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Neighborhood Spotlight: Ballard

This neighborhood with Scandinavian roots is a great destination for a day out with the family

Madison Miller

Published on: November 27, 2023

Ballard ship canal

The Vibe

Ballard was first established in the 1850s, and it grew quickly after it was announced that Seattle would be the western terminus for the Great Northern Railway. Known as the “shingle capital of the world,” Ballard was home to thriving timber and fishing industries, which drew throngs of new residents, including many Scandinavian immigrants.

Although Ballard has evolved over the years, it maintains its strong Scandinavian ties. It’s home to the Hiram M. Chittenden Locks (the Ballard Locks to locals), which sees as many as 500,000 vessels pass through the locks each year. Ballard also offers the most authentic Scandinavian cuisine around. (Lutefisk, anyone?)

"The troll at the National Nordic Museum"
Frankie Feetsplinters in front of the National Nordic Museum

Play on

The Ballard Locks should be the first spot on your list to visit with the kids, who will love monitoring the boats as they rise and fall, watching salmon in the fish ladder viewing area and strolling through the botanical garden. For the colder months, there are great indoor spots that shouldn’t be missed. For those kids who can’t seem to stop climbing the walls, take them to Edgeworks Climbing gym (day passes start at $22.) For competitive kids, Mox Boarding House is a must. (Games are free to check out at its gaming library.) And no matter what your family’s heritage, you and your kids will enjoy a visit to the National Nordic Museum, which participates in free first Thursdays and hosts several kids’ and family programs each month, too. In December, the museum hosts “The Snow Queen” reading with Seattle Children’s Theatre. When you go, be on the lookout for one of the Pacific Northwest trolls created by Danish artist Thomas Dambo. It stands watch at the museum entrance.

And during the holiday season, Swansons Nursery always impresses with its beautiful Christmas displays and model train. Also of note is a Ballard home that decks the halls (or lawn in this case) with a larger-than-life “Nutcracker” display.

"Christmas decorations and trees at Swansons Nursey is the Ballard neighborhood in Seattle"
Photo courtesy of Swansons Nursery

Eats + Treats

Take a break and satisfy your sweet tooth at Cupcake Royale. Offering more than 20 different cupcake flavors, everyone will discover a new favorite to enjoy. With its country western décor, Giddy Up Burgers and Greens is a great place to take kids for a casual dining experience. For dinner, Stoneburner is a great spot, offering seasonal menus and using farm-fresh ingredients to create its house-made pasta, pizza and other delectables. For those wanting to tap into Ballard’s roots, try Scandinavian Specialties. (Yes, it sells lutefisk, but we recommend trying the verdens beste kake from the cafe.)

More neighborhood spotlights

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Neighborhood Spotlight: Alki

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