SEATTLE — Pike Place Market. The Space Needle. Pioneer Square. Check, check and check.
If you've hit these obvious Seattle destinations, you're not a newbie. But maybe you're not an insider either.
So, this 21-stop Seattle checklist is for you. It skirts those three attractions and several other popular stops to make more room for Ballard, Capitol Hill, Fremont and the University District — four asset-rich Seattle neighborhoods my family and I explored on a visit last summer. Right about now, as Seattleites embrace the (maybe) warmer weather and longer days of summer, these neighborhoods are increasingly busy.
In fact, were you to follow this tour to its end, you'd encounter salmon swimming upstream, free hairnets, absinthe floss, dodge ball, a Tuesday-night regatta, a tree of stainless steel and an address near the University of Washington where you can get chilaquiles with your kayak rental. These Seattleites take their summers seriously. Be warned, though: On bad days, Seattle freeway congestion can rival that of Los Angeles. (For current airfares to Seattle, see the chart on L6.)
Our list starts with three stops in Ballard, in northwestern Seattle.
Golden Gardens Park includes a stretch of beach with classic views of Puget Sound and mountains, a little loop trail, a fishing pier and at its northern end, an off-leash dog zone. While we were strolling on the sand, Guila Muir, a devoted, fiftysomething open-water swimmer, came splashing ashore in her blue goggles and orange bathing cap. The water, she said, was about 55 degrees. Then she dashed off to warm up. 8498 Seaview Place N.W.; (206) 684-4075, http://www.lat.ms/MBmJbN
Ray's Boathouse & Café, which dates to 1973, offers fresh seafood and a wide window onto the sound and the Olympic Mountains. Its location is advertised by a towering red neon sign. Describing one dish, our waitress cited where the fish was caught and the names of the fisherman and his wife. In the fancier Boathouse dining room downstairs (dinner only), main dishes run $21-$55. In the more casual Café above (lunch and dinner), entrees run $11.95 (for a half-order of fish and chips) to $21.50. 6049 Seaview Ave. N.W.; (206) 789-3770, http://www.rays.com
Ballard Locks. OK, this is no secret, but it's worth a visit, and it's free. This concrete channel is how boats get from the sound (saltwater at sea level) to the Lake Washington Ship Canal, Lake Washington and Lake Union (fresh water, 20 to 22 feet above sea level), and it's always interesting to join the old salts and fresh tourists watching big and little vessels as the water levels change. On a busy day, a worker told me, 500 vessels pass through. Next to the channel is a fish ladder for salmon; you can also watch through an underwater viewing window, and there's a botanical garden handy — a nice mix for kids. By the way, officially, these are the Hiram M. Chittenden Locks, but nobody calls them that. 3015 N.W. 54th St.; (206) 783-7059, http://www.seattle.gov/tour/locks.htm
South and east of Ballard lies Fremont, known for its bohemians and unpredictable statuary. This includes Vladimir Lenin at Evanston Avenue North and North 36th Street; the aluminum commuters "Waiting for the Interurban" at North 34th Street and Fremont Avenue North; spiritual leader Sri Chinmoy on the Burke-Gilman Trail under the Aurora Bridge; and a concrete troll, also under the Aurora Bridge, at North 36th Street at Troll Avenue North. The troll was a disappointment for me — a brilliant idea undercut by crude craftsmanship — but the rest of the family loved it. The real heart of Fremont is its independent spirit, including businesses such as the five that follow:
If Willy Wonka were a Whole Foods supplier, Theo Chocolate would be his factory. Theo, opened in 2006, bills itself as the first organic, fair-trade, kosher, bean-to-bar chocolate factory in the U.S. For $6 a person, you get an hourlong factory tour, samples included, personal fragrances forbidden. Fair warning: You will be asked to don a hairnet. In fact, you get a free hairnet with the tour. Reservations are required, except for the daily 2:30 p.m. walk-in tour. Even with as many as 10 tours offered daily, summer weekend tours are sometimes reserved weeks ahead. 3400 Phinney Ave. N.; (206) 632-5100, http://www.theochocolate.com
