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The 5 Best Seattle Parks to See on Vacation

For picnicking and people-watching, here’s where to get outdoors in Emerald City.

U.S. News & World Report

The 5 Best Seattle Parks to See on Vacation

Frost covered grass on the hillside of Kerry Park in Seattle, Washington.

Discover the great outdoors – even in Seattle.(Getty Images)

Seattleites hold their green spaces sacred. Seattle Parks and Recreation alone manages more than 485 parks and natural areas. Rain or shine, intrepid locals sport whatever layers and rain gear are necessary to take advantage of these magnificent outdoor spaces. They offer anything an outdoor-lover could want – lush foliage, photo op-friendly vistas, cultural must-sees and all kinds of ways to break a sweat. Sure, Seattle is an urban jungle, but if you make a small effort, there are plenty of peaceful green spaces to enjoy.

Gas Works Park

Gas Works Park.(Courtesy of Seattle Parks & Recreation)

For a stellar view of downtown Seattle, head to Gas Works Park on the north shore of Lake Union. The nearly 20-acre park sits on the site of the former Seattle Gas Light Co. plant, and some of the old industrial structures remain. It’s a year-round favorite for locals, but it's especially popular during summer months when the landscape is packed with people picnicking, sunbathing and flying kites.

"It’s got that iconic downtown Seattle view from the other side," says Lara Dennis, concierge at Kimpton Alexis Hotel Seattle. "Most movies that say they take place in Seattle do a quick little snapshot from Gas Works Park. You can say you’ve been there, and it’s right by the University District as well, so there’s some fun places to explore along the way to get you out of the downtown a little bit.”

Amenities include restrooms, drinking fountains, grills, picnic sites (be sure to make a reservation) and a play area.

Green Lake Park

Green Lake Park.(Courtesy of Seattle Parks & Recreation)

Whether you prefer courts, asphalt, water or grassy lawns, there’s an outdoor space at Green Lake Park for everyone. From downtown, it’s an easy 15-minute drive north (parking is another story) or 30 minutes on public transportation. On any given day, bikers, skaters, runners and walkers dot the 2.8-mile loop around the lake. On weekends, the trail is considerably more trafficked by locals. During summer months, the lake is filled with swimmers and water sports fans who rent stand-up paddleboards, kayaks and canoes from the Greenlake Boathouse.

“Green Lake makes people feel like locals because rain or shine, locals are there,” says Jessica Gomes, VIP coordinator at Hotel 1000. “You can take your kids. You can sit and stop. You can walk a half-mile and decide you’re just going to drink beer the rest of the day. It’s all right there and Green Lake Alehouse is right there. ... I think Green Lake is a good, really proper local Seattle experience.”

Amenities include baseball/softball fields, basketball courts, restrooms, drinking fountains, fishing piers, grills, hand-carry boat launches, a playground, soccer fields, wading pools, swimming beaches and tennis courts.

Volunteer Park

Volunteer Park.(Courtesy of Seattle Parks & Recreation)

If you’re looking for a mix of culture and natural beauty, head to the historic Olmsted Brothers-designed park in Seattle’s Capitol Hill neighborhood. Flower aficionados flock to Volunteer Park in late August and September to enjoy the abundant blooms of the city’s official flower – the dahlia. For a unique view of the Space Needle, seek out the 1969 “Black Sun” sculpture by famed artist Isamu Noguchi on the eastern edge of the park. Position yourself so the large black ring frames the iconic tower, and Instagram away.

Alexis Beeton, chief concierge at the Kimpton Hotel Monaco Seattle, thinks Volunteer Park is wonderful. “It’s a historical site, so they have a lot of different areas to enjoy,” she says. "They’ve got the Seattle Asian Art Museum, the Volunteer Park Conservatory, which only costs about $4 [for adults] to go into and is absolutely magnificent. A lot of people get married there. They also have an old water tower from which you can get some of the best views of the city, straight across to West Seattle, over to Queen Anne and Lake Washington.”

Amenities include restrooms, drinking fountains, gardens, a playground, wading pools, tennis courts and trails.

Washington Park Arboretum

Washington Park Arboretum.(Courtesy of Seattle Parks & Recreation)

If you want to get away from the urban hustle and bustle and lose yourself outdoors, find Washington Park Arboretum on the shores of Lake Washington. This public park is too often overlooked in a city packed with stunning green spaces. Stroll among 230 acres of woody plants and wetlands via footpaths and boardwalks. Don’t miss the Seattle Japanese Garden (entrance fee is $6 for adults), which is located in the park’s southwest corner, or Azalea Way in the springtime.

Dennis has a soft spot for the arboretum, which is jointly managed by the University of Washington Botanic Gardens and the city. “It flies really under the radar,” she says. “Their Japanese gardens are beautiful. They’ve got a pretty low admission price for those, but the arboretum itself is free to walk around. They maintain that space so well.”

Amenities at the arboretum include restrooms, drinking fountains, hand-carry boat launches, a visitors center, a gift shop, a meeting room, trails and free public tours on seasonal topics.

Discovery Park

Discovery Park.(Courtesy of Seattle Parks & Recreation)

Not far from downtown, Discovery Park is roughly a 20-minute drive or 30-minute jaunt on public transportation. It’s well worth the trip – this more than 530-acre city park feels much farther away. Meander nearly 12 miles of forest and trails, and be sure to explore the shoreline for seriously gorgeous views of Puget Sound and the snowcapped Olympic Mountains.

“It’s actually the city’s largest public park and is especially beautiful because of its location, positioned right along the shores of the Puget Sound,” says Jeff Wilbur, concierge at The Arctic Club Seattle - A DoubleTree by Hilton Hotel. “If you have an afternoon to spare on the trails, keep your eyes peeled, because the park is a prime bird-watching location. Because of its size, you can find something new to explore every time you come back." If you're lucky, he adds, you might even spot a sea creature from the shore.

Amenities include restrooms, drinking fountains, a play area, tennis courts, trails and volleyball courts.

To experience more of what Seattle has to offer, check out the U.S. News Travel guide.

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