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Boat Tour of Seattle, Washington: Seeing Seattle From The Waterfront

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View of the Seattle waterfront from Elliott Bay

View of the Seattle waterfront from Elliott Bay

Sightseeing Tour

It is always a good idea to arrange for a sightseeing tour if traveling to a new location for the first time. One gets a general perspective of the area and can always go back and spend more time if one particular site engages one's interest. At least one will have gained a general overall view and more knowledge of the area in which one is spending time.

This article is about the Grayline tour package that offers a cruise of Seattle's waterways. My mother, niece, and I decided upon Grayline's Land and Water Excursion, which combined the Centennial City Tour and the Adventure Water Cruise. It was a six-hour tour, and back in 1989, adult pricing was $29, and children's tickets (ages 2 - 12) cost $14.50. What we learned and got to see in those six hours was well worth our time and money.

Join us on our sightseeing tour of Seattle's waterways that started at Pier 57. We would soon learn much more about this city and why it is such a popular place to visit and live.

The Beginning

After boarding the ship, we started our 2 1/4 hour cruise into Elliott Bay, which gives one a glorious view of Seattle's downtown area. Seattle is called the Emerald City for a good reason. The Pacific Ocean moderates the temperatures, and it is lush and green with foliage that thrives in this climate.

Seattle receives 35 to 36 inches of rain per year, with the Olympic Mountains protecting this Emerald City from bitter cold temperatures coming down from Canada, our neighboring northern country.

Water temperature is 32 to 35 degrees Fahrenheit year-round.

Seattle waterfront from ferry

Seattle waterfront from ferry

Port of Seattle

Seattle is one of the most beautiful cities as viewed from the water and is also a busy seaport.

From Elliott Bay, one can not only view the distinctive downtown buildings, including the iconic Space Needle, but one's gaze also leads one up to the majestic Olympic Mountains that form a most dramatic backdrop. If one were a choreographer arranging stage sets, one could not do better than what Mother Nature has provided for this seaside port city.

Churning the waters of Elliott Bay are not only water tours such as the one we were taking but also shipping vessels from around the world mingling with cruise ships, tugboats, and ferries. The Port of Seattle was the 10th largest port in the United States in the year 2009. As of 2021, it is now the 6th largest port.

Running Commentary

Viewing Seattle by water was not only fun, but the tour guide aboard our Grayline sightseeing ship kept up a running commentary. We learned details about things that we would probably have never known except for this city tour by water.

An example of what we learned is the following: After the Beatles stayed at the Edgewater Hotel, the carpeting was pulled up and sold by the square inch! Whether the above statement is true or not, it certainly makes for an exciting story, and it is certainly plausible.

We learned other things regarding points of interest as our watercraft passed different views of Seattle. The million-dollar homes along this shoreline suffer from a terrible erosion problem. The year before our visit saw a garage from one of these homes slide right into the Bay.

The tour guide said that this city marina charges $5 a foot for moorage, and there are multiple years-long waiting lists to gain access. Of course, these prices are probably higher, as are the home prices since our visit.

Hiram M. Chittenden Locks

After traversing past the downtown and residential areas of Elliott Bay and rounding the West Point area of Shilshole Bay, we made a right turn into the Lake Washington Ship Canal area of Seattle.

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Lake Washington is a freshwater lake, as is Lake Union, which we would later see after passing through the Hiram M. Chittenden Locks completed by the Army Corps of Engineers in 1917. A Seattle District engineer, Mr. Chittenden, was overseeing the project for several years and the locks now bear his name in honor of his work.

Some photos below show us progressing through the locks that help separate the saltwater from the freshwater. The freshwater lakes of Lake Washington and Lake Union are 20 to 22 feet above sea level. The vessels move through one small and one large lock of this narrow Lake Washington passageway into the wider Lake Union, surrounded by the City of Seattle.

Lake Washington Ship Canal and the Hiram M. Chittenden Locks joined other notables on the National Register of Historic Places in 1978.

There is also a fish ladder enabling salmon (Chinook, Coho, Sockeye, and Steelhead) to migrate from the seawater into freshwater to spawn each year and renew the life cycle. We would later see this fish ladder again on our Grayline land tour of Seattle. There we could see the swimming fish as we looked through large glass windows.

