An Insider's Guide to
Living in West Seattle



By Hollyanna McCollom
Posted 7/3/2019

 

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Introduction • What to Expect • Transportation • Restaurants • Bars • Things to Do • Neighborhoods


Aerial View of West Seattle

Seattle is one of the most iconic cities in the world thanks to its lush greenery and its popularity as a home base for heavy-hitting companies like Amazon, Starbucks, REI, and Boeing. The city has a world-renown food scene that makes savvy use of Pacific Northwest produce, seafood, and proteins, drawing the attention of food shows, travel magazines, and trendsetters. People flock from all over the world to attend Seattle sporting events, to soak up the city’s vibrant music scene, and to visit its art, and cultural landmarks. But, for those who want quick access to the clamor and commotion of a big city as well as the harmony of a small town, West Seattle (or “the Peninsula” as it is sometimes affectionately known) is the best of both worlds.


What equates to about 16 square miles of land contains about a dozen distinct neighborhoods as well as old-growth forests, sandy beaches, mountains, and breathtaking views of Puget Sound. The Duwamish River that separates the region from the city proper serves as both a feature and a deterrent creating an almost self-contained city that is only minutes away from the bustle of downtown.

West Seattle is home to about 12% of the city’s overall population, but it feels like a small town with its close-knit neighborhoods and leafy suburbs, each characterized by their own mix of old cottages and craftsman-style homes, state-of-the-art condominiums, and stately manors that overlook Puget Sound.

Who lives and works in West Seattle?

West Seattle is a diverse mini-city where a number of empty-nesters, retirees, young professionals, musicians, artists, and families make their homes. The region embodies a fairly traditional Pacific Northwest ethos, which makes for a laid back, unassuming vibe, focused on compassion, the environment, and creativity.


The residents here are politically-astute and community-minded, but they tend to be more focused on enjoying life than they are on getting ahead. The early money to the region was in lumber, thanks to Washington State’s lush landscape; nowadays the money is in tech and big data. This is evident by some of the biggest employers in the Puget Sound area, which include Boeing, Microsoft, Amazon, Weyerhaeuser, and the joint Lewis McChord military base among others. A number of West Seattle residents commute to jobs with these employers because they value the atmosphere on the peninsula and the benefits that come with it. However, West Seattle has a number of its own major employers, such as South Seattle College, Providence Mount St. Vincent, and Tango Card.

The area is more diverse than the rest of the region, particularly as you go east and south within West Seattle. Scattered throughout, you will find a lot of first and second-generation immigrant families from Vietnam, the Philippines, Mexico, Somalia, China, and Japan. For a long time, West Seattle was inhabited by primarily blue-collar workers, but there has been a shift recently toward more urban, walkable communities. The bottom line is, people don’t move to West Seattle for status, profit, or notoriety; people move to West Seattle because they like it, plain and simple.


Gorgeous View of Alki Beach
Gorgeous View from Alki Beach

What to expect when you live in West Seattle

South of downtown proper and west of the Duwamish River, West Seattle is a collection of smaller neighborhoods set into a verdant landscape. It is a thriving and connected community that provides residents convenient access to shops, restaurants, and culture amid breathtaking views of the mountains and Puget Sound.

Some areas (such as Gatewood and Arbor Heights) are almost exclusively residential and you will still need a car to get your latte and groceries, but even in those areas, the traffic is worlds away from the zoom and rush of downtown Seattle.


The core retail area is found at the West Seattle Junction, where you can indulge in coffee and a twice-baked chocolate croissant at Bakery Nouveau, go on an art walk, or explore the year-round Seattle Farmers Market on Sundays.

Life on the westside is often about getting away from it all and there are plenty of places to leave your urban blues behind. You can stroll through the West Duwamish Greenbelt, an extended forest full of trails where you might encounter foxes, frogs, and various birds of prey; or, head to Lincoln Park on the west side of the area where you will find 135 acres with forest trails, picnic tables, tennis courts, ball fields, a saltwater swimming pool, playgrounds, grassy fields, and rocky beaches.


Alki Beach is another popular escape, where you will find miles of sandy beaches and tidepools as well as a 2.5-mile walkway that is popular with joggers, cyclists, skateboarders, and people-watchers. Take a (free) tour of the Alki Point Lighthouse and take a picture with the 6-foot replica of the Statue of Liberty, dedicated in 2007 as a symbol of Seattle’s commitment to freedom, liberty, and compassion.

What you won't expect from the area

For anyone outside of West Seattle, getting to the area and navigating around it can feel cumbersome. This is both the boon and the burden of West Seattle. Despite the fact that transportation to and from the area is far easier than it has ever been, many people simply avoid the area because it seems complicated or burdensome. These factors greatly into both the structure of the neighborhood and the maintenance of its laid back mentality. The insularity of the neighborhood breeds a close-knit community, but it also creates a bit of freedom in that residents of West Seattle live by their own rules.

