 1930s Art Deco building.

Another notable park feature is a small reservoir with a view of the city. This prominent viewpoint is near two landscaped lily ponds and a historic water tower with an observation deck. Several wide-open green spaces also punctuate the space, including a designated Great Lawn. On summer evenings, blankets and picnickers dot this vibrant green community space.

8. Gas Works Park

Gas Works Park
Gas Works Park | Photo Copyright: Brad Lane

Gas Works Park is a unique passive natural space on Lake Union's north shore, directly across from the downtown skyline. It's hard to say what makes this park stand out the most. It's either the unparalleled view of downtown across the water or the scenic remnants of the former coal gasification plant that used to occupy the site.

The historic industrial architecture at Gas Works has been reclaimed to achieve a public art status. And seeing these visual reminders of the city's industrial roots, surrounded by landscaped lawns and walking trails, offers a unique perspective on public space.

Picnickers in Gas Works Park
Picnickers in Gas Works Park | Photo Copyright: Brad Lane

A giant earthen mound sits at the center of the park, enhancing the stunning view of the lake. Here, enjoy time spent on a blanket admiring the many boats on the water, with the skyline backdropping the entire scene. Gas Works is one of the most popular sunset spots in the city.

9. Green Lake Park

Green Lake Park
Green Lake Park | Photo Copyright: Brad Lane

Green Lake is an approximately 260-acre lake north of the downtown district. A popular 2.8-mile paved hiking trail circumnavigates the water, offering a welcoming respite from nearby busy streets. And on the eastern shore, Green Lake Park offers plenty of places to enjoy the aquatic view.

Green Lake Park centers on East Green Lake Beach. A swimming platform sits just beyond the shoreline, and lifeguards are on duty throughout the summer. Boat rentals and a walk-up café are also near the beach. The bike trail extends from both sides of the sand, leading to expansive lawn areas and perfect picnic spots.

West Green Lake Beach sits on the opposite shore and provides similar accommodations. With plenty to see and do, the lake is a popular place to bring a bicycle and spend the entire day exploring. On the south side of the lake, Woodland Park and the Woodland Park Zoo also invite time spent outside.

10. Olympic Sculpture Park

Olympic Sculpture Park
Olympic Sculpture Park | Photo Copyright: Brad Lane

The Olympic Sculpture Park encompasses nine acres near the downtown waterfront. It's one of the largest green spaces in the downtown vicinity, and several eye-catching sculptures adorn the area. The Seattle Art Museum, a mile to the south, administers the park.

The site was much more industrial before the Olympic Sculpture Park opened in 2007. Today, the park descends to the waterfront with a creative Z-shaped path lined with artwork. It's a popular place to stroll between work hours, have a picnic, or catch a great view of Elliot Bay and downtown.

The sculpture park is free to enjoy. The trail heading north of the sculpture parks connects with Myrtle Edwards Park and Centennial Park.

11. Kerry Park

Seattle skyline from Kerry Park
Seattle skyline from Kerry Park | Photo Copyright: Brad Lane

This small pocket park is best known for its excellent view of the downtown skyline. It's located at the top of Queen Anne hill, less than a mile north of the Seattle Center and Space Needle. Alongside the downtown skyline, this high vantage point also lends a view of Elliot Bay, the Olympic Mountains, and sometimes a distant view of Mount Rainier.

Try to time a visit to Kerry Park on a clear day. It's increasingly a popular spot for photography enthusiasts. Come sunset, expect to share the space with shutterbugs and tourists alike. Parking can be a bit tight on the residential streets that surround the park.

12. Myrtle Edwards Park & Centennial Park

Myrtle Edwards Park
Myrtle Edwards Park | Photo Copyright: Brad Lane

Myrtle Edwards is a city park on the Elliot Bay waterfront, less than a half-mile southwest of the Space Needle and Seattle Center. A standard route to access this beautiful waterfront space is through the Olympic Sculpture Garden.

Myrtle Edwards winds next to the shoreline with a 1.25-mile paved bike trail. Primitive dirt trails also navigate throughout the space. Alongside the trailside scenery lining the corridor, an enormous appeal of the park is its stellar views of the Olympic Mountains across the water. And on clear days, looking south toward downtown, the not-so-distant Mount Rainier also comes into view.

North of Myrtle Edwards, the paved bike trail continues into Centennial Park, operated by the Port of Seattle. This park was formerly known as Elliot Bay Park before being renamed in 2011 to celebrate the port's 100 years of operation. The paved path passes through all 11 acres of the park, with great views the entire way. Centennial Park is also home to a blooming rose garden throughout the warmer months.

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