Lake Union

Surrounded by the City of Seattle, Lake Union is a great recreational place.

Originally a place of business with shipyards, sawmills, and the like, it also houses the remaining vestiges of floating homes which sprung up as a less expensive housing option after the Great Depression. Lake Union is a scenic and multipurpose lake.

Our Grayline tour operator said that many commercial boat captains like to steer their vessels through the locks and enter Lake Union because the freshwater helps kill the barnacles.

The Relief

The Relief moored in Lake Union was supposed to have become a floating lighthouse museum. That effort failed. There are very few floating lighthouses left, and the ones that remain for the most part are now museums.

The Relief, a floating lighthouse

The Relief, a floating lighthouse

Floating Homes

There are only about 450 floating homes leftover from the Depression Days on Lake Union. According to what we learned, the owners pay no taxes but do pay mooring fees.

The filming of the movie Sleepless in Seattle used one of these floating homes as a location. Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan were the stars of that movie.

From Lake Union, we were transported by bus back to Pier 57, where our Grayline tour of Seattle's sightseeing from the water had begun. If you travel to Seattle and are on vacation, be sure and take not only a land tour but a water tour as well. We were happy that we had done so!

Although we were not there at the right time of year to enjoy the fireworks over Lake Union, I have found a video for you readers of this article for a bombastic ending. Enjoy!

"In Seattle we live among the trees and the waterways, and we feel we are rocked gently in the cradle of life. Our winters are not cold and our summers are not hot and we congratulate ourselves for choosing such a spectacular place to rest our heads."

— Garth Stein


This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2010 Peggy Woods

Comments are welcomed!

Peggy Woods (author) from Houston, Texas on April 16, 2021:

Hi MG,

Once the pandemic has ended, hopefully, sooner than later, we will be able to travel the world again. Won't that be fun! Seattle is a great city and a fun place to visit.

MG Singh emge from Singapore on April 16, 2021:

I went to Seattle about a decade back and it rekindled my old memories. I wonder if I will be able to visit again with all this China virus.........?

Peggy Woods (author) from Houston, Texas on April 16, 2021:

Hi Alex,

I hope you get the chance to visit Seattle someday. Do take the boat tour of the city. It is amazing to see it from that perspective.

Alex on April 15, 2021:

Friends have raved about Seattle for years. Hope to visit it someday.

Peggy Woods (author) from Houston, Texas on April 13, 2021:

Hi Catherine,

I hope your travels take you to Seattle someday. It is a lovely part of our country. We truly enjoyed our boat tour as well as the tour we took on land. It is fun seeing parts of Seattle from both perspectives. Thanks for your comment.

Catherine on April 12, 2021:

Travel is so enlightening especially when the scenery is so beautiful. Would like to visit Seattle sometime.

Peggy Woods (author) from Houston, Texas on April 12, 2021:

If you ever travel to Seattle, Washington, don't miss taking a boat tour of this beautiful city! We enjoyed it and learned much more about this fabulous place.

Peggy Woods (author) from Houston, Texas on September 06, 2015:

Hello georgescifo,

Hope you get that chance to visit Seattle someday. Am sure you would enjoy it! Glad you liked reading this and seeing the pictures and videos.

georgescifo from India on September 05, 2015:

Hi Peggy, Really enjoyed the pics and videos of Seattle through this hub and really loves to visit this place when I get an opportunity..

Peggy Woods (author) from Houston, Texas on April 27, 2015:

Hi poetryman6969,

It is a fun way to experience seeing parts of the Seattle area from a water perspective. We thought that it was definitely worth the price of the tour ticket. Hope you get to see it that way someday.

poetryman6969 on April 27, 2015:

I missed this one when I was first in Washington state. I may have to take a ride if we are ever up there again.

Peggy Woods (author) from Houston, Texas on December 22, 2013:

Hi vespawoolf,

Glad that this could be of some help when planning your vacation trip to Seattle. Enjoy!

Vespa Woolf from Peru, South America on December 21, 2013:

I was looking for info on what to do in Seattle and My search brought me to you! I agree that a water tour is a good idea to get a general idea of the area and its sights. Thank you for another interesting overview from your vacation experiences.

