Boats, Boats, Boats!
Check out Surf Ballard and enjoy paddle boarding for all levels of expertise.
PHOTO: SURF BALLARD
Editor's note: Updated June 8, 2016
You've probably noticed Seattle is bordered by Puget Sound on the west and Lake Washington on the east, with a series of canals and bays connecting one to the other on the north end of the downtown core. We'd like to let you in on a little secret … one of the best ways to explore Seattle with kids is by boat. Here are seven ideas for getting the whole family out on the water.
1. Kayak Rentals at the Agua Verde Café & Paddle Club
Right between the two most popular paddling destinations in Seattle – Lake Union and Lake Washington – the Agua Verde Paddle Club offers a chance for families of all skill levels to do some lake kayaking. If you are new to the activity, or have small children, make your first kayak outing a short excursion around Portage Bay (Agua Verde sits on the north shore). Paddle by houseboats and maritime businesses to a protected area on the south shore with lily pads, beaver dams and turtles.
Older kids can paddle with their parents through the Montlake Cut (they must be at least 80 pounds to accommodate the spray skirt required for passage to one of the best destinations on the lake for non-motorized craft – Foster Island and the Arboretum. Kids will love exploring under foot bridges and through narrow passageways and spotting wildlife (look for bald eagles high up in the trees as you approach). There are numerous places in this lovely area to beach your craft and enjoy a picnic. For a more urban experience, head west from Agua Verde under the University Bridge and into Lake Union to enjoy a spectacular view of the Seattle downtown skyline and the houseboats that line the shore.
Kayaks are rented on a first-come, first-served basis. Anyone 15 and younger must ride in a double kayak. Life jackets and paddles are provided, including special equipment for little ones.
Where: 1307 NE Boat St
Cost: Single kayaks are $18 per hour; double kayaks are $24 per hour. Check out the website for special weekday deals.
Hours: Monday through Friday, 10 a.m. to 8 p.m.; Saturday, 9 a.m. to 8 p.m. (last rental at 6:30 p.m.); Sunday, 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. (last rental at 4:30 p.m.).
Contact: 206-545-8570 ext 101; www.aguaverde.com.
2. Free Public Sail with the Center for Wooden Boats
A local family favorite, the free public sail on Sundays at the Center for Wooden Boats, offers visitors a memorable maritime experience on a classic wooden sailboat. The power of the wind will guide you through the waters of Lake Union, zigzagging past other boats and landing seaplanes, much to kids' delight. The ride takes about an hour. They sail rain or shine, but high winds may cancel the trip.
Reservations are only taken the day of, in person, and these rides sell out early. Be there when the doors open at 10 a.m. for the best chance. They don't sail until 11 a.m., so you'll potentially have time to learn about the history of wooden boats at the museum, ride the South Lake Union Street Car downtown or rent one of their classic row boats for your own trip around the bay. Also, don't miss the pond boat sailing, where kids can be captain of their own pint-sized rig.
Where: 1010 Valley St
Cost: Public sails are free (donations accepted), pond boat rentals are a suggested donation of $5 an hour, Canoes are $35/hour, row boats are $40 an hour.
Hours: Museum: Tuesday through Sunday, 10 a.m. to 8 p.m.; public sail: Sunday between 11am and 3pm; pond boat sailing: Saturday, Sunday and first Thursday of the Month, May through September, 11 a.m. to 2 p.m.
Contact: 206-382-2628; www.cwb.org.
3. Ride the Ducks Tours
Ride the Ducks is one of the quintessential tourist activities in Seattle. Visitors get a unique guided tour, by both land and sea, aboard a World War II amphibious landing craft. Coined a "party on wheels … that floats," you chug past the Pike Place Market and the waterfront, historic Pioneer Square, and the funky Fremont neighborhood (watch out for trolls). On the sea leg of the journey, get a look at the industrial Gas Works Park, the Sleepless in Seattle houseboat, and learn some unconventional facts about the area.
Some guarantees for your trip: Your tour leader will be silly; you will witness why Seattle is the coffee capitol of the world; and kids will get a thrill when the vehicle drives into Lake Union. Reservations are recommended, especially during the busy summer months. Be sure to fork out the extra $2.50 for a quacker; the kids will get a kick out of tooting these duckbill-shaped noisemakers along the way. But hide them before the trip home if you want to keep your sanity.
