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Originally published March 20, 2008 at 12:00 AM | Page modified March 20, 2008 at 7:20 PM

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Do It in a Day

The rejuvenation of Renton

A wet, cold Wednesday evening. Finding a parking place near the restaurant — especially in Renton — I thought would be a snap...

Special to The Seattle Times

Renton yesterday and today

Renton, at the southern tip of Lake Washington, has been around for more than a century. In its infancy, there were coal mines. Then there was airplane production. Most recently, some Boeing buildings have been replaced by The Landing, a 68-acre urban village, not far from the Seahawks' new headquarters in the northeast part of town.

Even the once-blue-collar downtown is sporting some shiny new urban duds. Streets that had been lined with empty storefronts have come to life with sleek, multistoried condos and apartment buildings. Since 2001, some 600 multifamily units have opened or are under construction in the downtown core. With an influx of new residents, there's a vibrant, hip feel to the area. As one 23-year-old resident explained, "I like the vibes ... it's very laid-back ... no matter who you are, you will feel comfortable here."

There's a parade of buses through the King County regional transit center. It is footsteps from the 10,000-square-foot special events center and the Piazza, a landscaped block that hosts numerous community events including a weekly farmers market in the summer. New businesses are waking up nearby historic storefronts.

— Jackie Smith

If you go

Renton

Getting there

The core downtown area we visited stretches from Second Street on the north to just south of Fourth Street. Third Street is home to several of the stores mentioned as well as the Antique District and the Renton Civic Theatre. Sound Transit (www.soundtransit.org) and Metro buses serve the Renton Transit Center. Use Metro's Trip Planner to select the best route (http://tripplanner.metrokc.gov).

Parking

More than 1,000 public spaces offer free two-hour parking on city streets throughout downtown and in a city parking lot on Burnett Avenue, between Third and Fourth streets. A paid-parking lot (evening hours only) is found at the Renton Post Office and can be accessed from Wells Avenue.

Traveler's tip

Renton's grid of one-way streets can be confusing and may result in circling the block a few times if you are a first-time visitor to the town.

More information

Renton Chamber of Commerce, 300 Rainier Ave. N.; www.GoRenton.com or toll-free, 877-467-3686.

Get ski and boarding conditions all winter long with webcams, snow alerts and more at seattletimes.com/snowsports

RENTON — A wet, cold Wednesday evening. Finding a parking place near the restaurant — especially in Renton — I thought would be a snap.

It turned out to be a challenge — the place was crowded with people. A decade ago, when I worked in downtown Renton, I could have had my choice of parking spots on a damp weeknight, and I likely wouldn't have seen anyone else on the street. Those were the days when community leaders cringed when Seattle comedian John Keister made Renton the punchline on the "Almost Live" television show. They agreed it was time to put "Renton. Ahead of the Curve" both in marketing and community attitude.

Fast forward to this January ... Was it really Keister on that paid-for-by-Renton commercial during the football playoffs? Did he really claim the town is "ahead of the curve" these days? It was time to pay my old stomping grounds a visit.

It is easy to spend a day in Renton's downtown. Here is how to do it:

9 a.m.: Getting started

For a quick jolt, have an espresso and one — or more — of the made-from-scratch (using real sour cream and butter) frosted cupcakes, the specialty of the house at Common Ground Coffee and Cupcakes, 900 S. Third St. (425-235-1717 or www.commongroundcupcakes.com). This spacious coffeehouse is a popular gathering place for "moms" groups; their little ones make for good entertainment.

The large armchairs near the fireplace at The Met Coffee & Wine Bar, 232-C Burnett Ave. S. (425-687-7989), may cause you to linger until lunch or for a later wine tasting. This cozy corner coffeehouse and wine bar has a loyal following, with one regular proclaiming it "Renton's gathering place."

10 a.m.: Antique District and art

Start at St. Charles Place Antiques and Restorations, 230 Wells Ave. S. (425-226-8427), a three-story showcase so jampacked that you'll be turning sideways to squeeze past the displays. You'll find another half-dozen antiques and collectible stores in the area, most on Third Street.

