Sand Point in NE Seattle
There are two entrances to the park, both on the east side of Sand Point Way.
North entrance at the light at NE 74th St.
South entrance at the light at NE 65th St.
Warren G. Magnuson Park is the second largest park in Seattle when it comes to acreage. But in terms of sheer variety of available activities, Magnuson is Seattle’s biggest park by a vast margin. Name almost any activity you can do outdoors (and many indoors) and there is a place for it here.
Magnuson the Disneyland of Seattle city parks.
The park is not only focused on sports and recreation. There are also facilities dedicated to gardening, children’s activities, the arts, and non-profit organizations.
Because Magnuson Park is so huge, and because there are so many different things to see and do, it is impossible for me to write a regular preview that does the park justice. So this is the first post of a six-part series.
In this introduction I will briefly discuss some of the park’s extensive history, and highlight some of the features and organizations located in the northwest section of the park complex. In upcoming posts I will preview five areas of the park in more detail.
I can’t cover everything. So I encourage you to download the park map*, study the Google satellite view (which is outdated, especially for the wetlands area, but still informative), look at websites, and go exploring.
*Magnuson Park is like its own miniature town and countryside. If you’ve never been there before I strongly recommend downloading and studying the map. The downloaded PDF version is much more legible than the online copy.
Sand Point, the point of land jutting out into Lake Washington that Magnuson Park sits on, was originally a wooded, marshy area with peat bogs and a small lake called Mud Lake.
Once Europeans moved in, displacing natives who had been in the area for thousands of years, the point was home to homesteaders, a shipyard, a brick manufacturer, a post office, and a one room school-house. The first park at Sand Point was established in 1900, a gift from Mr. and Mrs. Carkeek.
When the Ship Canal was finished in 1916 the water level in Lake Washington dropped by several feet. This caused the land of Sand Point to start draining, and Mud Lake started shrinking considerably.
After World War I a movement was begun to build Naval Air Station Seattle at Sand Point, where there was already an existing grass airfield.
That airfield was the start and end point for the first aerial circumnavigation of the globe, completed by two U.S. Army aircraft in 1924. The winged monument at the 74th Street park entrance commemorates that flight.
King County started acquiring parcels of land for the project. (The Seattle city limit was south of here at the time.) The name Carkeek Park was given to a new park on Puget Sound, since the original park was being subsumed into the naval air station. King County then gifted the land to the Navy in the late 1920s.
In the 1930s the air station and Sand Point were dramatically altered as tons of fill dirt was brought in to assist with expanding the facilities. What remained of Mud Lake was filled in and part of Pontiac Bay disappeared. The fill was graded and large portions of land were paved over for runways and other needs.
The photo at the top is what Sand Point looked like in 1953. The contrast between then and the lush park of today is stark and amazing. If you would like to see a higher quality copy of the photo you can download a PDF file here.
The air station ended flight operations in 1970 and almost 200 acres were transferred to the City of Seattle. Some land went to NOAA, and the rest remained in use by the Navy as a support depot.
A fight over the city’s land use ensued between aviation advocates, who wanted an airfield for light aircraft, and citizens advocating for a public park. Those desiring a park eventually won, and Sand Point Park was dedicated in 1975.
The park was soon renamed to Warren G. Magnuson Park in honor of “Maggie”, the longtime Washington State senator who served in the U.S. capitol from 1944-1981, and it officially opened in 1977. Though many Seattleites still refer to it as Sand Point.
Since Magnuson Park opened it has gone through many changes and management plans in attempts to meet disparate (often competing) community needs and interests. One big change was the addition of another large chunk of land when the Navy support depot was deactivated in the late 1990s.
The park currently has 350 acres, including the Landmark District where many of the old station buildings are intact and used by various organizations. The northwest section of the park still has airplane hangers, housing, and administrative buildings. A few new buildings have been added, like the indoor tennis center.
