Seattle Seaplane Tour shows the skyline

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A seaplane flight is the quintessential Pacific Northwest experience and with Kenmore Air, you’ll get the opportunity to see Seattle from a unique perspective.

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Kenmore Air has been around since 1946 and has an impeccable reputation in the industry. It’s the largest seaplane operation in the U.S. and offers a number of scenic flight tours in the region. Kenmore also operates as a mode of transportation to the San Juan Islands and British Columbia.

The company’s scenic tours are flown using de Havilland Beavers, Turbine Beavers and Turbine Otters. These sturdy, safe aircraft carry from six to ten passengers and their high-wing design allows for spectacular views.

South Lake Union is a Seattle Hub

Kenmore Air seaplane arrives at the Lake Union dock in Seattle
Kenmore Air seaplane arrives at the Lake Union dock in Seattle. Photo by Debbie Stone

Your adventure begins as you board your seaplane from Kenmore Air’s terminal in South Lake Union, in the heart of the city. This is a rapidly growing neighborhood with tech companies like Amazon and Google providing the “horsepower” for that growth.

It’s also the location of a large houseboat community consisting of about 200 houseboats and 500 floating homes. This gives Seattle its claim to fame as having the most floating homes and houseboats than any other city in the U.S.

The Houseboat Scene in Seattle Has a Long History

Houseboats in Seattle
Houseboats have a long history in Seattle. Photo by Debbie Stone

Such dockside dwellings have been a part of the city’s shorelines since the 1890s when they became popular as an economic alternative housing option for low-income residents. Today, the houseboats of Lake Union are among Seattle’s most desirable homes and treasured landmarks. And some are quite swanky, selling for multi-million-dollar price tags.

The most famous floating home here is the one that took center stage in the 1993 rom-com, “Sleepless in Seattle,” starring Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan. This 2,200 square-foot residence sits at the end of a story-book dock lined with flowers. If you’re curious and want to see it without a personal invite from the owner, you’ll have to use a kayak or paddleboard.

As for Lake Union itself, this body of water covers an approximately 581-acre area with an average depth of 32 feet.

The Scenery From Above is Sublime

Greenery abounds around the Emerald City
Greenery abounds around the Emerald City. Photo by Debbie Stone

Get psyched as your seaplane glides across the surface of the lake and then rises above it all. From your own personal window seat, you’ll get to soar over one of the most picturesque places in the country, noted for its city skyline, bodies of water, islands and lush greenery. The latter is responsible for Seattle’s nickname, the “Emerald City.”

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Capitol Hill and Volunteer Park

Your narrated flight will point out various points of interest as you cover the expansive area. Capitol Hill, for example, is known for its hip vibe with eateries, bars, coffee shops and indie stores.

At the top of the hill is Volunteer Park, amid a historic mansion district. This lovely greenspace has walking trails, a plant conservatory and the Art Deco Asian Art Museum. Plus, its panoramic city vistas are hard to beat.

Bridges Abound

Bridges connect Seattle with Eastside communities
Bridges connect Seattle with Eastside communities. Photo by Debbie Stone

You’ll notice two bridges crossing another lake – Lake Washington. These bridges are unusual in that they float atop the lake on concrete pontoons. Because the water is 200 feet deep and has a muddy bottom, it presents challenging conditions for conventional bridges.

One of the bridges, the Evergreen Point Floating Bridge, is a mile and a half long and has the distinction of being the longest floating bridge in the world.

A set of communities collectively called “the Eastside,” sit along the lake. These suburbs are also home to such companies as Microsoft, Eddie Bauer, AT&T Wireless, Expedia and T-Mobile.

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The University of WA is Known For Its Academic Reputation and Picturesque Campus

You’ll pass the campus of the University of Washington, known locally as “U Dub.” Established in 1861, it’s the state’s largest university and boasts what many regard as one of the most beautiful urban campuses in the country. If you have time after your flight, check it out.

View of Mt. Rainier in the hazy distance
View of Mt. Rainier in the hazy distance. Photo by Debbie Stone

Shipping Takes Centerstage

The narration continues as you fly over Shilshole Bay Marina. It’s massive, with more than 1,400 slips, and is located at the mouth of the Ship Canal. When you enter the canal, you’ll see the Ballard Locks.

The locks raise and lower boats more than twenty feet between the saltwater of Puget Sound and the freshwater of the canal and lakes. More than 65,000 vessels a year pass through these locks, from ginormous cargo ships to kayaks.

Ship Canal is also where fleets of boats that ply the Alaskan waters are home-ported, several of which have been featured in the series, “The Deadliest Catch.”

Another bridge comes into view. It’s the George Washington Memorial Bridge, but if you’re a Seattle area resident, you know it as the Aurora Bridge, named after the avenue it crosses.

Its notoriety is being the last link in the Pacific Highway, the first highway before interstates were created to span the western U.S. from Canada to Mexico.

Iconic Space Needle

The iconic Space Needle in downtown Seattle
The iconic Space Needle in downtown Seattle comes into view.
Photo by Debbie Stone

The flight offers a good look at the famed Space Needle in downtown Seattle. When this 605-foot bastion was built for the 1962 World’s Fair, it was the tallest structure west of the Mississippi. Though it’s not true today, it still offers a great view from the observation deck. Add it to your Seattle sights post-tour list.

Who’s Elliot?

The body of water below is Elliott Bay, Seattle’s seaport, which was purportedly named for a sailor on an early voyage of discovery. The problem is that there were three sailors named Elliot on the expedition that visited the Puget Sound back in 1841 and nobody seems to know which one the captain had in mind.

Seattle is a major Pacific port and though you’ll spot many vessels in the water, you’re still about 140 miles from the ocean. The narration will tell you that even at this distance, the city is about a day closer to major Asian trading ports than any other point on the U.S. West Coast.

Washington State Ferries Are a Major Mode of Transportation

Arrivals and departures on a seaplane are smooth
Arrivals and departures on a seaplane are smooth. Photo by Debbie Stone

Of the ships you might see, a few are distinguished by their green and white colors. These are Washington State Ferries, which carry more than twenty million passengers annually. A number of these people are commuters from surrounding island communities.

A ferry trip from Seattle to nearby Bainbridge Island is another popular activity for visitors, as it provides an on-water perspective of the area.

You might wonder, with all this water around, if there are beaches. And yes, there are a few, but the water temp in summer here rarely exceeds 55 degrees, so only the “polar bears” attempt to leave their sandy spots for a swim.

Your journey ends where it began, with a landing that’s equally as thrilling as the departure. The seaplane gently kisses the water and all too soon you’re back on terra firma. But I can guarantee you that the memories of your incredible adventure will live on.

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Author Bio: Debbie Stone is an established travel writer and columnist, who crosses the globe in search of unique destinations and experiences to share with her readers and listeners. She’s an avid explorer who welcomes new opportunities to increase awareness and enthusiasm for places, culture, food, history, nature, outdoor adventure, wellness and more. Her travels have taken her to nearly 100 countries spanning all seven continents, and her stories appear in numerous print and digital publications. 

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