As everyone is fond of pointing out these days, Ballard has changed over the past few years. The Scandinavian neighborhood that once epitomized bland respectability has attracted upscale boutiques of every kind to the old-fashioned brick storefronts along Ballard Avenue, and even main drag Market Street has begun to see its share of coffeehouses and tattoo parlors.
It's also becoming an increasingly good place to visit with kids, featuring stores, restaurants and coffeehouses that either cater to or welcome children. And despite the influx of newcomers, the neighborhood remains small-town friendly.
Ballard activities for kids
Downtown, stop at the award-winning Ballard branch library for a peep through an in-wall periscope that looks onto the library's green roof. Catch a movie at the small but elegant Majestic Bay Theatre, which serves real butter on its popcorn and feels much more intimate than the multiplexes. Kids ages 6-16 can scale the wall at climbing gym Stone Gardens, which hosts a kids' climb program on Mondays, Fridays and Saturdays.
Visitors are welcome to take a free introductory play, music or art class at the Ballard Gymboree; simply call ahead or go online to make an appointment. Tourists abound at the Hiram M. Chittenden Locks, otherwise known as the Ballard Locks, but so do migrating salmon and boats of all sizes. Picnic on the lawn, walk through the botanical gardens and stop in at the Visitor Center for Locks 101.
Free weekend concerts take place at 2 p.m. June through September. Up the street from the locks, the Nordic Heritage Museum celebrates the contributions made by Nordic immigrants to the area. Pocket playground Webster Park lies across the parking lot from the museum. Popular beach Golden Gardens is relatively small and often ultra-crowded during the summer, but it boasts urban energy and a good view of the Olympics.
If you prefer to bypass the jammed parking lot, leave the car in the area around Northwest 85th Street and 32nd Avenue Northwest. Look for steep stairs just south of the brown directional sign at the "T" where 85th ends at 32nd, and take several sets of stairs and trails down to the beach. It's not a walk for small children, but it's a fun way to visit Golden Gardens with older kids.
On Sundays, a vibrant farmers market attracts scores of people to Ballard Avenue. Well-made wooden toys and imported art supplies make Clover a popular stop. The Secret Garden Books caters to kids with a good book selection and a children's area near the back for reading. Me 'n' Moms sells toys, clothes and furniture on consignment in a large loft space with play tables scattered about. Cookie-cutters (about 1,000 of them) reign supreme at tiny Cookies, where you can buy sprinkles, frosting and shortbread cookies for a day of decorating. Take a stroll down Ballard Avenue, where you'll find high-end boutiques, salons, shoe stores and much more.
Kid-friendly restaurants in Ballard
Kids are everywhere at the Hi-Life, located in a newly renovated 1911 firehouse. Children get their own menu, crayons and covered cup, and families with babies can request something like a luggage rack to hold the car seat. Another plus: meals off the regular menu can be ordered family style.
Thaiku Noodle House doesn't overtly cater to families, but its atmosphere is casual and menu items such as barbecued chicken with sticky rice are mild enough for childish palates. If it's snack time, try the pastel-frosted cupcakes at Cupcake Royale, repair to the playroom at Firehouse Coffee for a kid-sized Italian soda or toasted PB&J, or sit outdoors under the trees and enjoy one of Cafe Besalu's tender ginger biscuits.
Kris Collingridge is ParentMap's Out & About Editor and a Ballard resident.