the Ultimate Guide to Vanlife / Buslife in Seattle! Things to do, places to camp, and dog friendly recommendations to know before you go!

Post Summary: This blog will walk you through the best things to do in Seattle with your Van/Bus/RV and everyyyyyyything you need to know before you go! & make sure to CHECK BACK in as we will update this post with NEW 35mm Film Photos (we are currently awaiting…)

There is nothing quite like fall in the city! The summer commotion has passed, the leaves have begun to fall, and the crisp air rolls in every morning to cool off your coffee! The city can be a daunting destination in the van, stealth camping and finding places to legally park can be a challenge but we have you covered! The past two months we have spent a lot of time in and out of the city and wanted to share with you all of the tips and tricks we have learned along the way. This guide to Seattle covers not only where to go and what to do, but where two camp, shower, and find wifi along your way in the city.

Table of Contents

Camping accommodations

In the city there are two options, sleep at an established campground ($) or stealth camping on the city streets. We choose to stealth camp and had a super easy time in Seattle. When stealth camping in a big city we have a couple of general rules we like to follow that we thought we would share here:

– Check iOverlander and Google Maps first for spots next to parks away from houses that have 24hr / overnight parking

– Make sure we have everything DONE before we arrive so we are not getting in and out of the van drawing lots of attention to ourselves (this usually includes Rory’s final nighttime walk)

– Panel up! (Make sure that no one can tell you’re really in the van, we like to put our panels in as soon as we arrive to the spot so the van always appears dark.

– We never stay at the same place two nights in a row

OUR FAVOURITE SPOTS ↓ 

Our absolute favourite spot we parked up for the night was a street parking spot just north of Madrona Park, right on the waterfront with beautiful skyline views, we stayed here two nights with a day in between somewhere else! A super beautiful legal street parking spot with in the city! This spot was great because we were able to hop out of the van in the morning right onto a walking trail with Rory so we could all get our exercise.

We also loved our spot next to Volunteer Park in Capitol Hill, there were a couple of other rigs parked along the outskirts of the park for the night which felt really safe! The park was an amazing little one mile loop for Rory to explore in the morning, the Seattle Asian Art Museum is with in the park bounds which was a super fun activity as well! 

The street parking along W. Commodore Way (near the lock haven marina) was an amazing place to spend a two nights. We stayed to visit the Ballard Locks, Marina, Fish Ladder, Parks, and the Original Rock Gym (1st) is nearby which was great fun! (This spot is nearby the Greenlake Community Center which offers showers as well!)

In the Union Bay / LaurelHurst area we found great quite 24hr street parking near the Burke-Gilman park, there were plenty of other rigs around which felt safe, some were clearly owned by people in the houses. Parking in between the boundary of two houses we felt safe for a night or two.

Our Google Map

Make sure to check out ‘Our Map’ link in the top navigation bar! (We’ve also added a button right down below, that will open the map in a new window to make it easier!) Thats where we show ya all the good spots in one convenient place! <3

Finding water & showering

While we were here a lot of gyms, recreation and community centers were closed due to covid restrictions. We did find free showers in the city however during business hours M-F at the Renton Community Center and the Green Lake Community Center, they were very clean and private locking stalls. 

Pilot Travel Centers – ($) Also an option, glad to have it on the way into the northern cascades! Spent a few two many shower less days in the Mt. Baker/Snoqualamine National Forest 

Water Fill-Up/FREE Dump station – SeaTac Rest Area off of the FreeWay 

Public Parks

We spend a lot of time in public parks taking Rory for long walks and fetch sessions, we visited a lot while in Seattle. There are so many green spaces with in the city its honestly AMAZING. These are a couple we found worth noting but again, there are amazing parks littered through out the city and it’s neighbourhoods. Make sure to take advantage of them, its a great way to get an understanding of the vibe of each neighbourhood and area of the city! 

– Heritage Park – beautiful waterfront park, was a great place to play fetch and take Rory on a looping walk. The surrounding neighbourhood is beautiful and we had a great time looking and admiring all of the different architectural styles.

