Bellevue offers bountiful opportunities to commune with nature without straying too far from the urban landscape. Stretching out from the heart of downtown, Meydenbauer Bay is considered the city’s birthplace, once a connection point between Seattle and its earliest settlers (including German-immigrant baker namesake William Meydenbauer). It also holds a number of ways to enjoy lakeshore fun all summer long.
Meydenbauer Bay Park
Renovated and expanded in 2019, Meydenbauer Bay Park is currently the longest stretch of public waterfront in the city. This quarter mile of accessible shoreline marries natural beauty with elegant man-made design. The tiered metropolitan park feels both spacious and intimate, its most striking feature a 420-foot-long floating pedestrian pier that stretches out into the bay at a gentle curve.
Walking paths snake their way across the park and through a natural ravine, studded with gathering spaces and viewpoints. Picnic areas abound, whether you lay down a blanket on the verdant stretch of lawn or set your spread out on one of the picnic tables overlooking the beach. Built into the hillside, a “beach house” boasts clean, updated restrooms and changing rooms, and its concrete roof also serves as an observation deck. There’s a whimsical nature-inspired children's play area carpeted in artificial turf and a sandy swim beach with a floating platform and on-duty lifeguards in the summer months.
Watersports are big here, as facilitated by the REI Boathouse. Rent kayaks, canoes, and stand-up paddleboards, or take any of several classes. Beginners can get started with REI’s Learn to Stand Up Paddleboard Class, where you can pick up a new skillset — be introduced to the basic strokes, important gear, and safety concepts — or build upon what you already know and receive personalized instruction to improve your balance and comfort on the board. Meanwhile you’ll be enjoying breathtaking views of Bellevue’s coastline while floating on the water. Or perhaps you feel more equipped for the Sunset SUP (Stand Up Paddleboard) Tour, where, after some basic instruction, you’ll be taken on a short paddle tour of Meydenbauer Bay, and afterwards, to a sweet spot to float and watch the sunset. Paddleboards, paddles, and safety equipment are provided.
Local gourmet food market PCC and long-established Asian grocery Uwajimaya are both nearby, and both peddle a wide array of ready-to-eat meals (hot or cold) for your picnic in the park. Or take an easy walk up Lake Washington Boulevard to explore the quaint, scenic streets of Old Bellevue and choose from a variety of dining options. From the seasonally inspired American comfort food at 520 Bar & Grill, to the fresh and flavorful cuisine at Fern Thai on Main, to scoops of handmade onsite treats at favorite local chain ice cream parlor Molly Moon’s, the possibilities are vast and delicious.
Chism Beach Park
Drinking in more of the area’s natural beauty is also an option. Chism Beach Park is a quaint, off-the-beaten-path waterfront gem located a little under two miles south of Meyenbauer Bay Park. Nestled in a quiet, densely wooded, and impeccably landscaped residential neighborhood, its manicured grass ends with a modest patch of sand flanked by a playground on one end and a dock on the other.
There’s a swimming platform, restrooms facilities, and picnic areas that include spots suitable for groups. Stunning sunset views of Lake Washington provide that perfect Instagram op.
While is it smaller in size, it is also more isolated (read: not as crowded) than your average area swimming hole. Bring the family for a lazy summer picnic under the trees, then stretch your legs along strollable trails and walking paths, with benches scattered throughout.
Enatai Beach Park
Enatai Beach Park offers a more nature-on-the-doorstep-of-the-urban-world appeal as a modest but pretty slice of park running up against the Interstate 90 overpass. Take a dip in the protected swim area, get the kids on the playground, or bring a few friends to the REI Boathouse (which will reopen in mid-June 2022 after getting a new roof deck) for paddling access to the water. Rent a kayak, canoe, or standup paddleboard and go for a spin on the lake. The park is also a launch spot for paddle trips into nearby Mercer Slough.
Mercer Slough Nature Park
Get deeper into nature at Mercer Slough Nature Park, home to Lake Washington's largest remaining wetland. Its 320 acres are lavishly populated with ferns, shrubs, and several varieties of berries and flowers. Walk the wooden boardwalks and shaded pathways, or venture out onto one of three main trails that crisscross the park in 0.8-mile, 1.1-mile, and 4-mile stretches.
The REI Mercer Slough Urban Wetlands Tour takes participants (ages 12 and up and of all experience levels) on a leisurely three-hour kayak tour of the 2.6-mile Water Trail that flows through the length of the park. Sounds of the city dissipate beneath the music of a teeming ecosystem as you paddle. REI provides all the necessary gear and goes over kayaking basics before you get started.
Luther Burbank Park
Directly across the water from Bellevue, on the northern end of the upscale suburban Mercer Island, is the expansive Luther Burbank Park. This 77-acre park is mostly an undeveloped mix of evergreen and broadleaf forest. Wetlands that occupy the north and south ends of the park house a range of wildlife, including 135 species of birds and 50 species of waterfowl.
A visit to the developed portions will reveal tennis courts, barbecues and picnic facilities, trails that run alongside the lake, and bushes with blackberries that ripen over the summer. You can take your dog for a walk (with both leashed and off-leash options); check out the historic 1928 Boiler Building; anchor vessels or throw a few lines at the public boat dock and fishing pier; bring the kids to dart and dash around a playground recently rebuilt with modern equipment (including a zip line and climbing web); go for a dip at the swim beach; or take in a show at the outdoor amphitheater. (Shakespeare in the Park performances kick off in the summer, and this year’s schedule includes a puppet-and-person version of A Midsummer’s Night Dream.)
Whether you’re experiencing downtown’s retail abundance or soaking up the stunning natural Pacific Northwest beauty of Lake Washington’s waterfront, Bellevue and its surrounding region is a destination where you can immerse yourself in activities that delight, challenge, or renew.