An evening sail or boat ride along the shores of Lake Washington and into Lake Union can make for a magical experience. As a licensed captain who transits these waters for a living, I would know!
The difficult part is wrangling the logistics of dock space, walking distance, and type of cuisine for a memorable evening. To help, I’ll take you on a tour by dividing Lake Union up into sections by the compass, starting in the south and rotating counter clockwise. I’ll cover additional locations of Lake Washington and then west towards the Ballard Locks later in this article.
South Lake Union has several docks and spaces to tie up for your temporary stay. Check your calendar as during the various boat shows, you will be hard pressed to find room in this area. Starting along the far southwestern shore, the Museum of History and Industry (MOHAI) docks are handled by The Center for Wooden Boats. There are two areas referred to as the North Wall and the West Wall. The West Wall is a four-foot-high, concrete wall about 300 feet long that is available on a first-come basis, unless the space is reserved for an event. This dock is high, therefore, depending on your freeboard or lake height, this step-up needs to be considered.
The North Wall (250-foot-long wooden section, three feet tall) requires you to call ahead. Call The Center for Wooden Boats (206-382-2628) during their normal business hours to make arrangements to drop line to cleat. Via the walking bridge towards the southwest, you’ll find the restaurants Art Marble 21, Buca di Beppo (Italian), and the Cask & Trotter. Art Marble 21 is a contemporary New American kind of place with a huge game room (think pool tables and arcade machines).
Cask & Trotter is known for its awesome barbeque, upscale bourbons, and intimate atmosphere. The MOHAI Café is centrally located on the south shore, in the northeast corner of the MOHAI building and across from the historic steamship Virginia V’s berth. Several other restaurants are further south in a high-tech complex and within walking distance.
Just east of The Center for Wooden Boats is Daniel’s Broiler—known for its steaks—with a little known, approximately 30-foot dock, hidden around the shore side (southeast), available on a first-come basis. This dock is hard to find, but the small slip is a secret gem.
Continuing eastward, a great docking area in Chandler’s Cove, which runs north/south, happens to be next door to Duke’s Seafood and Chowder and other restaurants. This whole area is going through a transition that has many of the restaurants and business moving in the near future, so it is a good idea to check websites before you go. Duke’s is an example of this exodus, and is moving two blocks away to Fairview Ave. North.
The north end of that dock is angled to the east and offers more open area to maneuver, but because it is a lower floating dock, there is exposure to traffic wake and north winds. The deeper you venture into the south portion of this dock, you’ll find more protection and a higher dock area for your fenders. Just be careful to make sure you can turn your boat around, for on a warm day many eyes will be watching your landing.
Along the mid-eastern shore, Pete’s Market at the base of East Lynn Street is perfect for takeout or restocking a smaller boat, paddleboard, dinghy, or even a willing swimmer. The access is shallow and limited as it is a small park with wooden steps and a picturesque bench setting where the street end meets the lake’s end. Please be respectful of the local houseboats and surrounding community to keep this location clean and accessible. Pete’s Market has cold beer and a large selection of great wines. They also have a deli, so you can opt for a spontaneous picnic aboard your vessel. The trick is the size of boat you have; stay offshore if over 20 feet in length. Send in your trusted mate to the small beach.
Near the northeastern end of Lake Union is a private dock, The Landing at Tyee. Although it’s private, it’s a great venue for a big event. We even slipped the Virginia V into that spot four years ago. The dock can handle four to six vessels, depending on size (dock height is about three feet high with good cleats). See their website for reservations and event planning: thelandingattyee.com.
At the north end of Lake Union, there are two restaurants with their own docks. Ivar’s Salmon House has a well-maintained floating dock running east and west (12 inches high and about 225 feet long). Smaller boats can dock at either side on the western end. Usually this dock has a fast turnover, as people are often picking up from the take-out bar that is on the street side. This high-traffic area can get some light chop from a southerly wind combined with passing boat traffic passing under the University Bridge. It’s a lively scene, so keep your lookout sharp while maneuvering.
Westward, a popular watering hole and restaurant, is a short distance to the west from Ivar’s along the northern shore. The restaurant sports a dock 125 feet long with a gate for restaurant boat patrons that the hostess will open for you. A fire pit and outdoor seating with south lake vistas are yours to enjoy while watching your vessel and perhaps sipping a beverage. Note the eastern side of this dock is private.
On the northwestern side of the lake, if you need fuel along with food and beverages, Morrison’s has been serving the boating community for decades with a long dock of various heights. Boaters of all stripes can replenish as needed and continue their tour.
Moving east under the University Bridge and into Portage Bay, there are two iconic yacht clubs, both private, where you can enjoy their facilities with reciprocal rights: the Seattle Yacht Club and Queen City Yacht Club. I would suggest calling ahead to arrange your docking location.
Lake Washington has several docking locations, and most are free to use for the short term. Starting along the western shore, south of the 520 bridge, Madison Park has a public dock at E Madison Street and supports room for several boats on either side of pier. Caution here, as there is boat wake that can affect your tie up and good fender positioning should be considered. The dock is a four-foot-high fixed pier with pilings. After securing, you’ll have several great options just a short walk up the street such as Bing’s (chic American-style), Cactus (southwestern), The Red Onion (cocktail bar), McGilvra’s Bar and Restaurant (Irish tavern drinks and food), Park Place at Madison Park (comfort food with great outdoor seating), and the Attic Ale House.