– Madrona – beautiful waterfront park, lots of people at sunset and in the morning walking around. It was a great place to walk Rory when stealth camping nearby!

– Colman Park – Beautiful sunset views of Mt. Baker, small swim area, great for the pup!

– Botanical Gardens – note not dog friendly, but an absolutely beautiful assortment of blooms during mid-august! we had a great time wandering around the gardens for about two hours. make sure to check out the rock garden and meditation gardens. and the massive hydrangeas! 

– Green Lake Park – beautiful BIG park, with a nearby community centre that offers showers! There were a couple of bands playing here on a Saturday in October which was a great way to spend the afternoon outside with Rory!

– Carl S. English Jr. Botanical Garden – a beautiful green space with lots of roses, dog friendly, located just on the other side of the Vallard Locks perfect for when you are visiting the Lock and Fish ladder!

Local libraries (free wifi)

-Seattle Public Library: Beacon Hill Branch – we were actually able to fit the van in the parking lot! very new and clean! lots of space to work, windows everywhere so lots of beautiful natural light 

-Seattle Public Library: Columbia Branch – beautiful building feels like an old church, cute pet store near by as well as a park for Rory to play and walk around in. A bit small on the inside luckily was not crowded when we visited

– Seattle Public Library: South Park Branch (the most crowded of the three so far, a bit noisy…, always found a seat at the ‘bar’ by the window to work.)

– Arlington Library – A small-med sized library, always found a place to sit, however was a bit noisy at times. was able to access the internet from the street parking available which was nice, one could work inside and one could work inside of the van keeping the pup company

-Central Skagit Public Library – (this one is outside of the city but on the way to the Cascades so I felt it was worth mentioning!) Another very new looking library, lots of places to sit and work. We always found a cozy nook to settle down in for a couple of hours.

Pet stuff (important info)

– Petco – we personally feed Rory the Science Hill diet, its what our vet’s have recommended. We sometimes have a hard time finding it at smaller pet boutiques so we love being able to stop in at Petco for the medium sized bag! The city had a bunch of different locations! 

– All The Best Pet Care – Columbia City- Rory and I (Kat) had a great time exploring the store while Dalton was in the library conveniently located right around the corner! The staff were all very attentive, coming to say hello to Rory offer her salmon treats and gave us some yummy recommendations! Rory found some great new plushie toys out of their clearance section and some really adorable toys, because everything honestly looked so damn cute!

– UrbanAnimal- We had a scare with Rory and at first had a really hard time finding a vet who would see us quickly! After a hike in nearby Mt. Rainer National Park we found a lump under Rory’s chin, naturally we freaked out and wanted a professional to check it out! After speaking with an emergency vet technician, from BluePearl, on the phone, we deduced that Rory was likely NOT having an emergency and they suggested we visit one of Urban Animal’s Clinics. We called the Downtown Urban Animal location and they let us know they only accepted walk-ins. We made our way to Seattle that night so we could have Rory seen the next morning. When we arrived first thing in the morning at the Capitol Hill Location, there were quite a few people ahead of us. The lovely receptionist who was also named Rory, suggested we grab some breakfast, enjoy the early afternoon, and they would text us when we were 4th in line , which would give us about 40 minutes to arrive back at the office.

We had a great experience at the office, the doctor and staff were really attendant to our concerns and figuring out what was going on with Rory. She turned out to have an enflamed lymph node and needed a needle-aspiration (biopsy) to figure out what was going on, we ended up leaving the office with some new heart-worm medication, two weeks worth of antibiotics,  and the peace of mind our baby was going to start feeling better! The price of the visit, procedures, and necessary medications was really reasonable and we left with BIG smiles on our faces from a great experience. 

