Seattle: Ever the Bridesmaid, Never the Bride

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Seattle has a location problem. It's sandwiched between Bicycle World darlings Portland and Vancouver, both of whom have deservedly hogged the lion's share of what precious little space there is for bicycles in North American press. Right in between these two lies relatively ho-hum Seattle, ever the bridesmaid, never the bride. Arriving downtown (by train, naturally), one would be forgiven for failing to lift a finger to challenge that viewpoint, really. It reminded me very much of the most buttoned-down parts of downtown Boston, but with massive, weapons-grade, "this is not cool" hills. Picture traffic, few trees, drunken Seahawks fans, concrete, and 1st gear hills that go on for 20 blocks.

Imagine our surprise, then, when we pointed our front wheels north and headed towards the neighborhood of Fremont. We got just the tiniest bit outside of downtown, and the hills leveled out. Cars quieted down. On-street bike lanes quickly changed to separated waterfront bike paths. We crossed over the Fremont Bridge, and suddenly found ourselves pitched into Something Very Amazing. There were good bars, good restaurants, a disgustingly awesome bicycle accessory store called Hub & Bespoke, hippy-caliber groceries, and just a general tingly feeling of goodness in the air. Things had changed.

Exploring the city every day, we saw similarly wonderful neighborhoody goodness in Ballard, Lawton Park, Magnolia, and others. Most of the houses looked reasonably sized, well loved, and just eclectic enough to not be boring. And the water... it was everywhere. There was so much waterfront property that was available to everyone to enjoy that we found ourselves positively spoiled. Of particular note was the enchanting Gasworks Park, a former industrial wasteland on the shore of Lake Union that was converted into an open, green park with rolling hills that made for a perfect picnic as we stared across the lake at downtown and watched the seaplanes taking off over our heads. This is the kind of free, public green space that I would visit every week if I lived in Seattle.

We found it very easy to get to most parts of town via off-street bike paths and on-street bike lanes that were placed on quiet residential streets. We always found ample bike parking. We passed a million other families on bikes. No one ever honked at us, or pulled over to illegally park in the bike lane to run in and get a cup of coffee. I also had some fantastic local beer and cider.

Seattle kinda had it all. Yes, the downtown area is a little more White Bread than most other west coast cities, and those downtown hills make an incredibly compelling case for electric bike assistance. But once you go a little north, Seattle is downright gorgeous. I want to go back, badly.

Places to Visit by Bike

to stay:

We liked staying in Fremont and Ballard as launchpads on the Burke Gilman Trail.

to eat & drink:

to shop:

to visit:

  • Hiram Chitam Locks
  • Gasworks Park
  • Fremont Troll
  • Burke Gilman Trail