From Sand Point Way NE turn east on NE 93rd St.
The park entrance is about two blocks, on your left.
Matthews Beach is just a little ways north of the much larger and better known Magnuson Park. As such it doesn’t get much attention. Until the weather turns hot that is. Then the hordes descend, looking for a way to cool off. The rest of the year it’s a beautiful, peaceful park.
The entrance to the park is in the middle of a long parking lot that is perpendicular to the main park. Turn to your right immediately after entering to try and get the closest parking available.
From the parking lot the park doesn’t look very interesting. All you can really see is the bathhouse and the central lawn that leads down to the lakeshore and swimming area. But once you get out of the car and start walking around you realize there is so much more.
The central lawn area is encircled by a paved walking path. A couple picnic tables are on the south side of the path, and they are the closest to parking for those who can’t walk far. A few more tables and a bench are scattered around the middle and north parts of the lawn.
In warm weather this is the most crowded part of the park, with the lawn filling up with picnic blankets and beach chairs. In June posts in the lake are connected by ropes, creating a defined swimming area which is patrolled by lifeguards. (Though people are known to swim almost any time of year, including the New Year’s Day Polar Bear Plunge.)
Matthews Beach is a bit of a misnomer because the swimming beach isn’t much of a beach. There is only a narrow strip of sand between the water and the edge of the walkway and central lawn. It’s enough for the kiddos to play in with a shovel and pail, but you aren’t going to be sunbathing on it.
When approaching from the parking lot you can choose to turn right instead of heading straight to the swimming area, and a level gravel path leads into the large south section of the park. This area is quite beautiful when the trees are leafed out, and tends to be less crowded, even when the park is full. It’s the part of the park I always gravitate to.
The path continues straight along the west edge of the park, eventually entering a wetland and wildlife refuge at the southern end of the park. This is where Thornton Creek empties into Lake Washington.
Lots of trees ring this section of the park, and provide welcome shade on hot days. It’s a great place to set up a picnic blanket or a folding camp chair to stay cool.
Across the lawn, near the lake, are several picnic tables. At the southeast corner of the lawn there is a small sandy beach. It’s intended to be a launch for hand-carried boats like kayaks, but it’s also a perfectly good place to wade or swim. Provided of course you pay careful attention to your own safety, since there is no lifeguard here.
The northwest section of the park is on a slope, and can be reached from the central lawn, or by a couple different paved paths leading directly up from the north edge of the parking lot.
Just past the bathhouse is the playground. I’m no expert, but to me it looks like a pretty good one. It not only has swings, but also a merry-go-round. Evidently they are almost non-existent these days. If there hadn’t been so many families in the area when I was taking photos for this preview I would have been tempted to take a spin on it myself.
The hill above the playground has lots of evergreen trees and it’s the shadiest part of the park. Among the trees are several picnic tables and benches. The paved paths loop around the area, and also connect up with the Burke-Gilman Trail at the far west end of the park.
Below the playground is the north lawn. It’s connected to the central section and the hill section by a paved path. There you can find trees and a picnic table cluster on cement around a BBQ grill.
Matthews Beach is the kind of park where you can plan to take a nice long walk all through the park on the network well-maintained paths, or just find a quiet spot for yourself to enjoy the beauty of the trees and lake. Or both!
Things to Know
6 am – 10 pm
Picnic tables are scattered around all sections of the park.
A few benches are in the northwest section and there is one in the north lawn.
The picnic tables at Matthews Beach can all be reserved through the city parks department.
If you go during hot weather and can’t sit on the ground, I highly recommend bringing your own portable chair if you plan to stay for a while. The picnic tables fill up, especially if some have been reserved.
During the rest of the year there is always somewhere to sit.
Located near the northeast corner of the parking lot, in the center of the park.
The toilet entrance is on the parking lot side of the building.
They have the steel prison-style toilets.
Entrance to the bathhouse changing rooms is on the lake side of the building.
There are a couple handicap spaces in the northeast corner of the lot.
The parking lot is large and on an average day there are always plenty of spaces available.
However, on summer weekends and hot weekday afternoons the lot does fill up. Packed to the brim.
It is tempting to park on the neighborhood street by the park when the lot is full, but you risk your car being towed.
On Sand Point Way, just north of where the Burke-Gilman Trail crosses the road on an overhead bridge at the intersection with 95th, there is a gravel turnout on the west side. It can be used for overflow parking, though there is only room for a few cars.
I talked a lot about crowds above, but on a typical day Matthews Beach is much like any other park, with the added treat of being on the lake.
It is mostly used by a scattering of locals and people on bike rides on the Burke-Gilman, and it is large enough that everyone can spread out to enjoy some peace and quiet.
It is only on warm weekends and summer afternoons that the park turns into a Seattle hot spot, drawing people from all over in large numbers. The park can sometimes get pretty rowdy then.
Birds, squirrels, lake.
Best light: sunrise or afternoon.
Signs are posted near the water to be aware of toxic algae. If algae is blooming (a green scum on the water surface) you need to stay out of the water, and keep your dog out too. Dogs have died from drinking it. Algae blooms are most common in summer or fall, but can happen any time. If a bloom is in progress park staff will post water closure signs.
Due to ducks and geese enjoying the park as much as humans there can be a lot of bird poop on the lawns close to the lake. You’ll want a towel at a minimum to sit on if you’ll be on the ground there.
Wildlife I’ve seen:
Birds – mallard, lesser scaup, bufflehead, canada goose, gadwall, American widgeon, pied-billed grebe, double-crested cormorant, bald eagle, seagulls.
(The best time of year to observe birds is late fall through early spring when wintering guests show up and the beach isn’t in use.)