A bird’s eye view looking toward South Lake Union. Photo by Toan Chu Hse.
An Insider Guide to Seattle’s South Lake Union Neighborhood
BY KELLY KNICKERBOCKER
South Lake Union, or SLU, is defined by its proximity to the water — where else can you watch a seaplane landing on a lake in the center of a city? SLU is Seattle’s year-round, in-city destination for outdoor recreation, from SUP yoga sessions in summer to holiday boat parades in winter. South Lake Union is also a major innovation hub and the heart of the city’s tech sector, thanks to the arrival of Amazon, Google, Facebook, and other tech titans. Over the past decade, their presence has transformed the once gritty and industrial neighborhood with elevated dining and drinking options, public art, activities, and other amenities. In the middle of it all are the South Lake Union apartments of the
Explore Seattle South Lake Union Area Map
EAT LIKE A SOUTH LAKE UNION LOCAL
In this business hub, even the restaurants come with a side of tech, like 2120, situated across from the striking Amazon Spheres
The dining scene in and around South Lake Union has you covered when it comes to finding a square meal (or even a spherical one). Whether you’re fueling up before a sunrise paddle or out for late-night bites with friends, SLU offers plenty of options. That number keeps growing: SLU is where established restaurants tend to set up shop when they’re looking to expand, from Tacos Chukis and Momiji (below) to Ba Bar (highlighted in our
insider guide to First Hill).
Sophisticated and stylish, 2120 is located alongside the Instagram-worthy
, the e-commerce giant’s glass-covered office HQ cum exotic greenhouse. But 2120 doesn’t exist in its neighbor’s shadow. Executive Chef Kyle Quinn and his team create high-end, seasonal plates rooted in the bounty of the Pacific Northwest and perfectly pairable with a glass (or bottle) of regional wine from their extensive list.
2120restaurant.com, 2120 6th Ave.
ART MARBLE 21
Great for game day, this spacious, sports-centric restaurant offers elevated eats like the flame-grilled rib eye with herb butter and the blackened prawns with polenta and andouille sausage. Art Marble 21 has enough big-screen TVs for every fan to see every play. For those who would rather participate than spectate, there’s darts, pool, arcade games, bocce ball, giant Jenga, and more.
artmarble21.com, 731 Westlake Ave. N.
THE BUTCHER’S TABLE
Choose your own adventure at this upscale, SLU-adjacent steakhouse. Crowds cluster upstairs for lively happy hours, nibbling beef fat fries and rib-eye burgers under exposed wooden beams. The downstairs restaurant is darker, quieter, and cozier thanks to a roaring fireplace. Here, the elevated experience includes beef tasting flights, butcher cuts, and signature platters featuring Mishima Reserve Wagyu.
thebutcherstable.com, 2121 Westlake Ave.
KATI VEGAN THAI
Located on the first floor of an apartment building near the Cascade P-Patch community garden, Kati Vegan Thai is unassuming from the outside. But open the doors, and you’ll find a bright, airy eatery that serves a gorgeous selection of vegan Thai fare, including noodles, curries, stir fries, and fried rice. From the soul-warming phở and hearty pumpkin soup to the garlicky jackfruit on sticky rice, every plate delights the eyes as much as the taste buds. Pair your meal with a Thai iced tea with coconut cream, or kick it up a notch with the bourbon-spiked ''Thairish'' version.
kativeganthai.com, 1190 Thomas St.
LOCAL PUBLIC EATERY
The menu at this Canadian import offers a little bit of everything. Southern-style crispy fried chicken with hot honey? Black bean enchiladas with house-made tomatillo sauce? How about a Korean barbecue-style rice bowl? Get all three for the table and share. A great spot for a post-work bite or bevy, Local Public Eatery has tented tables and heaters for a warm, weatherproof — and dog-friendly! — experience all year long.
localpubliceatery.com, 404 Terry Ave. N.
Mbar has rooftop space for days, including a covered bar with wraparound seating, fire pits, and long, family-style tables all overlooking Lake Union. Importantly, the 14th-floor setting doesn’t outshine what’s going on in the kitchen. The Middle Eastern–meets-Mediterranean menu pleases all comers with plates like falafel-stuffed squash and grilled trout with caramelized onion, avocado, and za’atar.
@mbarsea, 400 Fairview Ave. N.
A Capitol Hill dining classic for more than a decade, Momiji’s industrial-chic second location offers traditional Japanese eats made with PNW-sourced ingredients, just like the original. Whether you’ve got a hankering for sushi, rolls, or omakase, the chefs at Momiji hand-craft every bite with delicate precision. Wash it down with a clever cocktail, like the Lychee Martini or Shoyu Fashioned made with Suntory Toki.
momijislu.com, 731 Bell St.
PORTAGE BAY CAFE
For a hearty brunch made from scratch with local and organic ingredients, head to Portage Bay Cafe in South Lake Union. A weekend destination for mimosa-seeking Seattleites, the menu is packed with satisfying dishes like the Seattle eggs Benedict with Dungeness crab and bananas foster French toast. Every stack of hotcakes comes with a trip to the breakfast bar, where you can load up on fresh fruit, whipped cream, and other toppings. It’s all deliciously executed, which is why there's often a wait for a table.
portagebaycafe.com, 391 Terry Ave. N.