Peggy Woods (author) from Houston, Texas on October 23, 2012:

Hi Stacy,

It would take more time to drive up along the coastline of California, Oregon and Washington...but oh so scenic!!! I have written a hub about an Oregon Coastline Vacation in case you are interested in seeing that. My husband did some driving along the California coastline in the wine country and it was curvy, scenic but also slower than if taking the inland roads. So it would all depend upon how much time you have for a vacation. Enjoy Seattle when you get there someday! Am sure that living on a floating home would take some getting used to but it would be fun to experience sometime. Thanks for your comment + share.

Stacy Harris from Hemet, Ca on October 23, 2012:

I have always wanted to visit Seatle. After reading this, I now want to go even more than ever. Since I am on the West Coast it probably would be a fun trip to travel up the coastline. And the floating houses, I don't know if I could do it, but I would love to see how it would feel to step on one of those! Great hub!

Peggy Woods (author) from Houston, Texas on January 13, 2012:

Hello calico Stark,

Half the fun about vacationing (for me) is reading about the places ahead of time. Often I learn even more about the places I have visited after the fact...especially when writing about them because of doing more reading and research. Of course taking tours like we did in Seattle and seeing it from the water perspective, we hear things about the city that we might never ordinarily know. Glad that you liked this hub. Thanks for your commnent.

calico Stark from Earth for the time being on January 12, 2012:

Wow, what a hub! You told about things I didn't even know about and I lived in Seattle for over 37 years before moving to the south. Great info! Vote up!

Peggy Woods (author) from Houston, Texas on February 23, 2011:

Hi jaclin,

It seems that we agree on the way we like to explore and travel. had a great trip!!! Sometime you should come back and travel the southern route from Florida to California. Totally different scenery. Getting back to your Seattle travel, nice that you were also viewing Seattle from the water. Different look, isn't it! Thanks again for the comment.

jaclin on February 23, 2011:

Me again... Our road trip in 2010 ended in Seattle... having started in Boston three months prior... we made a decision to steer clear of the interstate so as to see as much of the country as possible along our chosen route... and we traveled 9000miles in total - so by the time we reached Seattle it was time for a much needed break - but with still so much to see - there was no time to rest... I do agree with you that on reaching a new city it is always best to do one of the city tours, either on land or the sea... and like you - if both are on offer - i like to do both... so thank you once again for sharing your experiences on such a wonderful and diverse city...

I'm off in search of your other travel hubs... I am on leave from work today - so you may find numerous comments dotted around your pages that originate from me today!!!

Peggy Woods (author) from Houston, Texas on September 15, 2010:

Hi Kosmo,

What a summer that would have been! Seattle, Port Orchard...that entire area for that matter is surrounded by water. Boat racing and seeing the Blue Angels perform on and over Lake Washington must have been quite a sight! Were you vacationing that summer? Glad you liked this hub and thanks for the comment.

Kelley Marks from Sacramento, California on September 15, 2010:

Back during the summer of 1978 I lived in Port Orchard, which is across the Sound from Seattle. I loved Seattle; it reminded me of San Francisco. I also went by boat through the locks to Lake Washington and watched some boat races and the Blue Angels. What a summer, perhaps my best ever! Thanks for the wonderful hub. Later!

Peggy Woods (author) from Houston, Texas on August 26, 2010:

Hi James,

Wow! That is quite the compliment! " travel Hub." Glad to hear that you enjoyed this view of Seattle as seen from the water. It was the start of a wonderful vacation for us and was just the beginning...but a great beginning it was! Thanks!

James A Watkins from Chicago on August 26, 2010:

This is perhaps your best travel Hub. You presented a plethora of interesting facts and wonderful photographs. I could not have enjoyed this journey more. Thank you for this pleasure.

Peggy Woods (author) from Houston, Texas on August 24, 2010:

Hi agusfanani,

Thanks for taking the time to comment on this vacation hub of Seattle as viewed from the water. I also think that the floating homes are quite unique and interesting.

agusfanani from Indonesia on August 24, 2010:

Those are very beautiful pictures you show in this hub. The the floating homes are amazing.

Peggy Woods (author) from Houston, Texas on August 21, 2010:

Good morning Hello, hello,

Seattle is not only pretty as viewed from the water, but the scenery on land is beautiful as well. Will show more of our vacation tour in another hub. Thanks for taking the time to comment.