The remainder of the park has undergone dramatic physical changes. Most of the structures, including runways, were demolished to make way for recreational features like sports fields, and to create areas of more natural habitat. Kite Hill was constructed when tons of cement from demolition was piled up, filled in, and sodded over.
Much of the park now looks nothing like it did on my first trip there on a family outing in the 1970s, when the giant PX building and main runway were still in existence. And some areas are unrecognizable today compared to when I frequented the park in the 1990s with my dog.
So if you haven’t been to Magnuson Park in a few years, now is a good time to consider a return visit to marvel over what has been wrought.
A Few Landmark District Highlights
Magnuson Community Center
The Magnuson Community Center is on the east side of 62nd Ave NE, just south of the indoor tennis center. Use either park entrance to get there.
A few parking places are located next to the building on the south side, and there is a lot across the side street to the south.
The Community Center has meeting rooms, a gym, a little theater, and is host to many recreation and activity programs. You can pick up a free class and activity booklet in the lobby. While there you can also ask at the desk for a free printed map of the park if you need one.
The theater is home to Seattle Musical Theater, a small company that produces musicals each season, both new and traditional. For info on upcoming productions and tickets visit their website.
Magnuson Nature Programs
Of interest to nature lovers is Magnuson Nature Programs, which is sponsored by the Magnuson Community Center.
There are three prongs to the Nature Programs.
1. Nature Backpack Rentals (for self-guided nature walks)
Anyone can rent one of two nature walk backpacks for only $5. There is a birds pack and a wetlands pack. The packs contain binoculars, wildlife information, games, and children’s activity booklets. If you go with more than one child a booklet is provided for each child for the $5 fee. The packs also have room to store your own water bottle, camera, and snacks.
While most of the pack contents are geared towards children, adults can find them useful for the binoculars. With binoculars and provided bird identification chart in hand it’s a great way to give birding a try. (Over 200 species of birds have been seen in the park over the years.)
The nature walk packs can be reserved ahead of time by calling the Community Center, which is a good idea if you’re counting on one for your outing.
2. Guided Nature Walks
Magnuson Nature Programs offers a variety of nature walks which are lead by program staff specialists. There are walks designed for children, adults, and families. Lifelong Recreation nature walks are for people age 50+.
The program calendar has scheduled walks that are open to the public (there is a fee), but custom/private guided walks can be arranged as well. These private guided nature walks are great for school fieldtrips, organizations, or even a unique birthday party event.
Details of the fees and how to schedule a private walk are on the website.
3. Camps and Classes
Various after school, holiday, and summer activities are offered for children ages 2-12. Check the website for details.
Use the north park entrance and take an immediate left after the old gate house. If you miss the turn you can loop around by taking the next available left turn. Parking is on the street across from the main entrance.
The Mountaineers offer all kinds of classes, special interest groups, and outings. While their central focus is on hiking and climbing, they have a wide variety of offerings for outdoor enthusiasts of all types, including photographers.
The elders in my blog audience might be especially interested in the Retired Rovers group.
You must be a member of The Mountaineers to take their classes or participate in their activities. The annual membership fee is $75*. But you can attend up to two events without being a member for a trial run before making a financial commitment.
*The Mountaineers offer financial need discounts to individuals and families on a sliding scale basis. This link provides information.
Of more general interest is the Mountaineers Bookstore, which is open to the public. The bookstore is small but has an excellent curated selection.
If you’re looking for maps, nature guides, birding guides, travel and camping books, outdoor rec books, or hiking and climbing books, especially focusing on the Pacific Northwest, this is a wonderful place to browse. They also carry some art and coffee table type books with breathtaking photography, and some books on area history. I bought a gorgeous book about the North Cascades for a gift recently.
The Mountaineers Bookstore is the most convenient location in northeast Seattle to buy a Discovery Pass for Washington State Parks, a Northwest Forest Pass for National Forests, and Sno-Park permits.
See the bookstore website for details and hours of operation.
Outside, on the south wall of The Mountaineers building, is a climbing wall and boulder. These climbing facilities are open to the public, and there is no fee to use them. You do need to bring your own equipment.
