These Seattle Suburbs Have the Most Walkable Downtowns

For those seeking an urban lifestyle, suburban cities with compact and walkable downtowns offer appealing amenities, such as local shops and restaurants, and small-town civic pride
| FROM THE PRINT EDITION |
 
 
Walkable downtown Kirkland encourages window shopping and people watching

This article appears in print in the March 2018 issue, as part of the "Best of the Burbs" cover story. Click here for the rest of the story.

Kirkland

Although its population now exceeds 87,000, Kirkland is still a charming lakeside town where sidewalks along Lake Washington Boulevard—punctuated with parks and luxury waterfront condos—attract hordes of walkers and runners, who inevitably wind up in the compact downtown filled with shops, restaurants and galleries. Long-established favorites continue to thrive, and renovations to some buildings have brought in a more contemporary architectural style. 

Kirkland is rich with other downtown amenities, including the Kirkland Performance Center, which presents popular theater and music shows (examples include The Brothers Four and the Seattle International Comedy Competition); the upscale Heathman Hotel; Marina Park, which offers summer concerts and is the departure point for some Argosy boat tours; a community center and outdoor pool; and Kirkland Urban, a mixed-use shopping center under development on the eastern edge of downtown.

There is a lot of new development taking place, but the city’s goal is to ensure that when it’s done, “it’s still Kirkland—only better than ever,” says Ellen Miller-Wolfe, the city’s economic development manager. That means green space, expanding traffic accessibility and creating affordability so that the city remains attractive to families, millennials and seniors. A wide array of condos and apartments border the downtown area, and spreading beyond them are single-family neighborhoods, many with water views. Nearby, The Village at Totem Lake is currently under development and will add new residential, business and retail offerings.

Neighborhood Snapshot
Population: 87,701
Median Home Price: $706,900 
Appreciation: 18.8 percent
School Rank: Lake Washington School District, no. 3 in state
Public Transportation: King County Metro bus service, including RapidRide; Sound Transit 
Commute to Seattle: 10.8 miles, 20–40 minutes

Kirkland Downtown
Long-established businesses continue to thrive in downtown Kirkland, such as popular neighborhood restaurant George’s (108 Kirkland Ave.; 425.827.6622;georgeskirkland.com); Via Lago (129 Lake St. S; 425.893.9191), which sells stylish women’s clothing; and Booboo Barkery and Boutique (115 Lake St. S; 425.822.0292), offering treats and other goodies for dogs. Recent newcomers include women’s clothing shop Hepburn (140 Park Lane; 425.576.2730), wine-tasting bar Maison DeLille (15 Lake St. S; 425.205.2147; delillecellars.com) and men’s shop Asher Goods (15 Lake St. S, No. 201; 425.576.0683; ashergoods.com). Fine-dining restaurants Volterra (121 Kirkland Ave.; 425.202.7201; volterrakirkland.com) and Trellis in The Heathman Hotel (220 Kirkland Ave.; 425.284.5900; heathmankirkland.com) continue to attract a crowd that would rather stay close to home than venture into the big city.

Photographs by edmondsdowntown.org (Edmonds); Hayley Young (Sumner). Stores and restaurants line the streets branching off from the traffic circle in downtown Edmonds; Browsing the goods in The Rustic Farmhouse is one of the pleasures of downtown Sumner 

Edmonds

Historic and contemporary buildings mingle along the tree-lined streets of downtown Edmonds, where benches placed here and there invite lingering. “We have unique shops, good restaurants and coffeehouses, breweries and a distillery, a performing arts center, and an original [restored] Carnegie Library building, now home to our historical museum,” says Teresa Wippel, publisher of the online news source My Edmonds News. 

Known for its arts and culture, the city is also home to galleries, the Cascade Symphony and the Edmonds Center for the Arts, which offers concerts and theater performances. Wippel’s favorites include “the old-fashioned movie theater [Edmonds Theater], the Saturday farmers’ market that runs May–October, and the Salish Crossing complex next to the ferry terminal, which houses our Northwest art museum, along with restaurants, a bottle shop and a distillery.” 

Brackett’s Landing North, a scenic area on the periphery of downtown, overlooks Puget Sound. On Sunday mornings, the shoreline is filled with visitors who pause to watch the ferries dock and chat with friends. Edmonds has a range of housing located within a block or two of the compact downtown, including condos, apartments and single-family homes, and attracts professionals, empty nesters, millennials and family-centric residents who like the sense of community, seaside ambiance and urban amenities. Beyond the town’s core are suburban family neighborhoods and larger condominium developments. 

