One quintessentially Seattle summer must-do: Boat rentals and tours. With so much of our city surrounded by water, trying your hand at sailing (or at least one of those foot-pedal boats) is, in a way, a right of passage. So whether you’re a paddling pro, or would rather let someone else take the helm, here are 11 ways to to get out on the water:
Boat, kayak (and more) rentals
Seattle boat rental favorite, the Aqua Verde Paddle Club offers families of all skill levels the chance to do some lake kayaking. Stand-up paddleboards also are available. Keep it simple, and paddle around Portage Bay, past houseboats and lily pads, or go further, through the Montlake Cut towards 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).
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-serve basis. Anyone 17 and younger must ride in a double kayak with an adult accompanying them. Life jackets and paddles are provided, including special equipment for little ones. Lots of good FAQ here, including COVID protocols. 1303 NE Boat St, Seattle, 98105
The pedal boats at Green Lake are another great option for family boat rentals. They’re especially for small children, since you won’t have to navigate choppy waters. The boathouse has two types of pedal boats: a two-seater and a four-seater, in which all riders get to pedal. Life jackets are included. They also have rowboats, sailboats (for experienced users) and stand-up paddleboards.
Snacks (and dogs, if you have 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 is one of the best in the city and sits just across the parking lot. 7351 E Green Lake Drive N, Seattle, 98115
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. If you’re lucky, you’ll have a harbor seal come check you out. Board rentals are $40 for two hours, or $32.85 per board for groups of 2 or more.
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 daily. For $70 per person, you get a paddle board, paddle and two hours of hands-on instruction. 6300 Seaview Ave NW, Seattle, 98107
From May thru August you can visit the UW Waterfront Activities Center directly behind Husky Stadium and rent canoes (carrying up to 3 people) or rowboats (carrying up to 4 people). Launch into Lake Washington and paddle across the Montlake Cut into the Arboretum (and under the Evergreen Floating Bridge or go west thru the Montlake Cut into Portage Bay and Lake Union if you are feeling ambitious. You must be 18 years old with valid ID to rent the boats, and children must weigh at least 25 lbs and walk on their own. Rentals are first come, first served. See also “What’s a mom and a squirrelly six-year-old to do? Rent a canoe!” Cost is $10/hr weekdays, $12/hr weekends. Discounts for UW students, faculty and alumni.
Mercer Slough Nature Park in Bellevue is one of our most beautiful urban wetlands. Rent canoes and paddle the slough or take part in three-hour guided canoe rides, led by Bellevue park rangers (May – Sept, weekends only). For an inside scoop, read “A Parent Review: Canoe the Mercer Slough.”
Be on the lookout for herons, otters, beavers and, if you make it that far, the swallows that nest on the underside of I-90 – an interesting juxtaposition of concrete and nature. If you opt to explore the slough on your own, rent a canoe through Cascade PaddeSports and paddle around for a few hours. Both voyages kick off at Enatai Beach Park.
Guided trips: $16 per person for Bellevue residents and $18 per person for non-Bellevue residents; preregistration is required.
Cascade PaddleSports at Entatai is open weekends only May – late June & Sept; daily from late June thru August). Hours 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. May thru August; 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. after Labor Day. Canoe rentals cost $19.50 for the first hour and $9.75 for each additional hour. Call 425-452-6885 or visit ci.bellevue.wa.us/mercer_slough.htm or canoe-kayak.com to learn more. 3519 108th Avenue SE, Bellevue, WA 98004
*Closed for now, keep in mind for the future:
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. While you‘Re there, 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. 1010 Valley St, Seattle, 98109
Tours and Cruises
In addition to human-powered boat rentals mentioned above, here is a selection of tours for when your paddling arms tire. Most cruises are open-air, so be sure to bring your favorite form of sun protection and a jacket in case it’s windy.
Line up early for summer fun aboard the Ice Cream Cruise — admission is first-come, first-served and reduced capacity during the pandemic means you’ll want to arrive at least 30 minutes before each sailing. Cruises last approximately 45 minutes, so leave an adult in line and let the kids climb the steps of the MOHAI museum and check out the vintage boats if you have to wait for the next tour.
