There isn’t anywhere in the world quite like Ballard. Tucked to the west of North Seattle bounded by Shilshole Bay/Puget Sound to the west and the Lake Washington Ship Canal/Salmon Bay to the south, Ballard is a curious cultural mix with a deep connection to the sea. Known during the late 19th and early 20th centuries as “Snoose Junction” in honor of the chewing tobacco that waves of Scandinavian immigrants enjoyed, the seafaring and logging community has gradually evolved with the rest of Seattle into a trendy bar-hop-n’-shop district complete with expensive apartment complexes.
However, maritime industry still reigns supreme along the waterways with shipyards, fabrication factories, and commercial fishing businesses. Hip sushi and cocktail bars coexist a stone’s throw away from shipyards in what is sometimes a tenuous truce, but often a perfect alliance. Old Ballard is still very much alive, a fact I attest to after spontaneously meeting and having a few too many rounds with a Norwegian commercial fisherman at The Market Arms tavern.
As long as the Gunnars of Ballard can still be found, the salty soul of the place is thankfully still intact. Many of the commercial crabbers from the hit TV show Deadliest Catch call Ballard home for a reason.
Visiting boaters have a few options when visiting Ballard. If arriving from Puget Sound and waters beyond, it makes sense to spare the ordeal of passing through the Hiram M. Chittenden Locks (aka Ballard Locks) and moor at the publicly owned Shilshole Bay Marina. This massive marina has over 1,400 slips for vessels up to 250 feet and hosts what is largely considered the West Coast’s largest liveaboard community.
With events, like movie screenings and community BBQs, plus a hub of boat service businesses, Shilshole Bay Marina is an obvious choice. If you want to moor deeper in the heart of the place, there are a few options beyond the locks along the Lake Washington Ship Canal. These marinas have a more mom-and-pop feel; and Stimson Marina offers covered slips. If passing through the Ballard Locks for the first time, I recommend Northwest Yachting’s feature Unlocking the Locks written by a professional captain that appeared in the March 2017 issue (read it here). Ballard has all the amenities of Seattle, like grocery stores and a hospital, that a cruiser passing through may need.