The Best Parks in Seattle

From ball fields to swimming pools, beaches to botanic gardens.

By Allison Williams and Lawrence Cheek May 19, 2023

Expect the song "Black Hole Sun" to get stuck in your head after a visit to Capitol Hill's Volunteer Park.

We love the outdoors, so it's a good thing Seattle is so rich with city parks. From our classically designed spaces to wild stretches of coastline, there are hundreds of public spaces; some were even created by the famed Olmsted Brothers firm that made New York's Central Park. Whatever the mood, there's a park in Seattle to match it.

Volunteer Park

Capitol Hill

Seattle landmarks abound, from Noguchi's Black Sun sculpture (best known as "Black Hole Sun") to the glassy conservatory growing plants in the park's north end. The brick water tower to the far south invites stair-steppers to climb to the top for a view. The Seattle Asian Art Museum got a major renovation in the late 2010s, bringing much-needed upgrades and exhibition spaces to a striking art deco building that held the original Seattle Art Museum. Volunteer may feel a little stuffier than the other big neighborhood park, Cal Anderson, but its plentiful lawns and foliage make everyone feel like they have a backyard. 

U.S. Courthouse Plaza

Denny Regrade

The City of Seattle has never managed to build the great central park that downtown deserves, but in the last two decades other agencies and even private developers have stepped in with inspired small-scale public squares. At first glance, the U.S. Courthouse plaza’s most prominent attraction is the formal grove of 70 birch trees planted within an organizing scheme of quartzite paving stones. Even better, though, is its beautiful and exquisitely detailed cascading fountain and pool. There’s serenity here, but it also reflects urban complexity.

Industrial, but make it cute: Lake Union's Gas Works Park.

Gas Works Park


Everyone's favorite industrial ruins give the north end of Lake Union a heavy dose of personality. This former gasification plant has rusted into a kind of steampunk backdrop. The sizable knoll in the middle of the space is ideal for picnicking or, in the case of a big snowstorm, snowboarding. Despite the front row seat to the lake's many watercraft, including the seaplanes that land in front of the skyline that spreads beyond the water, there is no boat launching from Gas Works, just like there's no climbing on the old plant. This is a look-but-don't-touch kind of space.

Kerry Park

lower Queen Anne

There’s no better place to drink in the full complement of Seattle’s natural and man-made attributes: the downtown skyline, the industrial cranes lining the Duwamish, and on a good day, even Mount Rainier. The quintessential photos of Seattle are all staged here, preferably at sunset, the Needle bisecting the sky, a red glow burnishing the west face of Columbia Center, the big mountain brooding in the background. This is where you bring New York visitors to induce the bitter heartburn of envy.

Washington Park Arboretum

Madison Park

Though located south of the Cut, the Arboretum is basically a part of the University of Washington, who jointly manages the space with the city of Seattle. More than 230 acres of (mostly) manicured pathways and botanic gardens are made for rambling, with the Seattle Japanese Garden the only space that requires admission. One end of  the park skates the side of Union Bay, near where the 520 bridge begins its trip across Lake Washington; Seattle's best wetland bird-watching happens here.

Discovery Park was a military site reborn as a place to play.

Discovery Park


If any park can be all things to all people, this is it. There’s forest and shoreline hiking, sweeping views of Puget Sound from a 250-foot bluff, a historic lighthouse, the city’s birding hot spot with more than 270 documented species, and ample enough habitats in its 534 acres to sustain authentic predator-prey relationships—owls and voles, for example, plus cougars. The city declined an opportunity to buy what would become its crown jewel of parks from the U.S. Army for $1 in 1938. The army held onto it until 1969, when Washington’s senator Henry Jackson introduced a bill allowing cities to acquire military land for parks at no cost. This time Seattle grabbed the free bait.

Magnuson Park

Sand POint

We love an old military base, and the city's second biggest park (after Discovery) also has fightin' roots. The onetime naval station is now dedicated to recreation, plus a chunk for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. Lots of playfields and lawns encourage play, and Lake Washington launch points are open for boating and swimming. There's no better place to exhaust little ones, fur or otherwise; Magnuson has both the city's largest playground and its largest off-leash dog park.

Green Lake's circumnavigation remains one of the most popular strolls in the city.