Once on board, pre-purchase tickets for ice cream, chips and soda (indulgent snacks only — eat a more substantial meal before or after your cruise), which you can redeem after the boat is underway. The captain shares fun facts and history of some Lake Union landmarks as you cruise under the Ship Canal bridge and then return next to Gasworks Park and the Sleepless in Seattle houseboat. We loved sharing a root beer float and ice cream bars while watching all the other boats go by on a sunny Sunday.
Meet at the balloons on the northwest side of the MOHAI museum in Lake Union Park. Tours run year-round on Sundays from 11 a.m.- 4 p.m. In the summer, the company adds a 5 p.m. sailing and Saturday tours from 11 a.m. – 2 p.m. This is one of the more budget-friendly lake tours. Adults ($15), Children 3-12 ($10), 2 and under ($4). Budget $2-5 for ice cream and snack tickets.
Ahoy, matey! Break out the cheesy pirate jokes and reserve a spot aboard a Family Treasure Cruise. The adventurous crew of the Queen Anne’s Revenge (that’s you!) searches the seven seas (okay, Lake Union) for a first mate who has escaped with the ship’s treasure. Along the way, you’ll play games and learn to talk like a pirate. The highlight for most kids is firing the water cannons at the mutinous first mate as they speed alongside the boat part way through the tour.
Loaner pirate clothes are distributed to each kid (a fun hat, vest and name tag with custom pirate moniker), but you can enhance the experience by pre-ordering gear to keep the make-believe alive at home.
Between boarding activities, cruising time and disembarking, expect to spend roughly 90 minutes on the excursion.
Meet in Lake Union Park on the northwest side of the MOHAI museum. Tours resumed Memorial Day weekend in 2021 and take place at varying times on Saturdays (generally 11:30 a.m., 1 p.m. and 2:30 p.m., with occasional Sunday sailings). Adults (ages 14+, $39), Seniors (age 65+, $25), Kids (18 months – 14 years, $35) and Babies (18 months and under, $10).
Splurge on taking the recently vaccinated grandparents on a leisurely lake cruise aboard an electric boat. Standard boats fit up to 10 passengers, while a Luxury boat accommodates 12 people and the smaller Donut boat fits 6.
Boats are shaded and feature tables and bluetooth speakers, so you can bring a picnic and your favorite summer playlist. Do your kids want to watch that flock of goslings for 20 minutes? Go for it! The biggest advantage to these boats is that you can drive yourself (primary driver must be 25 years old, but no special license is required), so you don’t need to worry about covering a specific route.
2046 Westlake Ave N, Seattle, WA 98109. Make a reservation for a 2-hour minimum slot between 11 a.m. – 8 p.m. (9 p.m. Thurs-Sun). Duffy boats are $250, Luxury boats are $350 and Donut boats are $170 for 2 hours.
Argosy offers multiple options for families who want to get out on the water. Choose from a fast ferry to Blake Island for a fun day trip, a one-hour Harbor Cruise, or a two-hour cruise through the Ballard Locks (a local favorite destination).
These boats have the most on-board amenities of the featured tours, including adult beverages and locally sourced snacks (but no outside food is permitted). ADA accommodations are also available and the crew is trained to assist with wheelchairs, scooters and strollers, making this a great option for passengers with disabilities.
Harbor Cruises and Blake Island Ferries depart from Pier 55. The Locks Cruise departs either from Pier 55 or from the AGC Marina in South Lake Union. Sailing times and dates vary widely by cruise. Most availability is on weekends, with more options starting June 14th. Children 3 and under are free on Argosy Cruises, with adult tickets ranging from $29-47 and children’s tickets ranging from $20-24. Show a Washington State ID for $2 off your cruise.
Don’t let the bridge closure keep you from visiting West Seattle. Extend a visit to the Seattle Aquarium or Pike Place Market with a water taxi ride across Elliott Bay for lunch on Marination Ma Kai patio or a bike ride to Alki Beach.
This passenger (and bike) ferry offers beautiful views of downtown (and even Mount Rainier on a clear day). The 15-minute crossing is short enough that even the wiggliest of kids will enjoy it, and there’s a small beach at Seacrest Park for some water play before a return trip.
On weekdays, the water taxi departs every 35 minutes from Pier 50 in Seattle and Seacrest Park in West Seattle. On weekends, the schedule reduces to hourly sailings. Fares are $5.75 for those over 5, with discounts available for seniors, disabled people and those using an Orca card.
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