One Seattle summer must-do with the kids: get out on the water. Unless you have your own boat, that means boat rentals, cruises, or tours. There are many fabulous options – from renting paddleboards, kayaks, canoes, pedal boats, or donut boats to taking a short ice-cream cruise in Lake Union (or a cruise through the Ballard Locks). With so much of our city surrounded by water, getting out on the water with the kids is easy – even if you don’t have experience in boats. So whether you’re a paddling pro, or would rather let someone else take the helm, here are 11 excellent ways to get out on the water:
Canoe, kayak, paddleboard (and more) boat rentals
For more suggestions about where to go paddling with kids see “9 Places to Go Kayaking and Paddleboarding with Kids In and Beyond Seattle“.
A Seattle boat rental favorite, the Aqua Verde Paddle Club offers all skill levels the chance to do some lake kayaking. (Stand-up paddleboards also are available). Keep it simple, and paddle around Portage Bay, the body of water that Awua Verde sits beside. You’ll go past houseboats and lily pads and the Seattle Yacht Club the water is usually exceptionally calm. 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.
If everyone in your group is feeling fairly steady on the water, you might 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 footbridges and through narrow passageways and spotting wildlife (look for bald eagles high up in the trees as you approach). [Note: 520 (Evergreen Point Bridge) construction is limiting access to the Foster Island area in 2023 so ask for recommended routes when you rent your kayak or paddleboard.]
Kayaks are rented on a first-come, first-serve basis. Ages 17 and younger must ride at the front of 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.
Finally, don’t miss out on a meal at the much-loved Aqua Verde Cafe. Open for breakfast, lunch, and dinner daily, starting at 10 am. The Baja-Mexican style food and ample outdoor seating (covered) work well for all ages. 1303 NE Boat St, Seattle.
The pedal boats at Green Lake are a fun alternative for family boat rentals. This small lake that sits north of Wallingford is especially suitable for small children since you typically won’t have to navigate the choppy waters you can get on Puget Sound or Lake Washington due to boat traffic and wind. The boat rental boathouse has two types of pedal boats: a two-seater and a four-seater. Life jackets are included. They also have rowboats, kayaks, stand-up paddleboards, and water bikes. See the watercraft available and rates HERE.
Snacks (and dogs, if you have one) are allowed on the boats. Rentals are first-come, first-served, so come early on a nice day. Paddlers must be 18 years of age or older to rent a kayak or paddle board but they don’t require and adult in the boat with a child except children 17 and under must paddle in the front of a double kayak with an adult in the back. 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
Row, row, row your … peapod? The Center for Wooden Boats, located near MOHAI at the south end of Lake Union believes in giving everybody the chance to get out in a boat so they offer a program where you can go out in the rowboats and sailing boats for FREE.
You can row around in a wooden boat (called a peapod) on Lake Union for an hour. Available Wednesday-Sunday all year long, This is a great small boat experience for beginners. (We tried it, and here’s how it went!)
You have to pre-register and it fills up fast so expect to have to wait a couple of weeks at least before you find an open space. These boats can hold up to 4 adults and are perfect for rowers of all experiences. Use the online reservation system. The boats book quickly and you often need to register at least 2-3 weeks in advance. They open a new week of availability every Sunday night. If you do not see any available slots, they are currently full and they suggest you check back as cancellations may occur. In the meantime, you can rent one of their other rowboats, kayaks, canoes, sailboats, or paddle boards anytime during regular business hours.
The much-loved free public sail on Sundays is back after a brief hiatus. Once a month the Center for Wooden Boats offers visitors a memorable maritime experience sailing 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. Sprit boats, steamboats, schooners, ketches, yawls, and yachts will be taken out. The free public sail on Sundays is offered 10 am – 4 pm and fills up fast so get there early and expect to wait. The ride takes about an hour. They sail rain or shine, but high winds may cancel the trip. The sailing outing is on a first come first served program. Reservations are only taken the day of, in person, and they sell out early.
2023 Public Sail dates: May 28 | June 25 | July 30 | August 27 | September 23 (Spectator Boat Rides for our WOOD Regatta) | October 29th (Halloween Bash) | November 26 (Tentative date, weather permitting).
Don’t miss the pond boat sailing nearby! Lake Union Park features a two-foot deep, 100-foot wide model boat pond. This pond is one of only a handful in the country, and is open to the public year-round. All types of model boats are welcome in the pond, with the exception of gas-powered hydroplanes. Bring your own model boat or rent one of the hand-crafted model pond boats from the front desk of the Wagner Education Center whenever the Wooden Boat Center is open! Cost: $20 for 1-Hour model pond boats rental.