Green Lake Park


Not the only park to have its surrounding neighborhood named after it, but one of the best known. Green Lake is basically Seattle's own swimming hole, its shore filling with sunbathers, waders, and paddleboarders. The paved path that circumnavigates the lake welcomes so many joggers and walkers that only strict adherence to the marked lanes keeps it from becoming gridlock. Facilities that ring the park range from a theater to a golf course, and Woodland Park Zoo sits nearby.

Golden Gardens on a sunny day is the place to see and be seen.

Golden Gardens Park


Developed in the early twentieth century, back when a trip to the Ballard beach qualified as an out-of-town getaway, Golden Gardens earns its name when the sunset bathes the waterfront in golden hour light. Beach volleyball courts and a snack shop give it a taste of a SoCal beach hang, and fire pits are a hot commodity on summer nights. A small grove of trees by the sand boasts trees that are perfectly hammock-length apart. Though most popular on the water side of the street, the park extends up the hill with hiking trails and an off-leash dog park. 

Seward Park

Seward Park

This pork chop of a peninsula poking into Lake Washington harbors 120 acres of old-growth forest, the largest stand remaining in the city. That alone forms a powerful attraction, but there’s more: an Audubon-sponsored nature education center, playground, picnic areas, swim raft, protected boat anchorage, and almost six miles of hiking trails. The hilly interior trails weave among 250-year-old red cedar and Douglas fir, while the easy perimeter walk provides sweeping perspectives of the lake, the downtown Seattle skyline, and traffic beetling across the distant I-90 bridge. It’s a beautiful contradiction—a park that’s intimately connected to the modern city, and also a near-pristine recollection of what was here before.

Kubota Garden celebrates Japanese botanic styles.

Kubota Garden

Rainier Beach

This 20-acre Japanese garden, operated as a city park since 1987, forms a testament to perseverance and an inspiration to the self-taught everywhere. Fujitaro Kubota, who began building it in 1927 as a demonstration garden for his landscaping business, had a superb instinct for the harmony of plants, water, landforms, and bridges, and he worked tirelessly on it until his death in 1973. It hardly matters whether the plant compositions are “correct” in the classical Japanese idiom; the important thing are the feelings: grace, harmony, and serenity. And thanks to its profusion of color, Kubota Garden is that rare park that’s beautiful on a gray, drippy day.

Tiny Lady Liberty stands watch at Alki Beach Park.

Alki Beach Park


Seattle as a city was basically born here in West Seattle, the site where the first white settlers disembarked on a chilly November day and were greeted by the Duwamish. Had they made it mid-summer, maybe they would have sunbathed for awhile on the long beach. Alki may have lost the amusement park once built on its pilings—blame a big fire—but it retains plenty of amusements, from volleyball courts to a replica Statue of Liberty. On a sunny day, expect to hear someone blasting tunes as Rollerbladers and bikers cruise the 2.5-mile length of the park, with restaurants across the street selling fish and chips or ice cream for a beach snack.

The Fauntleroy ferry pulls up next to Lincoln Park.

Lincoln Park


Wooded and calm compared to its beach neighbor to the north, Lincoln fits more than four miles of walking paths in its borders. Many paths lead to the beach, a more Northwest experience than Alki, meaning coarse sand and driftwood, not Rollerblades and fire pits, and with views of the Fauntleroy ferries coming and going. Coleman pool— outdoor, heated, and filled with saltwater—boasts an excellent waterslide. Even better for the younger set, a 2023 city project will build an extensive playground with accessible play structures in the park.

Cougar Mountain Regional Wildland Park


Okay, it's a bit of a cheat, sitting outside Seattle city limits. But King County’s largest park protects 4.8 square miles of Cougar Mountain’s slopes from development and offers more than 36 miles of hiking trails, some of which feel profoundly remote from the suburban bustle churning at the mountain’s base. Among the park’s most interesting treks is the 2.2-mile round-trip to Coal Creek Falls, a silvery horsetail some 20 feet high that plunges into a dark, miniature box canyon lush with moss, sword ferns, and red cedar. It’s best after a spate of rainy days, but even in dry weather it’s nearly impossible to believe this secluded grotto exists. 

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