Tennis, Miniature Golf, and Cafe
Use the north park entrance and turn right on Sportsfield Drive at the stop sign. The tennis center is on your immediate right. There is a small parking lot in front of the center with a few handicap slots, and a large lot across the street.
Tennis Center Sand Point has ten indoor courts with a medium-paced acrylic surface. In addition to court rentals they offer a pro shop and classes.
Unfortunately, TCSP doesn’t offer any discounts for low income citizens.
They do have a program for seniors. Seniors age 65+ (including non-members) can reserve a doubles-play court spot for free on weekday mornings, and they also get a discount on memberships.
TCSP works with disadvantaged youth in the nearby Solid Ground housing located within the park, and with autistic children through the ACEing Autism organization.
Court reservation and rate info is here, including morning senior play. (Non-members can reserve a court on the same day of play.)
The Center Court Cafe is open to anyone visiting Magnuson Park. See their webpage for hours of operation.
Tennis Center Sand Point also offers miniature golf. The “course” is in a small paved courtyard between the two buildings and is designed for small children, so don’t expect an elaborate set-up.
The cost is $5 for two rounds of 9 holes, for a total of 18. Pay for the equipment rental in the Pro Shop located in the building to the left of the courtyard.
See the miniature golf webpage for photos and phone number.
There are free outdoor tennis courts at Magnuson Park, available on a first come, first served basis. The courts are located in the center of the park and reached via paved paths from both the east and the west sides of the park.
Off-leash Dog Park
Use the north park entrance and keep going straight until you reach the dog park.
The Magnuson dog park is quite large and very popular. There is a lot of parking available, but it can fill up on nice afternoons and weekends. Overflow parking can use the nearby lot next to the children’s playground.
The main section of the dog park has a large field, and three entrance gates located along its length. In the center is a water pump, benches, a rain/sun shelter, and a porta potty.
At the south end is an additional fenced enclosure for small dogs. There are benches and chairs inside this enclosure as well.
On the northeast side of the main field is the start of a long path that travels eastward along the north park boundary to a small beach on Lake Washington. The path and the beach are also part of the off-leash area. This is the only beach in a City of Seattle park where dogs are allowed, so if your pooch loves to swim this is the place to go.
You can also reach the dog beach by using the south park entrance. At the stop sign a ways into the park go left and follow the road to the Kite Hill parking lot. From the lot head toward the lake, then left onto the paved park promenade at the bathhouse. Go north until you reach the off-leash dog beach at the park boundary.
Going in from this direction you must keep your dog on a leash until you reach the dog beach.
Outdoors for All
Use the north park entrance, turn left at the stop sign, turn right at the fence.
Outdoors for All is one of the non-profit organizations based at Magnuson Park. This group specializes in making outdoor recreational activities accessible for those with physical handicaps. They run several programs ranging from daycamps for children, to outings for adults, to adaptive equipment rentals.
For more info visit their website.
Use the north park entrance and go straight ahead, past the stop sign and a planted road divider. The parking lot will be on your right. A porta potty is located in the lot near the playground.
The playground at Magnuson was donated by the Junior League and built by volunteers. It’s touted as the largest in Seattle, but from the quick look I took that appears to be in reference to square footage.
I didn’t see any particularly unique equipment and it all seems to be designed for younger children. As part of your park outing the kiddies may enjoy spending some time here, but it’s not worth a special trip.
There are some height appropriate basket ball hoops on a court, which may be a draw for budding slam dunkers.
Special Park Events
Magnuson is host to numerous public events, classes, and youth camps. Many of them are free or low-cost.
Two popular in the summer are the outdoor movie and outdoor concert series. I don’t know of any websites devoted to the Magnuson schedule specifically, but many websites post the outdoor movie and concert schedules for all venues in the greater Seattle area each year, and are easily found with a web search.
The Magnuson Series is a series of walks, fun runs, and obstacle courses held year-round at the park.