I like to think of the Center for Wooden Boats as the coolest Seattle museum that nobody knows about.
Of course everyone's heard of the Space Needle, or Science Fiction museum, but mention Seattle's Center for Wooden Boats (CWB for short) to someone from out of town (or even to someone living downtown) and you'll most likely be the recipient of a blank stare.
That's because of one simple truth, and that is that this "working museum" is just not very well known. But don't let its lack of popularity with the touristy crowd give you the idea that this isn't one of the neatest places in Seattle, because it is!
All Right, A Little History Dick Wagner, an architect back in the day (that day being sometime around 1968), along with his wife started renting boats out of his houseboat. Not quite a decade later, they got the idea of putting together a museum and in 1977, the first Lake Union Wooden Boat Festival was held.
Well, you could definitely say that from those beginnings in the late 60s, Wagner's Center for Wooden Boats has grown and now boasts a fleet of over 100 boats, mostly made up of small sailboats and rowboats. There's even another location at Cama Beach State Park, north of Seattle, where you can visit a 1930s Puget Sound fishing resort complete with cabins and bungalows.
So What Makes This Place Unique? First of all, most importantly (at least for your wallet), visiting the Center for Wooden Boats is free. The center was never designed to gouge the consumer but merely wants to introduce the public to the wonderful world of wooden boats, and preserve the heritage of small craft construction that has been passed down over the years. They do that by striving to be a real part of the community and presenting a history of the crafts to the public. And that is free.
In addition to the museum and historical displays, the center still rents out various boats, and even offers public rides most every Sunday afternoon (they sail rain or shine, but have been known to ground the boats due to high winds). You can't reserve a spot by phone, so you'll have to show up early, but it's well worth the time.
Another thing I find amazing about the Center is that there aren't a lot of paid staff, and most of the place is run by volunteers and interns. They do everything from teaching sailing classes to helping with special events, to even working in the boatshop. When people give up their time and energy and devote it to something that they believe in without even getting paid for it, you know the place will be great.
Even with a volunteer-heavy staff, the CWB has over 1800 youth program participants every year, along with around 160 adult sailing students and more than 200 people taking part in other types of classes or workshops. That's amazing that they make the time to accommodate so many people and try to get them interested in something that the staff is so passionate about.
So whether you want to go for a boat ride, take sailing lessons, or even learn how to build oars (or even boats), the Center for Wooden Boats is where you should head.