Columbia City is a neighborhood of Seattle southeast of downtown. While Seattle is known for many things, from coffee shops to large corporations, Columbia City has its own vibe. For one, it’s one of the most diverse neighborhoods in the city and brings together many world cultures in a small space. This makes it a great place to find a broad range of restaurants to try out! And beyond dining out, Columbia City is home to cultural experiences, a museum, shops, events and more.
Columbia City has a fantastic range of restaurants and types of food to try out and you can’t really go wrong simply showing up, perusing what’s near your parking spot (or the light rail station as there’s a stop in Columbia City), and giving it a go. You’ll find everything from Northwest cuisine (of course) at Taproot Café & Bar, to breakfast at Geraldine’s Counter, to delicious Ethiopian food at Café Ibex, to Caribbean at Island Soul and even a taco bus Tacos el Asadero. If you prefer your food with some space to hangout, try Super Six, which serves Asian and American fare in a converted auto shop so the atmosphere is pretty cool.
Explore the Shops along Rainier Avenue
Rainier Avenue is a surefire bet to find places to eat, but it’s also filled with shops and an undeniably charming atmosphere. Like the restaurant scene, you’ll find a bit of everything along this strip. Got kids? Stop at Retroactive Kids and peruse the toy selection. Andaluz is an all-around fun gift shop with books, jewelry, women’s clothing, home decor and more. Spots like Gather Consignment offer up more women’s clothing and home decor. Wander up and down Rainier Avenue and there’s plenty more to find.
The Northwest African American Museum delves into the history of African American history specifically in the Northwest, starting with how African Americans came to this region of the country. Exhibitions focus on individuals who are both nationally well-known as well as those closer to home, artists, and famous performers like Jimi Hendrix. The museum is located in the former Colman School building, which was built in 1909. Parking is free and there’s an admission fee of $5-7 depending on age (discounts for students with ID, children ages 4-12, and seniors 62 and older). Kids under 3 and members are free.
See a Show at Columbia City Theater or Rainier Arts Center
Columbia City has a few places to enjoy some entertainment that pair nicely with dinner out in the neighborhood. Columbia City Theater is a mid-sized theater that brings in a variety of shows, from burlesque to local musicians to visual artists. The theater gets bonus points for ambiance as it’s housed in a 100-year-old building and has a definite historic vibe. Like Columbia City Theater, the Rainier Arts Center is also housed in an old building (a 1921 national landmark building) and brings in a variety of shows and performers. One evening you might see a group putting on a Broadway musical, another might see a community glee club.
Join in an Event
Just about all of Seattle’s neighborhoods have festivals and events galore, especially during the spring, summer and fall. Columbia City is no exception. The Rainier Valley Heritage Parade and Othello International Festival is one of the don’t-miss events here. It takes place at Othello Park in August and celebrates the many cultures that come together in Seattle with free family fun. Beatwalk is another summer festival, taking place on the second Sunday of each month between June and September. Beatwalk is a live music series that takes place on the streets and in businesses of Columbia City. Other festivals take place throughout the year.
An event that deserves recognition all on its own is the farmers market that takes place in Columbia City each Wednesday from 3-7 p.m. between May and early October. Stroll the booths and check out seasonal fruit, veggies and locally produced foods, enjoy a bite to eat, or hang out and enjoy some live music if there’s a performer or band at the market the day you’re there. The market is located at 37th Avenue S and S Edmunds Street, just off Rainier Avenue S.
Seattle in general is an outdoorsy kind of place, filled with green spaces and waterfront. Columbia City has a number of parks to enjoy year-round. Columbia Park next to the Columbia Branch of the Seattle Public Library is a lovely place to enjoy a sit or a picnic (there is a conveniently located PCC Community Market right next to the park if you need picnic food). A larger green space starts in Columbia City and connects with other area parks so that you can potentially follow through the parks to the shores of Lake Washington — start at the Rainier Playfield just off of Rainier Avenue, which connects to Genesee Park (a laid-back park with large open areas for play and a fenced off-leash park for pups), which connects to Sayres Memorial Park and boat launch.
Explore the Local History
If you’re a history buff, you could easily spend an afternoon wandering around Columbia City and checking out historic spots. The Columbia City Historic District extends north to S. Alaska Street, south to the intersection of 39th Avenue S and Rainier Avenue S, east to 39th Avenue S., and west to the alley east of 35th Avenue S. and is on the National Register of Historic Places. The Seattle Public Library – Columbia City Branch is also on the National Register of Historic Places, and was built in 1915. Other structures, like the buildings that house the Northwest African American Museum or Columbia City Theater were both built in the early 1900s and have a lot of history behind them as well.