There’s a lot to like at this convivial South Lake Union bar and restaurant. One of the city’s largest selections of whiskey? Check. A 2,000-square-foot, heated and covered dog-friendly patio? Yep. Re:public’s New American farm-to-table plates utilize local resources like Draper Valley chickens and Penn Cove mussels. Order a Re:Public Old Fashioned (Woodford Reserve Re:Public Personal Selection, Amaro Meletti, Whiskey Barrel Bitters) paired with a prawn and pork belly mac and cheese (made with local Beecher’s cheddar) and admire the colorful patio mural by local artist
republicseattle.com, 429 Westlake Ave. N
Tacos Chukis is a win-win-win: some of Seattle’s best tacos, served quickly and priced affordably. The namesake taco features succulent adobada
pork topped with cheese, onion, guac, and a juicy slice of pineapple. The limited but extremely dialed-in menu includes other taco iterations, plus quesadillas, mulitas (double-decker quesadillas), tortas, burritos, and nopal asado
(grilled cactus paddle).
seattlechukis.com, 832 Dexter Ave. N.
SNACK AND SIP
Gold Bar in South Lake Union is a whole vibe. Photo courtesy of Gold Bar.
As in many Seattle neighborhoods, you’ll always be well-caffeinated and well-hydrated staying in South Lake Union. From Scandinavian-style coffee and robust French beans to the city’s first self-pour taproom, there’s not a thirst you can’t quench in SLU.
Café Hagen embraces all things hygge
, the Nordic approach to life best translated as “comfy” or “cozy.” This café, wine bar, and brunch spot specializes in Scandinavian-style, lighter-roast coffee and house-made pastries and breads. Catch up with a friend (or with your inbox) over a Danish heart waffle with fruit jam or a smoked salmon breakfast bun with Danish goat cream cheese.
cafehagen.com, 1252 Thomas St.
This two-story café and restaurant has you covered all day long, offering full breakfast, brunch, and dinner menus. In the a.m., sip a specialty drink, like the honey lavender latte or the boozed-up Caramel Cowboy with rye, caramel syrup, and coffee, while you peruse the impressive list of sweet and savory waffles. At 4 p.m., Citizen Coffee’s patio transforms into the adults-only Citizen Campfire, an all-weather beer garden with fire pits, lawn games, and varied seating options.
citizencoffee.com, 706 Taylor Ave. N.
ESPRESSO VIVACE ALLEY 24
Espresso Vivace has been at the forefront of Seattle’s craft coffee ecosystem and highly caffeinated culture since the very beginning. It opened as a coffee cart at Fifth Avenue and Union Street in 1988. All of Vivace’s brick and mortar cafés use Northern Italian espresso beans and a fine-tuned brewing strategy to produce a sweet, caramelly cup of joe.
espressovivace.com, 227 Yale Ave N.
Given SLU’s tech and biotech sectors, not to mention academia and medicine, a decent chunk of the city’s workforce spends time in the neighborhood and surrounding areas. But in the spirit of work hard, play hard, South Lake Union provides plenty of spots to throw down. Flatstick Pub is one of those: a playful hotspot where worker bees can unwind over a pint of local ale while playing a round of indoor mini-golf.
flatstickpub.com, 609 Westlake Ave. N.
SLU”s wildest spot, Gold Bar is a funky cocktail bar and Latin American restaurant with neon lights, a gumball swing, and themed rooms ranging from grandma’s house to a medical office waiting room. The crew slings colorful, often umbrella-topped Caribbean drinks and flavor-packed pupusas, empanadas, and yuca fries. Come on Sundays for Gold Coast Kitchen’s Ghanaian and Liberian pop-up.
goldbarseattle.com, 227 9th Ave. N.
Locally made leather goods at Hardmill. Photo courtesy of Hardmill.
South Lake Union’s diverse roster of retail shops runs the gamut from records to road bikes, household brand names to family-run boutique purveyors.
Founded by two brothers in 2014, Hardmill specializes in the design and production of rugged home goods and kitchenwares. From denim aprons with cotton duck backing to leather potholders, coasters, and placemats, Hardmill’s South Lake Union retail shop offers functional, premium wares for your stylish pad. Truly local, every piece is made across town at the company’s Georgetown studio.
hardmill.com, 2215 8th Ave.
REI SEATTLE FLAGSHIP
Yes, it’s a national chain now, but REI was founded in Seattle back in 1938, and its massive SLU flagship is a must-stop. Visible from I-5, the sprawling 80,000-square-foot homage to adventure sells all the functional outdoorsy products you’d expect, and is also home to the world’s largest indoor rock-climbing wall, a network of outdoor trails, and a variety of gear-testing stations. Not interested in buying or storing your own gear? The store rents out all kinds of climbing, hiking, and camping gear — even snowshoes — so you can partake in the great outdoors without committing to more stuff.
rei.com, 222 Yale Ave. N.
