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Exploring Seattle’s Volunteer Park in Capitol Hill

Seattle’s Volunteer Park rests on the north edge of Capitol Hill, amid multi-million-dollar homes that represent classic Seattle architecture and beautiful tree-lined streets.

Local Insight from KATHRYN BUCHANAN.

In a city full of beautiful parks, one of the best known and best loved is Capitol Hill’s Volunteer Park, designed by the Olmstead brothers in 1910 and considered the “jewel” of the Seattle Park system. There are wide lawns for games and picnics, paths for strolling and enjoying native trees and plant displays, a wading pool for the little ones in summer, and beautiful views of downtown and colorful sunsets to the west, seen through the Instagram fave sculpture “Black Sun” by Isamu Noguchi.

But what really makes you want to visit Volunteer Park over and over again are three treasured highlights: #1 The Seattle Asian Art Museum with its magnificent collection of Asian Art. This gorgeous Art Deco building with its pair of Chinese camels greeting you at the front door (now currently being expanded and seismically retrofitted, reopening in 2019) was the original Seattle Art Museum and has been used in many films due to its authentic Deco detailing. #2 If exotic plants are more to your liking, there is the Volunteer Park Conservatory, a “Victorian Glasshouse” featuring specimens from the driest desert to humid tropical locations, orchid and seasonal displays, and its famous Corpse Plant. #3 but not the least, is the Water Tower at Volunteer Park.

If you don’t want to spend $37 to get a view of Seattle and surrounding areas from the Space Needle you can get it here for free! You are just 106 steps from the best view in the city. So bring some friends or come by yourself, it’s always an inspiring and fun time at Volunteer Park.

With so much history, one might think Volunteer was would be dull, but this park is quite the contrary. Volunteer Park is more an inclusive experience than a park. Yes, there are trails for walking and biking and skating; a play area for the little ones; and sport courts for tennis and the like. But there’s more than just the usual, everyday park things at Volunteer Park.


In 1876, the City of Seattle purchased the 40-acre plot from a sawmill engineer. Though its original use was to be cemetery, it was later changed to become a park and gravesites were ordered for removal. By 1893, they’d cleared about 6-acres of timber and planted a nursery, which was supplement by a nearby greenhouse and hotbed.

Between then and 1904, the park was further improved with paths and meadows and children’s play equipment. Eventually, the high-pressure reservoir was constructed. A few years later, articulated and formal plans were drawn for the park, which were to eventually include macadam drives, a children’s wading pool and shelter, a combination pergola, music pavilion, and conservatory building – all of which were completed by 1912.


Today, the park is not only home to its original installation, but additions to include the Seattle Asian Art Museum. In November of 2011, The Landmarks Preservation Board designated the park as a Seattle Landmark.

VOLUNTEER PARK’S SPRAYPARK & WADING POOL is open from June 26th through September 3rd from 11am-8pm, typically on sunny days when the temperature is forecasted to be at least 70 degrees or above. Check out all the information about Seattle Sprayparks & Wading Pools here.


The Conservatory is open Tuesday through Sunday (Closed on Mondays) from 10am to 3:45pm, though their Gift Shop hours might vary depending on volunteer availability. It’s a great place to visit if you’re looking for something that doesn’t cost a lot, because children under 12 get in for free, while youth 13-17 are only $2 and adults 18+ are $4.


Established in 1994, the current Seattle Asian Art Museum was the original structure that housed the Seattle Art Museum, which moved to a new building in 1991 in downtown Seattle. The building remained closed until 1994, when they reopened it as the Seattle Asian Art Museum. The building is currently (as of September 2018) closed for renovation but is expected to reopen in 2019.

Keep an eye out for updates for its grand reopening.

Volunteer Park in Seattle really has a special place in many people’s hearts and we’re all eagerly awaiting the renewed Seattle Asian Art Museum interior schedule to open in 2019.

What’s your favorite part of Volunteer Park? Yoga on the lawn? Water activities or leisurely walking along the paved paths? Watching ducks swim or checking out the gardens? Share your stories in the comments below!


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