Seattle’s Great Neighborhoods for Walking, Running and Exercise

Another of Seattle’s Great Neighborhoods for Walking, Running and Exercise: Madison Valley

Smack in the center of the center of Seattle sits a humble little neighborhood called Madison Valley. It comes midway along the only street in the entire city that connects the salt water of Puget Sound to the freshwater of Lake Washington. Mad Valley has a fascinating history mostly as a downtrodden area surrounded by richer, fancier environs. It’s nice to see The Hollow, as it was once called, coming into its own.

Madison Valley was shaped by glaciers and was a lush deep valley with a salmon stream that connected Union Bay. The Duwamish hunted and fished in the area, and white settlers arriving in the 1850s followed native trails to do the same, many eventually settling at the far eastern end, what’s now Madison Park. As that became a resort area, and a trolley carried folks there from the city, the Valley became referred to as the Pass Through.

Finnish immigrants settled in the area at the turn of the 19th century. Around that time, the Olmsted Brothers (designers of NYC’s Central Park) were tapped to create a plan for the city of Seattle’s parks and boulevards. When that design brought Lake Washington Blvd away from the now raucous Madison Park resort, it brought the route into Madison Valley’s forest and toward the site of the Alaska Yukon 1909 World’s Fair exposition on the future UW campus.

During WW1 the Valley became the site of modest housing developments to accommodate shipyard workers. In proximity to the Central District, the Valley became a predominantly African American area, where it tended to be ignored and maligned in the mid-20th century while its adjoining neighborhoods grew more affluent and favored.

What may have been the most significant dynamic for this neighborhood was the acquisition of 260 acres of forest and the mission for it to become the Washington Arboretum, with the charter to represent every plant indigenous to the PNW.

The arboretum remains a jewel of the area–an amazing place to walk or run on paved paths and wooded trails. Many of the Unstill Life routes meander here. You can log a half-marathon’s worth of miles within its boundaries among riotous species of trees, shrubs and flowers. Azalea Way will floor you in the spring, and Winter Fragrance garden bring you hope every February.

Our Wednesday and rainy day workouts take place in the green-roofed open-air pavilion in the Pacific Connections Garden. This is one splendid place to move your body, breathe rich oxygen and woodsy scents, puzzle out birdsongs.

We’ve also used Washington Playfield for workouts–an athletic field with a sequoia grove at one end.

A few blocks south, we hold walk and run workouts at inauspiciously named Madison Valley Stormwater Storage Park. It’s as cute as it is functional. We like to do hard/easy intervals along the landscaped trails there.

We launch many of our runs in this area from the lovely French café Belle Epicurean. From there, we go into the numbered avenues. One of those 4-mile routes touts the largest elevation gain in the shortest distance. Those glaciers of yore carved serious hills, and your fitness is the beneficiary.

When you are wrapping up your walk, run or workout in the Hollow, there are an unusually high volume of restaurants to check out. My favorites are:

  • Nick’s on Madison – just swanky enough, and still welcoming.
  • Nishino has the best sushi in town for my money.
  • Harvest Vine is uniquely Basque– you are transported. but go to Voila and you’ve crossed the border to France.
  • Kamp is the neighborhood hang out–I’ve loved everything I’ve ever eaten there and it’s served with warmth and humor.

I try to make a stop at Fury Consignment every couple of months and almost always find an instant keeper classic thing to wear.

And finally, your number one destination in Madison Valley, especially if you’re doing a workout, is Seattle Massage, Sauna & Float. Amber Myers has created an ideal urban mini-spa where you can get the trifecta: an infrared sauna, a warm saltwater float, and a superb massage to your own specifications. Reserve your trifecta now 😉

Madison Valley is indeed one of Seattle’s great neighborhoods to explore and exercise. Meet up with us for an arboretum workout, walk or run. We will show you around.

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