Sand Point in NE Seattle
Partial views of Cascade peaks
East side of Sand Point Way at the 74th St. light
This is the second post in my Magnuson Park series. The introduction is here.
The North Shore Recreation Area, despite its alluring name, is an obscure section of Magnuson Park. It is tucked into the far northwest corner between Sand Point Way and the NOAA installation.
Most people don’t ever visit this little part of the enormous park. I’d never been there myself until I started extensive exploring for this preview series. It’s not particularly attractive compared to the more parklike and natural areas, but it does have its own charms.
The north shore of Sand Point was used for seaplanes in the naval air station days. Large ramps led up from the lake to the paved area and hangars where the planes were stored. A cement retaining wall eventually replaced the ramps and over the years the area fell into disrepair, though it has been used as a boat launch for all or most of the park’s life.
Eventually a few organizations moved in, repurposing existing buildings. And a shoreline facelift was completed in two phases in 2006 and 2009, making the North Shore a little more inviting.
You arrive at the North Shore by passing underneath the NOAA access road. Immediately there is a hardly noticeable road angling to the left with a Dead End sign making it look forbidding. The road goes behind a long brick building until it dead ends.
At the dead-end there is enough room to turn around and space for three or four cars to park, including a handicapped slot. So if you want to drive back there, feel free.
At the dead-end is the start of a path that parallels the lake in a northwest direction to the park boundary. I thought this might be a pretty walk, but bushes between the path and lake mean there is no view.
The path isn’t very long and is mostly level, with the slightest of a downhill grade after it curves. At a break in the bushes along the shore is a storage shed and a couple small floating docks. They are apparently part of the Sail Sand Point facilities, though I get the impression this out of the way nook is little used by boaters. It appears to be a spot teens like to hang out and swim in nice weather, valuing its obscurity and privacy.
The long brick building is the Waldorf School campus for grades 9-12. It’s a private school with an experiential learning philosophy, with a heavy emphasis on ethics, arts, nature, and practical subjects. (If you’re driving in the area when students are present, please drive carefully.)
Of possible interest to park goers is what can serve as an oddball picnic location when the school isn’t in session. At the south end of the school are two picnic tables, and a couple basketball hoops.
The location itself isn’t terribly picturesque when compared to typical park picnics, but it is unique, with a view of the Arena Sports hangar and boats in storage. Two different access points to the lake and a porta potty are nearby, and you’ll probably never have to fight for parking near the tables.
If instead of taking the left road behind the school you continue straight ahead, you quickly arrive at a four-way stop. Turning right at the stop sign will take you to a large parking lot in front of the refurbished hanger which currently houses the Magnuson Athletic Club and Arena Sports. On your left is the lake.
If you don’t turn into the lot but keep going straight towards the NOAA fenceline, you’ll find a ramp down into the lake. The ramp is used primarily for hand carry boat launching.
But two large cement blocks right at the waterline (there to prevent trailer launched boats) have made me think it would be a great spot to sit and soak your feet on a hot day. You might find me there this coming summer giving that a try!
The ramp is all that remains of the original seaplane ramps. It is partly paved with flagstones salvaged from another area of the old air station.
This spot is a good place to get a closer look at NOAA boats when they are at home, and you can also see some of the higher peaks in the Cascades.
If you go straight ahead at the stop sign, you will reach the end of the road at the shore of Lake Washington on a small bay.
On your left is the Cascade Bicycling Center and Sail Sand Point. Ahead are the SSP docks, and to the right is a narrow gravel beach. You can’t see the beach from your car, because the road and parking are on a raised section of cement.
The gravel beach was part of the North Shore facelift, and it consists of lovely rounded rocks that lately I have been obsessed with photographing in the water.
For much of the year the North Shore Rec area is a very quiet and sedate part of the park, which is why it appeals to me.
You can hand launch a boat here, take a walk along the beach, watch birds, watch kayaks and sail boats, or just sit on the short cement wall and enjoy the peaceful sound of waves. I especially like it here on a breezy day when the wind is coming from the east or north.
The North Shore Recreation Area at Magnuson Park may not appeal to the majority of park goers. But if you want to be by the water and away from a lot of people, it’s worth considering. It could be improved by installing a couple benches by the beach, but bringing your own camp chair is a good solution.
North Shore Organizations
Arena Sports is an indoor soccer club located in an old seaplane hangar. In addition to soccer, they also offer an indoor inflatable playground called the FunZone. The FunZone is open to the public, though club members pay reduced prices.
