On the Water: Seattle’s H2O Guide

Cruises, tours, beach activities and dining all highlight Seattle's beautiful waters.

Water covers more than 40 percent of Seattle, which means you can’t go very far without bumping into an expanse of glistening waves. Whether you love to swim, sail or just sip a drink while taking in the views, there’s an activity to help you enjoy the splendor of the Emerald City’s magnificent waterways.  


Boating vessels abound along the downtown waterfront, home of Let’s Go Sailing and its high-performance yachts, and Clipper Vacations, whose catamarans can take you on an epic whale-watching trip to the San Juan Islands or whisk you away to Victoria, on Canada’s Vancouver Island. Here, you’ll also find Argosy Cruises, which offers several sightseeing tours. New this summer, the Evergreen Excursion takes passengers to Blake Island, accessible only by boat, and offers lunch in a long house, guided walks and free time to explore.

The most budget-friendly option is walking onto Washington State Ferries, headed to either Bainbridge Island or Bremerton—both fun destinations for a half-day trip. Whatever adventure you choose along the waterfront, you’ll get views of the Puget Sound, the downtown skyline and Mount Rainier (as long as it’s a clear day!).

If you’d rather power your own boat while still getting the expertise from a knowledgeable guide, take Ballard Kayak’s Ballard Locks Tour, a trip that starts in Shilshole Bay and involves the memorable experience of paddling through a “water elevator” and spotting marine life—you’re likely to see seals, sea lions and great blue herons. Over in West Seattle, Alki Kayak Tours will fill you in on the natural and cultural history of Seattle as you paddle toward the Alki Lighthouse or around Elliott Bay; for a breathtaking setting, try the West Seattle Sunset Sea Kayak Tour to watch the sky light up as the sun dips behind the mountains.


While boats are a wonderful way to ply the waters, there are many other methods for basking in the bays and lakes. Rent a standup paddleboard or a lounge-worthy water hammock from Greenlake Boathouse to enjoy this beloved lake, always buzzing with joggers and walkers flanking the perimeter. To combine sea and sky, sign up for a seaplane adventure with Kenmore Air—their “flightseeing” tour over Seattle hits the highlights, a true CliffsNotes version of all that makes the Emerald City special (and those water landings are so smooth). For a different perspective on Lake Union, hop in a DUKW, an amphibious landing craft developed by the Army during World War II to take cargo from ships to shore. Now, Ride the Ducks operates these historic vehicles and offers a 90-minute tour that’s a hit with the kids, transitioning from land to lake and back again. 

To keep it simple go for a refreshing swim. Madison Park Beach and Madrona Park on Lake Washington are staffed with lifeguards.


One of the joys of all the waterfront property Seattle boasts is the opportunity to just gaze at it—preferably with a shrimp cocktail in hand. The patio at Ivar’s Acres of Clams is a great place to pair seafood with sea views. The restaurant, a local institution, dates back to 1946, and the adjacent fish-and-chips counter was opened by Ivar’s “flounder” Ivar Haglund in 1938. To the north, Anthony’s Pier 66 features panoramic views and Dungeness crab dishes that are a delight, along with a decadent lobster mac and cheese.

To take in the lakes, visit Rainier Beach’s Stonehouse Cafe, with views of Lake Washington, housed in an old service station that has traded in automotive services for breakfast faves like fried chicken and waffles. Or sink into an Adirondack chair and savor the Mediterranean-meets-Northwest fare at Westward, located right on the western shore of Lake Union. Bonus points if you arrive by boat—there’s a dock at your disposal that makes coming and going smooth sailing, or just take a seat outside and enjoy the soothing sounds of the water.