Get a Colorful Bird’s Eye View of Seattle on a Scenic Flight Tour

May 23, 2024 at 8:05 a.m.
Travel writer Debbie Stone recently took a scenic air flight out of Seattle. Photo by Debbie Stone
Travel writer Debbie Stone recently took a scenic air flight out of Seattle. Photo by Debbie Stone DEBBIE STONE

Our region is blessed with an abundance of natural and cultural wonders. Northwest Prime Time travel writer, Debbie Stone, invites you to enjoy the local attractions just like the tourists do -- why not? Debbie will submit a series that explores fun things to do, including this one on a scenic flight of Seattle. Having previously lived in the Pacific Northwest for many years, Debbie still has close ties to the region and visits often to see her children, grandchildren and other family members.

A seaplane flight is the quintessential Pacific Northwest experience and with Kenmore Air, you’ll get the opportunity to see Seattle from a unique perspective.

Photo by Debbie Stone 

Kenmore Air has been around since 1946 and has an impeccable reputation in the industry. It’s the largest seaplane operation in the U.S. and offers a number of scenic flight tours in the region, as well as operates as a mode of transportation to the San Juan Islands and British Columbia.

The company’s scenic tours are flown using de Havilland Beavers, Turbine Beavers and Turbine Otters. These sturdy, safe aircraft carry from six to ten passengers and their high wing design allow for spectacular views.

Your adventure begins as you board your seaplane from Kenmore Air’s terminal in South Lake Union, in the heart of the city. This is a rapidly growing neighborhood with tech companies like Amazon and Google providing the “horsepower” for that growth. It’s also the location of a large houseboat community consisting of about 200 houseboats and 500 floating homes, giving Seattle its claim to fame as having the most floating homes and houseboats than any other city in the U.S.

Lake Union houseboats have a lengthy history in Seattle. Photo by Debbie Stone. 

Such dockside dwellings have been a part of the city’s shorelines since the 1890s when they became popular as an economic alternative housing option for low-income residents. Today, the houseboats of Lake Union are among Seattle’s most desirable homes and treasured landmarks. And some are quite swanky, selling for multi-million dollar price tags. The most famous floating home here is the one that took centerstage in the 1993 rom com, “Sleepless in Seattle,” starring Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan. This 2,200 square-foot residence sits at the end of a story-book dock lined with flowers. If you’re curious and want to see it without a personal invite from the owner, you’ll have to use a kayak or paddleboard.

As for Lake Union itself, this body of water covers an approximately 581-acre area with an average depth of 32 feet.

Get psyched as your seaplane glides across the surface of the lake and then rises above it all. From your own personal window seat, you’ll get to soar over one of the most picturesque places in the country, noted for its city skyline, bodies of water, islands and lush greenery. The latter is responsible for Seattle’s nickname, the “Emerald City.”

Greenery abounds in the "Emerald City." Photo by Debbie Stone. 

Your narrated flight will point out various points of interest as you cover the expansive area. Capitol Hill, for example, is known for its hip vibe with eateries, bars, coffee shops and indie stores. At the top of the hill is Volunteer Park, amid an historic mansion district. This lovely greenspace has walking trails, a plant conservatory and the art deco Asian Art Museum. Plus, its panoramic city vistas are hard to beat.

You’ll notice two bridges crossing another lake – Lake Washington. These bridges are unusual in that they float atop the lake on concrete pontoons. Because the water is 200 feet deep and has a muddy bottom, it presents challenging conditions for conventional bridges. One of the bridges, the Evergreen Point Floating Bridge, is a mile and a half long, and has the distinction as being the longest floating bridge in the world.

A set of communities collectively called “the Eastside,” sit along the lake. These suburbs are also home to such companies as Microsoft, Eddie Bauer, AT&T Wireless, Expedia and T-Mobile.

Lake Washington and the Eastside with Mount Rainier looming in the haze. Photo by Debbie Stone. 

You’ll pass the campus of the University of Washington, known locally as “U Dub.” Established in 1861, it’s the state’s largest university and boasts what many regard as one of the most beautiful urban campuses in the country. If you have time after your flight, check it out.

The narration continues as you fly over Shilshole Bay Marina. It’s massive, with more than 1,400 slips, and is located at the mouth of the Ship Canal. When you enter the canal, you’ll see the Ballard Locks, which serve to raise and lower boats more than twenty feet between the salt water of Puget Sound and the freshwater of the canal and lakes. More than 65,000 vessels a year pass through these locks, from ginormous cargo ships to kayaks.

Ship Canal is also where fleets of boats that ply the Alaskan waters are home-ported, several of which have been featured on the series, “The Deadliest Catch.”

The Aurora Bridge is one of many you will see on a scenic flight. Photo by Debbie Stone.



Another bridge comes into view. It’s the George Washington Memorial Bridge, but if you’re a Seattle area resident, you know it as the Aurora Bridge, named after the avenue it crosses. Its notoriety is being the last link in the Pacific Highway, the first highway before interstates were created to span the western U.S. from Canada to Mexico.

The flight offers a good look at the famed Space Needle in downtown Seattle. When this 605-foot bastion was built for the 1962 World’s Fair, it was the tallest structure west of the Mississippi. Though it’s not true today, it still offers a great view from the observation deck. Add it to your list post-tour.

Scenic flights offer a unique view of the Space Needle. Photo by Debbie Stone.




The body of water below is Elliott Bay, Seattle’s seaport, which was purportedly named for a sailor on an early voyage of discovery. The problem is that there were three sailors named Elliot on the expedition that visited the Puget Sound back in 1841 and nobody seems to know which one the captain had in mind!

Seattle is a major Pacific port and though you’ll spot many vessels in the water, you’re still about 140 miles from the ocean. The narration will tell you that even at this distance, the city is about a day closer to major Asian trading ports than any other point on the U.S. West Coast.

Of the ships you might see, a few are distinguished by their green and white colors. These are Washington State Ferries, which carry more than twenty million passengers annually. A number of these people are commuters from surrounding island communities. A ferry trip from Seattle to nearby Bainbridge Island is another popular activity for visitors, as it provides an on-water perspective of the area.

You might wonder, with all this water around, if there are beaches. And yes, there are quite a few, but the water temp in Puget Sound rarely exceeds 55 degrees, so only the “polar bears” attempt to leave their sandy spots for a swim, unless you opt for one of the many lakes in the region. 

Your journey ends where it began, with a landing that’s equally as thrilling as the departure. The seaplane gently kisses the water and all too soon you’re back on terra firma. But I can guarantee you that the memories of your incredible adventure will live on.

Photo by Debbie Stone

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