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Originally published August 19, 2009 at 4:21 PM | Page modified August 20, 2009 at 2:30 AM

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Hop the water taxi to West Seattle for a day of shopping and beach-bumming

For Puget Sound-area residents who don't frequent West Seattle, a trip across Elliott Bay on the public water taxi can be the start of a fun, inexpensive day of shopping and beach activities.

Seattle Times travel writer

If You Go

A day in West Seattle

Getting there

The King County Water Taxi runs daily between West Seattle's Seacrest Park and Pier 55 on the Seattle waterfront. Boats carry 250 passengers. Adult fares are $3 each way. For schedules, see www.kingcounty.gov/transportation/kcdot/Marine/WaterTaxi/Schedule.aspx.

Getting around

Free shuttle vans operate between the Admiral District, Alki Point and the West Seattle Junction. Route 773 runs from Seacrest to the West Seattle Junction; Route 775 runs from Seacrest to the Admiral District and Alki Point. Full-size buses run on scheduled routes along Alki on weekdays, but not on weekends. For schedules, see www.kingcounty.gov/transportation/kcdot/Marine/WaterTaxi/Shuttles.aspx.

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Getting out on the water on a sunny day doesn't come any cheaper than a ride aboard the King County Water Taxi from the Seattle waterfront to Seacrest Park on the West Seattle peninsula.

Three dollars buys a 12-minute cruise across Elliott Bay, just enough time for coffee and a quick decision about what to do once you reach the other side.

Two suggestions:

• Lounge around Alki Beach with its waterfront cafes and 2.5-mile paved path perfect for people-watching, jogging or biking.

• Hop on one of the free shuttles that whisk passengers to the "Junction," West Seattle's business hub where bakeries, boutiques and antique shops re-create a small-town feel along an early-1900s streetcar route.

My advice: Sample a little of both, and discover what makes Seattle's oldest neighborhood one of this city's best-kept secrets.

Wear walking shoes because there's a scenic hike involved. Do this trip on a Sunday when parking in downtown Seattle is free and the West Seattle Farmers Market is in full swing.

Here's your plan:

9:30 a.m.

Skyline views

You won't need a car, so park for the day under the viaduct near the Seattle waterfront, or take the bus to Pier 55 and catch the water taxi run by Argosy Cruises for King County Metro Transit. Boats leave on weekends hourly on the half-hour starting at 8:30 a.m.

Find a seat on the upper deck and check out the views of the Seattle skyline and the waterfront industry that was once West Seattle's economic mainstay.

Seattle's first white settlers landed on the shores of West Seattle's Alki Point in 1851. Gulls meet the passengers stepping off the water taxi onto a wobbly wooden dock at Seacrest Park, close to where the first ferry to cross Puget Sound — a steam-powered side-wheeler — docked in 1888.

9:51 a.m.

To the Junction

The first ferry commuters rode up the hill to the developing Admiral District in a cable car. Today, free 18-passenger minibuses meet the water taxi and shuttle passengers between Seacrest, Admiral and Alki (Route 775) and Seacrest and the West Seattle Junction (Route 773).

Take the 773 and get off at the Junction, named for two streetcar lines that crossed at the intersection of California Avenue Southwest and Southwest Alaska Street in 1907.

10 a.m.

Breakfast stop

Don't be put off by the line out the door at Bakery Nouveau, 4737 California Ave. Customers make decisions quickly as they file past glass cases filled with pear danish, fruit tarts, and Parisian macaroons.

Those with heartier appetites will feel at home at Easy Street Records & Cafe, 4559 California. Settle into one of the red vinyl booths and fill up on the Johnny Cash steak-and-eggs breakfast or a stack of Blueberry Hill pancakes. Drip coffee is $1.

10:30 a.m.

Fresh from the farm

Many Seattleites make a special trip to the West Seattle Farmers Market on Sundays, 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. (www.seattlefarmersmarkets.org/markets/west_seattle).

