Once upon a time, Ballard (settled in 1853) was its own city—a blue-collar, maritime-centric enclave bustling with fishers, millworkers, and boatbuilders, many of Scandinavian descent. While the historic neighborhood maintains its working waterfront, a lineup of trendy bars, shops, and restaurants, plus a pedestrian-friendly layout, have helped it transform into one of the city’s hippest hot spots for visitors and locals alike.
There are tastes to please every palate, and the year-round Ballard Farmers Market emphasizes the region’s culinary bounty. Eateries here combine warm atmospheres with masterfully crafted dishes. Travel—figuratively—to France at elegant Bastille, Puerto Rico at rum-happy La Isla, and Mexico at uberpopular eatery La Carta De Oaxaca. If you’ve got time, and a reservation, make sure to do the chef’s tasting menu at exposed-brick restaurant Staple & Fancy. Small plates are inventive, seasonal, and oh so tasty.
An eclectic retail scene flourishes along Ballard Avenue and Market Street, reflecting the city’s diverse personalities. Those with zanier sensibilities love Monster Art and Clothing, while the outdoorsy set prefer to scour Second Ascent and Kavu for gear. Other favorites range from natural apothecary outfit Dandelion Botanical Company to hip music hangout Sonic Boom Records.
At the Ballard Locks, visitors ogle the colorful array of boats that pass through and, July through September, the countless salmon navigating the fish ladder. Farther west, Golden Gardens Park overlooks the majestic Olympic Mountains, providing a year-round oasis for picnics and bonfires on a rocky beach. Visitors can also rent stand-up paddleboards from Surf Ballard to get out on the water. Inland, the Nordic Heritage Museum digs into this district’s Scandinavian roots, while Sunset Tavern and Tractor Tavern consistently book dazzling musicians.