Neighborhood Snapshot
Population
: 41,840
Median Home Price: $558,900 
Appreciation: 13.4 percent
School District Ranking: Edmonds School District, no. 66 in state
Public Transportation: Sound Transit, Community Transit 
Commute to Seattle: 16.6 miles, 30–55 minutes 

Edmonds Downtown
Locals continue to support downtown retail stores such as The Wooden Spoon (104 Fifth Ave. S; 425.775.3344), a kitchen shop that has been an Edmonds landmark for more than 40 years; Belly & Co. (422 Main St.; 425.778.7600; bellyandcompany.com), with maternity and baby gear; and three indie bookstores, including Edmonds Bookshop (111 Fifth Ave. S; 425.775.2789; edmondsbookshop.com). Dining options include Red Twig (117 Fifth Ave. S; 425.771.1200; redtwig.com), a café and bakery; and Girardi’s Osteria (504 Fifth Ave. S; 425.673.5278; girardis-osteria.com), offering rustic Italian cuisine. A newer addition is the gin-centric Scratch Distillery (190 Sunset Ave. S, Suite A; 425.673.7046; scratchdistillery.com), which offers a tasting room and the Giniology program, in which participants make their own gin creation.

Sumner

Downtown sumner, northeast of Puyallup, is reminiscent of the idyllic “Main Street” towns found across the U.S. and romanticized in film. The eight-block area is anchored by—you guessed it—Main Street. A quick window-shopping stroll will take about 11 minutes, says Suzanne Kipfer, president of Downtown Sumner Promotion Association. But plan to spend two or three hours here soaking up the vibe and exploring the shops and boutiques, restaurants and three city parks: Heritage Park (the focal point for festivals), Loyalty Park (the city’s oldest) and Rainier View Park. Nearby are the Sumner Performing Arts Center (the upcoming schedule includes Once Upon a Mattress and Mary Poppins) and the Ryan House museum, which showcases Sumner’s history. Sumner Station is within a 20-minute walk of many homes in town and provides access to Sounder trains to Seattle. The new 5-mile Sumner Link Trail connects the town to the Interurban Trail to the north and the Puyallup Riverwalk Trail to the south. 

The town—originally the center of an agricultural community where crops of daffodils, rhubarb, hops, berries and vegetables were grown—is an architectural treasure; more than half the buildings were built before 1930. The area is still attractive to those seeking the small-town lifestyle in a rural setting. In a nod to its heritage, Sumner named itself the “Rhubarb Pie Capital of the World,” and celebrates its designation every summer with the Rhubarb Pie Festival, making Sumner the sweetest spot on the road between Seattle and Mount Rainier, according to Kipfer. Housing options in and near town include cottages and well-kept—often historic—downtown homes, as well as mid-century ramblers and new family homes and condos. Nearby, scenic farms and ranches are available. 

Neighborhood Snapshot
Population
: 9,969
Median Home Price: $563,400
Appreciation: 7.9 percent
School Rank: Sumner School District, no. 24 in state
Public Transportation: Sound Transit (Sumner Station), Pierce Transit, King County Metro bus service 
Commute to Seattle: 34.1 miles, from 55 minutes to 1 hour, 40 minutes

Sumner Downtown
Locals head to Main Street to visit SugarBabies (926 Main St., Suite 104; 253.299.6221; shopsugarbabies.com), with goods for moms and babies; home décor shop The Rustic Farmhouse (909 Main St., Suite 2; 253.863.1748; shoptherusticfarmhouse.com); and Craft.19 Espresso and Creperie (1201 Main St.; 253.447.7957; craft19coffee.com) for coffee and crepes. Other favorites include new- and used-book shop A Good Book (1014 Main St.; 253.891.9692; agoodbooksumner.com); the Stuck Junction Saloon (1005 Main St.; 253.826.4408; Facebook, “Stuck Junction Saloon”) for bar games, burgers made from local beef and happy hour; and Simple Tidings and Kitchen, a gift and kitchen store (1115 Main St.; 253.863.7933; simpletidings.com).

Also consider:

With one of only 12 nationally accredited historic Main Streets in Washington, the village of Winslow on Bainbridge Island, a 30-minute ferry ride from downtown Seattle, stands out. Bothell’s ongoing revitalization of its Main Street and the Park at Bothell Landing are transforming the downtown core. Old Burien—a quaint and eclectic collection of boutiques and restaurants—remains the beloved retail heart of Burien and blends well with the newest developments nearby.

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