Just west of Seattle proper lies a place that feels more like a small beach town than the birthplace of a major city. Alki is a peninsular neighborhood in West Seattle with stunning views of Puget Sound and the Seattle skyline. This is one of those urban oases that allows you to feel far away from the bustle of downtown without requiring you to actually make your way out of the city.
The focal point of this beloved neighborhood is Alki Beach, managed by the Seattle Parks and Recreation Department. It is bordered by a line of seafood joints, ice cream shops and pizza places with nautical themes aplenty. It does have a touristy feel, but manages to avoid going overboard in the kitsch department.
The beach can become quite crowded on fair-weather days, but one sure way to find some space of your own is to launch a kayak and spend your time on the water. When choosing a parking spot along Alki Dr., keep your boat loading/unloading in mind! If you’re solo, avoid the angle parking (stopping traffic while you unload your boat into the street is not the best way to start a trip). It’s a short carry (or drag) across a level sand beach to the water.
The winds can shift and build quickly here; be prepared for some variety! Come dressed for wind and splashes, no matter how smooth the water might be when you depart. The waters of Puget Sound fluctuate seasonally between the mid-40s and low 50’s, so a wetsuit is always good safety measure.
After you launch, follow the shoreline to the north. Keep your eyes peeled for harbor seals! It is easy to miss them poking their curious heads up out of the water- spotting them in choppy water is a skill worth honing. This is also a great paddle for the strangest wildlife observation of all: people watching. You can float alongside the shoreline path and see joggers, dog walkers, rollerbladers and a few unique characters without fail. Don’t be surprised if you spot a UPS driver blast some heavy metal music in the middle of the day, inspiring a motorcyclist on a cigarette break to have an intense and prolonged headbanging solo in the street.
Character watching aside, the real meat of the trip happens when you round the point (Duwamish Head). An unobstructed and jaw-dropping view of the Seattle skyline appears quite suddenly. This view, when seen from the water, gives you that elusive feeling that you are experiencing something that everyone else is missing out on. Since this is an out-and-back paddle, you can tailor the length to your mood. You can get up to Duwamish Head, linger a bit to enjoy the views and paddle back to your car in as little as an hour. However, you’ll want to be out there much, much longer.
An ideal time to make this paddle is in the late afternoon. Seeing the reds and oranges of the sunset bounce off the skyline is an experience you will be talking about the next day. The return trip has you paddling into the sunset, just to land and load up in time for Happy Hour clam chowder and a bourbon/root beer cocktail at Duke’s Chowder House across the street.
If you want to skip the beach portion and cut right to the eyeball-popping view of the skyline, go around the point and put in at the Don Armeni Boat Ramp, also run by the Seattle Parks and Recreation Commission.