Yummy food & tasty treats

– Kitanda Coffee – an amazing Brazilian coffee, açai, and breakfast joint! There are a couple of locations around Seattle! The Acai smoothies are super delicious, and we loved their buns! Dalton stuck to the classic Bacon, Egg, and Cheese buns and Kat loved the Romeo & Juliet, Guava and cheese bun!

– Eziel’s – fried chicken and AMAZING homemade yeast biscuits! We were in the mood for something fast and really did not want to cook! When we do eat fast food on the road we like to look for local options to at least try something new and this was a treat!

– Milk Drunk – Amazing double fried and brined chicken sandwiches. They also had really unique and delicious soft serve, the flavors change seasonally. We loved the salted caramel and turmeric peach swirl!

– Molly’s Moon – Super rich and creamy ice cream! We split a double scoop cup of extra salty caramel and their fudge dipped? chocolate made with melted chocolate instead of cocoa!

– Street Food – Taco trucks everywhere! We had some tacos while doing our laundry

– The Original NYC Halal Guys! – not really special to seattle per say… but I had been having a craving for Halal for months while we explored the Mid-West. So I was beyond EXCITED when I saw that the original NYC Halal guys cart had franchised and there was a spot nearby! We always get the chicken and lamb combo with extra hot sauce… but be warned its very HOT.

Fun things to do and places to explore

– Bellevue Botanical Gardens – This is a great FREE activity in the city! We had a great time exploring the grounds and looking at all of the late summer blooms! Everything truly smelled so wonderful and there were so many different gardens to explore. We could have spent all day wandering around, but don’t like to leave Rory for very long! 

Untitled Earth Work, Robert Morris, 1979, King County Arts Commission: This is an artwork I had wanted to see since my senior year of high-school! At first glance it is just a big dirt hole in the ground, but take a walk and a closer look and its so much more! 

Pacific Bonsai Museum / Rhododendron Garden– admission $10 donation, they have a dip jar! It is self serve and super simple, just ‘dip’ your credit card into the machine to make your admission donation! The museum was mostly open air, with one enclosed green house space with their tropical climate bonsai plants. We had a wonderful time exploring all of the different bonsai plants, each had a placard explaining a bit about the artisan who created it, the exhibit on view while we were visiting focused on the history of bonsai and  its erasure during and after WW2. We were delighted to see so many different species and very inspired to find a book and maybe try our hand at it this upcoming year! Right next door, there was the Rhododendron Gardens, but we did not have enough time to visit as well! 

Ballard Locks / Salmon Fish Ladder – This was a great spot to explore (dog friendly as well) with a nearby grassy park! We were able to learn more about the salmon migration at the fish ladder and see the fish move through the ladder, in a similar way the boat do in the lock! We then waked over to the lock, seeing sea lions, seals, and brightly coloured jelly fish swimming in the waters below! We then watched as the dock workers helped the sailboats and fishing boats move though the lock out of the canal and into the ocean waters! We had such a great time we actually came back twice!

– Vertical World – The first rock climbing gym to open in America in 1987! We just stayed in the bouldering area but had a great time, a day pass cost $22 (after taxes) but they did have showering facilities on site as well!

– UpGarden – Atop the Mercer St. Garage, a beautiful garden atop the parking garage with great views overlooking the city skyline and space needle! 

We didn’t have a chance to check out these two attractions while in town but wanted to leave you with the info about them anyway! (Our plans got a bit messed up when Rory ended up in the vet’s office, but here is what we would have been doing instead/ will be doing next time we are in town!) 

– Space Needle – obviously one of the amazing ways to take in the skyline, you can buy tickets online ahead of time (which seems to be the best way to go!) Starting October 25th, following state mandate, the Space Needle will start requiring visitors to show proof of vaccination or negative covid test. A standard ticket is 35$ but you can bundle the price with the Chihuly Gardens (another amazing attraction featuring outdoor exhibits of the blown-glass artists work)

– Pike Place Market (Public Market Center) – an iconic photo destination in the city! We wanted to stop in for brunch on our last outing in the city but didn’t feel comfortable leaving Rory in the van even for a short length of time. 

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