HistoryEver been driving along and seen “Free Ballard!” bumper stickers plastered all over the car in front of you? Well, here’s why: Ballard was once its own city, home to many people of Scandinavian descent who worked as fishermen, mill workers, and boat builders. The neighborhood thrived as the commercial district (aka Ballard Avenue) grew, and by 1900 it was the 2nd largest city in King County, with 17,000 residents. In 1907, however, the city of Ballard was annexed by Seattle because it was having trouble supplying its people with water and other services. That decision is still hotly attested by some. Hence the bumper stickers.
VibeBecause of its wide variety of residents, Ballard has a very unique personality. You’ve got the let’s-go-out-for-happy-hour crowd, the early-morning-market crowd, the trendy-shop-and-salon crowd, and the late-night-debauchery crowd. You can see it all in one spot–Ballard Avenue. This street was once the commercial district, but now houses about a gazillion restaurants, shops, bars, and art spaces. On one block, for instance, you can find the Smoke Shop (a complete dive bar frequented by fishermen), a self storage facility, a few of the trendiest bars in Ballard (Ocho, BalMar, and Volterra, for example), an architecture firm, and a music venue. Expand this example to Ballard as a whole, and you’ve got a pretty good idea of what it’s like there.
Activities and AttractionsOne of Ballard’s most-visited attractions is the Hiram M. Chittenden Locks, which were built in 1917. Engineering buffs will enjoy the well-orchestrated mechanics of it all, and dreamers can imagine sunning themselves on the huge yachts that pass through. You can also go to the underwater observatory and watch the salmon swimming up the fish ladder on their way to Lake Washington and beyond. In the summer months, Golden Gardens Park is a major destination. It’s one of the few sandy beaches in Seattle, and you’ll find beach volleyball courts, kite flyers, sand castles, and barbecue pits. Sure, the water is still frigid, but on the right day you feel just like you’re in Maui. Every Sunday during the year, the Ballard Farmer’s Market is open for business. Ballard Avenue is closed down to make room for local growers and vendors, plus a variety of artists selling their wares, from jewelry to furniture. This is one of the few year-round markets in the city, and since the selection is always changing, it’s easy to make it a weekly stop.
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