Seattle’s Best Urban Parks

To be sure, the beaches are great, but you won’t want to miss these special verdant spaces when visiting the Emerald City (just don’t call it that).

Flowers blooming in Parsons Garden in Seattle, Washington
Parsons Garden

They don’t call it the Emerald City for nothing. Actually, no one calls Seattle the Emerald City. That’s a sure way to be branded as a tourist. But the name is based in truth. Seattle has more than 6,000 acres of green spaces, and parks make up nearly 12 percent of the city’s land area.

The beach parks get a lot of hype and draw heated discussions – I’m still not sure where I am on the Alki Beach vs. Golden Gardens debate – but there’s so much more to explore. You can’t come to Seattle and not spend an afternoon at a park. Overwhelmed by all the choices? Here’s your starter list.

Exploring Volunteer Park in Seattle Washington.
Volunteer Park
For the View

Kerry Park might be tiny, but it has attracted filmmakers, photographers and tourists for years, because it has the best view of Seattle. You get the skyline and Elliott Bay, and sometimes the “mountain’s out.” Of course Mt. Rainer never goes anywhere, but it’s usually obscured by all the clouds, rain and fog, and it’s easy to forget it’s there. When the sun is out, however, the mountain appears behind the skyline, creating an otherworldly cityscape.

For the Botanicals

Volunteer Park is a hipster favorite in the Capitol Hill neighborhood. It’s the epitome of a Sunday afternoon spot. There are meadows for picnics, one of the city’s “Big Three” wading pools to cool off in, and a gorgeous conservatory with Instagrammable ferns and cacti.

For the Art

Olympic Sculpture Park is unique. It’s actually not a park, but rather an outdoor public museum. Operated by the Seattle Art Museum (SAM), the nine-acre exhibition is free and open 365 days a year. The massive sculpture collection features some permanent and some visiting works. The park also sits on primo downtown waterfront. The pebble beach is small compared to the public beach parks, but it’s the perfect place to escape the city for a couple of hours. You might even spot a seal.

The botanical garden in Volunteer Park.
Volunteer Park
For Reading

Just a short walk from Kerry Park, Parsons Garden is another little gem in Seattle’s Queen Anne neighborhood. It feels like a public space in London’s Notting Hill, with benches, gravel paths and a canopy of trees. It’s an ideal location to read or study outside.

For Serenity

When people come to Seattle’s International District, they mostly eat a lot, shop a little and then leave. But the Japantown pocket of the neighborhood has a hidden park on the hill, and it’s quite lovely. Covered in Mt. Fuji cherry trees, Kobe Terrace Park is a block or two off the main drag of Chinatown, but it’s worth the walk. And the stairs. Don’t miss the 200-year-old Yukimidoro stone lantern. It was a gift from one of Seattle’s sister cities – Kobe, Japan.

For Instagram

Teens of the ‘90s and early 2000s will instantly recognize Gas Works Park as the setting for the paintball scene in 10 Things I Hate About You. Unfortunately, there’s no paintball now. But the steampunk structures are still there. In addition to cool, creepy Instagram-ready vignettes of the old factory, Gas Works has incredible views of Lake Union and the Seattle skyline.

Walking through Parsons Garden in Seattle, Washington
Parsons Garden