An Afternoon Playing Pickleball in Maple Leaf
Maybe grandma was right. Pickleball is fun? 🥒🎾
August 18, 2022
Here’s one thing both sides of the aisle in our state Legislature can agree on: pickleball is Washington’s proudest export since apples and Amazon. Though the Bainbridge-invented sport started in 1965, it’s spread across the country like a climate change-fueled wildfire in recent years. Pickleball became the state’s official sport after a bill swept through the Legislature in 2022. And, contrary to popular belief, the sport isn’t named after a dog.
I think the best place to do some pickling (real pickleball players call it this, probably) is in Maple Leaf Reservoir Park. Not because the courts are spectacular, but because Maple Leaf is an underrated place to spend a day. I used to live around here, so I know what’s up, but credit where credit is due: Neighborhoods USA awarded “Best Neighborhood of the Year” to Maple Leaf in 1986. A belated congrats.
For today’s planner: Find a friend, or a group of friends, and challenge them to a game. Whoever loses buys brunch.
First, coffee ☕
Cloud City Coffee is a neighborhood hotspot with locally roasted coffee. You can’t go wrong here. Stop in for a simple latte, or step up your game with the Maple Leaf latte, where they stir in some maple simple syrup. The iced royal fog specialty drink is good for the tea lovers.
While their breakfast options are wide-ranging—breakfast sandwiches, burritos, smoothies!—you’ll want to save room in your gut for a (hopefully) celebratory brunch after today’s game of pickleball.
During the pandemic, Cloud City Coffee swapped its indoor dining space for an outdoor cafe space. They’re proficient in the to-go order realm if you’re anxious about securing a pickleball spot.
📍 Cloud City Coffee: 8801 Roosevelt Way NE
Open 7 am to 5 pm every day. Because of its popularity, Cloud City Coffee can get slammed. If the line’s too long, walk up the street a few blocks for another neighborhood haunt, the Blue Saucer Cafe & Coffee Shop.
A pickleball virgin? 🏓
You can buy a set of paddles and balls at pretty much any sporting goods store. If you’re afraid of going into that purchase, Men’s Health wrote a guide to pickleball-paddle selection. If you’re really green, here are some simple rules of the game. It’s like a combination of tennis and ping-pong, if ping-pong was life-sized.
Let’s get pickling 🥒
Maple Leaf Reservoir Park’s 16 acres hosts a walking loop that’s just 200 feet short of a mile, some artsy boulders (Confluent Boulders by Patrick Marold), and gobsmacking views of the Cascades, Mount Rainier, the Olympics, and downtown. (Maple Leaf is on the fourth highest hill in Seattle, and it’s only one foot shorter than Queen Anne!) In addition to all of that, the park has two pickleball nets. This is where all of today’s action will take place.
Once you and your pickleball partner(s)—maybe you’re playing a doubles match—have gotten to a court and set the stakes of the game (stakes: the winner buys brunch, obviously), get playing. Have no mercy. You’re playing Washington’s state sport, damn it. Feel your lungs burning, your calves quaking. That’s pickleball, baby.
📍 Maple Leaf Reservoir Park: 1020 NE 82nd St
You can’t miss Maple Leaf Reservoir Park. Find it by locating the giant water tower covered in maple leaves, a nod to the neighborhood name
Just so you know 🛎️
The courts might be full when you get there. Leave a paddle or something next to the court as a marker that you’re “in line” and take some laps around the walking path, or bring some other activity. I always keep an emergency crossword with me for situations like these. You’d be surprised how often this kind of thing can happen.
Ride a brunch wave 🌊
Nothing says a game well played like a celebratory meal at Seattle’s best Hawaiian restaurant.
Kona Kitchen is owned by the actor Yuji Okumoto, who you may know as the bad guy in Karate Kid II, as Johnny Tsunami’s dad in Disney’s Johnny Tsunami, or any of his other numerous film and television appearances. Okumoto has decorated his restaurant with hibiscus flowers, a surfboard, and countless movie posters and signed headshots from stars who have stopped in for a bite.
You can tell Okumoto loved his movie career and loves his restaurant just as much. Just check out this commercial he made in 2013:
If you’re feeling breakfasty, you should order the Diamond Head, which is mouth-wateringly sugary French toast made out of Hawaiian sweet bread, or get the Hawaiian-style fried rice that’s loaded with Spam, green onions, and BBQ pork. For more of a lunch order, you’ve gotta get the kalua pig and cabbage plus the homemade mac salad as a side. You could spend a month just ordering off the Kona Classics part of the menu and never hit a dud.
📍 Kona Kitchen: 8501 Fifth Avenue NE
The regular kitchen is open Monday through Friday 10 am to 9 pm, and Saturday & Sunday 9 am to 9 pm. On Fridays and Saturdays, the bar and lounge is open until 2 am for karaoke.
Nathalie is a writer focused on anything she finds weird or fun. Sometimes this includes local politics and the environment, sometimes this involves scootering half-nude in Tacoma. She used to work as a staff writer at The Stranger where she did a lot of that sort of thing. She detests dentists and loves costume parties.