SOUTH LAKE UNION SATURDAY MARKET
If you’re not arriving at the SLU Saturday Market hungry — and leaving full — you’re doing it wrong. This seasonal farmers’ market and street fair runs May through September, bringing out dozens of local food trucks, producers, and farmstands. Wander from stall to stall, noshing on whatever grabs your attention, whether it’s Indian street food, Filipino chicken lumpia, or a Hong Kong puffle waffle.
slumarket.com, 139 9th Ave N.
SUB POP RECORDS
Even if you’re unfamiliar with this Seattle-based indie record label, you’ve definitely heard of some of their acts… like Nirvana and Soundgarden. Though the label ushered in a whole new genre of rock in the 1990s, Sub Pop’s repertoire includes more than grunge, representing a broad range of bands and musicians (Fleet Foxes; Father John Misty), comedians (Sarah Silverman), and more. You can pick up vinyl LP copies of every Sub Pop release currently in print, plus related merch, at the curated SLU shop.
subpop.com, 2130 7th Ave.
TAKE IT OUTSIDE (AND BRING A FURRY FRIEND)
If puttering around in a hot tub in a boat isn’t on your bucket list, it should be. Photo courtesy of Hot Tub Boats.
Although South Lake Union is home to several urban parks and greenspaces, what makes it unique is the relationship between the neighborhood and its namesake lake. It’s not just the abundant views of Lake Union, but the direct access and world-class public spaces that make SLU special.
DENNY SUBSTATION DOG PARK
Your pooch will be all tail wags after a trip to this triangle-shaped, off-leash dog park along the west edge of the Seattle City Light substation. The small but well-maintained space is one few off-leash areas in Seattle with artificial turf. No muddy paws means you’ll be happy, too. 1250 Denny Way.
HOT TUB BOATS
You read it right. One of the most original ways to spend time on Lake Union is aboard a locally crafted hot tub boat that departs from Westlake. Each two-hour rental combines the best of lake life and spa vibes, especially if you opt for the scented Epsom salt upgrade. Use the simple joystick to navigate toward Lake Union Park or the Space Needle, or head across the water to explore Eastlake’s houseboat communities. Each hot tub boat comes with Bluetooth speakers, food and drink storage, and room for six passengers.
hottubboats.com, 2520 Westlake Ave. N.
LAKE UNION PARK
The epicenter of activity in South Lake Union, this 12-acre waterfront park is the heart of the neighborhood and one of the best places to see an iconic Seattle site: seaplanes taking off and landing just a few yards away. You also can walk your pup across the lagoon via the park’s footbridge or launch your kayak or paddleboard from the beach to explore the water.
atlakeunion.org, 860 Terry Ave. N.
LAKE UNION TRAIL
You could easily make a day out of this six-mile, scenic loop trail around Lake Union. The highly utilized (and paved!) path winds through several Seattle neighborhoods worth exploring. Park your bike and eat lunch at Fremont’s
or just take in the views from
Gas Works Park
. Before completing your journey, grab a drink to go from
in Eastlake and enjoy it at one of the teeny-tiny lakeside parks along Fairview Avenue E.
SOAK UP SOME CULTURE
Seattle’s Museum of History and Innovation (MOHAI), right on the edge of Lake Union. Photo courtesy of MOHAI.
South Lake Union doesn’t lack for culturally enriching, artistic, and educational spaces. Though a major hub of high-growth and high-tech employers, the neighborhood’s roots — and the city’s story as a whole — are still well preserved in SLU.
CENTER FOR WOODEN BOATS
Surrounded by water, Seattle has always been big on boats. Just steps from Lake Union Park and MOHAI is the Center for Wooden Boats, a lakeside museum that restores, preserves, rents, and sells historic wooden vessels. It’s worth a quick wander around the museum when you’re exploring the waterfront but, if you have more time, consider renting one of the center's well-restored wooden row or sailboats to take for a photo-worthy spin around Lake Union. Admission to the museum’s exhibits are free, but sailing lessons, rentals, and chartered excursions are fee-based.
cwb.org, 1010 Valley St.
Founded by art historian and entrepreneur Alison Wyckoff Milliman, MadArt started as a roving exhibition in public and nontraditional spaces. Today, the contemporary arts organization calls South Lake Union home. MadArt empowers multidisciplinary artists to create new, installation-based works at its studio. Free and open to the public, these always engaging and often very large installations encourage audiences to interact with the art, artists, and broader creative process.
madartseattle.com, 325 Westlake Ave. N. #101.
MUSEUM OF HISTORY AND INDUSTRY (MOHAI)
Located along Lake Union in the historic Naval Reserve Armory, MOHAI celebrates the region’s legacy of innovation. The largest private heritage organization in Washington state, lets you nerd out perusing at roughly four million artifacts, photos, and archival materials. Permanent exhibits explore the city’s relationship to water as well as Puget Sound’s long-time role as a breeding ground for big, bold ideas.
mohai.org, 860 Terry Ave. N.
Explore Seattle’s South Lake Area Map
READY TO EXPERIENCE SEATTLE LIKE A LOCAL? LIVE OR STAY AT SENTRAL’S COMMUNITY IN THE HEART OF SEATTLE’S SOUTH LAKE UNION NEIGHBORHOOD:
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