In the mid-19th century, Ballard was settled by Scandinavian fisherman who took advantage of its access to the Salmon and Shilshole Bays on the Puget Sound. The Ballard Inn, a tiny 16-room hotel steeped in that history, sits in an old building in what was the small town’s downtown. Built in 1902, the building’s first tenant was the American Scandinavian Bank. In 1920, it was transformed into a hotel. The space functioned as a low-income, extended-stay haven, primarily harboring seasonal fisherman.
When new owners took over in 2010, they underwent a seven-month renovation to restore some turn-of-the-century touches. Modern design—bold furniture, light fixtures, and mirrors—updated the space, but the original trim was kept and the flooring is made of dark Douglas fir wood, giving the hotel a vintage vibe. But old-fashioned charm can mean old-fashioned amenities: The lowest-priced rooms share hall bathrooms. There’s no in-house gym, but guests are given access to the modern Olympic Athletic Club across the street.
The Ballard Inn represents a cozier Seattle experience than hotels downtown; a visit here means cobblestone streets and old brick buildings. The neighborhood offers notable restaurants (like Bastille, with its Parisian vibe and French subway tile), shops (Kavu sells tough, earthy wear), and umpteen artsy coffee spots (Enlighten Cafe and Art Gallery specializes in repurposed furniture). The Ballard Locks are as Northwesty as anything downtown, but they’re a lot more functional than the Space Needle.
Besides Ballard’s insular appeal, the inn’s location offers easy access to the bike-friendly Burke-Gilman Trail, which leads to flamboyant Fremont two miles away and the University of Washington campus beyond that. Seattle’s usual tourist meccas are a 20-minute bus ride from the hotel.
With no in-house dining, the Ballard Inn has little but its great decor to attract casual passerby. But locals who’ve been deterred by Ballard’s inaccessibility can make a quick overnight; room rates start at $79 and top out at $229. There’s no easier way to be the first in line at The Walrus and The Carpenter, the oyster bar with famously long wait times.
The Ballard Inn, 5300 Ballard Ave NW, Ballard, 206-789-5011; ballardinnseattle.com