Don't miss Uptown Glassworks, 230 Main Ave S. (425-228-1849 or www.uptownglassworks.com), next to Veterans Memorial Park. Glass art by some 70 Pacific Northwest artists is displayed in this cavernous 100-year-old building. You may catch an artist or two blowing glass in the workshop at the back of the gallery.

The Renton History Museum, 235 Mill Ave. S. (425-255-2330 or www.rentonhistory.org), is just around the corner and east of Uptown Glassworks.

Lunchtime

Heat up your visit with a stop at Naan-N-Curry, 709 S. Third St. (425-271-6226 or www.nncurry.com), serving aromatic East Indian and Pakistani selections for lunch and dinner. Approach with a hearty appetite.

Lidya's Boutique and Grocery Store, 601 S. Third St. (425-988-3489), offers a traditional deli sandwich of roast beef, turkey or ham ($7.99), or try an antelope, bison or elk burger ($9.99). Browse the store's eclectic inventory — grocery items to organic cotton bed sheets — while waiting for your sandwich, which can be eaten onsite or made to go.

Early afternoon: Shopping

Renton's downtown is a mix of locally owned, one-of-a-kind shops. Indiana Allen's Hats Exclusively for You, 415 S. Third St. (866-793-0652 or www.hatsexclusivelyforyou.com), features designer hats and wigs. The stylish collection of designer bonnets will tempt.

Sweetgrass Home & Garden, 332 Burnett Ave. S. (425-226-7280 or www.sweetgrasshome.com), has high-end home and garden decorating items as well as ladies lounge wear; children's garments; and gifts, creams and lotions. Across the hall, BJ's Boutique (206-679-3864 or www.BJ-fashionboutique.com) sells upscale women's clothing and accessories.

Midafternoon:

Get outside

The Cedar River runs through the heart of town, and because the Renton Public Library, 100 Mill Ave. S., straddles it, the library's entryway patio is perfect for river watching. If you've got the energy, you can walk to Lake Washington from here along the Cedar River Trail.

Late afternoon

The Red House Beer and Wine Shoppe and Tapas Bar, 410 Burnett Ave. S. (425-226-2666 or www.redhousebeerandwine.com), has more than 700 labels of wines and 500 beers from around the world. Guests to this mid-century home-turned-restaurant-store sit and sip in rooms with walls lined with wine racks and displays of beer. We chose a $6.95 cheese "plate" from the extensive tapas menu; what arrived was a meal-sized platter heaped with six types of cheese, olives, capers and toasted rustic bread.

The Whistle Stop Ale House, a longtime Renton favorite, has moved to a new location, 809 S. Fourth St. (425-277-3039 or www.whistlestopalehouse.com).

Dinner hour

The Triple Crown of fine dining has come to the corner of Wells Avenue and Houser Way. There are fish, steak and chops served — and live jazz Friday and Saturday nights — at Fin-N-Bone, 330 Wells Ave. S. (425-271-6644 or www.finnbone.com), or Italian fare at the longtime Renton favorite, Armondo's Cafe Italiano, now in new upscale digs at 310 Wells Ave. S. (425-228-0759 or www.armondos.com). We chose the historic Melrose Grill, a steakhouse at 819 Houser Way (425-254-0759 or www.melrosegrill.com). Back in 1901, the place was a 60-room-hotel, with cafe and saloon. The original ornate wood bars are still in use.

Evening: Theater

Catch a performance at the Renton Civic Theater, 507 S. Third St. (425-226-5529 or www.rentoncivictheater.org), a restored 1920s movie house with its art-deco lobby and spiraling staircase, or the 546-seat community Ikea Performing Arts Center, 400 S. Second St., at Renton High School (425-204-3454).

Jackie Smith is a freelance writer who lives in Kirkland.

Copyright © 2008 The Seattle Times Company

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