Seattle is a city where water and mountains collide, and it’s basically a sin to visit and not experience one or the other (but hopefully both!). If you’re visiting for a short time the mountains are sometimes hard to get to, but luckily we have three big beautiful lakes right in the city. Since they are so accessible, we love to recommend to people of all backgrounds and fitness levels to get out on the water and experience the city from a different point of view. For first time visitors to Seattle, we often point to Lake Union as the spot for stunning views of the city (iconic Space Needle included) and the fun experience of checking out the house boats that sit along the edges of the water and the sea planes taking off over head!
Where to Rent
The fastest way to get onto the lake is to rent equipment from a place right on the lake. There are three companies we love equally, so take your pick:
Located in Portage Bay, Agua Verde is not only a Mexican restaurant but also a paddle club! You can rent either kayaks (single or double) or stand-up paddle boards March - October (and if you need a snack, we won’t be mad at ya if you grab a taco before heading out. They even have a to-go window). The Paddle Club has a huge selection of rentals, so the chances of them running out of equipment even on busy, sunny days is pretty slim. You don’t need a reservation for groups under 11, and they also offer guided tours in case you don’t want to venture out alone. Check out their tour page to see what’s up.
This company offers single, double, or triple kayaks and paddleboards and is located on the western side of Lake Union, meaning you need to travel less distance than you do if you rent from Agua Verde (see map below). However, unlike Agua Verde, they do suggest making reservations and will require an extra $10 per item deposit for groups over 6. No need to worry if you are beginner, though. The center offers classes, which range from basic strokes to learning how to eskimo roll. They are also open year-round, which is a bonus if you’re crazy and want to be on the lake in the winter.
In the south part of Lake Union, you’ll find Moss Bay, which provides single or double kayaks and paddle boards for rent. The waterway around the business has a 7-knot speed limit making it safe to paddle in case you’re worried about the boats. Moss Bay also offers tours that include a lesson (total time 3 hours) and will take you past all the great sites. They are open April - October.
Lake Union is a fairly small lake and easy to navigate (you are basically looking at one giant circle), and because of its location north of downtown, you get pretty epic views of our gorgeous skyline. The lake is also home to Kenmore Air, a seaplane operation that has been in business since 1946. From your vantage point on the lake, you can see the planes coming and going directly overhead and if you’re wondering, yes, it absolutely is an instagram-worthy event!
On the north end of the lake sits the famous Gasworks Park, a 19 acre park that you’ll recognize by the giant defunct (yet cool looking) gasification plant. You aren’t able to dock at the park and get out of your rental, but it’s definitely worth a paddle-by. There is always something new and unsual going on at the park from weddings to Irish step dancers, to nudist bike riders, to art installations. Seriously, we’re never sure exactly what we’ll see so check it out and report back.
Sleepless in Seattle IS the best Tom Hanks/Meg Ryan film. Don’t argue with us. Tom Hanks actually filmed in Seattle for the movie, and there are many spots around town that you can visit from the film’s scenes. One of those spots is the Baldwin house boat (Tom Hanks’ Seattle home in the film), which still sits on Lake Union and looks exactly the same! Head to the houseboat on the west side of the lake and see if you can find it. And while we’re on the subject of houseboats, Seattle has the coolest ones around. They line the lake on both sides and are beautiful and interesting and worth checking out and then discussing what you would do if you owned one (for us, it would be paddle board right off our deck every morning before the day started).
Grab a Bite!
Now that you’ve worked up an appetite, it’s time to stop for a bite. We have two favorites that have a dock where you can park your equipment. This is a great way to rest for a bit and fuel up for the equipment return trip.
100 LB Clam is exactly what you want in warm weather dining. It has outdoor-only seating with a walk-up window for ordering food. You’ll find a rotating menu, but you can be guaranteed that it will have delicious seafood combos and cold beer on draft. We highly recommend the Poutine O’ the Sea (clams! bacon! chowder!) or the fishwish BLT. Wash it all down with a microbrew or, our pick, a Rainier tallboy (your classic Seattle beer since 1887). They are open 11:30am - 3pm in the summer only. If you are outside of this window or you prefer indoor seating, head into the White Swan next door. It’s run by the same owner and also has an incredible menu (with a few of the same items like the poutine!) and a great happy hour.
Ivar’s Salmon House is another great lake option with a large outdoor seating area (and inside seating too). The restaurant is a Seattle staple and has been serving customers since 1938. The restaurant sits right on the lake, so you won’t miss a second of the boat action. You’ll find the freshest seasonal seafood on their menu, and you definitely can’t go wrong with a bowl of their famous clam chowder...even if it IS in the middle of summer.
Check out our inclusive map to get your bearings on our recommendations.
We can't wait to hear how you like it! Comment with your thoughts and/or questions below.