When a classmate you haven’t seen since high-school graduation comes to town from clear across the country, you want to give her a quintessential Seattle experience. But what if you have only a few hours in which to do it?
Oh, the pressure!
Okay, it was pretty easy, particularly because several such experiences are within a stone’s throw of 9 Cranes Inn. The weather one day this week made it even easier – a crisp, blue-sky afternoon that not only allowed my friend to enjoy the view of the Olympic Mountains from our Ballard View room, but also elicited an enthusiastic “yes,” when I suggested we lunch at a place on the water.
So off we headed to the Ballard neighborhood, which begins just a few blocks west of the bed and breakfast. Driving down Market Street with its plethora of unique, local shops and restaurants, it was difficult not to stop and browse. Alas, we were on a schedule and we had a destination: Ray’s Café. Located at the western end of Ballard near Shilshole Bay, Ray’s Café (second floor) and the more upscale Ray’s Boathouse (first floor) share a maritime setting and a killer view that are Seattle classics.
The chicly rustic atmosphere of the café upstairs practically demands that you eat seafood, although there are other options on the menu. Not for us – we went the seafood route nearly all the way, sharing mussels in a to-die-for red curry and coconut milk broth that we greedily soaked up with the crusty rolls our server hinted we’d need for just that purpose. Then we tackled the quadruple tower of smoked salmon skewers, standing tall in a base of pineapple and cucumber relish of sorts. A small salad with apricots, candied walnuts, and blue cheese helped us meet our “strive-for-five” veggie quota and served as a nice dessert.
Because we had a number of years to catch up on (I didn’t say how long ago we graduated from high school, did I?), we didn’t have time to visit a hugely worthwhile spot directly on the way back to 9 Cranes Inn: the Hiram M. Chittenden Locks, also know as the Ballard Locks. This free attraction features a beautiful park with rare specimens, a visitors center, a fish ladder, and of course the locks themselves.
Here, water craft of all sizes are lifted or lowered from salt to fresh water (or vice versa) where Puget Sound meets the ship canal leading to Lake Union and Lake Washington. Tourist cruise ships, luxury liners, fishing boats, and even kayakers file into a lock and calmly wait for their water-elevator ride. Cross on foot over the locks to reach the fish ladder and its underwater viewing window, where several types of salmon jump the stairway on their journey back to freshwater spawning grounds. On the return walk to the park’s entrance is a charming visitors center that offers a video viewing room and other information about the construction and history of the locks, as well as a small gift shop. The lush grounds are large enough to get away from it all yet small enough for nearly anyone to enjoy a stroll. In summer, local musical groups perform at outdoor concerts in the park – a perfect opportunity for a rest and a picnic.
You can grab a refreshing drink outside the entrance to the Locks at the Lockspot Café. Its outdoor service counter sells chowder and quick refreshments while indoors is a causal bar/restaurant with a varied and reasonably priced menu. Although the restaurant touts two types of fish and chips, I’m partial to the Philly cheesesteak sandwich – a taste of home nearer another coast.