Is Ballard a Good Place to Live? “Yes!”, says the King of Norway and You Might Like It Too!
Our guide to Ballard helps answer the question we always get asked: Is Ballard a good place to live and buy a home?
When King Olav V of Norway visited Ballard back in 1968, he said: “There’s nowhere in the USA I feel more at home“. We couldn’t agree more and we know all about “home”. In fact, we design, develop, and build custom craftsman style homes, one at a time. Like many small businesses in Ballard, our work is a labor of love. And we think our homes would make old King Olav proud of Ballard once again. But it’s not just our homes that make Ballard a good place to live.
In this guide, we’re going to tell you about the kind of people we know who love Ballard, people like us, and maybe people like you. Then we’ll share some key facts about Ballard, from its notable personalities (actually, we don’t have time to tell you about all of them!) to its bars & restaurants to its fisherman’s reef, to its natural beauty, to its parks, schools, and first-class public services.
There’s actually so much to tell you that we had to create
a table two tables of contents so we could let you skip ahead to what you’re most interested in:
Types of people calling Ballard home
- Puget Sound lovers and other nature enthusiasts
- Urban professional and “downtown Seattle” workers
- Families who want the best of suburbs right in the city
- Those new to Seattle
- GLBT lifestyle-seekers
- Ballard Historical Society
- Foodies & chowhounds
- Boat owners who actually sail
- Dog owners
- Those who like to walk (we salute you)
Just a few of the reasons why
- Ballard Schools
- Top Four Live Music Bars in Ballard
- Ballard’s parks and public spaces
- Top three restaurants in Ballard
- Interesting Ballard personalities
- Because it’s the only Seattle neighborhood with a beautiful, relaxing beach. Or really any beach that’s worth sitting on, for that matter.
- Because it has unobstructed views of the Olympic mountains
- Because it lets you gaze long and deep across the open waters of the sound.
- Seattle is surrounded by saltwater but when is the last time you tasted it in the air? Probably the last time you were in Ballard.
Of course, the entire Seattle region is technically part of Puget Sound. But in a typical Seattle neighborhood, you feel as if you were in, well, Seattle.
In Ballard? You’re in the Puget Sound as soon as you come within two or three blocks of the Western shoreline. Part of that’s because in many parts of Ballard you can taste the saltwater on your lips while you walk down the street, especially as you approach the water.
In fact, you can actually walk from right north of the Ballard marina up to the beach and go sunbathing. Or rain bathing. And if you like to swim, of course, you are in luck. Unlike the Pacific Ocean, the water is much warmer at Ballard Beach. And unlike most of inner Seattle, the water’s a whole lot cleaner.
One of the little-known facts about Ballard is that it’s a very easy commute to other parts of Seattle. In fact, it’s become a favorite for those who commute to jobs in the Seattle downtown. Not only that, but Ballard is much flatter than Seattle’s famously hilly neighborhoods, so it’s easier on your vehicle and less stressful.
“I find a lot of young professionals who work in Pioneer Square and South Lake Union.” ~ Robert Sheridan, Ballard Windermere Realty
Ballard is also well-integrated into the public transportation system. It takes 35 to 40 minutes to get to the Space Needle by bus.
A lot of people ask, “is Ballard connected to the Seattle light rail? Or will it be?”. And the answer is, no, not yet. It will be! There are very firm plans to bring the light rail to Ballard within the next 15 years.
By the way, there is some debate as to whether the light rail to Ballard will go under the bay in a tunnel or across over a bridge, and this is something a lot of Ballard residents are involved in deciding for themselves.
We talk to a lot of young families looking for a kid-safe neighborhood but not wanting to move all the way out to the suburbs. Ballard is the perfect blend of urban Seattle and residential domesticity, one of the reasons we believe it’s the perfect place to find a home. Here are the top reasons Ballard is great for those of you with young families:
- Excellent school system
- Low crime rate and safe for kids to explore. The Seattle Police Department allows you to explore crime by neighborhood. The data on North and South Ballard is reassuring.
- Better air quality than most of Seattle
- Excellent public library, as we mention below
- World-class hospitals, doctors, dentists, and other healthcare facilities
- Culturally rich and full of activities
- Large home lots and spacious homes that can fit the whole family
And then, of course, there’s the fact that it’s a hop, skip and a jump from the Space Needle and the rest of downtown Seattle — unlike so many suburban Seattle cities.
Even if you don’t have children, as a newcomer you could be intimidated by the prospect of moving to a hilly, busy, sometimes confusing big city. You might find a little bit of solace in the orderly and calm streets and avenues of Ballard. To really find Seattle can take a little work but Ballard is one of those neighborhoods where the real Seattle still exists. If you move here, you’ve already found the real Seattle!
