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Thursday, March 4, 2004 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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City Walks

Rainier Beach: Uncover parks, views and a Japanese garden

Seattle Times Travel staff

The walk: Rainier Avenue South is not a great place to walk, with its buzz of traffic and string of gas stations and fast-food restaurants.

But get off the main drag in the Rainier Beach neighborhood in South Seattle, and you'll find a string of small parks to explore, each rich in local history and views.

The jewel in the area's green crown is Kubota Garden, a 20-acre hillside enclave of Japanese-inspired plantings and streams that's one of Seattle's loveliest and most overlooked parks.

Kubota and other parks along this walking route are linked by quiet residential streets, with houses ranging from modest brick ramblers to sparkling new three-story homes. About the only time you'll find a crowd is around Rainier Beach High School when students head home or when one of its popular athletic teams plays a home game.

Here's the route starting from the north (see map below); for the return, retrace your steps or take parallel streets. Round trip, it's about two miles.

GREG GILBERT / THE SEATTLE TIMES
Fong Lam serves dim sum to Hoang-Nam Chinh Dieu and Susan Vo at Hong Kong Seafood Restaurant on Rainier Avenue South in Rainier Beach.
Begin at Pritchard Island Beach, a 19-acre stretch of lawn, beach and wetland on Lake Washington. The city park is tucked into a residential neighborhood at the intersection of South Grattan Street and 55th Avenue South. Drink in the views of wooded Seward Park 1.5 miles to the north and the Cascades to the east. The park's bathhouse sits on the site of the former home of Victor Meyers, a Seattle bandleader and, beginning in the 1930s, a Washington lieutenant governor and then secretary of state.

Walk south on a path/boardwalk that meanders for a half-block through the park's wetland, past stands of alder and a little pond where ducks dabble.

The path ends at South Cloverdale Street. Go west on Cloverdale for a half block, then south on 55th Avenue South for a block to Beer Sheva Park, a tiny lakefront park with swings and picnic tables just east of Rainier Beach High School.

Beer Sheva is named in honor of a Seattle sister city in Israel; some locals still know it by its original name of Atlantic City park. Adjoining to the south is the Atlantic City boat ramp, a busy place for boat launches on sunny weekends.

GREG GILBERT / THE SEATTLE TIMES
Pritchard Island Beach, along the shore of Lake Washington, offers a wetland path as well as lawns and beach.
From Beer Sheva Park, walk west for a half block on South Henderson Street, then turn south onto a footpath that skirts the east side of a QFC food store. This is the 52nd Avenue South/Mapes Creek walkway, a shortcut popular with shoppers and school kids; it runs for about a block to Rainier Avenue South. Some trees have been planted and a few benches installed in an effort to beautify the walkway, although it's currently more useful than scenic.

Cross Rainier Avenue South and go gently uphill on 54th Avenue South, through a quiet residential neighborhood. After several blocks, it intersects Renton Avenue South; across the street is the verdant Kubota Garden; the entrance is around the corner off 55th Avenue South.

Kubota is a 20-acre hideaway that blends Japanese and North American landscapes and plantings. It's a tranquil yet continually surprising place to stroll, with paths winding through elaborate plantings, up little ridges, past mini waterfalls, and over footbridges that cross a burbling creek. Don't miss the view of the garden from the 65-foot "Mountain."

Like all Japanese gardens, Kubota masterfully combines rock, water and plants to evoke serene moods. It was created by the self-taught landscaper Fujitaro Kubota as a display garden in the 1920s. It was lovingly improved for decades by Kubota and his sons until it was acquired by the city in 1987.

More information: Kubota Garden Foundation: www.kubota.org/ or 206-725-5060 or for this and other parks, see www.cityofseattle.net/parks/

Secret tip: Take a quick detour to Pritchard Island, southeast of Pritchard Island Beach park on the lakefront. Get to it by walking east for a half block on South Cloverdale Street, which deadends at the intersection with Island Drive, the only road on the three-block-long Pritchard Island.

Once inhabited by Native Americans, this truly was an island until Lake Washington was lowered by nine feet in 1917, when the Ship Canal opened; it then turned into a mini peninsula. Developed in the early 1900s by Alfred Pritchard, it now is a tucked-away, well-off enclave of lakefront houses with yards sloping steeply to the shore.

Lunch stop: Treat yourself to a dim sum lunch or the deep-fried shrimp specialty at the Hong Kong Seafood Restaurant at 9400 Rainier Ave. S. (206-723-1718). Neighborhood families often fill the big round tables. You can eat well, and abundantly, for $10.

Access: The parks are not especially suited to wheelchair access, with some unpaved paths and ups and downs. However, Kubota Garden access will be improved as part of some ongoing parking/path renovations.

Parking/bus: Parking is free in lots at Pritchard and Kubota parks and the Atlantic City boat ramp. On-street parking is also available. Routes 39 and 106 from downtown Seattle are among the Metro buses serving Rainier Beach.

Kristin Jackson: 206-464-2271 or kjackson@seattletimes.com

Copyright © 2004 The Seattle Times Company

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