Jive Time Records, where, in a time and place preoccupied with digital everything, aisles of vinyl await. And cassettes. 3506 Fremont Ave. N.;  632-5483, http://www.jivetimerecords.com
Next door is Ophelia's Books, where owner Jill Levine told me how she bought the 14-year-old bookstore in early 2011 and insisted that the deal include the shop's two resident cats, Oliver (black) and Claudia (calico). As Levine spoke, Oliver reclined on the counter right where a customer would place his purchases, if he could. (Since then, a clerk reports that Oliver has moved to a private home in Ballard. Claudia remains.) 3504 Fremont Ave. N.; (206) 632-3759, http://www.opheliasbooks.com
Still on Fremont Avenue, Homegrown is part of a three-location Seattle chain offering sandwiches and salads with emphasis on sustainable practices. Lunch $6-$11. 3416 Fremont Ave. N.; (206) 453-5232, http://www.eathomegrown.com
Dusty Strings Acoustic Music Shop is a den of folkies selling guitars, DVDs and tube amps. They also make harps and dulcimers and give music lessons and workshops. The bad news is you've missed the ukulele festival (it was in late June). 3406 Fremont Ave. N.; (206) 634-1662, http://www.dustystrings.com
Not far from Fremont, you'll find Green Lake to the north, Lake Union to the south and these possibilities (among others) in between.
You can walk, run or ride the 2.8 miles around Green Lake whenever you like, but the Green Lake Boathouse is a spring and summer thing. Usually open April through mid-September (subject to weather), the boathouse stands at the lake's northeastern end, renting kayaks, canoes, paddle boats, rowboats and paddleboards for $17 to $20 an hour. Even if you're just taking a paddle-boat spin for half an hour, as we did, it's a chance to check out the grand old houses lining the lake and admire the daredevils using the floating high-dive platforms. (Yes, there are lifeguards.) There's also a café open 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. and a Green Lake Park wading pool near Wallingford Avenue North and East Green Lake Drive North, open through Sept. 3 this year. 7351 E. Green Lake Drive N.; (206) 527-0171, http://www.greenlakeboatrentals.net
If you're traveling without children and like the idea of a genteel suite in a grand old building on a quiet street, consider the Chelsea Station Inn Bed & Breakfast. The two-story brick B&B features four units, each about 900 square feet with a living room, dining room, kitchenette and bedroom. It stands near the entrance to Woodland Park Zoo, a short walk from Green Lake Park. Rates from $159, depending on the day and season. 4915 Linden Ave. N.; (206) 547-6077, http://www.chelseastationinn.com
For some people, it's just not a vacation until they've purchased that inflatable unicorn horn. That's why Archie McPhee is on this itinerary. From catalogs and the Web, plenty of people know of this vendor of goofball gifts and toys. (Absinthe floss, anyone? Onion-scented breath mint? Albino bowler oil painting?) But since 1983, the McPhee empire has included a retail shop, which thrives (with free parking) in Seattle's Wallingford neighborhood. 1300 N. 45th St.; (206) 297-0240, http://www.archiemcpheeseattle.com
Gas Works Park is a 19-acre series of grassy (and formerly gassy) hills with a perfect perch overlooking Lake Union. The ruins of an old utility plant give the site a certain post-apocalyptic "Planet of the Apes" vibe, and the city says you can't swim, fish or launch watercraft here because of hazardous substances still lurking in the sediment. But on Tuesday evenings in summer, you can watch the Duck Dodge sailing regatta (www.duckdodge.org), a Seattle tradition that goes back nearly 40 years. With or without the regatta, the skyline at dusk looks great. 2101 N. Northlake Way; (206) 684-4075, http://www.seattle.gov/tour/union.htm
Speaking of views after dark, the place to get that classic Space Needle shot is tiny Kerry Park on the southern slope of Queen Anne Hill. It covers barely an acre, but that's enough to give you the panorama of Elliott Bay, downtown and the needle, which turns 50 this year. (It was built for the 1962 World's Fair.) 211 W. Highland Drive; (206) 684-4075, http://www.lat.ms/Qiq8Tz