Also, it’s practical. You’ll find most things you need within Ballard itself, reducing your need to rely on forays into the rest of Seattle. In Ballard you’ll find:
- A large farmer’s market
- Three large commercial grocery stores
- 13 dentists and doctor’s offices
- 8 excellent public schools
- 132 restaurants and cafes
- 67 bars, taverns, and pubs
- 4 major hospitals
- 100s of key services providers from accountants to lawyers to real estate and brokerage services
- A beautiful public “Carnegie” library. Note to parents: all kids fall in love with this library immediately
As you may know, no community in the New World celebrates its Nordic heritage like Ballard. Which is, after all, one of the reasons that the Kings of Norway have been such regular guests. In fact, the Nordic Museum has invested lots of time and resources to relocate itself right in the heart of Ballard. And every year, Ballard residents celebrate Syttende Mai (the 17th of May), which is kind of like July 4th for Norwegians and has been celebrated in Ballard since the 19th Century.
But you may not have known about Syttende Gay, which combines Scandinavian tradition with an expression of Gay Pride. The event speaks to the open, welcoming nature of Ballard residents, which is why many in the GBLT community have found a refuge in Ballard.
A town with this much history needs a large, active historical society to keep its memory and traditions alive.
This isn’t your average historical society either. The Ballard Historical Society is a 501c3 nonprofit organization with an extensive membership and a strong role in the community. We at AIC Builders should know; we’re proud members. In fact, we take great pride in our responsibility as stewards of our town’s cultural heritage.
The photo below is one of the thousands preserved by our historical society. It depicts an early Syttende Mai celebration from around 1900, back when Ballard was still an independent city – it became part of Seattle in 1907.
Ballard has always been famous for its food, but it used to be that it was known for Scandinavian staples and novelties. Nowadays, Ballard’s cuisine comes from all four corners of the earth and joins with the rest of Seattle in pushing forward the foodie movements.
If you love food, you’ll love Ballard, partly because it’s so accessible. For example, the weekend Saturday market on Ballard Avenue is accessible to 45% of Ballard residents by foot or bicycle! It’s also a great place to buy Chinook salmon. Thanks to its commercial fishing legacy, Ballard is the best place in the Seattle to purchase seafood. In fact, commercial fishing companies like Trident Seafoods keep fishing and fishermen an integral part of Ballard’s ethos. Later in the restaurant section of this guide, we talk about some of the absolutely delicious seafood restaurants that Ballard has to offer.
As anyone who has been to Seattle knows, you can’t swing a stick without hitting a marina. Sometimes, the challenge is finding waterfront not hemmed in by a marina. Ballard has many marinas on its Salmon Bay south shore, but they are somewhat closed off from the sound by the Ballard locks. The Shilshole Bay Marina, however, is different because of its easy access to the deep, open waters of Puget Sound. That’s why it’s home to the Seattle Sailing Club and is the envy of sailing enthusiasts all over the United States.
And it’s also a wonderful place to watch the sunset.
For those of you who love dogs so much that you will actually research “dogability” on the Interwebs before considering a move, well, you know who you are. We get each other. Ballard is a great place to be a dog owner, especially if you love giving your dog the walks and the outdoor time she loves.
Because as we discuss in the next section, Ballard is actually a very walkable neighborhood, especially by Seattle standards.
For another thing, Ballard residents are crazy about dogs. Just ask David Adams, founder of SniffSpot, which lets dog owners come together at private locations all over Ballard (and elsewhere around Seattle) so their dogs can have playtime.
“People in Ballard and Fremont are crazy about their dogs, even more so than other places in Seattle” ~David Adams
Many a Seattle resident will make the following remark: “Ballard has lots of sidewalks!“. Now, that may seem unremarkable to many Americans, but for some reason, Seattle has a surprising lack of sidewalks in many areas outside of the downtown proper. Like Queen Anne, though, Ballard city planners had the foresight to generously provide sidewalks throughout the town.
But of course, Ballard offers its residents lots of places to walk to. As a matter of fact, most parts of Ballard have an extremely high (like Western Europe) “walkability” score, according to WalkScore.org.
If you don’t like having to get in your car to go anywhere (and if you don’t like walking up and down steep hills) you might like living in Ballard.
If you’re looking for an excellent public school, and long-term trend towards improvement, you might want to take a look at this school data below. As you can see, small class size to teacher ratios and high ratings are a trend in the Ballard public schools system.
“Families move here because the school districts are great no matter what neighborhood you’re in.” ~ Robin Sheridan, Ballard Windermere Realty.
This data comes from GreatSchools.org, a nonprofit organization dedicated to providing unbiased information on schools. Look and see what they have to say about the renowned Ballard High School.
