View of Downtown Seattle, Ballparks, and Olympics
Walking Path (I-90 Trail)
Access to Dr. Jose Rizal (12th Ave) Bridge
West side of 12th Avenue South
There are two classic views of downtown Seattle. The most photographed and most iconic is from the north side at Kerry Park on Queen Anne. It’s the one you see most often on postcards and in magazine articles. The second is from the south at Dr. Jose Rizal Park on Beacon Hill. It’s the view that is most often photographed at night with light trails on the freeways.
The drawback of this particular view is that Jose Rizal Park is on a hillside, and so is only partially accessible for those with mobility issues. The classic viewpoint is down a steep trail that leads to the dog park, and from there you can also find the fence at the edge of the hill to get your camera shots. (From what I’ve seen posted online, photographers have torn a hole in the fence to stick your lens through at the most popular spot.)
Those with mobility issues aren’t left out of the views at this park, however. A great (just not the classic) view is available right next to the parking lot.
Dr. Jose Rizal Park stretches out along 12th Ave South at the northwest tip of Beacon Hill. It’s a much larger park than it first appears from the street because only a very narrow strip of ground is at street level. The park immediately drops down the side of the hill and most of the useable acreage is down below.
There are three main ways to access the lower park. Within the park are two steep trails with steps set into the soil of the hillside. One is at the dog park entrance and the other is near the south end of the parking lot.
A less strenuous, but longer distance, alternative is to arrive at the park on foot or bike from the south or east via the I-90 Trail. The I-90 Trail is a paved walking/biking path that wraps around the entire north end of Beacon Hill, and then continues on east across the floating bridge. The path travels through the lower level of the park. Using this method you’d need to find a convenient path access point, such as parking on the street along Sturgus Park to the east.
I haven’t been to the lower level of the park, but from what I could see from above it looks like it would mostly be attractive to those out for a hearty walk, fit people with dogs, and photographers after the classic view. If you’re looking for a park with easy access to trees, walking paths, and lawns, or to take the kids to play, you’ll want to go elsewhere.
We’ll start our tour of the park’s accessible areas at the north end. If you’re heading south across the 12th Avenue Bridge take the first right turn after the bridge and the park is on your right. In several feet street parking along the curb begins.
If you can’t manage the steep hill down to the lower level of the park but can handle a short distance on a slope, you can park here and walk back to the bridge for a great view. Shooting from the bridge is very popular with photographers, and the pedestrian walkway across the bridge is nice and wide so you can use a tripod without tripping people.
Just past a curve in the road is the dog park entrance. There is a double gate at street level and then steps set into the hillside trail lead down to the park proper. Walkers without dogs and photographers also use this gate to access the lower level and I-90 Trail.
The view from the top at this spot is through tree branches, so if the upper viewpoint is what you’re after you won’t want to stop here. Keep heading south and in a very short distance you’ll see the restrooms and then the parking lot entrance on your right.
At the south end of the lot you get an excellent view to the north of the downtown Seattle skyline and a westward view over the ballparks and port to the bay and Olympics. This is one of those spots where you can sit in your car and enjoy the view if that’s what you prefer. (People in two cars were doing just that while I was there.)
There are two benches right in front of where you park if you want to sit outside for a while to take in the view.
Just south of the parking lot is a picnic area. Some construction was going on when I was there, but it wasn’t clear what the purpose was since it was between the lot and picnic area. The picnic area includes some uncovered tables and some tables under a shelter.
On the south side of the shelter is a small open area with public art and a play structure. The play structure is about as basic as it gets and is designed for small children. It’s nice that it’s there for picnicking families, but if the primary purpose for your outing is for the kiddos to play you’ll want to choose a different park.
Dr. Jose Rizal Park is a recommended stop if you enjoy touring Seattle viewpoints. Even though the park is only partially accessible, the available view if you’re mobility impaired is still very striking. If you’re a cityscape photographer it’s definitely worth making a special trip. For everyone else, if you happen to be in the area you should stop by at least once.
Things to Know
4:00 am – 11:30 pm
The building is behind some trees at the north end of the parking lot.
Two view benches right next to parking.
Several tables in the picnic area at the south end of the parking lot.
Parking near the dog park entrance is street parking. There is a one hour limit during daytime hours.
The parking lot at the upper viewpoint and picnic area has space for about 15-18 cars. Lots of spaces were available when I was there on a beautiful Sunday afternoon in October.
The spaces at the south end of the lot are right at the view. Trees mostly block the view at the north end of the lot.
Overflow parking is available on the street along the length of the park and it’s only a short walk from the street to the upper viewpoint if you park by the lot or picnic area.
Dr. Jose Rizal Park is heavily used by locals, Seattleites out for a view, tourists, and photographers from all over the greater Seattle area.
Though lots of people use the park, it’s not the kind of place where everyone is there at the same time. Because the viewpoints are the main attraction, on a nice day there is a steady trickle of people arriving and leaving, but not lingering long. I was surprised to see only about five or six cars in the parking lot even though it was a stunningly beautiful autumn day.
My guess is that the viewpoint areas might sometimes fill up for sunsets, and the park is probably busier during tourist season, but most of the time you shouldn’t run into a crowd.
Seattle skyline, ballparks, autumn leaves, sunsets, freeway light trails at night.
Best light: morning, sunset, and twilight.