Bring a big cloth bag and gather vegetables, fruits and cheeses for a picnic later, or just eat your way through the stalls while chatting with the vendors. Herban Feast sells thrist-quenching cups of strawberry-lavender lemonade for $1, great with a pulled pork slider from the Eats Market Cafe stall.

Food's not the only attraction. Rex Morris from Vashon Island will sharpen your kitchen knives for 50 cents an inch. Tunji Alao, back from a recent trip to Africa, sets up shop most Sundays on a row of hedges where he displays straw baskets with cowhide handles from Ghana and bags of fragrant Kenyan coffee.

11:30 a.m.

Street art

It's easy to look at the walls of buildings and see the back entrances to restaurants, insurance companies and yoga studios. Civic leaders saw blank canvasses and commissioned artists to paint a series of 11 murals depicting scenes from West Seattle's colorful past.

Print out a map and descriptions at www.westseattle.com/site/murals, or just have fun spotting them at random as you walk around.

"Tuesday's Bank Day," painted by Canadian artist Alan Wylie at 4501 California, hits on a theme of fiscal responsibility many could relate to today. The scene depicts a 1923 classroom as students line up to make deposits in personal savings accounts.

12:30 p.m.

Sushi, shoes and shoofly pie

Japanese restaurants and shoe boutiques share the neighborhood with stores selling pet supplies and used furniture. The mix reflects the tastes of a working-class community that's lately attracted young singles and families lured by cheaper real estate prices.

Stop by the old-fashioned soda fountain at Husky Deli, 4721 California, in business since 1932. Order a French orange or Oreo shake. Glass cases filled with gumdrops, cinnamon bears and licorice pipes bring back childhood memories of a trip to the penny candy store.

Stroll along California Avenue and find Shoofly Pie Co., 4444 California, with a rotating selection of sweet and savory pies. Used leather cowboy boots and iron skillets are among the vintage kitsch filling three floors at the Antique Mall of West Seattle, at 4516 California.

Twilight Arts Collective, 4306 S.W. Alaska St., sells locally crafted jewelry and wearable art. Look for Cyn Moore's "Cyncity" glass and silver pendants embedded with miniature maps of Seattle neighborhoods.

2 p.m.

Scenic walk

A stroll along Beach Drive Southwest to Alki Beach is a classic Seattle scenic walk.

From the Junction to Beach Drive, it's three-quarters of a mile downhill through residential neighborhoods, then another 1.5 miles to Alki (see map), where the 775 shuttle stops on its way back to Seacrest.

Other scheduled Metro buses do not travel this route on Sunday, so if you're not up for the walk, take the 773 shuttle back to Seacrest and pick up the 775 shuttle in the other direction toward Alki.

Walkers following the Beach Drive route have paved paths and sidewalks leading to scenic overlooks with views of Puget Sound and the Olympic Mountains.

Stop for a rest or a picnic at Emma Schmitz Memorial Viewpoint, a pocket park with benches and steps to the beach. It was donated to the city in 1945 by Emma Schmitz "for a park and... no other purpose whatsoever."

At low tide, try walking along the beach from Constellation Park and Marine Reserve to Alki. Explore the tide pools for starfish, snails or clams. Otherwise stay on the path and notice the constellation maps inlaid in the sidewalk.

3:30 p.m.

Beach time

Have a picnic. Rent skates. Jog. Bike. Swim, or just soak up the sun. There's something for everyone at Alki Beach Park (www.seattle.gov/parks), and chances are there will be some event — a car show, beach volleyball contest, music festival — on any summer weekend.

Alki is to Seattle what Venice Beach is to Los Angeles for people-watching on a sunny day. Take in the views over an iced coffee or early dinner at one of the beachfront restaurants, then catch the 775 shuttle back to Seacrest.

Don't dally. The last water taxi leaves at 7 p.m. on Sunday. The shuttles sometimes fill up on busy weekends, which means it's wise to either budget extra time to walk back to Seacrest or wait for the next shuttle.

Carol Pucci: cpucci@seattletimes.com

Copyright © The Seattle Times Company

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