Very few park designers take chances with their layouts, normally opting for standard grass-and-tree formations. These parks are a little different. You’re highly unlikely to step on dog shit in any of them, but even if you did, it would be worth it.
The Bloedel Reserve on Bainbridge Island is perfect for the drive-up-to-nature-and-leave-a-few-hours-later type of person. With constantly changing scenery, it features 12 different types of gardens in one, a virtual snack-mix bag of nature for short attention spans like mine: a Japanese garden, a rhododendron glen, a bird marsh, a mystical moss forest that probably has elves, and even a reflecting pool with an adjacent bench, where you can sit and think about the $17 you spent to get into this park.
Considering everything Bloedel features, what it prohibits is also part of the appeal. You won’t find pets, smoking, picnics, or even joggers, who ruin the serenity of every park with their relentless self-improvement. No jogging or running is allowed. You can stroll, you can traipse, you can even amble, but anything beyond a brisk walk is discouraged. Bloedel functions more like a museum than an outdoor gym, and while it might be fun to Pogo-stick your way through the moss forest, such indelicate activity is discouraged. No need to break a sweat.
The Japanese Garden
It’s not a great compliment, but Seattle’s Japanese Garden is much better than the mini-Japanese garden I have on my desk at work. The 3.5-acre sanctuary houses a path that winds around a central pond dotted with stones, lanterns, bridges, traditional Japanese plants, and of course koi. You’ll likely spend most of your time watching the ornamental koi, with their cow-like stares and slow, heaving mouths. When they look in your direction, it feels as though they’re cursing you and that you’ll soon find yourself swimming among them. But those worries aside, this is one of the more relaxing places in the city. It’s precisely the opposite of Pike and 10th on a Friday night. The layout encourages a slow stroll, and everyone walks as if they’re perusing the aisles of a bookstore with no intention of buying anything. There’s even a zig-zag bridge meant to ward off evil spirits (what a relief).
Quick note: On occasion artists can be found painting landscapes. If you accidentally walk in front of one, just stand there until they’re finished painting you in.
Harborside Fountain Park
Don’t go to Bremerton only for Harborside Fountain Park. But if you find yourself in Bremerton for some sort of lilac festival or whatever goes on there, then by all means amble over to this adorably amusing oasis. The key feature is the five copper-plated fountains shaped like submarine sails, which launch bursts of water resembling volcano blasts or whale spouts or whatever you want it to be. Despite spending over an hour in the tiny park, I couldn’t detect any linear pattern in the spray of the fountains. Nor could the alien ship hovering overhead and trying to communicate with them by shooting water back. In any case, kids love playing in the water and then running away whenever the fountain bursts, and I love standing there without flinching like Robert Duvall in Apocalypse Now. “Someday this war’s going to end,” I remark to the kids.
Outside of the fountains, the park offers an array of plants, carved rocks, and a sweet view of approaching ferries in the Sinclair Inlet. But you’ll mostly just stare at the bursting fountains, betting with your friends on which will go off next. I lost $1,200.
Granted, Counterbalance Park doesn’t really belong on this list. It’s not exactly a great park, and feels like the kind of place where a character in a Bret Easton Ellis novel would die. Yet it must be discussed. You may not know it by name, and have probably never stopped there, but Counterbalance is that concrete park at the corner of Queen Anne and Roy that’s lit at night with green and purple lights. It’s the most L.A.-looking part of Seattle.
Rarely do people sit and relax there, especially at night, what with the sounds of the dueling piano bar across the street. And whereas most parks have grass and trees and soil, this one has wood planks, gravel, and steel benches. Still, it serves a bit of a purpose: If you feel an existential crisis coming on at night, this is the park for you. To passersby, you will appear only as an isolated but beautiful silhouette, which is all you can really ask for in life.
Not to sound like a real-estate agent, but this park is a bit of a hidden gem (sorry). A half-mile wooded ravine just north of the U District, Ravenna Park features multiple trails lined with towering bigleaf maples, Coast Douglas firs, and Western hemlocks, all of which look the same to me. Sometimes when you stare up at the sunlight breaking through the tall thicket of leaves, you may start hearing Terrence Malick narration. “What’s this war in the heart of nature? Why does nature vie with itself? The land contend with the sea?” It will stop if you tell it to.
What most distinguishes Ravenna Park is that after walking the trails, you can make your way up to the pedestrian-only 20th Avenue Bridge, which sits at the top of the trees and overlooks the entire vista. How often do you get to stand at the tops of trees? Mostly we have to stare at them from the bottom in unwarranted awe. Not so tough now, are you, trees?
What I’m saying is that it’s a nice park.