Skidding Down, Flying High: Seattle as a Yachting Destination

Jul 26, 2023 by Erik Petersen

Seattle can be hard to define but easy to fall in love with.

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For vessels approaching from the north, Seattle knows how to make an entrance.

The inland journey from the San Juan Islands, Vancouver and points north is a beautiful one, and a tasty one too if travelers have fishing poles and a taste for salmon. As more sparsely populated islands and mainland give way to Everett, Edmonds and Seattle’s northern suburbs, cliffs and waterfront hillside keep much of the landside sprawl from view. Even as a vessel moves almost parallel to the downtown skyline, Magnolia Bluff sits in the way and can block most of it from the eyeline. It’s only the turn to port into Elliott Bay that brings one of the great cities of the Pacific into full view. The nearest landmark, out in front of the skyline from this vantage point, is the Space Needle. Almost as if the welcoming committee had sent it.

No city lacks contradictions, but Seattle does them better than most. It’s the port city where they designed and built the machines that moved so many journeys from the water to the sky. It’s the wealthy, gentrified tech hub that gave the world the term “Skid Row.” Heck, it’s a city that sometimes seems to be made less of hills than of 90-degree angles, and it’s a city that Bicycling Magazine has named best in the United States for biking.

Of course, some things make perfect sense. A place known for, let’s say, a healthy relationship with precipitation is also going to have some good greenery. Western Washington is known for its flowers; the Skagit Valley Tulip Festival, which happens every April about 70 miles north of Seattle, is one of the world’s largest tulip festivals. In the city, an excellent place for fresh flowers is Flowers Just 4 U. A popular longtime business in Seattle’s Central District, the florist offers an excellent selection of tulips – and any other flowers a flora-lacking yacht might require.

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Olympic National Park, Point of Arches at Shi Shi Beach

One of Seattle’s most famous landmarks is also an excellent stop for provisions. Pike’s Place Market opened in 1907 as a place where area farmers could sell their produce directly to the people. It grew and, after a period spent dodging the developers’ wrecking ball in the 1960s, became a historic landmark. Today it’s perhaps best known for its seafood-throwing fishmongers. The market’s well-stocked purveyors of fresh fish are known for taking an order, calling it out in unison and then passing it to the front via a fairly vigorous underhanded rugby-style pitch towards a sure-handed colleague in the front. If there haven’t been many fish ordered, the fishmongers will just start throwing them around for the gathered tourists. London might have the Changing of the Guard, but Seattle has the Throwing of the Fish.

Beneath all this eccentric pageantry, however, is a remarkably good selection of salmon and other fresh catches. Nearby you’ll find fresh vegetables and fruit (try the local cherries) and more galley re-stockers than you might typically expect from a major tourist landmark.

 

Seattle’s other great landmark, the Space Needle, doesn’t offer those same useful provisioning options. But it does offer plenty of interesting tourism opportunities if time is short and days off limited. 

The space-age landmark was built for the 1962 World’s Fair, and it’s surrounded by a 74-acre campus of buildings and parkland that originally served as the fairground and today is the Seattle Center. The city’s opera, ballet and repertory theater companies are housed here, as are its NHL and WNBA teams. KEXP, the city’s legendary independent music station, broadcasts from here; it’s headquarters also includes a cafe and live-music space. Museums and galleries include the Museum of Popular Culture (or MoPOP), the Pacific Science Center and Chihuly Garden and Glass, which sits almost directly underneath the Space Needle and is dedicated to the work of glass artist and Seattle-area native Dale Chihuly. 

Skagit Tulip Festival, Washington

Museum fans should also check out the Museum of History and Industry. Housed in a former Naval Reserve armory building on the south bank of Lake Union, just north of downtown, the museum does a remarkably thorough job of telling a city’s story. That includes the pre-settler story of the varied indigenous people who lived in the area for 10,000 years. There’s the history of the rough 19th-century logging town. (“Skid Row” comes from a steep road around the city’s historically rough-and-ready Pioneer Square. Logs were rolled – or skidded – towards a mill at the bottom. The high bits of the hill, where one could walk without fear of an oncoming log rush hour, became more desirable property. You only lived down by Skid Row if you had to.) It also tells the story of what happened after people like the city’s big Bills, Boeing and Gates, had their big ideas. And it tells the ground-level stories of the union organizers and teachers, civil rights activists, artists and assorted port city weirdos who created the modern city. 

That modern city doesn’t struggle to offer the finer things. Since the 1950s, Canlis has offered Pacific Northwest cuisine and one of the West Coast’s best winelists from a Mid-Century Modern home with brilliant city views from atop Queen Anne Hill. If that’s a captain’s kind of meal, deckhands might appreciate the more affordable charms of Emmett Watson’s Oyster Bar. Don’t let the name fool you – clams and fried fish also make up much of the menu here, along with an impressive selection of beers. Named for the longtime local newspaper columnist who was a co-owner when it opened in 1979, it’s tucked away down one of the less obvious corners of Pike Place Market. Souvenir and artwork hunters might also want to track down the part of the market that’s home to Eighth Generation, the shop that is the physical home to an art and lifestyle brand owned by the local Snoqualmie Tribe and featuring a range of art, clothing and other items made by American Indians from across the country. The store’s motto, “Inspired Natives, Not Native-Inspired,” nods to the appropriation of American Indian art and culture.

Seattle today is a city of refinement and advances – and a place where you can still find a cheap can of Rainier beer within smelling distance of the port. It doesn’t all make sense. The best cities rarely do.

 

Docking Options

Seattle offers several options for yachts. In or near downtown, Elliott Bay Marina can accommodate vessels up to 300 feet, while Bell Harbor Marina accommodates up to 150. Terminal 91 includes the Smith Cove Cruise Terminal; in the summer months, it can also be used to accommodate the largest private vessels. North of downtown and immediately north of Queen Anne Hill, the freshwater Fisherman’s Terminal can accommodate 300 feet and is a popular repair and retrofit location.

More information on yachting in Seattle and beyond is available through Superyacht Northwest, synw.com.

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