Hello, hello, from London, UK on August 21, 2010:

This was alovely trip you took me on. I never knew Seattle is so beautiful. Thank you for the pleasure.

Peggy Woods (author) from Houston, Texas on August 20, 2010:

Thanks Prasetio for your interest and comment after reading this hub about viewing Seattle from the water. Obviously there is much more to be seen on land as well. Will write more about our impressions in the future.

prasetio30 from malang-indonesia on August 20, 2010:

Beautiful my friend. Good to remind me about this movie, Sleepless in Seattle. With Tom Hanks as an actor. This hub impressed me much. I love the city near the water. The pictures makes me difficult to blink my eyes. I thought I'll put Seattle in my list when I go to USA someday. Thank you very much. Vote this Up.


Peggy Woods (author) from Houston, Texas on August 20, 2010:

Hello kingkhan78,

Thanks for taking the time to read this Seattle Travel, Vacation Tour and Viewing Seattle from the Water hub and also taking the time to leave a comment. Yes...our hubpage community has a lot to offer people in just about any subject in which they might have interest. :-)

kingkhan78 on August 20, 2010:

interesting information in hub page community thanks for sharing

Peggy Woods (author) from Houston, Texas on August 19, 2010:

Hello ExpandYourMind,

Happy to hear that you enjoyed this portion of our vacation to Seattle and the tour of it viewed from the water. Enjoy your next trip to Seattle! Thanks for the comment.

ExpandYourMind from Midwest USA on August 19, 2010:

This is a great tour of the Seattle area. I've only been there once for a short time. I plan to return and will use your tips. Thanks.

Peggy Woods (author) from Houston, Texas on August 19, 2010:

Hi Micky,

Glad that you liked this Seattle travel / vacation hub about seeing Seattle from the water on our tour. Thanks for taking the time to watch the videos. I thought the ones about the floating homes and the one about Lake Union were especially good and informative.

Those floating homes may have been an inexpensive or less expensive housing alternative originally, but I found some videos advertising 2 bedroom, 1 bath ones for $900,000+! Guess times have changed! As Realtors would point out.........location, location, location!!! :)))

Peggy Woods (author) from Houston, Texas on August 19, 2010:

Hello Troi Sirtis,

We don't have to travel to Seattle to get a Starbucks as they seem to be on every other corner (slight exaggeration) of our city. Ha! Many good things have emanated from Seattle, Starbucks coffee being just one. Next time as you sip your latte do it from the water in Seattle. Might add to the experience! :)))

Micky Dee on August 19, 2010:

Very nice as always Peggy. I watched all the videos (as always) and they are great. Thanks for putting this together.

Troi Sirtis on August 19, 2010:

If I go to Seattle, I really just want Starbucks. :))))

Peggy Woods (author) from Houston, Texas on August 18, 2010:

Hi Mike,

It would be wonderful to have friendly relatives living in the Pacific Northwest if they would be willing to open their home for a few overnight stays. Helps with expenses! Vacationing in Seattle was wonderful. Seeing Seattle from the water as well as on land was also good. Different perspective entirely...

Great idea...planning vacations for Hubbers! That would be fun. If you have 20 friends who want to travel together and have a specific area of the country that they would wish to explore...let me know. :-)

Appreciate your comment.

Mike Lickteig from Lawrence KS USA on August 18, 2010:

I've never been to Seattle although I have relatives who live in the Pacific Northwest. The tour cruise sounded fun, and I would love to do something like that someday. You have been to so many beautiful places, you should plan vacations for Hubbers on the side!

Thanks for another great look at America.


Peggy Woods (author) from Houston, Texas on August 18, 2010:

Hi dahoglund,

That is an interesting bit of trivia and I guess it makes sense. Seattle has it all...salt and fresh water and lots of it everywhere one looks. We really enjoyed the start of our vacation in Seattle and certainly enjoyed our tours. What we saw on the land tour will follow in another hub. Thanks for the speedy first comment.

Don A. Hoglund from Wisconsin Rapids on August 18, 2010:

You give a very good word and picture tour. Oceans always seem appealing to us landlocked mid-westerners. I was once told that the highest number of Navy enlistments come from the Midwest.

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