Ballard High School
Public • Grades 9-12
1669 students • 20 student/teacher
Lawton Elementary School
Public • Grades K-5
419 students • 17 student/teacher
Loyal Heights Elementary School
Public • Grades K-5
450 students • 19 student/teacher
West Woodland Elementary School
Public • Grades K-5
520 students • 17 student/teacher
Whittier Elementary School
Public • Grades K-5
466 students • 22 student/teacher
Salmon Bay School
Public • Grades K-8
673 students • 18 student/teacher
Adams Elementary School
Public • Grades K-5
536 students • 17 student/teacher
As you can see from the events calendar of the Connor-Bryne pub, many of the bars in Ballard’s historical center, “Old Ballard”, are live-music oriented. And they’re all located on Ballard Avenue, which was teeming with fisherman a century ago and has maintained a festive atmosphere.
Other venues which have been successfully making live music a part of their business model include:
- Tractor Tavern, at 5213 Ballard Ave. They feature “roots rock to reggae to folk to country”.
- The Sunset Tavern, at 5433 Ballard Ave. They feature “rock, alt-country, punk & electronica acts”.
- Egan’s Ballard Jam House, at 1707 NW Market St. One of Seattle’s only dedicated live Jazz clubs.*
By the way, if you like Jazz, make sure you take note of the nationally-attended Ballard Jazz Festival, every May.
*For you Ballard old-timers out there, this place used to be known as Maurie’s Jazz Club
Something has to be said here about Ballard’s public spaces because this is where Ballard starts to get really good. For one thing, they are quite flat; when you park your car, you don’t have to remember to pull the e-brake every time. For another thing, they are generous, peaceful, and clean, especially in comparison to some of Seattle’s other urban neighborhoods.
But although Ballard property prices have soared in recent years, its broad avenues, strolling sidewalks, beaches, parks, and harbors are not the exclusive domain of the super-wealthy.
In Ballard, all types of people celebrate festivals, play pick-up basketball, shop at the farmer’s market, and picnic in the parks. We have to point out our favorite parks though:
Why did we choose these three in particular? Because we are proud to have created a beautiful craftsman style home next to each and every one of them – within walking distance.
The Walrus and the Carpenter. A fun, lively, and approachable oyster bar — a neighborhood place where the very best in food and drink could be served in a cozy, welcoming setting.
The Hi-Life. Even if this restaurant were terrible, we’d still recommend it because of how it looks. It’s even better on the inside. Oh, and the Fish n Chips and the Chicken Pot Pie are delicious!
The Ballard Annex Oyster House. The Annex, which is located in Old Ballard just down the road from The Walrus and the Carpenter, exemplifies Ballard’s seafood tradition and a large, charming and spacious interior such as you rarely encounter in other parts of Seattle.
Of course, we’re not doing Ballard any justice by highlighting just three restaurants. And yes, you can find lots of places to eat that aren’t seafood. As with other food-obsessed urban neighborhoods in American big cities, you’ll find everything from Taco carts to Vietnamese Pho. But these three establishments hold a special place in our hearts because they are “uniquely Ballard”.
Edith Macefield, an ordinary Ballard resident who exemplified the stubborn independence of her community when she refused to sell her house (pictured below) to condominium developers.
King Olav V, defender of the Norwegian people against Nazi Germany, Ballard-aficionado. Also, his son King Harald V of Norway. Note: neither was a permanent resident of Ballard but both have been granted honorary Ballard-status.
Sig Hansen, star of TV reality series, The Deadliest Catch, which follows his adventures as a commercial fishing boat captain. The show also features wonderful outtakes from Ballard’s harbor and bay-side bars and restaurants.
About American Investment Company LLC (AIC Builders)
American Investment Company LLC was founded in 2007 and has developed a very solid reputation with customers, suppliers, and realtors. The owner is on-site every day, which allows him to control the quality of workmanship and materials. We build one house at a time, and we stand behind every house we build.
And guess where AIC thinks is the best place is to create our homes? No town, city, district, or neighborhood inside or outside of metropolitan Seattle is as perfect a community for our homes as Ballard. In a competitive housing market full of big developers and condominium development projects, AIC Home Builders connects Ballard to its past, when people valued quality, detail, and craftsmanship. We love Ballard so much, we’ve made it our home too.
Keep in mind too that, home sales in Ballard have been at all times highs in recent years, even surpassing other high-demand neighborhoods like Greenwood, Ravenna, Leschi, South Lake Union, West Seattle, Mount Baker, Capitol Hill, Columbia City, and SoDo. So if you’re interested in joining the Ballard community, now might be a good time to make a plan for how to create your perfect Ballard home.