The Best Parks, Gardens, and Other Places for Socially Distanced Walks in Seattle: Winter/Spring 2021 Edition

Plus Where to Get Food Nearby
February 19, 2021
Would you look at this display of social distancing on Alki Beach? The West Seattle park boasts plenty of walking space, plus great views of the Puget Sound and the Olympic Mountains. (Jessica Stein)

If you weren't someone who set out on daily walks for pleasure in The Before, COVID has almost certainly changed that. Especially in the beginning stages of the lockdown, the simplest of constitutionals provided a respite from the cramped new routine we were all thrust into and continue to navigate, even if it was just a stroll around the block. Now that you're deeply acquainted with every sidewalk crack and street light in your immediate vicinity, why not explore other local areas that lend themselves to socially distanced pedestrians? We've rounded up some of our favorite parks and gardens below, from the Olympic Sculpture Park to Kubota Garden, along with suggestions for nearby restaurants and cafes.

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* = Reservations required


Alki Beach
The Island of West Seattle may be a little harder to get to while the bridge remains closed, but don't let that stop you from heading south on Highway 99 for a beach day on Alki (which—party facts—was not only the landing site of Seattle settlers, who met Chief Seattle on the shore on a stormy day in 1851, but was also the first public salt-water bathing beach on the West Coast). Walkers, joggers, cyclists, roller-skaters, and volleyball players alike take advantage of the park's stellar views of the Puget Sound and the Olympic Mountains throughout the year, but it's particularly popular in the warmer months, so be sure to mask up and plan for crowds. If you're enchanted by the area and don't want to go home, you could book a stay at the Easy Street Beach Cottage, a bungalow curated for music lovers by Easy Street Records. Or, you could grab a bite from Marination Ma Kai or Salty's and call it a day.
West Seattle

Discovery Park
The landscape of Seattle's largest park (534 acres, baby!) is as varied as they come, moving from picnic-friendly lawns surrounding Fort Lawton (a former United States Army post) to the dry-brush and wildflower paths of the Capehart Forest to a lush wooded loop trail that gives way to the West Point Lighthouse and its rocky shore. Whether you hike the full way or you choose one area to wander around in, the park's unique scenery is a refreshing change from your average greenspace. If you're in the mood for fish after taking in the sea air, pop over to Chinook's at Salmon Bay for some chowder or fish and chips.

*Dunn Gardens
Designed by the Olmsted Brothers in the early 1900s (they also designed Volunteer Park and NYC's Central Park!), Dunn Gardens' dense groupings of trees, shrub-bordered lawns, and woodland paths check all the boxes for a pleasant jaunt. They're open Monday-Saturday for hour-long private visits, which are free for members and $10 for non-members, who must call or email ahead of time. After your visit, hop over to Greenwood Ave for takeout or limited indoor seating at Italian/New American joint Saltoro.

Fremont Canal Park
Passing under the Fremont Bridge and flanked by a section of the Burke-Gilman trail and the Google campus, the jade-hued manmade waterway that is the Fremont Cut (or the part of it we're referring to here) allows for the lazy passage of ducks and boats. It's easy to get to (you can even take a shortcut down the Fremont Bridge's spiral staircase), and there's plenty of space for both cyclists and pedestrians to stroll along its edge on either side, not to mention lots of alcoves and benches where you can stop for a spell to take in the scenery. If you're hungry, you're in the right place: PCC, Lucky's Pho, Cafe Turko, and Midnight Cooke Co. are right nearby. 

Gas Works Park
The first thing you notice when you enter Wallingford's Gas Works Park is a family of giant, Tim Burton-worthy rusty structures on the top of a hill. That's because the property used to be home to Seattle Gas Light Company's gasification plant. Now, it's a nice place to fly kites and gaze at a killer view of the Space Needle and the Puget Sound. It's also equipped with a play area, a play barn, and a sundial. Afterward, head to the taco kitchen and margarita bar Pablo Y Pablo for takeout or heated patio seating. 

Golden Gardens
Seattle's sunnier days are a blast at this massive park, which offers a full gamut of outdoor activities with wetlands, sandy beaches, hiking trails, and playground areas. Definitely bring a picnic blanket and snack provisions, which you can grab from the onsite concession stand Miri's (we recommend the poffertjes, aka mini Dutch pancakes) or from Larsen's Bakery (the custard-y, pull-apart smorkage is a real treat).

Kubota Garden
Founded in the 1920s by Fujitaro Kubota and declared a public park in the late '80s after his family's decade-long pursuit (which, for the record, followed several other instances of the Kubota family being barred from purchasing land in their own name following WWII-era Japanese American incarnation in Washington), this 20-acre garden honors both traditional Japanese landscaping and Pacific Northwest-native flora and fauna, boasting tranquil ponds and towering conifers galore. It also has a resident pheasant, Thurston Howell III, who struts around in his rainbow plumage like he owns the place. When you're ready to go, make a detour to Columbia City's Hawaiian-inspired Super Six, which is 10 minutes away by car. Plus, don't forget to pick up a copy of Spirited Stone: Lessons from Kubota's Garden to learn more about the history of the property.
Rainier Beach

Olympic Sculpture Park
While its PACCAR Pavilion remains closed, the rest of this nine-acre Seattle Art Museum-affiliated waterfront park—Seattle's largest downtown greenspace—is still welcoming swift-moving visitors. Home to monumental permanent pieces (Alexander Calder's colorful and abstract "The Eagle," Jaume Plensa's Greek mythology-alluding "Echo") and temporary installations, the Sculpture Park is a good option for those who miss art museums but don't feel comfortable going inside institutions that are open or planning to reopen for IRL visits (like SAM and the Frye). Macrina Bakery, Biscuit Bitch, and Pike Place are a stone's throw away if you need to refuel. 

