We hadn’t planned on a boat tour, but when our Seattle CityPASS included it for free, we went for it. The pass included the Harbor Tour, but we decided to upgrade to the Locks Tour, which ended up being a great decision. It was a 2.5 hour tour, and we got to see Lake Union, the locks in the Fremont Cut, views of Mt. Rainier, and Tom Hank’s house from Sleepless in Seattle! We’ve now officially seen the city from every view possible, but from the water was by far the best.
We also got dreamy views of Mt. Ranier, which was lucky for us because it’s not always visible.
The tour started in fresh-water Lake Union and went through the Fremont Cut, passing the famous floating homes. After going through the locks, we were in the salty Puget Sound and rounded West Point Lighthouse at the edge of Discovery Park. From there, we ended in the Seattle Harbor.
The floating homes in Seattle are now worth upwards of $2 million, but during the late 19th century, when they were built, they were the “ghettos” of Seattle. Dock workers, sailors, and other poor families built their homes on rafts because they couldn’t afford to buy land. Because wastewater technology in the 1890’s wasn’t the best, it was apparently a pretty filthy place to live. The city eventually cleaned it up by limiting the number of house boats permitted, and that’s where the exclusivity came from. This one is the houseboat from Sleepless in Seattle, although only the exterior was used, it’s a classic =)
The locks are what allows Lake Union to remain salt-free. They keep the freshwater on a level above and separate from the lower saltwater that leads to the Puget Sound. It’s a pretty intricate system that moves boats from one level to another. We started out on top looking down at the saltwater, and slowly went down until we were arrived at sea level!
The sea-side of the locks is where the more industrial vessels dock. Each tugboat company in Seattle traditionally has their own color/design, because prior to radio communications, it was a race to get customers. When a ship arrived in port, the first tugboat to arrive was usually the one chosen. But if you had a good experience with the company that painted their tugboats red, you can see from afar that the red tugboat isn’t far and you can send the first tugboat on its way and have more of a choice in tugboat options. The companies have continued this tradition through today and it makes for a pretty scene.
After leaving the canal, we ended up in the Puget Sound and got our first glimpse of Mt. Rainier, just behind West Point Lighthouse. The lighthouse is at the tip of Discovery Park, which is in the westernmost peninsula of Seattle. If you look at a map, you’d wonder why it’s not developed by now and it’s because it used to be an Army base which was eventually closed and sold to the city. Many wanted to build affordable housing, but it was kept as a park for environmental reasons. It now houses 10+ miles of trails, wildlife and a sewage treatment plant (which is pretty well hidden!).