It can be a good place to bring rambunctious youngsters when days and weeks of rainy weather cut down on playground time at your local park. The FunZone is available as a drop-in activity, but it can also be rented out for special events like birthday parties.
At this time the non-member rate is $9 for at least two hours of play for children ages 2-12. Parents play for free. Details are available on the Arena Sports website.
Cascade Bicycling Center
The Cascade Bicycle Club is a non-profit organization that operates the Cascade Bicycling Center at Magnuson Park. The club sponsors daily Seattle bike rides and special riding events. They also offer a variety of classes on bike riding and repairs. Their classes are for beginners to experienced riders, and for children and adults.
Club membership is $40 per year, but they offer discounts to families, students, and those with low income.
The Cascade Bicycle Center welcomes anyone to come in and pick up a copy of the club newsletter, get more information, or have a complementary cup of tea or coffee. (Nice idea if you’re at the shore on a cold and windy day.)
Sail Sand Point
Sail Sand Point is a non-profit organization devoted to making sailing small boats accessible to everyone. They teach sailing classes from April through September, operate summer youth camps, and run an outreach program for at-risk kids.
Scholarships that reduce or eliminate class fees are available for kids and adults with financial hardships.
Sail Sand Point also offers sailing opportunities for those with disabilities. Classes and boats designed for people with a variety of mobility issues are available.
You can visit their website for more information. And this article from 2002 in the Seattle PI talks about their philosophy of making sailing available to anyone in the community, regardless of background, ability, or income.
Open Boating Program
The Sail Sand Point Open Boating program is essentially boat rentals, but with a few differences from a commercial outfit. The program allows people in the community to use boats from the SSP fleet when they are not in use by other programs.
Watercraft cannot be reserved, they are only available on a first come, first served basis, which can mean wait times in nice weather.
The Open Boating program doesn’t include any instruction, even for kayaks and stand up paddle boards. So novices should go elsewhere first (many commercial rentals include minimal instruction) or take a SSP sailing class.
The Open Boating program rents out sailboats, kayaks, and stand up paddle boards. In order to take out a sailboat the skipper must first pass a skills proficiency test at the facility. The availability of testing is dependent on how busy the place is at the time and how many instructors are available.
One drawback to the Open Boating rentals is that Sail Sand Point maintains a rather restricted boundary for how far you can take their watercraft. You have to remain within sight of the boat center, which means that due to the nature of the shoreline (the center is located on a small bay) you can’t travel very far north or south on the lake.
Boats and paddle boards can be rented by the hour, or with a multi-use pass or season pass.
Discount rates are available on season passes for students, military, seniors, and disabled.
Sail Sand Point also offers public storage for non-motorized, hand-launchable boats. Since it’s in a great location all storage space is currently full, but you can be put on a waiting list. See their website for details and rates.
Things to Know
To reach the North Shore take the left immediately after the old gate house at the 74th St. entrance to Magnuson Park and follow the road north quite a ways until you pass under the NOAA road.
If you miss the turn just inside the park entrance, take the next left and you can loop around until you get to an intersection near the underpass.
4 am – 11:30 pm
Two picnic tables at south end of school.
Cement blocks on ramp by Arena Sports.
Low cement wall by beach.
Large porta potty located by beach.
On an average day parking is very easy.
Parking closest to the beach can be more difficult on weekends in warm, sunny weather due to boaters. But unless there is a special event going on, you should be able to find a spot somewhere.
The North Shore Rec Area at Magnuson is primarily used by light watercraft enthusiasts.
This means that during a significant portion of the year the North Shore is almost devoid of people. From fall through spring it’s typical to see only a handful of people in the area, if that many. (Not counting people driving to Arena Sports, who usually just use that building and don’t linger in the park.)
In April, as the weather warms and Sail Sand Point starts renting out boats, activity picks up on nice weekends. But weekdays still tend to be mostly people-less.
In the summer, especially on sunny days, the North Shore can get very busy with people launching their own watercraft or renting from Sail Sand Point. The bay is often crowded with small sail boats and kayaks. Parking by the water near Arena Sports provides a great vantage point for watching the colorful flotilla while avoiding crowds around the main boat launches.
Old buildings, birds, boats, Lake Washington, Cascades.
Best light: sunrise or afternoon.
Birds I’ve Seen
Canada goose, American widgeon, American coot, bufflehead, gadwall, mallard, song sparrow, barn swallow, lesser scaup, great blue heron, pied-billed grebe.
(Birds are easy to see on the bay when the beach is quiet, especially with binoculars. When a lot of boaters show up it’s mostly mallards and geese.)