The 10 Best Seattle Boat Tours

Take in the Emerald City's top sights from the water.

U.S. News & World Report

The 10 Best Seattle Boat Tours

Best Seattle Boat Tours

See Seattle from a new perspective: its waters!(Getty Images)

With Seattle's stunning waterfront setting, there's no better way to see the city than from a boat. A variety of tours – from guided kayak outings to dinner cruises to whale watching expeditions – allow visitors to take in all the sights while enjoying a fresh sea breeze. Relying on expert input and traveler sentiment, U.S. News compiled 10 of the best boat tours in Seattle.

Alki Kayak Tours – Elliott Bay Sea Kayak Tour

On a two-hour Elliott Bay Sea Kayak Tour with Alki Kayak Tours, participants paddle around Elliott Bay and the mouth of the Duwamish River. Besides enjoying views of the Seattle skyline and the Olympic Mountains, there's a good chance of spotting wildlife, including California sea lions, harbor seals, bald eagles and osprey. Along the way, tour guides provide a commentary of the history and ecosystems of Seattle and the Puget Sound. Kayakers give the guides high marks for their expertise. Tours are offered daily at 2:30 p.m. Tickets, which include the use of kayaks and equipment, start at $69. Participants must be 18 years or older. Alki Kayak Tours also offers sunset tours and paddle trips to the Alki Point Lighthouse.

Argosy Cruises – Locks Cruise

Argosy Cruises offers two options for its Locks Cruise, either a Stay & Play cruise or a Boat & Bus excursion. Both options include a two-hour narrated tour through the Ballard Locks, giving tourgoers an inside look at how the locks operate. The vessel will either raise or lower with the tide of Puget Sound, a highlight according to passengers. Depending on the tour, visitors will either stay put at the end of the cruise (which terminates at AGC Marina) or head back to where it started by bus (Pier 55). Tickets start at $43. Tour schedules vary depending on date and time of year. Argosy Cruises also offers harbor tours, as well as themed history and wine cruises, among others.

[View & Book Tickets: Option 1 | Option 2.]

Waterways Cruises – Seattle Dinner Cruise

On the 2 1/2-hour yacht cruise, diners are greeted with a glass of sparkling wine, then taken to their private tables where a three-course plated meal is served. During the cruise, the captain narrates the sights while the yacht sails by Seattle's lakes and city skyline. Cruisers praise the excellent service, food and views. Dinner cruises are generally offered May to October, Thursday through Saturday at 6:30 p.m. Tickets cost approximately $103 per person. Waterways Cruises also offers brunch, sunset, wine-pairing and other themed cruises.

Clipper Vacations – Seattle to San Juan Island Whale Watching

On Clipper Vacations' full-day whale watching excursion, you'll board a high-speed catamaran and head to the San Juan Islands to look for whales with your onboard naturalist. Plus, you'll enjoy two hours of free time in the island town of Friday Harbor. Cruisers say the trip is fun and educational, and add that bringing binoculars enhances the experience. Tickets for this daylong tour range from $100 to $120 for adults, depending on the day of the week and time of year, and cost about $25 for children. Trips depart from Pier 69 in downtown Seattle from mid-May to mid-October. If no whales are spotted, you'll receive a voucher for a complimentary trip. Clipper Vacations also offers overnight excursions and other packages.

Puget Sound Express – Seattle Whale Watching Tours

If passengers don't see whales on this half-day tour with Puget Sound Express, they'll get a free trip to use later – that's how confident the family-owned company is that they will spot whales. Travelers rave about the experience, the crew and the comfortable boat. Zipping from the Port of Edmonds, north of downtown Seattle, the boat crosses the Strait of Juan de Fuca to the San Juan Islands or heads south toward Tacoma, depending on where the whales are that day. A trained marine naturalist narrates the trip. Tickets start at $135 for adults and $85 for children 2 to 10. Tours, which last four to five hours, are offered twice a day from May to December. Puget Sound Express also offers photography and bird-watching tours, among other options.

Along with familiar Seattle landmarks, you may also spot seaplanes taking off and landing on this tour from Candére Cruises.(Courtesy of Candére Cruises)

Candére Cruising – 1 Hour Sightseeing Cocktail Cruise

Board a six-person vessel for an intimate outing with Candére Cruising on its one-hour sightseeing cruise, where the captain also doubles as the bartender. On this quick trip around Lake Union, passengers will see famous sights like the Space Needle, the Fremont Bridge, a variety of boats and yachts, and may even spot seaplanes taking off and landing, all while enjoying a cocktail (or mocktail). Travelers say the trip is relaxing and lots of fun. Another highlight is seeing the houseboat featured in "Sleepless in Seattle." Tickets start at $40. The one-hour cruise is offered eight times a day. Candére Cruising also offers longer outings, sunset cruises and sailboat tours.

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Ride the Ducks of Seattle

On a 90-minute Ride the Ducks of Seattle tour, passengers are entertained by guides who keep up a lively banter, describing neighborhoods, Seattle history, architecture and trivia, as well as sharing corny jokes along the way. The route heads from the Seattle waterfront, through Seattle's historic district and downtown area before splashing into Lake Union, where floatplanes are often spotted taking off and landing. Reviewers say the tour guides are hilarious and that the tour exceeds expectations. Tours, which depart from the Seattle Center daily year-round, start at $38 for adults and $23 for children ages 4 to 12. Tour times vary depending on the season.

Let's Go Sailing – Sunset Sail
Head out for a 2 1/2-hour sail with Let's Go Sailing on a custom 70-foot yacht to admire the Seattle skyline as the sun sets. Described by reviewers as "peaceful" and a "must-do," this laid-back cruise does not follow a set route and does not include a guided commentary. Visitors are allowed to bring any food or beverages they want aboard (though glass is prohibited). The crew also recommends bringing a jacket or sweater in case it gets chilly – a suggestion echoed by reviewers. A word to the wise: Since the yachts were built for racing, bench seating is limited, and visitors might have to sit on the deck. Tickets start at $59 for adults and $41 for children ages 6 to 12. Shorter, 90-minute day cruises are also available.

San Juan Safaris – Classic Whale Plane Tour

Enjoy two classic Seattle experiences – a seaplane ride and a whale watching excursion – with this daylong tour from San Juan Safaris. Seaplanes depart from Seattle's Lake Union to the town of Friday Harbor in the San Juan Islands. Upon arrival in Friday Harbor, you'll head out on your three- to four-hour whale watching expedition. Aboard the boat, you'll have access to binoculars, blankets and jackets, as well as educational books, materials, maps and guidance from the onboard naturalist. Participants praise the staff's professionalism, attention to detail and respect for the animals. Tours are generally offered twice a day during whale watching season (mid-May to mid-October). Tickets start at $399 for adults and $385 for children ages 2 to 12. Boat and kayak tours departing from Friday Harbor that do not include a seaplane flight are also available.

Ballard Kayak – Ballard Locks Tour

On this 3 1/2-hour tour from Ballard Kayak, guides take adventurers through Shilshole Bay, where seals, sea lions, osprey and great blue herons are frequently spotted. Next up, the tour goes through the Ballard Locks, where kayakers take a "water elevator" up to Lake Union's level (paddling through the locks is subject to the locks schedule and is not a guarantee). Other highlights include the ship canal, where mega-yachts and the "Deadliest Catch" boats are frequently anchored. Kayakers describe the tour guides as excellent and the views as stunning. Tickets start at $65. Tours are offered at 9 a.m. on Friday, Saturday and Sunday, and at 1:30 p.m. on Monday and Wednesday. Ballard Kayak also offers Puget Sound and Discovery Point kayaking tours, among other options.

Kim Foley MacKinnon, Contributor

Kim Foley MacKinnon, a Boston-based travel and food writer, has been a Travel contributor for ...  Read more

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