Where: 516 Broad St or 400 Pine St
Cost: $5-$35; $2.50 for the quacker.
Hours: Vary by season. Check the schedule.
Contact: 206-441-3825; www.ridetheducksofseattle.com.
4. Pedal Boat Rentals at the Green Lake Boathouse
The pedal boats at Green Lake Boathouse are a great little outing, especially for small children. You won't have to navigate choppy waters on this small lake, located just six miles north of downtown Seattle. The boathouse has three types of pedal boats: a two-seater; a four-seater, in which all riders get to pedal; and an old-fashioned boat with extra space in between the seats, which is ideal for a family with an infant. Life jackets are included.
The boathouse also rents kayaks, rowboats and stand up paddle boards. Snacks (and dogs, if you are traveling with one) are allowed on the boats. They are first-come, first-served, so come early on a nice day. The café at the boathouse is stocked with sandwiches, bagels, ice cream and coffee, and plenty of family-friendly restaurants border the lake. . Added bonus: Green Lake Park playground sits just across the parking lot
Where: 7351 E. Green Lake Dr N
Cost: $24 an hour.
Hours: Daily, 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. (hours may change due to weather).
Contact: 206-527-0171; www.greenlakeboatrentals.net.
5. Sunday Ice Cream Cruise with the Seattle Ferry Service
Does it get any better than ice cream and a cruise? Both children and adults will be pleased with the Sunday Ice Cream Cruise. Sit back, enjoy your time sightseeing around Lake Union and get a tasty treat, too. Ice cream comes in the form of a root beer float – Captain Larry's own famous concoction with chocolate ice cream and soda.
The 45-minute guided tour includes some humorous narration about old Seattle and a peek at some unique landmarks, such as Dale Chihuly's glass art studio and Seattle's floating homes. There are no reservations for the ice cream cruise -- departs hourly on Sundays.
Where: South Lake Union Park, 860 Terry Ave N
Cost: $3-$12 (cash or check only). Ice cream treats and drinks $2-$4
Hours: Sunday, 11 a.m. to 5 p.m.
Contact: 206-713-8446; www.seattleferryservice.com.
6. Stand Up Paddle Boards Rentals at Surf Ballard
Ok, so it's not a boat, but it is all the rage, and chances are your kids will feel pretty cool after mastering stand up paddle boarding. Several places around town rent the boards, but Surf Ballard is great for families because it gives them a chance to watch boats heading through the locks and if you're lucky have a harbor seal come check you out.
The staff at Surf Ballard recommends rentals for kids ages 11 and older, because of the strength needed to maneuver the board in the ocean current. The boards are easier than they look for even a novice to handle, but if you prefer some instruction, Surf Ballard's partner, the Washington Surf Academy, offers lessons on some Saturdays. For $70 per person, you get a paddle board, paddle and two hours of hands-on instruction.
Where: 6300 Seaview Ave NW
Cost:$40 for two hours. Group discounts available. Wet suits $5. Best to reserve boards ahead of time online.
Hours: Vary seasonally.
Contact: 206-726-7878; www.surfballard.com.
7. UW Waterfront Activities Center
Nestled behind Husky Stadium on the lovely natural shoreline of Union Bay, the UW's Waterfront Activities Center has kayaks, canoes and rowboats available for the public to rent May through September.
Launch directly into Lake Washington and paddle along Marsh Island or back thru the Montlake Cut into Portage Bay and Lake Union. Must be 18 years old with valid ID to rent the boats. Children must weigh at least 25 lbs and walk on their own. Rentals are first come, first served.
Where: 3710 Montlake Blvd NE
Cost: $12 per hour for a canoe or rowboat, $16 per hour for a single kayak, $20 per hour for a double kayak. Discounts for UW students, faculty and alumni.
Hours: Vary seasonally. Closed for UW rowing regattas and home football games. Check the website before coming.
Contact: 206-543- 9433; www.washington.edu/ima/waterfront/canoe-boat-rentals/