Just five miles southeast of downtown Seattle, the Rainier Valley encompasses some of the city’s most colorful and diverse neighborhoods, including Columbia City, Genesee, Hillman City, Mount Baker, Seward Park, Lakewood, Rainier Beach and Othello.
In 2010, the U.S. Census Bureau reported that the 98118 ZIP code – which includes much of Rainier Valley – is America's most diverse. A third of the population is African American, a third white and much of the balance includes immigrants from across the globe –Spanish to Somali, Vietnamese to Chinese, Japanese to Malaysian. More than 50 languages are spoken here.
This diversity is celebrated by locals and is more accessible than ever to visitors. In 2009, Sound Transit opened the first line of its new Link light rail system, connecting downtown Seattle with the airport via the Rainier Valley.
is the commercial center for the surrounding neighborhoods of Mount Baker, Lakewood/Seward Park, and the rest of the Rainier Valley. Its turn-of-the-century buildings are filled with an eclectic mix of retailers, vibrant dining establishments and a host of entertainment options.
In addition to a wide variety of first-rate eateries, Columbia City hosts myriad events such as the Wednesday Farmer's Market (May through October), a monthly live music event, BeatWalk (featuring a joint cover to live music at many area businesses the second Fridays, May through September), the Columbia City Theater and Bourbon bar
and first-run movies in a neighborhood cinema.
The Rainier Valley Heritage Parade and Festival and the Bite of the Valley take place in the heart of Columbia City on the third Saturday of August. Shoppers can explore an incredible collection of African imports; view works of art; outfit the children; or buy flowers, meats and freshly baked bread.
The Mount Baker community is home to many longtime traditions and events, including the previously mentioned Bicycle Saturday and Sunday, Christmas ship parades, hydroplane races, Blue Angels air shows, Day in the Park and more.
After many years of planning and development, the Northwest African American Museum
is now open to the public in the historic Colman School in Seattle's Central Area/Rainier Valley. The museum features exhibitions that illuminate the regional history, visual arts, crafts, music, literary and culinary culture of African Americans in the Northwest and beyond.
Bradner Gardens, in northern Mount Baker, is a 1.5-acre park with a public garden, windmill, stream, bird sanctuary and basketball court that citizens fought to protect when the city wanted to develop the area for housing. Bradner Gardens now boasts a number of small parks, as well as long, dramatic outdoor staircases hidden beneath massive canopies of trees leading down to Lake Washington.
The lake, which borders Southeast Seattle entirely on the east, features public beaches, rowing and fishing opportunities, and is popular for walking, running and biking. In fact, from May through September on Sundays, Lake Washington Boulevard, between the Mount Baker and Seward Park neighborhoods, is closed to motorized traffic for bicyclists.
In Seward Park, the community gem is the 300-acre forest perched on the edge of Lake Washington. Home to eagles' nests, old-growth forest, a 2.4-mile bike and walking path, an amphitheater, a native plant garden, an art studio and miles of hiking trails, Seward Park draws nature lovers from all over the city. It also features the Seward Park Environmental and Audubon Center, which offers nature and educational classes to all ages throughout the year.
Located in the far southeastern corner of the city along Lake Washington, Rainier Beach enjoys numerous parks and recreational areas, including Be'ersheva, Kubota Garden and Lakeridge parks, and Fred Hutchinson Playground and Deadhorse Canyon Natural Area. Area residents — together with the City Department of Neighborhoods and the Parks and Recreation Department — provide the care and community stewardship necessary to sustain rich natural landscapes in an urban environment, with neighborhood groups providing extensive public education and volunteer efforts.
Kubota Garden Park, in particular, is a stunning 20 acres of hills and valleys featuring streams, waterfalls, ponds, plants, rock outcroppings and more. This unique urban refuge reflects more than 60 years of vision, effort and commitment by the Kubota family, who first built the gardens in the 1920s.
Othello boasts a variety of beautiful parks, including the Dearborn Park Green Space — an urban forest with a creek and wandering paths where neighbors sled when it snows. The Chief Sealth Trail winds from Beacon Avenue and S. Dawson Street down to Othello and seems worlds away from traffic. It's a popular place for walking, biking and running. In addition, Othello Playground is home to one of the biggest and best slides in the city, as well as free concerts in the summer where neighbors picnic and play together.
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