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Seattle, beyond the usual tourist haunts

Summer in Seattle means going out and having fun. Here are 21 options to get a taste of the city, including kayaking, regattas, a salmon ladder and a concrete troll.

July 29, 2012|By Christopher Reynolds, Los Angeles Times Staff Writer
  • In summer, daredevils hit the floating high-dive platforms in Green Lake. One can also rent kayaks, canoes, rowboats and more.
In summer, daredevils hit the floating high-dive platforms in Green Lake.… (Christopher Reynolds /…)

SEATTLE — Pike Place Market. The Space Needle. Pioneer Square. Check, check and check.

If you've hit these obvious Seattle destinations, you're not a newbie. But maybe you're not an insider either.

So, this 21-stop Seattle checklist is for you. It skirts those three attractions and several other popular stops to make more room for Ballard, Capitol Hill, Fremont and the University District — four asset-rich Seattle neighborhoods my family and I explored on a visit last summer. Right about now, as Seattleites embrace the (maybe) warmer weather and longer days of summer, these neighborhoods are increasingly busy.

In fact, were you to follow this tour to its end, you'd encounter salmon swimming upstream, free hairnets, absinthe floss, dodge ball, a Tuesday-night regatta, a tree of stainless steel and an address near the University of Washington where you can get chilaquiles with your kayak rental. These Seattleites take their summers seriously. Be warned, though: On bad days, Seattle freeway congestion can rival that of Los Angeles. (For current airfares to Seattle, see the chart on L6.)

Our list starts with three stops in Ballard, in northwestern Seattle.

Golden Gardens Park includes a stretch of beach with classic views of Puget Sound and mountains, a little loop trail, a fishing pier and at its northern end, an off-leash dog zone. While we were strolling on the sand, Guila Muir, a devoted, fiftysomething open-water swimmer, came splashing ashore in her blue goggles and orange bathing cap. The water, she said, was about 55 degrees. Then she dashed off to warm up. 8498 Seaview Place N.W.; (206) 684-4075,

Ray's Boathouse & Café, which dates to 1973, offers fresh seafood and a wide window onto the sound and the Olympic Mountains. Its location is advertised by a towering red neon sign. Describing one dish, our waitress cited where the fish was caught and the names of the fisherman and his wife. In the fancier Boathouse dining room downstairs (dinner only), main dishes run $21-$55. In the more casual Café above (lunch and dinner), entrees run $11.95 (for a half-order of fish and chips) to $21.50. 6049 Seaview Ave. N.W.; (206) 789-3770,

Ballard Locks. OK, this is no secret, but it's worth a visit, and it's free. This concrete channel is how boats get from the sound (saltwater at sea level) to the Lake Washington Ship Canal, Lake Washington and Lake Union (fresh water, 20 to 22 feet above sea level), and it's always interesting to join the old salts and fresh tourists watching big and little vessels as the water levels change. On a busy day, a worker told me, 500 vessels pass through. Next to the channel is a fish ladder for salmon; you can also watch through an underwater viewing window, and there's a botanical garden handy — a nice mix for kids. By the way, officially, these are the Hiram M. Chittenden Locks, but nobody calls them that. 3015 N.W. 54th St.; (206) 783-7059,

South and east of Ballard lies Fremont, known for its bohemians and unpredictable statuary. This includes Vladimir Lenin at Evanston Avenue North and North 36th Street; the aluminum commuters "Waiting for the Interurban" at North 34th Street and Fremont Avenue North; spiritual leader Sri Chinmoy on the Burke-Gilman Trail under the Aurora Bridge; and a concrete troll, also under the Aurora Bridge, at North 36th Street at Troll Avenue North. The troll was a disappointment for me — a brilliant idea undercut by crude craftsmanship — but the rest of the family loved it. The real heart of Fremont is its independent spirit, including businesses such as the five that follow:

If Willy Wonka were a Whole Foods supplier, Theo Chocolate would be his factory. Theo, opened in 2006, bills itself as the first organic, fair-trade, kosher, bean-to-bar chocolate factory in the U.S. For $6 a person, you get an hourlong factory tour, samples included, personal fragrances forbidden. Fair warning: You will be asked to don a hairnet. In fact, you get a free hairnet with the tour. Reservations are required, except for the daily 2:30 p.m. walk-in tour. Even with as many as 10 tours offered daily, summer weekend tours are sometimes reserved weeks ahead. 3400 Phinney Ave. N.; (206) 632-5100,

Jive Time Records, where, in a time and place preoccupied with digital everything, aisles of vinyl await. And cassettes. 3506 Fremont Ave. N.; [206] 632-5483,

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