View of Seattle skyline and Mt. Rainier
Scenic picnic area
North entrance on W. Smith St.
South entrance on W. McGraw St.
Ella Bailey Park on Magnolia Hill is named for Ella Bailey, a Seattle school teacher for more than 30 years, who sold the land to the City of Seattle in 1929 with the provision that it be used as a children’s playfield.
The property was originally leased by the city to the Seattle School District for use by the old Magnolia Elementary School, which closed in 1984 and was boarded up to all use in 2002. The building was recently granted landmark status in 2015 and plans are in progress to renovate and reopen the school in 2018.
In the meantime, Ella’s 2.4 acres were completely renovated from a derelict asphalt school playground into a Seattle public park in 2007. The park’s design is beautiful in its simplicity, making excellent use of the limited space and scenic location.
Ella Bailey Park is small, with a playground, central lawn, and picnic tables. What sets it far apart from the average neighborhood park of this type is the panoramic view.
Because of the playground, it makes a great Seattle viewpoint for families with children to visit. Most viewpoints have little to keep the kiddies entertained for long. But here the youngsters can play while parents gawk and snap photos, then everyone can enjoy a picnic together enjoying the urban landscape.
The park sits between McGraw and Smith streets and can be entered from either one. There is a grassy hill above the playground in the northwest corner, but the rest of the park is relatively level. As long as you can park close to one of the entrances, the park is very accessible.
The playground has equipment for both small children and bigger children. There are also swings and two basketball hoops. Some picnic tables are next to the playground, along with a cement wall for sitting.
A paved path rings the central lawn, which is big enough for tossing a Frisbee or kicking a soccer ball around. On the east side of the park are two more groupings of picnic tables. One grouping has longer tables to seat more people, the other grouping is of the square, four-seater style tables.
From the park you get a nice northeast territorial view that includes Cascade peaks in the distance. But the main attraction is the view of downtown Seattle and Mt. Rainier to the south, though Queen Anne inconsiderately blocks the lower half of the Space Needle.
In addition to skyscrapers you can see the Great Wheel, ferries, the stadiums, and the port. Bring binoculars if you want to see details since it’s not a close-up view.
If you live in the area or are nearby for another reason, Ella Bailey Park would be an interesting stop in many weather conditions. But if you’re making a special trip, I strongly recommend going on a day the mountain is out.
I spent a month waiting for a good day when there were no clouds to the south and the horizon haze wasn’t too heavy. It was worth the wait. No seasonal preference, though the Cascades will be prettier and more distinct in winter.
You can add Ella Bailey Park to your list of obscure Seattle viewpoints to impress visiting family and friends with your knowledge of the city and to provide an experience not found in the usual tourist guides.
Things to Know
4 am – 11:30 pm
Several picnic tables.
Some cement walls.
Small porta potty on the south side next to basketball hoop.
If that won’t do, there is a Bartell’s and an Albertsons not too far away on 32nd Ave.
Ella Bailey Park doesn’t have a parking lot, but there is a single handicap space in the turnaround at the end of Smith Street, making the park very accessible for those with handicap placards or plates.
Street parking is available on Smith and McGraw streets. McGraw (south side) is a steeper hill, but had very few cars when I was there. If you can park right by the south entrance you don’t have to deal with the hill to enter the park.
Smith (north side) isn’t as steep, but that’s apparently where most people park. If spaces are available by the entrance it’s a mostly level walk. If you have to park further up the street you need to be able to walk uphill back to the car, but the distance is fairly short and not too steep.
Smith Street is a dead-end, so you need to use the turnaround at the northeast corner of the park to get back out to 28th. You can also use the turnaround for unloading park or picnic gear.
Because the majority of park users are local, parking should be available most days, unless a special event is going on. I had no trouble on a Sunday evening when the park was busy.
I’ve only been to Ella Bailey Park once, so have limited first hand info.
The park is primarily used by locals for the playground and picnic facilities. But there’s a good chance one or a few sightseers or photographers will be there as well, especially on clear days.
My visit was on a gorgeous Sunday near the end of July at about 6:30 pm. There were a lot of people in the park taking advantage of the clear skies and warm temp. (It was in the low 80s earlier that day).
But even with all the people and kids playing it didn’t feel too rowdy or chaotic. Shrieking kids can fray my nerves, but I barely noticed here. The distance from the play area to the best view area helps, even though it’s a small park.
Based on comments I’ve read online, on weekdays outside of summer the park sees a lot fewer people. It’s possible to even have the park to yourself at times, though I imagine that’s less likely on clear days.
Space Needle, Seattle skyline, Mt. Rainier.
Best light: late afternoon. Also good for night photography.
Because Magnolia can be a confusing area to drive I’m including driving directions to its parks.
Take the Magnolia Bridge exit from 15th Ave W and cross the bridge west to Magnolia Hill. (The Magnolia Bridge is one of three access points to Magnolia. It’s the southernmost, closest to downtown Seattle.)
Shortly after arriving on the hill turn right (north) on 28th Ave. W.
Head north for quite a few blocks and look for McGraw St. The old Magnolia Elementary School is your landmark, a large brick building on the right (east) side of the street. The school sits between McGraw and Smith, just like the park.
You can turn right on McGraw or turn right on Smith on the other (north) side of the school building.
Go about two blocks and you will see the park.
Space Needle webcam (best way to see if the mountain is out)
Seattle Parks page