You will not find the overt opulence and sparkle of a big city on the westside either. Walk around any of the neighborhoods and you will find a lot of history, but not a lot of modernity. For folks in West Seattle, life is more about community than change.

West Seattle transportation options

Self-powered transportation

West Seattle is a fun place to explore with a few main thoroughfares that are quite walkable (notably West Seattle Junction, Fairmount Park, and North Admiral). Biking is popular, and experienced riders enjoy hilly parks sprinkled with steep drops and rocky edges. Casual riders love Alki Beach along the north shore, where there is a extensive path that offers riders a safe place to travel.

Travel by car

By car, there are two primary ways to get to West Seattle. You can take the West Seattle Bridge from either Interstate 5 or Highway 99, or you can travel down Roxbury Street through White Center to highway 509 (which eventually becomes Highway 99).

Take a water taxi

For those who don’t drive or choose not to, the King County Water Taxi is quite popular. The Water Taxi docks at Seacrest Park near the tip of the land and offers frequent fifteen-minute trips. This is a convenient option because, while cars and buses creep through rush hour traffic, the Water Taxi offers a road-free trip directly across the sound to downtown Seattle in about 15 minutes.


Cross the Sound in a Water Taxi
Cross the Sound in a Water Taxi

Hop on a bus

Bus service in West Seattle is merely adequate, but there is a great focus on building better transportation options for the region, like the recently finished construction of the SSR 99 Tunnel. The change brought about new options for east-west travelers, such as the implementation of Ride2, an on-demand rideshare service that deploys buses to and from the Alaska Junction and Seacrest Park for standard metro fares.

Must-eat restaurants in West Seattle

Alki Beach Eats

If you are heading to Alki Beach, be sure to check out Spud Fish and Chips, where they have been serving delicious hand-battered fish and chips since 1935. Opt for the special, which includes three pieces of Alaskan True Cod, fries and a large side of their famous house-made tartar sauce. Or, if you are craving margaritas, stop by El Chupacabra for some punk rock Mexican fare. Try their Mission-style burrito or the fish tacos, which are made with fresh cod.

White Center Cuisine

A little further down the coast, you will find La Rustica, a homey Italian spot housed in a cottage that overlooks Puget Sound. The tiny spot is often packed with locals seeking comfort in the form of slow-roasted lamb shanks and pillow-soft gnocchi.


Pizza lovers should head a little further southeast into White Center and visit Proletariat Pizza, where the neighborhood’s namesake pizza, White Center White comes topped with ricotta, mozzarella, fresh garlic, oregano, and olive oil. All of their pies are made New York-style with fresh ingredients and an eye for creativity. They also offer a surprising array of vegetarian and vegan options that go far beyond just mushrooms and peppers.


Or, if it is burgers you are looking for, Zippy’s Giant Burgers is a bit of a legend. Their ground chuck patties are grilled until they get an irresistible salty crust and then topped with anything from hot links and a fried egg to house-made pepper jack cheese and pickled jalapenos.


If you want to experience a neighborhood, try their cuisine.

Bites in West Seattle Junction

Of course, the majority of restaurant hot-spots can be found in the West Seattle Junction, such as Talaricos for hand-tossed pizzas and hearty pasta dishes or West 5 for comfort food and classic diner fare. Not to be missed along this stretch is Ma’ono a sort of Hawaiian/Korean fusion spot that leans heavily into southern comfort dishes like kimchi macaroni and cheese and roasted sweet potatoes served with red coconut curry. The menu is solid, but Ma’ono is really known for its buttermilk-brined fried chicken, which is twice-fried and perfect. Get it early, because they only prepare about 30 chickens each day.


Ask a local where to get some grub and they are likely to mention Husky Deli. Smack dab in the middle of the Junction, Husky has been a favorite of West Seattle residents for well over 80 years, serving up tasty sandwiches, homemade ice cream, and obscure candies from around the world.

Moving toward the northeast side of the Peninsula, you will encounter Buddha Ruska, a popular Thai spot known for its Crispy Garlic Chicken (a.k.a. “Crack Chicken”). Head a little further up Fauntleroy Way and you will find Luna Park Cafe, a retro-style diner that serves Instagram-worthy breakfast all day. Make sure you save room for one of their decadent milkshakes, which come in dozens of flavor combinations and can even be dipped in hot fudge.


Finally, if comfort food for you means big bowls of fried rice or delicious tacos, check out Marination Ma Kai on the east bank of the peninsula. Once a popular food truck, Marination’s brick-and-mortar location in West Seattle now serves up kimchi fried rice and tacos topped with your choice of miso ginger chicken, kalua pork, spicy pork, kalbi beef, or “sexy” tofu.

