Mount Baker (Central District)
Partial view of Seattle skyline and Olympics
1403 31st Avenue South
Mount Baker Ridge Viewpoint is another spot you can add to your list of obscure Seattle viewpoints. It’s not the most stunning view in this city, but it is a unique little place and worth a stop if you’re in the area. (Based on photos I’ve seen online it’s a pretty nice twilight/night view.)
This pocket park is an excellent example of what neighborhood community activism can accomplish in creating new public space. The project began in 1999 with a petition to acquire the land from the Washington State Department of Transportation and ended in 2009 when the park was dedicated on the spring equinox. Money to build the park was raised through a combination of public funding, corporate giving, and donations from individuals and foundations.
The park is tucked back in the Mount Baker neighborhood on the ridge above the I-90 tunnels. The viewpoint is in the middle of an old, quaint two block commercial district with several eateries close by.
Parking is on the street. How close you can park to the viewpoint will depend on time of day and how much business the local establishments are doing. But most of the time you should be able to find something within a block either way and it’s a level walk to the park.
The park faces west down the little valley between First Hill and Beacon Hill with a territorial view that includes part of the Seattle skyline and a peek at Puget Sound and the Olympics beyond on a clear day. In the foreground are ventilation shafts for the tunnels, and below you can see glimpses of Sam Smith Park which was built on top of the I-90 lid that was added when the second floating bridge was built.
Historical note: Beacon Hill was originally part of one continuous ridge that included First Hill and Capitol Hill. A series of major regrade projects from 1901 to 1910 cut through the ridge to create the valley you see now. The earth that was removed was used to fill in the bay and tide flats below Beacon Hill.
The fill area became today’s SoDo District and Harbor Island, which was the largest man-made island in the world at the time. The new valley necessitated building the 12th Avenue Bridge in 1911 which links the International District to Beacon Hill. You can see part of the bridge from the viewpoint, just below the King Street Station clock tower.
A paved mini-plaza and a metal grate suspended over the hillside comprise the park.
If you have a fear of heights or get vertigo, it can be disconcerting to walk out onto the grating because you can see down through it. The trick is to focus on the view and not look down at your feet. The hillside drop under the south end of the park isn’t precipitous, so not too bad. The north end juts out farther and had me humming “I can do this” under my breath as I crept out to the railing.
There are some tall trees on the hillside that block parts of the view, so you’ll want to move around to make the most of your visit.
There is a display with a brief history of the park’s location in the tiny plaza, and cut stones are set into the paving. The stones are aligned with the position of the setting sun at the equinoxes and solstices. It’s a really neat idea, but the stones are low to the ground so you’d essentially need to lie down in order to view the sun through the cuts in the stones.
There are benches at the viewpoint, located at the north and south ends of the park, which makes this a nice spot to sit for a while. In our soggier months the south benches are great for soaking in some rare sunshine and in hot weather the north benches provide some welcome shade during part of the day.
The view is best on a clear day when the Olympics aren’t obscured by clouds. (Unlike both times I was there.) The mountains are much more striking with snow on them from winter through early spring. The best times of day to enjoy the view are in the morning with the sun at your back, and at sunset or night.
Unless you’re making a project out of visiting as many different kinds of Seattle viewpoints as you can find, Mt. Baker Ridge doesn’t warrant a special trip from far-flung locations. But it is a neat little pocket park and makes for a nice waypoint if you find yourself in the area. Combining a trip to the viewpoint with a meal at one of the restaurants is a good idea. Getting a view table would make it worth any extra distance traveled, especially at or after sunset.
Across the street from the viewpoint is Q.E.D. Coffee. It’s a very nice little micro-roaster that sells coffee and pastries. The man at the counter was very friendly and if you have your dog with you the staff will be friendly to your pooch as well with a jar of dog treats to hand out and a bowl of water outside the entrance. They are open every day until 6 pm.
Heyday is across the street and a block north. It’s a gourmet burger joint with a wide variety of meat choices. In addition to grass-fed beef they also offer things like bison and lamb. The menu is a bit pricey, especially since everything is ala carte. They are famous for their tater tots and also have full bar service. Open every evening except Monday.
Repast was the only other place open on my Sunday afternoon visit, but they close at 2 pm every day. It’s across the street and a block north of the viewpoint, just past Heyday, so I didn’t go in. Repast is a bakery cafe that serves pastries, salads, and sandwiches on bread they bake. Online reviews say the coffee is much better at Q.E.D.
A La Bonne Franquette is a pricey french bistro a few steps south of the viewpoint. The website doesn’t have a menu, but one is posted outside the restaurant’s entrance. They have view tables and offer sidewalk dining in the summer. Open Tuesday through Saturday in the evening. Small, so reservations are recommended.
That’s Amore Italian Cafe is just south of the bistro. They offer outdoor dining, have a couple view tables inside, and are open in the evening every day. The restaurant is small and reservations are recommended. The food photos on their website are droolworthy.
Things to Know
4 am – 11:30 pm
The cut stones.
No picnic tables.
Street parking only. On both of my midday weekend visits I was able to park close to, but not directly in front of, the viewpoint. I imagine parking might be more difficult to find on the evenings all three restaurants are open. (Tuesday – Saturday.)
Mt. Baker Ridge viewpoint is mostly used by locals. My two visits were on fall weekends in the middle of the day and no other people were around, so I thought maybe the park only gets very light use.
But near the end of my second visit a middle-aged couple came to sit in the park for a while. The woman was friendly and was happy to answer my questions. She said the viewpoint is popular with people in the area, especially when there is a good sunset. She said when the restaurants are open a lot of people like to dine out and enjoy the viewpoint for a while before or after their meal.
Territorial view that includes part of the Seattle skyline and Olympic Mountains.
Best light: morning or sunset. Good spot for twilight and night photography if you have a longer lens.
You’ll definitely want to consult a map to plan how to get there or you probably won’t find it since you have to travel through some small neighborhood streets no matter which direction you’re coming from.
Mt. Baker Ridge Viewpoint website