North Seattle is a patchwork of neighborhoods, each with its own unique atmosphere somewhere between suburban and metropolitan. Though not as centralized or accessible as parts of the city below the ship canal that borders North Seattle, the region is home to some of the city’s best restaurants, breweries and natural scenery.
Throughout North Seattle, historic downtown areas enlivened by public art are scattered between abundant bodies of water and hilly rows of colorful clapboard homes. Each neighborhood boasts its own distinct character and assortment of independent shops and eateries.
Between the views of Puget Sound in former Scandinavian fishing village Ballard to the cheap eats and colorful dives of the University District, any stroll through North Seattle will reveal plenty of picturesque scenery and vibrant local culture.
The sandwiches from Un Bien (7302 15th Ave NW) tend to fall apart after a few bites, but it hardly matters when the flavors of thick grilled onions, marinated pork and rich mayo dressing mesh so perfectly together. This popular sandwich shop now has two locations in Ballard, both bright pink shacks nearly impossible to miss. They feature rich Caribbean cured meats seasoned to your desired spiciness and then stuffed between massive fluffy baguettes, as well as equally flavorful non-sandwich entrees like black tiger prawns simmered in garlicky red sauce.
Only the freshest seasonal ingredients from throughout the Pacific Northwest go into each night’s prix fixe menu at Harvest Beat (1711 N 45th St) in Wallingford. Servers explain each of the five vegetarian courses in detail before they’re served, so diners can properly identify all the unusual culinary features of creative dishes like their wild mushroom salad or roasted cauliflower bisque. For an additional cost, each course comes with curated alcoholic or non-alcoholic drink pairings like Oregon Pinot Noir or locally-brewed kombucha.
A bounty of seafood from sources both local and global characterizes the menu at RockCreek Seafood & Spirits (4300 Fremont Ave N). Favorite menu items include their monkfish and Icelandic char from the Atlantic, as well as shellfish stew and black cod from nearby sources along the Pacific. Enjoy these and other specialties from the patio of their urban-industrial “fishing lodge” location near the heart of Fremont, a neighborhood lovingly nicknamed “the center of the universe.”
There’s no shortage of great authentic Asian cuisine in Seattle, but Root Table (2213 NW Market St) in Ballard uses western culinary influences to reinvent classic dishes from the East without losing the richness of flavor that makes them classics in the first place. It’s difficult to resist distinct preparations like their seafood pasta with Thai basil and lemongrass or wild-caught salmon grilled with red curry, all served in an intimate setting by a helpful wait-staff.
Blue Moon Tavern (712 NE 45th St) is a dive with history: a University District bar that once hosted many of city’s foremost radicals and artists during the Beat era, along with famous visitors like Allen Ginsberg and Dylan Thomas. Today the bar is a welcoming hangout spot for University of Washington students and devoted regulars alike, all enjoying cheap beer on tap, local sports on TV and rocking live music acts most nights.
Similarly, every night sees a new or returning band playing the intimate Tractor Tavern (5213 Ballard Ave NW) in downtown Ballard. A welcoming music venue with friendly bartenders and diverse lineups, the atmosphere changes from lively to hushed depending on each night’s act, whether it’s a travelling alt-country superstar, a Johnny Cash cover band or a big brass outfit from New Orleans.
The stretch of industrial properties that separate Fremont and Ballard is home to a dense collection of craft breweries. Among such stiff competition, Populuxe Brewing (826 B NW 49th St) stands out as one of the best for its rotating selection of nine beers on tap, including their own spins on rich IPAs and nut-brown ales. The cozy interior is complimented by a spacious outdoor seating area with large group tables and lawn games like corn hole. This is an ideal place to enjoy one of Seattle’s rare sunny days.
Rather than a brewery, Schilling Cider House (708 N 34th St) is a cidery that produces many of the best hard ciders from the Pacific Northwest and boasts the nation’s largest selection of craft ciders on draft. Their large roster of 32 rotating taps from Schilling and other craft producers includes unusual flavors like London dry, grapefruit, Sriracha-lime and passion fruit. Their flights of six ciders are the perfect way to get acquainted with this underappreciated alcoholic beverage, and their well-stocked fridges let guests buy bottles of their favorite ciders to enjoy later at home.
UFOs and talking bacon strips decorate the bright red building in Wallingford that houses Archie McPhee (1300 N 45th St), an offbeat novelty shop even more colorful than the building’s exterior might suggest. Hilariously creative masks and greeting cards stock crowded shelves also featuring more typical novelties like whoopee cushions or oversized glasses. The approachable staff members are always around to help guests sift through their wonderfully weird inventory for other obscure finds like wasabi gum or a “favorite child” ribbon award.
The Fremont Vintage Mall (3419 Fremont Ave N) is an underground enclave of upcycled goods for discount prices where browsers can find all sorts of lovable kitsch from yesteryear. The mall is run by a collective of local artists and purveyors that take pride in repurposing old furniture and apparel for new customers. The mall also has a collection of used records on sale for one to two dollars apiece.
The chief focus of Card Kingdom (5105 Leary Ave NW) was originally to sell Magic: The Gathering cards, but it’s grown into a well-stocked hobby shop for any kind of board game enthusiast. Even newcomers can find a game they’ll love with the help of the knowledgeable and passionate staff members. The adjoining Café Mox, which serves alcohol and light lunch items, even allows customers to try many of the games before they commit to purchasing.
Ornate chandeliers and antique wooden tables welcome guests to LUCCA Great Finds (5332 Ballard Ave NW) in historic downtown Ballard; a shop that perfectly evokes the atmosphere of old Parisian gift salons. Their inventory is similarly elegant and wonderfully diverse, featuring all varieties of stationery, furniture and miscellaneous handmade knick-knacks for decorating one’s home. Don’t miss their outdoor garden area or selection of imported European teas.
Golden Gardens Park (8498 Seaview Pl NW) is likely Seattle’s best saltwater beach; a popular summer spot scattered with picnic areas, volleyball courts, children’s playgrounds and hammocks strung up between groves of leafy trees. Scale the steep stairs through evergreen forests or simply drive down the winding two-lane road to reach the parking area for picturesque views of Puget Sound and the hazy Olympic Mountains beyond. For a more secluded spot, try tracking down the patch of sandy beach just across the nearby Un Bien on Seaview Ave NW.
In the very center of North Seattle lies Green Lake (7201 E Green Lake Dr N), a body of still blue water three miles in circumference and always populated with paddle-boaters and wild herons. The surrounding park is a hub of neighborhood activity where joggers, roller bladers and unicyclists can be seen enjoying the concrete trails through overgrown grassy fields and shady trees.
The gasification plant that once occupied the north shore of Lake Union is now defunct but still serves as the rusted industrial backdrop for Gas Works Park (2101 N Northlake Way), home to some of the best panoramic city views in all of Seattle. The hilly neighborhoods of Queen Anne and the Central District rise on either side of the horizon, while the city’s iconic skyline looms in the south beyond a lake filled with sailboats and seaplanes.