Best bars in West Seattle

Although there is not much of a nightlife in West Seattle, they are not lacking in fun places to drink. The Beer Junction is a bottle shop and bar that boasts 35+ rotating taps and is rumored to have the largest selection of taps in Seattle. If European beers are more your thing, head to Prost! in the Admiral District. They have a rotating list of German beers on tap, each served in a traditionally-shaped glass that has been imported from Germany. They also have a great selection of German food such as bratwurst, currywurst, and huge Bavarian pretzels. But for beer lovers, the cool new kid in town is Best of Hands Barrelhouse, which opened in March of 2019 amid glowing reviews. The sleek and modern brewery features farmhouse and sour ales as well as some barrel-aged and mixed fermentation brews.


If you prefer something swankier check out The Nook, where ambiance is center stage. Their cocktail menu is a who’s who of classic cocktails like the Negroni, the Manhattan, and the Old Fashioned, but try their Seattle Grey instead. It is a delicious nod to the local weather that is comprised of Earl Grey-infused vodka and grapefruit soda. If that spot isn’t cozy enough for you, try The Alley, a speakeasy-themed bar that is so named because you must enter through a hidden entrance in the alley behind Be’s Restaurant on California Avenue (look inside the lockers). The menu is hush-hush but often features prohibition-era classics like the French 75, the Corpse Reviver, and the Sidecar.


If you are not content just sitting and drinking, try Vidiot in North Admiral. If you frequented video arcades as a kid, you will likely feel right at home amid the huge selection of arcade games and pinball machines. All the games are free except pinball ($1) and they have decent collection of beer, wine, and cider on tap as well as cocktails. Vintage music fans may like the kitch and sass of Dottie’s Double Wide in White Center. Enter through the side of an actual trailer and you will find a retro dive that serves a plethora of bacon-wrapped hot dogs and margaritas. They have a great collection of vintage vinyl that patrons can peruse and play on their in-house sound system. On the weekends, Dottie’s brings in DJs to spin classic tunes and remixes and while the place can get pretty loud, it is still worth the visit. Finally, sports fans should find their way to The Westy, just south of the West Seattle Junction. It’s a popular spot for Seahawks fans because the 90+ seat bar has 18 televisions spread throughout, each with its own sound system. For those uninterested in catching the game, they also have an extensive beer and wine list, craft cocktails, and skee ball.

Things to do in West Seattle

Explore the Puget Sound Coastline

There is plenty to do in West Seattle, especially if you want to commune with nature. Head to Lincoln Park and explore the numerous trails that stretch across its 135 acres, or visit Constellation Park at Charles Richey Sr. Viewpoint and explore the tidepools. When the tide is low, you can find starfish, anemones, crabs, marine worms and even a rare squid. Of course, Alki Beach also offers ample playground for exploring tidepools, building sandcastles, and catching rays. You can also try your hand at kayaking, fishing, or paddleboarding.


Lincoln Park
Lincoln Park has forests and beaches to explore.

Learn about local West Seattle history

Take in some history at the Duwamish Longhouse and Cultural Center, where you soak up some of the robust history of the Duwamish tribe, who are native to the region. Learn all about the tribe and Chief Si’ahl (Seattle, for whom the city is named) at their museum, gallery, gift shop, and gathering place. You can round out that history lesson at the “Birthplace of Seattle” Log House Museum, a time capsule of West Seattle trinkets and treasures. Before you leave, take a moment to explore the garden out back and get a glimpse of what might have grown back in 1851. The plants are all native to the region.

Socialize at the Art Walk and Playhouse

Whereas downtown Seattle may have its First Thursday art celebrations, West Seattle has its own event on the second Thursday of every month. The West Seattle Artwalk stretches from Alki to Endolyne (an area in Fauntleroy that was once the “end of the line” for the streetcar) and showcases the vibrant local art scene with special gallery showings, extended happy hours, music, and exclusive events. One active participant is ArtsWest Playhouse, where you can explore their gallery or catch a show on their intimate theater stage.

Shopping in West Seattle

Peruse any list of West Seattle hot spots and you will find they often start with Easy Street Records. This vinyl store and cafe has been around since the late 1980s and was once named one of the best record stores in the United States by Rolling Stone magazine. In addition to the deep stacks of vinyl, the shop also carries CDs, cassette tapes, stickers, and various music memorabilia. There is also an in-house diner that serves amazing music-themed greasy spoon fare like the Hank Williams Western Omelette or the Notorious B&G (biscuits and gravy).


Kiddos will love Curious KidStuff, a colorful toy store that carries a wide selection of high-quality toys, games, puzzles, and books. You won’t find battle toys here or the sort of commercial playthings advertised during Saturday morning cartoons, just fun, smart toys in a warm, welcoming environment. They also offer weekly drop-in art classes for little ones (and little-ones-at-heart). Speaking of smart, discerning parents will also love City Mouse Studio, a children’s clothing boutique that features local, organic, and ethically responsible clothing. The store is named after one of the owner’s favorite tales, Aesop’s City Mouse, Country Mouse.