While you’re there, learn about the history of wooden boats at the museum and ride the South Lake Union Street Car downtown.
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). A popular paddling route from the Activities Center is due south into the Washington Park Arboretum via Marsh and Foster Islands. However, if 520 (Evergreen Point Bridge) construction is limiting your access to that area, UW staff recommend heading north toward the Union Bay Natural Area past Broken and Birch Islands and into the University Slough. This route gives you a unique view of the back of Husky Stadium, the Conibear Shellhouse, the Husky Ballpark, Track and Driving Range, not to mention all of the natural wonders in and around the water. 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. Cost is $10/hr on weekdays, $12/hr on weekends. Discounts for UW students, faculty and alumni. See our Parent Review: “What’s a mom and a squirrelly six-year-old to do? Rent a canoe!”
Mercer Slough Nature Park at Entai Parkin Bellevue is one of our most beautiful urban wetlands. REI rents canoes, paddle boards and kayaks at the Entai Boathouse. (REI also offers paddling and kayaking classes.) 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.
Rent a Motor Boat
Take a ride in a donut-shaped boat rented from Seattle Donut Boat to view the sights and sounds of Lake Union. You might get surprised by a seal popping up its head to check out your strange-looking vehicle but for sure you will see seaplanes taking off and landing nearby. This is a pricey but fabulous way to show your out-of-town guests the downtown skyline and houseboat lining the shores. A few tips: Reservations can be done online. The boat holds up to 6 people. Cost of ride: $135 for a 1-hour trip; $220 for a 2-hour trip. Open March 15- November 1, making for a wonderful summer or fall activity.
Read a parent’s review of taking the whole family out on Lake Union in a donut boat.
Splurge on taking out-of-town visitors on a leisurely lake outing on 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 (the 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.. Make a reservation for a 2-hour minimum slot between 11 a.m. – 8 p.m. (9 p.m. Thurs-Sun). Check the website for rates.
Tours and Cruises
A short “cruise”, instead of a boat rental, offers the chance for everyone to relax and enjoy the sights and sounds of busy Lake Union. Most cruises are open-air, so be sure to bring your favorite form of sun protection and a jacket in case it’s windy.
Ice Cream Cruises depart from a dock on the northwest side of the MOHAI Museum at Lake Union Park. In the Summer cruises go out on Saturdays and Sundays (and year-round on Sundays only). On Sundays from March through October boarding is on a first-come-first-aboard basis, with no reservations available. The Sunday summer schedule through September 3 is first sailing leaves at 11:00 am, the last sailing leaves at 5:00 pm.
The Saturday Ice Cream Cruise starts June 17, 2023 and runs through August 26. Saturday sailings at 11:00 am, 12:00, 1:00 pm. They reserve up to 20 spaces on Saturday cruises in the summer. Email your reservation request to email@example.com. They always leave some walk-up spaces on each sailing, so if reservations are closed, spaces will still be available but line up early because the cruises are popular.
Cruises last approximately 45 minutes. Adults ($18), Children 3-12 ($13), 2 and under ($5). Optional snacks to buy on-board – including ice cream bars – are a small additional cost.
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 partway 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. Book HERE. Adults (Ages 14 & up – $29), Seniors (age 65+, $25), Wee Pirates (Infant – 18 months – $12) and Scallywags (18 months – 14 years, $25).
Argosy offers two different cruises for families who want to get out on the water. Choose from a one-hour Harbor Cruise, or a two-hour cruise through the Ballard Locks.
These boats have adult beverages and locally sourced snacks (but no outside food is permitted).
Harbor Cruises depart from Pier 55 on on the Seattle Waterfront – 1101 Alaskan Way, Seattle. The Locks Cruise is a one-way trip that ends at a different location than it starts – Pier 54 on the Seattle Waterfront or AGC Marina on Lake Union. Buses are available in the summer to return you to your original departure location. Sailing times and dates vary by cruise. Children 3 and under are free on Argosy Cruises, with tickets ranging from $25-$54 for the Locks Tour and $20 – $39 for the Harbor Cruise.
Taking the zippy water taxi is a fun way to get to and from the Seattle Waterfront to the Alki area of 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 walk to Alki Beach.
Read a Seattle’s Child Parent Review of a trip on the Water Taxi
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 adults, ages 0 – 18 FREE. Discounts available for seniors, disabled people and those using an Orca card.
More from Seattle’s Child: