Having lived in New York City for a few years, my research led me to think that Ballard and Fremont would be the “Brooklyn” of Seattle, while Belltown and Capitol Hill are more similar to “Manhattan.” I think I nailed it! When I had friends visiting NYC, I always made a point to take them to Brooklyn; a place off the beaten path. Ballard and Fremont are no exception. These charming towns north of Lake Union offer an abundance of places to go and things to see while offering a local atmosphere.
Hiram M. Chittenden Locks (Ballard Locks)
On a warm and sunny morning, we made our way to Ballard to learn more about this popular tourist attraction. The grounds are home to the boat lock (a system allowing boats to traverse between the Puget Sound and Lake Washington and Lake Union), the beautiful Carl S. English Jr. Botanical Gardens, a small visitor center, and gift shop. There were also restroom facilities and metered parking (free on Sunday) on premise.
My parents took the free guided tour, which lasted about an hour, while my boyfriend and I went on a self-guided tour of the area. From our experience, it’s likely to see some kind of boat travel through the lock despite the weather or time of day. My sister arrived in Seattle the day after we visited the Locks and when she visited on a weekday, in hazy weather, she saw plenty of boats travel through the lock (and saw a seal catch a salmon!). My parents were very impressed with their free guided tour and we were satisfied after 30 minutes of self-exploration. While waiting for them to finish we went to get a snack at the Lockspot Cafe.
For a quick bite nearby, this rustic tavern located just outside of the park has a delicious clam dip with housemade potato chips. It hit the spot! They also have “world famous” fish & chips and an outdoor takeaway window.
Ballard Farmers Market
A 15-minute walk east on Market Street brought us to the farmers market, which takes place every Sunday from 10am – 3pm. It was the most impressive farmers market I’ve ever been to with over 100 vendors providing organic, handmade, and locally grown foods. There are multiple entrances and it covers about 8 blocks total with stalls back-to-back in the road, red brick storefronts, restaurants, and galleries on either side of the street. There were gorgeous bouquets of flowers, fresh produce, apple cider slushies, gluten-free cinnamon buns (so good, you’d never know they’re GF), and so much more. Many people grabbed a bite to enjoy on the curb of the sidewalk, and brought along their dogs for the stroll. The environment was idyllic!
We found ourselves hungry for lunch and wanting a table to sit at and take a break from all the walking. We decided on this Mexican spot towards the end of the market in a strip of a few other very appealing and busy restaurants (San Fermo, The Sexton, Bastille Cafe & Bar). We were seated at a booth facing an open kitchen. The service was a little slow, but we didn’t mind as we watched the crew making corn tortillas to order from scratch. Needless to say, they were worth the wait and super tasty!
A short walk away from the farmers market are a variety of breweries such as Lagunitas, Peddler and NW Peaks all next to each other. You can also find Stoup Brewing and Reuben’s Brews under the bridge, as well as a highly-rated deli: Mean Sandwich. We didn’t stop at any of these spots because at the time, they did not feature any gluten-free options in their menus. Instead, we stopped for a drink at Shelter Lounge. It had a nice variety of seating with an open layout, but it was very quiet in the afternoon. If you make it to this point later in the day/after 4pm, I would check out Barnacle Bar and The Walrus & The Carpenter.
We stopped by this beautiful boutique selling niche items great for gifts such as high-end natural beauty products, candles, perfume, jewelry, baby items, silk robes, blankets and more.
Under the Aurora Bridge, you will come across this large troll sculpture. Historically, trolls are part of Scandinavian folklore (there is a Nordic Heritage Museum in Ballard) and were said to appear in Fremont beginning in the 1930s when the bridge was built. It’s quite a sight and worth stopping by for a quick photo opp!
Schilling Cider House
Offering 32 ciders in a variety of interesting flavors from various cider houses, there is truly something for everyone. We ordered flights and tried 6 different kinds each! We loved the red currant ginger, “prickle me pink”, fire roasted pepper, green apple and lavender black currant, however the offerings change regularly. It’s not a huge place, so don’t expect to get a seat if you arrive at peak time.
If you, or someone in your group, doesn’t like cider, check out Milstead & Co. for coffee/tea in a chic setting, Fremont Brewing Company for beer, the happy hour deals a few blocks away at Barrel Thief (absinthe and truffle popcorn with patio seating) or Red Star Taco Bar (happy hour margaritas and tacos), or a quick ride east of Gas Works Park to Westward (we enjoyed oysters and rose here but it would also have been a perfect dinner spot).