"Water, water everywhere" is not just a poetic cliche in Rain City Seattle, where the entire Puget Sound region ebbs and flows to the rhythm of its lakes, bays, cuts, channels and shipping canals. This makes for a lot of waterfront dining in Seattle, and you can bet it's second to none. From local Pacific salmon to bay Dungeness and Alaskan king crab arriving daily from the Bering Sea, seafood reigns supreme on waterfront dining menus. But expect some cultural twists from the city's diverse chefs, including Pan Asian, Latin and even Cajun cuisine.
The downtown waterfront at Elliott Bay is one of the best places to soak up the real ambiance of Seattle, with ferry boats and container ships traversing the waters, and the snowcapped Mount Ranier rising in the distance. A table at the Crab Pot puts you in the heart of the action at Miner's Landing on Pier 57. Their specialty is the Seafeast, with varying portions of king, Dungeness and snow crab, Pacific mussels, salmon skewers, streamed clams and shrimp, all plopped on your table in a glorious streaming pile with baby red potatoes, andouille sausage and corn on the cob. Waits can be long and no reservations are accepted, but that's part of the fun. Pier 57 is also home to Seattle's Great Wheel, a vintage indoor carousel and a hearty supply of sea treasures at Pirate's Plunder.
Ray's Boathouse crowns the dock overlooking Shilshole Bay in the historic Ballard neighborhood, with expansive views of Puget Sound and the Olympic Mountains. The original owner, Ray Lichtenberger, started with a bait house and boat rental shack in 1939, evolving into a fish-and-chips cafe in the 1960s, and now one of Seattle's most treasured waterfront restaurants. The best part about Ray's is the two separate dining spots: Ray's Boathouse for finer dining, and the deck-top Ray's Cafe for casual plates of in-house smoked salmon, signature clam chowder and over 20 microbrews on tap. Specialties at the Boathouse downstairs include pan-seared ahi and salmon, sake kasu sablefish, and warm rosemary gougeres from the in-house pastry team. Diners often take a 15-minute stroll to Hiram M. Chittenden Locks connecting Puget Sound with the Lake Washington Ship Canal, for a look at the 21-step ladder allowing salmon to swim upstream and spawn.
Lake Union glistens as an glacial urban oasis in the center of Seattle, home to the city's famous houseboat communities, two seaplane bases, and a lively playground for boaters, jet skiers and kayakers. Ivar's Salmon House on the northeast shores near Gasworks Park is an exact replica of a Northwest Native American cedar longhouse, filled with native art, historical photographs and a solid rock fireplace. An open-pit, tribal-style barbecue produces alder-smoked salmon, chicken and prawns, while an outdoor fish bar serves casual fish-and-chips for lakeside dining and picnics, all with spectacular views of the Seattle skyline and the lake. Ivar's has a motto of KEEP CLAM, coined by its beloved and colorful founder Ivar Haglund, a local Norwegian/Swede folk singer who kept the Seattle waterfront lively with antics such as octopus wrestling, calm eating contests and strolling through downtown with his seal, Patsy.
Waterfront dining in Seattle isn't exclusively for seafood, as evidenced by the Aqua Verde Cafe and Paddle Club, a boathouse-style cafe perched in a cozy crook of Portage Bay. The Mexican food and Aqua Verde is casual, fresh and affordable, starting with breakfast burritos and churning out shrimp tacos, carne asada, and smokey chipotle house salsas well into the evening. A to-go window makes it easy for picnickers, and it has one of the best waterfront Happy Hours in the city. A real treat is the cafe's paddle club, giving diners the chance to rent a kayak or paddle board for up-close interactions with the houseboat communities, the Washington Park Arboretum and wildlife such as turtles, herons and bald eagles. After returning the vessels, a margarita at sunset awaits on the upstairs deck of Aqua Verde.