Further south, on the western shore and north of the I-90 bridge, you’ll find the Leschi Dock. This dock supports bigger boats and always seems to have room. The north, east, and south sides are three-foot-high fixed piers. Additionally, there is a smaller floating docking on the south side and closer to shore. All have worked well for me in the past, apart from spikes securing old tires to the dock on the northern side. Carefully note these few tires, because when compressed the spikes can leave unwanted scars on your boat. In addition to a great little market for supplies, there are a few restaurants, including the Blue Water Bistro, Meet the Moon (hip New American), Daniel’s Broiler Leschi, Ruby Asian Dining, and of course, Starbucks.
On the south end of Lake Washington, the city of Renton has two docking locations. The first is a high, fixed, wooden breakwater that is in front of the Hyatt Regency Hotel. It can accommodate several large yachts with new large dock cleats. With a north wind or boat chop, you’ll be abeam to the wave action. The hotel restaurant is called Walter’s Table, where you can have a great view of the lake and your boat. There is also Peyrassol Café, which serves locally sourced food for weekend brunch, lunch, and dinner.
The second docking location, Gene Coulon Beach Park, is in the southeast corner of Lake Washington where you’ll find Kidd Valley (hamburgers and shakes) and Ivar’s Seafood Bar just steps away from your boat. The slip area immediately on your port side hosts smaller boats and the eastern breakwater can accommodate longer vessels. This location also shares a busy boat launch located in the southern section of this basin. Pay attention to the shallow areas in these dock areas (as you always should).
Moving north of the 520 bridge, the first dock location is Carillon Point, just east of Yarrow Point. This marina’s entrance is from the south on the western side with no docking along the immediate port side as you enter. Inside, there is limited space and maximum length permitted is 30 feet along this finger pier breakwater. If your vessel is longer, you may tie up outside the breakwater’s northern edge.
Northern winds and boat wakes will have an effect, so use your lines and fenders wisely. Overnight moorage can be arranged with Carillon Point Marina, but not along the temporary moorage areas. Several options exist here for food and drinks, starting with the Beach Café at the dock head and Bin On the Lake directly above. Across the courtyard, Le Grand Bistro American, Carillon Kitchen, and on the corner a Starbucks (you are in the Seattle area, after all). The Kirkland Summer Series is held here on Friday evenings, so bring your sailboat or watch the race in the summer – I can attest to the fun times.
North of Carillon Point and south of Kirkland, the Beach House Bar & Grill has a 175-foot dock, and you can dine in or simply call ahead for their dockside take-out service (425-968-5587). Word from the restaurant is that it has five to six in-demand spots available, so calling ahead is wise. The dock runs east to west and is fixed on pilings and two-feet high.
Kirkland has several docks—public and private—that are within steps or a short walk to restaurants. Anthony’s HomePort is the original sponsor and home to the Kirkland Summer Sailing series—oh, the memories. Limited dock space along Anthony’s southernmost side of the dock, but this long dock is available to use while visiting.
Between the Lakes
This chart maps many of the eateries, drinkeries, and boat-friendly locations of the Lake Union area mentioned by Captain Hunt. Hover over each circle to reveal the locale’s name.
Further north, the City of Kirkland has a public marina available on a pay-to-use basis, including some with shore power connections (on the southernmost side). The main temporary marina area is entered from the northwest and will be busy anytime with warm weather. Use your skills to prepare your lines and fenders for both sides as slip spaces are angled. Other vessels will be coming and going, maybe changing your assessment of slips. Pay your moorage fees upon arrival and enjoy the carnival of boats and boaters.
East of the Ballard Bridge on the northern shore at 14th Ave NW there is a boat ramp with short docks on either side. This popular location provides easy walking to numerous culinary choices. Be sure to stay close by and leave room for other boaters to launch. Don’t leave your vessel unattended, but this is a good location to pick up crew fully laden with supplies, potentially from the nearby Maritime Pacific Brewing Company or Trader Joe’s, along with a host of other replenishing spots.
Continuing west immediately after the Ballard Bridge and before the Hiram Chittenden Locks, you will find a well-maintained dock available at Fisherman’s Terminal on the south side of the Ship Canal. This space is available for recreational boaters and located between Docks 8 and 9. Head your vessel between the wide fairway and south towards the head of the piers and side tie to breakwater.
The stay is free up to three hours while dining, options include Chinook’s at Salmon Bay and their Little Chinook’s along with Wild Salmon Seafood Market, the Bay Café, and Fishermen’s Green Market & Deli, with the Highliner Public House rounding off this super list of choices. You can’t beat this area as far as seafood is concerned.
Further west and on the north shore you’ll find a street end pier located at 24th Ave NW in Ballard. This long dock, steps away from the heart of Ballard, is temporarily closed but is being rebuilt in concrete form for 2022. The concrete pier will be used to load spoils from a tunnel project that will help with storm/sewer water retention. In the meantime, Ballard is a relatively short walk from the 14th Ave. boat ramp and several local marinas.
I could go on endlessly, but this is a good start for any aspiring, cuisine-minded crew. Together with family and friends, go forth onto our lakes and interconnecting waterways of the Seattle area! Your activity supports the waterfront too, ensuring a water-friendly city for generations to come. Boat appétit!
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