I've been finding on my Tuesday rides with the Cascade Bicycle Club, despite having been in Seattle twenty years, I still haven't explored very many streets and routes.
Largely, it's been the result of where I have needed to go in the past. Growing up, it was always a mile or two from my home in Greenlake. When I was older, I used to ride to my high school, Garfield, and the U.W. My friends have all been mostly a few miles to the east. I only started riding in often Ballard once I got a home there. I went down Leschi many times, mostly to cross over to I-90 to my old job at Starwave, and along Burke-Gilman from the U.W. countless times. I've ridden some roads around Northgate where my friend Mike Bloch used to be.
On the club ride on Tuesday, it was my first ride up Interlaken Boulevard up from Montlake. It's a very beautiful ride on a (mostly) car-free, forest canopied road. Though hilly, and the road in need of repair, the climb is steady and shaded.
The same day, I found also there's a bike path on the west side of 520, which takes you below the bridge. Though, the blackberry bushes are taking over this path. Thorny vines stick out, ready to capture your Lycra jersey if you aren't paying attention. The path takes you by the Montlake Playfield, which I have never been to, though I've often sat in my kayak and wondered about what it looked like.
To get to downtown, it's a fairly flat, if not steady decent, on 19th or 20th avenue east, until Jackson Street, which has a bike lane that will take you into Chinatown and then into Pioneer Square. The bike lane does disappear, but if you take the right lane after crossing under I-5, it's a long decent and traffic won't give you trouble. King Street would be the better choice if you wanted to stop for some Dim Sum.
Up along the waterfront is pretty good. There isn't much traffic on Alaskan Way going along the waterfront. I suspect drivers want to avoid the sporadic freight train traffic to their east which can box them in. It also dead ends inconveniently at the new sculpture garden. Last Tuesday at 7PM, the waterfront seemed fairly desolate, though it seemed like this would be prime tourist season.
From Myrle Edwards and the Elliot Bay trails, you can get on to the Interbay trail, and if you choose to, there's yet another steady climb up to the bluffs of Magnolia along a bike path. From the top, traffic is light, the views are nice, and the gentle rolling at the top keep the cycling interesting. Our ride leader knew a special way through Discovery Park that was a decent on wide bicycle paths, and took us down to the Ballard Locks.
The Ballard Locks are a better choice than the Ballard Bridge, which has a deserved reputation for being dangerous to cyclists. Though the Locks would add another 10-20 minutes to one's commute from Ballard to Downtown.
There was a bonus climb (for riders in the climbing mood) up 34th Ave NW, which is a residential street, but no stop signs every block. The road takes you to Sunset Park overlooking Shilshole Bay Marina, and if I were going home to my own street back on 75th Street NW would take me to my old home, or 70th NW down to Greenlake, and to my new home. Instead though, I stuck with the group, headed back down to Gasworks, and had yet another climb back up the hill that evening through the U-District.
Hopefully, the details weren't too boring. Although grade factor into picking a route, there's time-of-day and day-of-week traffic level, road quality, view, visibility (important at night), recent weather, who I'm with, my fitness level, etc.