Volunteer Park
The previously mentioned Olmsted brothers did right by Capitol Hill with this sprawling north-end gem. Even though three of its main attractions remain closed (the conservatory, the observation deck, and the Asian Art Museum), there are still plenty of beautiful things to look at (duck ponds, rhododendron bushes, an arctic-looking reservoir) while you amble along its intersecting paths or picnic on one of its spacious lawns. On your way out, head up 15th Avenue until you reach the lookout at Boren Park, then head back in the direction you came in or keep going north for an Eastlake adventure via outdoor stairways. We wish we could recommend stopping by the Volunteer Park Cafe for a slice of coffee cake, but since it's closed, head back down 15th for a plethora of places to get your second wind, like Victrola, or swing over to Broadway and Roy for a bite and glass of wine from Rapport
Capitol Hill

Washington Park Arboretum
Whether you go during cherry blossom season or in the dead of winter, there's always an eyeful of plant life at the arbo, a joint project of the University of Washington, Seattle Parks and Recreation, and the Arboretum Foundation. (If you go in winter, you can see Northern Chinese Red Birch, Camellia "Jupiter" flowers, and cheery yellow "Arthur Menzies.") While it's not far from the main drag of Madison Avenue or the city-burbs of Denny-Blaine, straying from the perimeter paths and into the forested area of the park blocks out any sign of the city, making it ideal for the cooped-up and car-less. Plus, the fact that it is close to the city makes finding post-hike nourishment easy. Head to vegetarian gem Cafe Flora for takeout or heated patio seating, or veer in the Montlake direction for trattoria fare for pickup from Cafe Lago.
Madison Park


Kruckeberg Botanic Garden
The legacy of horticultural couple Arthur and Mareen Kruckeberg (he was a professor of botany at UW, she was an avid gardener who founded the garden's onsite nursery) lives on at this Shoreline woodland garden, which features both PNW-native plants and exotic varieties of flora from around the world. While their hours are limited (Friday-Sunday from 10 am-5 pm from November to February and 10 am-3 pm from March to October), admission is free. If you prefer a naturalistic vibe over a manicured one, this is a worthy venture just beyond city limits. To make the visit extra lovely, stop by the Black Coffee Northwest Café, a Black-owned, youth-driven nonprofit and coffee shop, for takeout. Or, if Kruckerburg's nursery doesn't have what you're looking for, head to Sky Nursery for a variety of early spring blooms, like lavender-hued Pericallis. 


Pacific Bonsai Museum
The mystical nature of over 150 sometimes-ancient mini trees from Canada, China, Japan, Korea, and beyond awaits you at this outdoor museum in the south end. In addition to its permanent collection, its special exhibition, World War Bonsai: Remembrance & Resilience, traces the Japanese cultural practice of bonsai from pre-WWII to the present. To make a day of it, swing by the nearby Rhododendron Species Botanical Garden to see winter blooms like Chinese Witch Hazel and Korean Azalea. If you're hungry, make a stop at the Federal Way outpost of Lumpia World for crispy Indo-Filipino spring roles to go. 
Federal Way


Bellevue Botanical Garden
Our neighbor to the east sometimes gets flack for its mall vibes, but don't let that stop you from visiting its gorgeous botanical garden (or its art museum, for that matter), which is just east of downtown in Wilburton Hill Park. In addition to its Fuschia Garden cultivated by the Eastside Fuchsia Society, its Native Discovery Garden teeming with PNW plants, and its Pacific Rim-inspired Yao Garden, the complex (which is free and open daily until dusk) has two short loop trails that lead you through meadows and wetlands. For a quick bite before you go, stop by the onsite Copper Kettle Coffee for takeout, and pop into its Trillium Gift Shop for a souvenir. 


Bainbridge Gardens
Accessible from Seattle by ferry (or by car, if you want to take the long way around, which makes for a two-hour-ish road trip), this six-acre, family-owned garden and nursery is stocked with large trees, native plants, unusual varieties of shrubs, and bonsai, plus houseplants and garden art for sale if you're inspired by what you see. Their spring seedlings have only just arrived, but for now you can soothe your grey winter soul by seeking out their pansies, hellebores, and winter daphne. Don't want to come back right away? Brucacio, Hitchcock Deli & Charcuterie, and Ba Sa are a must for hungry day-trippers.
Bainbridge Island

*Bloedel Reserve
Looking to graduate from public parks to a full-blown nature reserve? Virginia and Prentice Bloedel's 150-acre forest, influenced by "the conservation movement and Asian philosophy," has a mission to "provide refreshment and tranquility in the presence of natural beauty," featuring over 23 different landscapes along a two-mile paved loop. Note that, since it's not a public park, the reserve doesn't allow pets (other than assistant dogs), beverages (other than water), or picnicking on the grounds. Tickets are timed and must be reserved in advance
Bainbridge Island