An Afternoon Quest to Magnuson Park
Leave the car at home. We’re going biking, baby 🚴♀️
August 18, 2022
The 350 acres of Magnuson Park, the second-largest park in Seattle, used to be home to the Sand Point Naval Air Station. Now, the park hosts an over eight-acre off-leash area for dogs, outdoor sculptures, wetlands, a P-Patch, a hill made for flying kites, and views of Mount Rainier that would inspire a Zillow bidding war. It’s luxe. A transcendental Walden Pond moment right in our backyard.
Lucky for all of us, Magnuson Park is accessible by the Burke-Gilman trail, a (nearly continuous) almost 19-mile bike and running path that used to be a railroad corridor. Seattleites in the 70s organized to turn the abandoned railroad tracks into a recreation space. This annoyed waterfront homeowners, who fretted that the path would attract crime. They were wrong. The trail increased their home values and, more importantly, Seattle’s quality of life. A proper trip to Magnuson Park should start with the Burke-Gilman Trail.
Need an afternoon break? Wanna get a little sweaty? Follow our planner for a bike trip from UW → Magnuson Park. (And heads-up: Your journey will get rewarded with 🍪and 🍺)
Follow the bikes! 🚲
Tie on some running shoes, grab a bike, or slip into your roller skates—you’re going multimodal, baby.
Start at the Burke-Gilman Trail near the southern tip of the University of Washington, where Montlake Boulevard and NE Pacific Street kiss. You’ll see signs and, most likely, lots of bikes. Follow those bikes!
While you can do just about anything on the trail (keep it PG, we’re not trying to get too adventurous today), bikes give you the smoothest, fastest, and most wind-in-your-hair experience. Think about it, have you ever seen anyone look sad on a bike? (This does not include people biking up hills.)
Need a ride? 👍
If you don’t own a bike, look for a bike-share option, like a green Lime bike or VEO. (The city has a list of available bikes here.) They’re usually sprinkled all over the University of Washington stadium light rail station. They also have electric batteries, making bike riding feel like flying.
Get to know the trail 🚴♀️💨
This 3.9-mile stretch of the Burke-Gilman from UW to Magnuson whisks you past Drumheller Fountain and Husky Stadium and up the leafy part of the university’s north campus. You may feel dwarfed by the Brutalist-style concrete McMahon Hall. From this view, you might think, “Wow, does McMahon look kinda beautiful from this angle?” Then maybe you’ll remember how, when the building was a functioning dorm, people speculated the reason UW used to lock McMahon’s balconies during finals was that so many students jumped to their deaths.
After UW, most of the ride is dense canopy and dappled sunlight. Soon, you’ll cross a wooden bridge over the turgid river of 35th Avenue NE traffic.
Once you see the horrifying Ronald McDonald statue in front of the Ronald McDonald House on 40th Avenue NE, make your first stop.
What a big cookie you have 🍪
The Metropolitan Market has served Seattleites bougie food and produce since it sprang up in Queen Anne in 1971. Grab your favorite summer berries and perhaps a kombucha or two, but the real reason anyone should go to the Met is for The Cookie.
This hunk of two types of Belgian chocolate, walnuts—this is the only acceptable usage of nuts in baked goods—and ooey-gooeyness will coat your fingers in chocolate and linger in your fantasies for a lifetime. Somehow The Cookie is always warm. The right amount of soft, but crunchy. This should be the centerpiece of every picnic you ever have. For now, start with today’s picnic in Magnuson Park.
📍5250 40th Ave NE: The Sand Point location of Metropolitan Market is open from 6 am to 11 am every day. It boasts lunch and dinner options from 10:30 am to 8 pm and has a rotating menu based on the day. You can find whatever deals they’re offering here.
The Cookie boasts a 1:1 chocolate-to-cookie ratio. Get napkins. That bad boy’s gonna turn into a smorgasbord of melted chocolate.
The final mile 😅
Get back on a bike. Once you reach 65th Avenue NE, turn right toward Sand Point Way. You’ll see a sign for this turn on the trail. This is where you’ll enter Magnuson Park.
Don’t forget 🚳
If you’re on a Limebike or another bike-share bike, pay attention to geofencing. At a certain point in the park, the electric battery will give out on you and you won’t be able to lock your bike and stop paying for your ride. So, park your bike near the first parking lot you see inside the park.
You made it 🎉
Head west in the park until you see Lake Washington. Find a patch of grass, maybe even two trees to string up one of those very convenient hammocks from REI or wherever else you buy hammocks, or a nice lake rock where you can put your toes in the water.
As you break into your picnic of berries and dig your fingers into The Cookie, look out at the water. While you stare at Lake Washington, please ponder what mysteries it holds in its 214 feet of murky depths. For some help on imagined mysteries, consider that at least seven planes and around 400 ferries, barges and boats, plus a whole bridge, have sunk in that lake. Additionally, according to KUOW, divers speculate an entire village could lay at the bottom. You could even walk to the Magnuson boat launch and think about how there’s a PB4Y World War II-era bomber sunken right there!
The park gets absolutely crazy on the weekends and viable picnicking space near the water can be hard to find. If you head north along the lakefront path past the pieces of 22 nuclear submarines making up John Young’s Fin Project: From Swords into Plowshares, you’ll see lots of blackberry brambles. You’ll be able to find a walking path through these brambles to more sitting spots and water access. Maybe you’ll even find a rope swing on this journey.
On to the battered fish 🐟
By now you probably have a sunburn and a hankering for something in your stomach a little more substantial than berries and Belgian chocolate. Good news: Magnuson Cafe & Brewery sits at the northwestern tip of the park. It’s a little bit of a trek to get there, but you’re here for a quest, right?
Get the fish and chips. For $16, you get a big hunk of cod smothered in thick, crackly batter on a bed of fries and a side of slaw. To drink, why not wash down this sunny day with a Sand Point Pilsner? You deserve it. What a day.
📍7801 62nd Ave: Opened in 2018, Magnuson Cafe & Brewery has 14 beers on tap and a full menu of burgers, sandwiches, salads, fish and chips, ice cream, and brunch. The brewery’s best attribute is its covered outdoor deck with views of Lake Washington. Sit back with a beer and watch the windsurfers or the sunset. The brewery is open from Monday through Friday from 11:30 am to 9 pm and Saturday and Sunday from 9 am to 9 pm.
Have someone pick you up—you’re probably tired and tipsy.
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.