An Old Seattle-Inspired Date in Ballard
Get cultured, go shopping, and get a drink—Viking-style 🇩🇰🇸🇪🇳🇴
October 21, 2022
📸: Rafael Soldi/National Nordic Museum
It’s been years since Ballard welcomed its first condo overlords amid the churn of development in the city, but even as the Pacific Northwest transforms around it, the North Seattle neighborhood maintains its distinctive Nordic roots. You can soak up Ballard’s old Seattle vibes, too—complete with Vikings and glögg.
Stock up on Scandinavian delicacies 🍫
Since 1962, Scandinavian Specialties has kept Ballard in Scandinavian goodies like Swedish meatballs, potato lefse, lutefisk, crispbread, Swedish pastilles, and a staggering chocolate inventory. (You can even buy sweaters here.)
If the prospect of gelatinous fish isn’t appealing (try it!), fret not: Scandinavian Specialties is also a dreamworld for candy enthusiasts, with a maximalist array of sweet snacks. If you have a favorite Haribo gummy, you can probably get it here. Moomin lollipops, French aniseed sweets in gorgeously decorated tins, and hard candies from Germany molded into delicate emoji-like shapes are also on offer. Stop in for Nordic baked goods and coffee in the onsite cafe. Then stock up on treats in the shop to fuel your day of adventure in Ballard. While you’re at it, get a dose of neighborhood history: Scandinavian Specialities is the last Scandinavian shop in a city that was once home to many more.
📍 Scandinavian Specialties: 6719 15th Ave NW
Open daily from 10 am to 5:30 pm.
Brush up on your Nordic culture ⛰️
Continue your history lesson at the National Nordic Museum, whose traveling exhibit “Across the West and Toward the North: Norwegian and American Landscape Photography,” up through Nov. 27, features images taken during the 19th and early 20th century, “when both countries were opening up previously undeveloped areas to roads and railroads,” explains Rosemary Jones, the museum’s director of marketing. To capture extremely rugged terrain inhospitable to photography, the artists whose work appears in “Across the West and Toward the North” “were literally hauling these huge glass plates up to the tops of mountains,” says Jones. The result makes up the images we associate with the American West.
Once you’ve had your fill of sweeping landscapes, head to “Alvar Aalto’s Jyväskylä by Janne Tuunanen.” Opening Oct. 22, the show is essential viewing for all midcentury modernheads, since it explores the work of architect Alvar Aalto, who, says Jones, “set the midcentury look” for Scandinavia and beyond. To build on one history lesson with another, check out “Nordic Journeys” next. Jones recommends visiting the museum’s core exhibition to get “a broader understanding of Nordic life and culture as it evolved over the last 12,000 years.”
For a seasonal delight, time your visit with the museum’s Julefest. Now in its 45th year, the annual outdoor Christmas market builds on Nordic holiday traditions with offerings like Nordic Christmas cookies. These are “always enormously popular,” says Jones, and they go fast. “The cookies are all gone by 2 o’clock.” You can also snack on aebleskiver, puffy round Danish pancakes, sip on glögg (hot spiced wine), or sample something hoppier in the Valhalla Beer Hall. With all these wintry treats, it’s easy to see why Julefest drew over 12,000 attendees last year.
📍National Nordic Museum: 2655 NW Market St.
Open 10 am to 5 pm. Tuesday through Sunday, closed Monday.
Choose your own (dinner) adventure to finish off the day 🥨
After you’ve worked up an appetite taking in all that culture, it’s time to feast like a Viking at Skål Beer Hall. “Skål” means “cheers,” and that’s an appropriate watchword for a beerhall that pays homage to Ballard’s Nordic roots one Nordic craft beer at a time. You can also sip on mead or an aquavit cocktail. Skål also offers a comprehensive food menu “inspired by the idea of a Viking butcher shop.” That means heavy charcuterie boards, seasonally updated grilled skewers, a classic soft pretzel, pickled herring, pork sausage, and even a burger named after the child of Norse god Loki.
Not feeling the Old Norse vibes? For a classic throwback to the more recent past, head to Ray’s Boathouse for elevated dining with a water view. Ballard kids know: With its iconic red neon sign and windows onto Puget Sound and the Olympic Peninsula beyond, Ray’s is peak fancy for when you want to tuck into fresh seafood straight from the source with starched napkins, a generous wine list, and—if the mountains are out—a distractingly ideal dockside location in another old Ballard institution. Some things never change.
📍 Skål Beer Hall: 5429 Ballard Ave NW
Open Monday, Wednesday, Thursday 3 pm to 10 pm; Friday and Saturday noon to midnight; Sunday 11:30 am to 9 pm.
📍 Ray’s Boathouse: 6049 Seaview Ave NW
Open daily 10:30 am to 9 pm.