By and By: Alki and West Seattle


In a place like the Pacific Northwest, good weather poses certain problems. If you’re the type who enjoys the outdoors, a sunny day might force you to consider postponing chores or indoor activities, even running errands, in favor of doing something outside. The Seattle area continued to have the longest streak of warm weather in recorded history. After a weekend of heavy rains and thunderstorms, things got back to “normal” with clear days and temperatures ranging from the high-70s to 80s. In fact, it would turn out today that Seattle reached a record-breaking temperature of 90+o F for this date. With time running short before typical weather patterns return, as early as this weekend, my wife and I decided to go on another field trip, this time to West Seattle.

On a Segway outing in West Seattle with friends last month, we discovered that a water taxi operated by King County makes frequent runs between Pier 50 on the waterfront and Seacrest Park, a mere 10 minutes on the water. To make the excursion entirely on public transportation (except for the drive to the park & ride), we also took a bus to downtown Seattle, a drop off point (4th Avenue & Cherry) only a few blocks from Pier 50. On arrival at the boat terminal, we were surprised by the number of commuters making use of it. There is enough capacity for 172 passengers. The 77-foot catamaran set out to sea and made its quick journey westward. The view of the Seattle skyline from the cabin and especially from the outside decks was spectacular.

Water taxi at Pier 50

Water taxi at Pier 50

Seattle skyline from water taxi

Seattle skyline from water taxi

As soon as we docked at Seacrest, we were ready for breakfast at Marination Ma Kai.

After breakfast, we headed north along the Alki Trail. Washington state’s motto, “Alki” is a Chinook word meaning “by and by,” which I always found so non-descript. “Hope for the future,” another translation, sounds more affirmative though perhaps not as accurate. There were already paddle board rowers out in the water. Enormous freighters with their unbelievable loads of containerized cargo were plying the waters.

freighter

Among the sea of high-rise condominium buildings that line Harbor and Alki Avenues, I have to give “thumbs-up” to cottages holding out against development. Two adjacent buildings that caught our eye were festooned with pots, hanging baskets and planter boxes filled with flowers and other plants, looking more like enthusiastic garden projects than homes. A plaque on both structures indicated they were wildlife habitats certified by the National Wildlife Federation. As we were admiring them, one of the residents was returning home and informed us that caring for the plants is a shared responsibility among the tenants/owners and that in fact all sorts of wildlife do visit, including many birds and river otters.

At one time, Seattle had a seaside amusement park (Luna Park) that included a carousel, roller coaster and public sea-water swimming pool, then called a natatorium. Looking around, I couldn’t imagine where the complex was situated. The Luna Park Natatorium was built at the turn of the twentieth century but was destroyed by fire in 1931. All that remains is a grassy area, a seawalled square, which gives no hint of its previous use, except for interpretive plaques along the Alki Trail. An old anchor that divers dredged up offshore in 1958 is mounted along the trail. The original bathhouse is now used for private functions.

All that remains of the Luna Park Natatorium

All that remains of the Luna Park Natatorium

Alki Bathhouse is now used for private functions

Alki Bathhouse is now used for private functions

Luna Park Cafe and Natatorium (from Wikipedia)

Also along the seawall are stairways that lead directly into the water, looking like easy ways for swimmers to jump in. These are probably canoe or kayak launches.

canoe launch

Alki Beach is very popular with the locals in the summer. The beach is also the site of the Denny party landing in 1851, the first white settlers in the area, commemorated by a stone obelisk. There is very little about the Duwamish tribe who lived here long before. The most notable of them was Chief Sealth (Seath) after whom Seattle was named. Odd as it may seem, short palm trees grow along a short stretch. Our guide on the Segway tour last month also pointed out several more in the residential area.

IMG_4191

IMG_4211

We were pleasantly surprised by several double-row surreys being pedaled by mothers with their children. A shop along Alki Avenue rents them as well as other pedaled vehicles.

surreys

Another landmark along Alki Beach is the Statue of Liberty, a small replica of the monument in New York Harbor. This is not the first attempt to draw some link to the great eastern city. This peninsula was called Alki New York at one time and Luna Park was named after the one on Coney Island.

statue of liberty

Just north of Alki Point, public access along the beach gives way to private property. While walking behind the beachfront homes along Alki Avenue, you can’t help but come across a house decorated in front with cobalt blue glass bottles, reminiscent of jetsam that washes ashore. A closer look reveals additional artistic details.

blue bottle house

blue bottles

Eventually, we reached Alki Point. There, we could get a glimpse of the lighthouse above the neighborhood roofline, but we couldn’t get any closer, only to discover later that afternoon public tours are available June-August on weekends.

Rounding the point, the foot path becomes The Avenue of the Stars. No, it’s not a tribute to celebrities but a guide to 27 constellations in the sky viewable at certain times of the year. The outline of each constellation is laid in the concrete walkway, annotated with the best season to view it against the backdrop of the 10pm sky. At the southern end of the walk where Beach Drive intersects 63rd Ave SW is the Charles Richey Sr. Viewpoint, where a tiled mural illustrates the various kinds of intertidal sea life in the local waters and, about 25 feet away, a concrete-rock-copper “tide pool” embedded in the street commemorating Constellation Park & Marine Reserve.

avenue of the stars

tidepool art

From here we traveled north on 63rd to Admiral Way and then to Schmitz Preserve Park. Schmitz is rare among Seattle parks for retaining old growth forests from the time it was donated to the city by Ferdinand Schmitz in 1908. Even back then, Schmitz was concerned about rapidly disappearing forests. We entered the park from Admiral and 55th using a steep stairway on the west end of the overpass that crosses the ravine. The underside and retaining walls are all covered in graffiti, which made me cringe. The trail system was not marked at all, so we had to rely on the sun’s shadow to work our way south. The noises of the city rapidly disappeared in this densely forested preserve. Eventually, after climbing up a steep narrow footpath crossed by fallen trees, we emerged from the park on 56th Ave., north of Charleston St, not knowing if we had traversed the entire length or not. It turned out we hadn’t.

schmitz preserve park

By now, the warm and moderately humid weather was beginning to wear us down, but we managed to get to California Ave and then have lunch at Elliott Bay Brewery and Pub.

Bakery Nouveau was on our checklist of must-go places, located in the so-called West Seattle Junction, defined mainly by the intersction of Alaska and California Avenues. Business was brisk here, obviously a local mecca. We purchased a few things and (later) concluded that their pastries were too sweet.

The free shuttle got us back to Seacrest Park where we had time to have a shave ice from Marination Ma Kai before the water taxi returned us to Pier 50. At 4:15pm when we deboarded, there were two long lines of people on either side of the loading pier waiting to go to West Seattle.

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