On previous trips, I’ve either put myself or my rental car on the ferry to cross Puget Sound — spooned chowder in Bremerton or wandered the wildflower-strewn country lanes of Bainbridge Island to take a seat at Local Harvest, where nearly every menu item cites the local farm or ranch where the dish was sourced. But this time I’m drawn to the arty/bohemian Alki Beach, due west from downtown and reachable by bus, taxi or water taxi.
It’s a gorgeous sunny day, so there’s a wait for boats at Alki Kayak Tours. I want to cover a lot of ground, so I rent a bike instead. But first I fortify myself at an outdoor table at the Alki Crab & Fish Co. restaurant and seafood market. The daily changing blackboard lists Cod ’n’ Chips, crab cocktail, crab strips, Dungeness crab cakes and Italian cream soda to wash it all down. Outside, the community bulletin board posts handbills for Sustainable West Seattle.
Over a grilled piece of halibut, I admire the view: the fertile hillsides, the small pebbly beach, yellow kayaks resplendent against blue water, narrow green lawns atop rock jetties (perfect picnic spots), commanding cruise ships entering and exiting the Sound, the Seattle Space Needle piercing the sky over downtown.
I climb on the bike and pedal along the Harbor Avenue promenade, past the unpretentious eclecticism of saltboxes, Cape Cods, Craftsman cottages and at least one shingled house with a hint of Victorian gingerbread trim. One charming home has a tiled roof and wood shingles that are almost completely obscured by explosions of flowers, in pots and boxes of all sizes and at various heights, as well as lovingly tended topiary. The owner is watering everything, which is clearly a half day’s work. I observe local color at one scenic viewpoint that boasts a 4,400-pound anchor from an unknown sailing vessel. The pedestrians walking the strip are edgily athletic, bow-tie tattoos decorating sinewy necks. Across the Sound, pine forests rest under craggy snow-packed peaks of the Olympic Peninsula.
Volleyball courts appear on Alki Beach proper, between 55th and 58th Avenues after Harbor Avenue rounds a bend to turn into Alki Avenue. An adjacent art fair is in full swing, and I browse the soy candles, seed jewelry and funky metal sculptures of mermaids, lobsters and crabs.
At Statue of Liberty Plaza, a musician in a cowboy hat with a pinwheel spinning at his feet strums Neil Young’s “Heart of Gold.” There are families and musclemen with sleeve tattoos, and the place takes on a vaguely Venice Beach vibe — except for the unspoiled ruggedness of the atmosphere and the REI-informed outdoorsiness (I don’t spot any surfers). A bench carrying the inscription “How glorious a greeting the sun gives to the mountains” by environmentalist John Muir reminds me we’re well north of my SoCal stomping grounds.