Sunday, October 7, 2012

Ballard Offers Some of Seattle's Best

Ballard Locks
Like Portland, Seattle is a city defined by its neighborhoods. One of the oldest and most interesting for out-of-towners to visit is Ballard, in the northwestern part of town bordering Puget Sound and the Lake Washington Ship Canal. The area was settled in the 1860s by Scandinavian immigrants who came to work in the lumber and fishing industries, just as they had in their native lands. Local timber mills cranked out millions of roofing shingles earning Ballard the enticing nickname, Shingle Capital of the World. Scandinavian fishermen developed the Fishermen’s Terminal on the other side of the Ballard Bridge, and it is today home base for the North Pacific Fishing Fleet, one of the world’s largest, and a fun place to wander around.

Ballard Farmers Market
Ballard was a separate city at first, but was annexed by the much larger Seattle in 1907.  Long known as a blue-collar, working-class neighborhood where you could buy Norwegian culinary delights like lutefisk and lefsa, the area is becoming gentrified and transitioning into a hip, urban village. Historic commercial buildings now house boutiques, trendy shops, chic cafes, and live music clubs.

On Sundays, year around, Ballard hosts what many consider to be the best farmers’ market in Seattle. Tree-lined Ballard Avenue is closed to traffic and vendors selling seasonal produce, flowers, cheese, and pastries take over the street from 10:00 am to 3:00 pm. At the western end of Ballard Avenue is a small park and tower containing the original city hall bell. King Carl XVI Gustaf traveled all the way from Sweden to ring this bell in 1976, officially dedicating the Ballard Avenue Historic District.

Nordic Heritage Museum
The Nordic Heritage Museum, located in an old school in a residential neighborhood, celebrates Ballard’s Scandinavian roots. On the first floor, the Dream of America exhibit chronicles the story of immigration from Europe to the Pacific Northwest; the second floor galleries tell the story of logging and fishing, the two primary employers of immigrants; and the third floor has rooms featuring the costumes, crafts, and stories from each of the five ethnic groups: Norway, Sweden, Finland, Iceland, and Denmark.  It is interesting to note that in 1910, one third of Seattle’s immigrant population was from one of these five countries. There is also a gift shop featuring Scandinavian books and knick knacks.

However, Ballard’s biggest tourist attraction, drawing in over a million visitors a year, is the Hi

Chinook Salmon heading home.
ram M. Chittenden Locks complex located in the neighborhood’s west end. Known locally as the Ballard Locks, they were first opened in 1917, and are operated by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. The locks connect Puget Sound with Washington and Union Lakes and serve to keep the saltwater out of the freshwater lakes, and to raise and lower boats the 26-foot difference between the bodies of water. Nearly 100,000 ships a year pass through the locks, and on any given day you might see commercial fishing boats, pricey yachts, kayaks, and tugboats all waiting for a lift. Adjacent, and part of the locks, are a series of fish ladders built to help salmon on their upstream migration from the ocean back to the headwaters of the Sammamish River, a feeder to Lake Washington.  Underwater, glass panels allow for a close-up observation of the fish, and the best viewing season is from June to early October.  Also on the grounds of the locks, is a seven acre botanical garden featuring a large collection of rare and unusual shrubs and plants.

Puget Sound and Olympic Mtns. from Ray's Boathouse
If watching the salmon navigate the fish ladders has whetted your appetite for some seafood, you’re in luck. Right outside the entrance to the locks is the Lockspot CafĂ©, known for their “world famous” fish and chips. For something a little more upscale, Ray’s Boathouse is only a short drive west along Seaview Avenue. This Seattle institution is well-known for its fresh, Pacific Northwest seafood as well as its panoramic view of Puget Sound fringed by the snow-capped Olympic Mountains.


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