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Most travelers come to Seattle to visit icons like the Space Needle and Pike Place Market, check out the thriving grunge music scene, or watch the Seahawks play football. But there's another reason visitors flock to this popular West Coast city: for its many gardens, parks, and scenic outdoor spaces.

Surrounded by forests full of evergreen trees, it's no wonder Seattle's nickname is the Emerald City. Whether you're looking for the perfect picnic spot, an early morning run or bike ride by the water, or you want to have a beach bonfire, there's a Seattle green space with your name on it. Here's a look at some of our favorites, all free to enter and located within a 20-minute drive of the city center.

Myrtle Edwards Park in Seattle includes small beached areas. ©Max Herman/Shutterstock

Myrtle Edwards Park

For beautiful views of Mount Rainier, the Puget Sound, and the Olympic Mountains, head to Myrtle Edwards Park, located about a five-minute drive or a 20-minute walk from the Space Needle. Start your day by running, walking, or cycling along its 1.25-mile stretch of the Elliott Bay Trail. This seven-mile route hugs the waterfront all the way from Smith Cove in Magnolia to Century Link Field. If time allows, head next door to check out the art in Olympic Sculpture Park. The nine-acre green space is run by the Seattle Art Museum and home to Alexander Calder's Eagle and works by Richard Serra and Roxy Paine, among other artists.

Washington Park Arboretum

Located along Lake Washington, Washington Park Arboretum is a vast 230-acre green space home to seven beautiful gardens. The Joseph A. Witt Winter Garden is known for its winter-blooming plants, while the Pacific Connections Garden features trees and other flora from Australia, New Zealand, and Chile. Rhododendron Glen and Azalea Way date back to the 1930s, while the Shoreline & Foster Island and Woodland gardens are definitely worth a look all year long. While it's free to enter the Arboretum, you will need to pay admission to visit the Seattle Japanese Garden, located at the southern end of the Arboretum ($8 for adults, $4 for seniors over 65 and children ages 6–17).

Seattle's Washington Park Arboretum is a must-visit in the fall. ©Denise Lett/Shutterstock

Green Lake Park

There's truly something for everyone at Green Lake Park, a stunning nature preserve. The 2.8-mile trail around the lake has long been a go-to spot for area bikers, runners, and skaters. Those who want to take a refreshing dip after a long run or bike ride can do so seasonally in the lake itself or at Evans Pool, located within the park. Coffee, snacks, fishing equipment, kayaks, and stand-up paddleboards can be rented at the Greenlake Boathouse. Additionally, sailing, kayaking, canoeing, and rowing classes are available through the Green Lake Small Craft Center. With several athletic fields, boat launches, and a nice playground for the kids, it's a great place to unwind outdoors or stage a peaceful picnic in the grass.

Fall leaves surround the recreation path in Green Lake Park. ©Mike Peters/Shutterstock

Woodland Park Rose Garden

Whether or not you want to spend time at the adjacent Woodland Park Zoo is up to you, but Woodland Park Rose Garden definitely deserves a visit. With more than 200 types of roses and 3,000 individual plants on display, the 2.5-acre park is a beautiful spot to take a break or a romantic stroll surrounded by nature. Fun fact: because no pesticides are used in the rose garden, wilted flowers are fed to the nearby zoo animals and have become a favorite treat among the gorillas.

UPS Waterfall Garden Park

Located in the Pioneer Square neighborhood just south of Downtown, UPS Waterfall Garden Park is named for the United Parcel Service (UPS). The company started in Seattle in this very spot back in 1907, though it was initially known as the American Messenger Company. Today, the park is home to a 22-foot-tall man-made waterfall and is a great place to escape the hustle and bustle of the surrounding city with a cup of coffee or lunch and your favorite book.

Golden Gardens Park

Built in 1907 as a fun place for an outing far from city life, Golden Gardens Park carries on that tradition today. It features places to hike alongside the picturesque coastline, as well as wilderness trails through forests and wetlands, stretches of sand to spend the day tanning on, calm waters to swim in year-round, and a pier to fish from. Beach volleyball fans can also reserve their own court for $8 per hour (just bring your own net and ball). Come for the gorgeous views of Puget Sound and the Olympic Mountains and stick around for the fire rings. They're available on a first-come, first-serve basis and perfect for setting up a bonfire on the beach at sunset. 

Golden Gardens Park, Seattle, WA
Golden Gardens Park in Seattle is one of several coastal parks near the city. ©Mona Makela Photography/Getty Images

Discovery Park

At a whopping 534 acres, Discovery Park is the largest of Seattle's natural spaces. It looks out over the Puget Sound from a perch on Magnolia Bluff, providing stunning views of the nearby Olympic and Cascade mountain ranges. The former site of Fort Lawton, a US Army post, the park is now home to sand dunes, two miles of tidal beaches, open meadows, more than 270 species of birds, and a variety of wildlife, including deer, elk, beavers, bears, dolphins, and seals. Families will love the abundance of picnic tables and the sizeable nature-themed playground, which sports a zip line, swings, and treehouse-like equipment to climb on.

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