Prior to its incorporation into the City of Seattle in 1907, Ballard was a town in its own right. Located on Salmon and Shilshole Bays and heavily into the lumber business, it earned the title of “Shingle Capital of the World.” Back then, Ballard was the third largest town, population-wise, in the state of Washington. Commercial salmon fishing was also very active and enticed immigrants, especially Scandinavians, to settle and prosper in the fishing and boat building industries.
Heritage Nordic Museum
Today, it’s not uncommon to hear “Ya, sure, ya betcha,” uttered fondly by old timers in reference to Ballard’s Scandinavian ancestry. The Heritage Nordic museum showcases their migration and contributions to the Pacific Northwest logging and fishing industries, and pays tribute to the five Scandinavian cultures of Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway, and Sweden. Check out their Craft School for a hands-on Nordic workshop experience ranging from woodcarving, to knitting to cooking. They also teach Scandinavian language classes.
The Hiram M. Chittenden Locks
The Locks were built between 1912 and 1917 by the Corp of Engineers to enable commercial and military vessels to pass between the fresh waters of Salmon Bay, Lake Union and Lake Washington into the saltwater of Puget Sound. While the principle may be fairly simple, it’s fascinating to watch pleasure craft, tourist boats, container ships, barges, fishing boats and so maneuver into the locks, to watch the attendants secure them, to see the water in the lock lower or, and finally to see the boats make their orderly exit toward Puget Sound. It’s a very interesting and memorable experience from onboard a boat too.
While you are at the locks, take a look at the fish ladder which enables Salmon and Steelhead to migrate back into the freshwater bay and lakes from Puget Sound. Be sure to walk down to the viewing room and get a close-up look of these beautiful fish. Kids especially love this, but adults get a kick out of it too. Stop by the visitor’s center to pick up a guide.
Carl S. English, Jr. Botanical Garden
Located on the Hiram M. Chittenden Locks property, the Botanical Garden features more than 570 species and 1,500 varieties from around the world.
Drive a short distance from the locks and park the car in downtown Ballard. Stroll the streets, explore the many small and unique shops, and choose from a variety of restaurants serving Scandinavian, Thai, Latino, Italian and Pacific Northwest fare.
Other things to do in the area
- Take the Ballard Walking Tour – a self-guided tour of Ballard historic sites. Stop by the Ballard Neighborhood Service Center or the Ballard Library to pick up the guide.
- Visit the Shilshole Marina, walk the promenade, admire the variety of private sail and power boats. Stroll next door to the Golden Gardens Park and walk along the beach to watch the sunset behind the Olympic Mountains.
- Bicycle, skate, walk or run the Burke-Gilman Trail.
- Visit Fishermen’s Pier, where the big commercial fishing boats hangout, pay tribute to the Fishermen’s memorial, buy seafood, eat fish & chips or dine in style.
Events to consider during your visit:
- Ballard’s Saturday Artwalks take place the second Saturday of each month.
- The Ballard Sunday Farmers Market features produce, arts and crafts.
- The Annual Seafood Fest in July, sidewalk sales, entertainment, Lutefisk eating contest, watermelon eating contests, beer and wine gardens, etc.
- Ballard Jazz Walk in November and the Ballard Jazz Festival in April
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