When I went to college, my parents pulled the classic empty nester downsize and moved to a fashionable condo in Ballard. This meant I spent breaks from school in a room the size of a postage stamp. So I passed my time on Ballard Avenue, grabbing a coffee at Umbria, lunch at Hattie’s Hat, and, mostly, window shopping.
The neighborhood began not as a part of Seattle but as its own city that was later incorporated into Seattle. This independent nature persists in what people will describe as Old Ballard. It’s a place, on Ballard Ave, but it’s also an energy: think grumpy fishermen, flannel shirts, rubber boots—an overall vibe. This feeling of Old Ballard extends beyond its cobblestone streets and unused railroad tracks and into the area’s general style.
Now, there are tons of places to play arcade games around here, but here’s a list of places to start.
Gold Dogs 🥇🐕
5221 Ballard Ave NW
📸: Courtesy Gold Dogs
Country Western wear one-stop-shop Gold Dogs has made a home and a name for itself in Ballard. The store just passed 11 years in business, bringing boots, belt buckles, and bolo ties to the masses. Co-owner Emily Goldsmith hesitates to call Gold Dogs a “Seattle staple,” but I’ll say it for her! While you may luck out on cool Western pieces at other vintage shops, Gold Dogs is a sure bet. I got dangerously close to the flannel section, which can work for you whether you’re going for Western or grunge.
Gold Dogs aims to provide Western wear for all bodies, and Goldsmith emphasizes her attempt to source a wide range of sizes for the store. Not everything in Gold Dogs is vintage, but the vintage items are immaculate. A black and white marbled belt buckle almost came home with me, and I don’t even own a belt! Gold Dogs is beautifully curated and organized to draw you into a world of turquoise leather and denim.
Gold Dogs is giving: Thelma & Louise. Your friend who just got back from Santa Fe. The television show Yellowstone.
Lucky Vintage 🍀👖
📸: Adam Kubota
Lucky Vintage is a cozy enclave of highly curated vintage. Clothing hangs up the walls all the way to the ceiling. Noticeably, gauzy white dresses dangle just out of reach from dirty hands. Among new garments shines a radiant Dolly Parton pinball machine. The game is, sadly, unplayable, but Dolly’s words can join you as you shop: “It takes a lot of money to look this cheap!”
While you may need to be a techie to afford a big shopping spree at Lucky, there are treasures at all price points. A gift shop t-shirt from The Alamo was my best find of the day. (My mom is from San Antonio; it’s wild to think a high school classmate of hers could have worn this in the ’70s.) I’ll say that Lucky’s range of sizes can be slightly disappointing, but I think the selection has recently improved.
Lucky Vintage is giving: Brooches as the accessory of 2023. Babies in slightly creepy vintage playsuits. The coolest t-shirts no one else will have.
ReStyle for Ryther ⛏️💎
5435 Ballard Ave NW
📸: Adam Kubota
Directly across the street from Lucky Vintage, ReStyle for Ryther is a decidedly different kind of shopping experience. The store is a non-profit stocked by direct donations. This sourcing model gives you more of an experience like shopping at a Goodwill or Value Village. ReStyle requires more digging, but the hunt is half the fun. The size of ReStyle is very manageable, so you can search with the confidence that you won’t miss the good stuff. I took a speedy trip recently and still found COS pants, an Eileen Fisher bag, and a fabulous vintage handmade sweater.
You will also leave ReStyle with confidence; the women who volunteer in the store are incredibly complimentary and happy to help if you’re digging for something specific. Outside of clothing, ReStyle carries home goods, décor, accessories, books, etc etc etc. I left my last ReStyle trip brokenhearted because the aforementioned COS pants didn’t fit, but disappointment is all in a good day’s thrift.
ReStyle is giving: “OMG look at this top.” Prices that seem too low. Sweet older women.
Ballyhoo Curiosity Shop 🎁🦋
5445 Ballard Ave NW
📸: Courtesy Ballyhoo
Weird, bizarre, and slightly unsettling, Ballyhoo Curiosity Shop is an extraordinary departure from a day of normalcy. Open the store’s door on Ballard Ave and descend past its taxidermy vignette; you enter a store unlike others in Seattle. Ballyhoo carries beautiful goods of the natural, almost natural, and material world. Its insect collections are one of my favorite things to look at. (It’s only a matter of time before a butterfly comes home with me.)
Of course, taxidermy is not for everyone, but it’s fun to see the variety of animals Ballyhoo has and, in some instances, try to figure out what the original animal even was. On the tamer side, Ballyhoo has gorgeous mineral and antique glass right for your curio cabinet. Vintage photographs, home oddities, and ephemera make Ballyhoo a time warp to browse, and, like a casino, there are no windows, so you can really fall down the rabbit hole.
Ballyhoo is giving: Wednesday Addams energy. Not for Vegans. Being in Ballard while not being in Ballard.
Sonic Boom 🎵💥
📸: Courtesy Sonic Boom
Since 1997, Sonic Boom has been a first stop for Seattle music fans. The Ballard record store maintains a first-rate selection of vinyl, CDs, and cassettes, including new releases and used media. I stopped by the other day and was pleased to see the store now houses its cassettes in a new and larger spot. I’m a massive fan of cassettes and couldn’t let myself linger. A CD of Beyonce’s Dangerously in Love also caught my eye; Bey beckoned me with her crystal shrug.
If you want to make a little money to spend in Ballard, Sonic Boom can help you—cuz Sonic Boom buys! Bring a few records or CDs you haven’t spun in a while and turn them into cash. (They also take cassettes.) At the very least, Sonic Boom is worth some window shopping. They always have elaborate window displays, the kind you may expect from a department store. Currently, the window features the new Weyes Blood release.
Sonic Boom is giving: HiFi nerds. Buying tapes because they’re cheap. Wondering if anyone in the store thinks you’re hot.