Naturally, because it is still Seattle, there are a number of places that you can shop that can help reduce your carbon footprint (or at least your guilt), such as Cherry Consignment, a fun second-hand store that stocks funky shoes, clothing, and accessories in modern and timeless styles. Because they are a consignment store, Cherry Consignment is feel-good shopping. They can sell designer items for a fraction of the cost and give back to the community by allowing their neighbors to sell their unwanted items for cash. Alternatively, for community-conscious gifts, check out Alair, a boutique gift shop that specializes in small-batch trinkets and gifts. You will find a wide array of lotions, candles, whimsical decor, and books. The store is well-curated and always changing, but owner Sharon Johnson focuses on featuring companies that give back to the community.

Another great civic-minded store is Virago Gallery in West Seattle Junction. The gallery and boutique was established in 2013 by Tracy Cilona, who wanted to showcase the work of female and LGBTQ artists, designers, and business owners. The result is a posh and stylish collection of jewelry, clothing, accessories, and home items that are a true reflection of both the neighborhood and the region.


Fauntleroy Ferry to Vashon Island and Southworth
Take the Fauntleroy Ferry to Vashon Island and Southworth

 

Neighborhoods in West Seattle

The Admiral District

(Bordered on the north by Elliot Bay, on the south by West Seattle Junction, on the east by the Industrial District, and on the west by Alki.) The Admiral District is the oldest neighborhood in West Seattle, with a close-knit residential community that feels little need to cross the bridge since the neighborhood is so self-contained.

Arbor Heights

(Bordered on the north and west by Fauntleroy, on the South by Puget Sound, and on the east by White Center.) Arbor Heights is an almost exclusively residential area that is popular with professionals and families with children thanks to its stunning views of Puget Sound.

Alki

(Bordered on the north and west by Puget Sound, on the south by the West Seattle Junction, and on the east by the Admiral District.) The westernmost neighborhood in West Seattle, Alki is a laid-back beach community that stays fairly quiet during the winter months, but springs to life in the summer, for beach volleyball, casual dining, bonfires on the beach.

Delridge

(Bordered to the north and east by the Industrial District and Duwamish River, to the south by White Center, and to the west by Genesee.) Once nicknamed “Little Pittsburgh”, Delridge is a largely residential neighborhood with a few pockets of industrial areas that is home to the Duwamish Longhouse and Cultural Center and the Chinese Garden at South Seattle College.

Fairmount Park

(Bordered to the north by West Seattle Junction, to the south by Gatewood, to the east by North Delridge, and to the west by Seaview.) Fairmount Park is a hilly residential neighborhood with a few dense areas of dining and shopping.


Fauntleroy Neighborhood Beach
Take a stroll at your local Fauntleroy Neighborhood Beach

 

Fauntleroy

(Bordered by Lincoln Park to the north, Arbor Heights to the south, Roxhill on the east, and Puget Sound to the west.) Fauntleroy is an affluent residential neighborhood with an active community and a smattering of restaurants, bars, and boutiques. Holland Residential has a West Seattle apartment building with available studio, 1, and 2 bedroom units located in the Fauntleroy neighborhood. 

Gatewood

(Bordered on the north by Seaview and Fairmount Park, to the south by Fauntleroy, to the east by Highpoint and Roxhill, and to the west by Puget Sound.) Gatewood is a hilly residential community that boasts some of the highest elevations in the city as well as spectacular views of the sound, the Olympic mountains, and downtown Seattle.

Highland Park

Highland Park (Bordered by Riverview to the north, White Center to the South, South Park to the east, and South Delridge to the west.) Highland Park is a diverse, working-class neighborhood with tree-lined streets where you can find the largest dog park in the city at Westcrest Park.

Seaview

(Bordered on the north by Alki and Genesee, on the south by Gatewood, on the east by Fairmount Park, and on the west by Puget Sound.) Seaview is a quiet, residential neighborhood with beachfront properties.

West Seattle Junction

(Bordered on the north, west, and east by Genesee, and on the south by Fairmount Park and Seaview.) The convergence of California Avenue and Southwest Alaska Street, the Junction is the unofficial commercial center of West Seattle.

White Center

(Bordered by Roxhill and Delridge to the north, Evansville to the south, Highway 509 to the east, and Arbor Heights to the West) Though technically a part of unincorporated King County, many people consider White Center to be a part of West Seattle. Sometimes nicknamed “Rat City” on account of the Relocation and Training Center that was located there during World War II, White Center is a working-class neighborhood with a diverse collection of restaurants and businesses.


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