Take to the skies for a bird’s eye view of Seattle

  • Written by Deborah Stone

Photo by Deborah Stone Tim, a longtime Kenmore Air pilot, who readied us for the short 20-minute ride and told us to be prepared to be dazzled.
Kenmore Air’s float planes are a common sight in the Seattle area.

The company, which has been an airline since the mid-80s, owns and operates more than 20 seaplanes and four wheeled aircrafts.

It flies to over forty destinations within Washington and British Columbia, and offers charter service to various Pacific Northwest locales.

What many people don’t know, however, is that Kenmore Air also does flightseeing excursions of Seattle.

The trips are especially popular in the summer months, though they run year-round, at least two to three times a day.

You might think they attract only out-of-town visitors, seeking a unique way to see the Emerald City and its surrounding area, but in reality, they draw a fair amount of locals, who view the excursions as ideal special occasion gifts and “staycation” experiences.

“We don’t collect any precise stats on who’s from where,” says Craig O’Neill, director of marketing & sales for the company. “But, our impression is that it’s a roughly even split between locals and out-of-towners. However, often there are mixed groups, as locals seem to find flightseeing a nice experience to share with their out-of-town guests.”

He adds, “We also get our share of aerial proposals every year. Usually, we are clued in to these in advance by the proposer, and our pilots love to play along with whatever the plan happens to be. Earlier this year, one of our pilots made a special landing in Elliot Bay so the young suitor could legally undo his seatbelt to get down on one knee!”

On a recent flightseeing trip, my friend and I joined a group comprised of several tourists from Germany, France, Italy and New York, along with two Seattleites.

The locals said they’d always enjoyed seeing the float planes around Lake Union and had wanted to take a ride in one for a long time.

The beautiful weather sealed the deal.

At the helm of our floatplane was Tim, a longtime Kenmore Air pilot, who readied us for the short 20-minute ride and told us to be prepared to be dazzled.

Our plane gently skimmed the water before rising up above, allowing us to get a good look at Lake Union’s busy waterfront.

It’s both a commercial center and residential/leisure playground with unique houseboats, extravagant yachts, and even an old sternwheeler sharing the marinas.

As we flew, well-known Seattle landmarks came into view, including the UW campus, which the narration (via headphones) noted as being the size of a small city and having one of only two football stadiums in the U.S. located on water; Evergreen Point Floating Bridge, the longest floating bridge in the world with a span of 1.4 miles; Queen Anne Hill, an area that got its name from the ornate homes that were built on it back in the 1890s; the iconic Space Needle, which was constructed for the 1962 World’s Fair; historic Pike Place Market; Safeco Field, which we were informed was voted Favorite Ballpark by Major Leaguers; West Seattle, the oldest and largest Seattle neighborhood; Alki Beach, site of Seattle’s founding in 1851 and the famed Chittenden Locks.

The tour provides a wealth of historical, geological and ecological information, along with human interest trivia.

For example, the picturesque Highlands area, which was designed by the well-known Olmsted Brothers, is one of the city’s most exclusive, gated communities where the addresses are all unlisted.

And over in Medina, another posh neighborhood, you’ll find the most expensive estate in the state.

The 66,000-square-feet compound with its 45-car garage and bowling alley comes in at a price tag of $120 million (wonder which local tech tycoon owns that!).

If the weather cooperates, you’ll also get breathtaking panoramas of the Cascades and the Olympic Mountains, as well as of Mt. Rainier.

“People who take a flightseeing tour with us often comment on how different the perspective is from a low-flying airplane than from the ground or a jetliner,” says O’Neill. “Sometimes they’re surprised at how close together areas are that seem far apart when driving. Out-of-town visitors are universally blown away by the beauty of Seattle and its surroundings from the air. Many are amazed at how much water there is here.

Another very common reaction from passengers of all varieties is surprise at the smoothness of the seaplane takeoffs and landings.

Many people seem to anticipate a rough ride, not a touchdown so soft you can barely feel it.”

He’s right. The floatplane seemed to kiss the water as it landed.

For more information about Kenmore Air’s flightseeing excursions: 866-435-9524 or

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