Eight months out of every year, we huddle next to fires, belly up to bars, and snuggle down in comforters—anything to ward off the gray chill of the Northwest. So when the sun comes out, we are fish-belly white, hungover, and understandably jubilant. And on a sunny afternoon in Seattle, the best place to be is undoubtedly Alki Beach.
Alki flaunts its small strip of beach like a well-oiled bicep. Rollerbladers weave through the hordes of chatty dog walkers, focused joggers, and unconcerned strollers. The beach itself luxuriates in the rare heat, and as the sun descends over the Olympics, the deep blue of the Sound turns to white gold. You realize that it's time to eat, but you don't want to go indoors, not yet.
Where to go? In addition to the mainstays (Pegasus for pizza, the Pepperdock for burgers), there are other options. It all depends on your mood.
Get Above It All
Siam Pura (2620 Alki Ave SW, 932-5693) nestles in the second story of what used to be a house back when the West Seattle Bridge was only a gleam in some council member's eye and people could actually afford to live along this stretch of Alki. Go after 2:00 p.m. because that's when the sun begins to bathe the small deck in an angelic glow. Sounds drift up from the street—a dog barking, a blader in a tank top talking on her phone, a guy in a Mustang blasting "Seven Bridges Road"—but you're above it all, deitylike, as you kick off your flip-flops and order a tall glass of lemonade ($1.50).
There are dozens of Thai places in Seattle, and Siam Pura is no better or worse than most of them. It's under friendly new ownership, though, and the homemade peanut sauce that comes with the chicken sate ($7.95) is sweet and spicy and abundant. The special mango curry ($10.95) seems appropriately tropical for a hot summer afternoon with its chunks of sweet and refreshing mango swimming in a mild Panang curry sauce. Really, though, you're not here for the food, but the view. And it's incredible. The Olympics, sparkling waters, the hairy man in cutoff jeans bending over to tie his shoe.
Get Right into It
The newest branch of the Southwestern restaurant Cactus (2820 Alki Ave SW, 933-6000) has a patio looking out onto the Sound and windows that, when it's nice, can be rolled up like giant garage doors, making the whole place an open-air cornucopia of deliciousness. Adventurous and flavorful, the food here is worth the trip alone, but it's the scene that makes it a perfect place to spend a sunny afternoon. In the bar, young singles sport and play around each other like sleek seals, their hair just right, their teeth and jewelry flashing. A pleasant din prevails, not so overpowering that you can't hear, but loud enough so you know you're having a good time.
Nibble on some Navajo fry bread ($2) or the blue-corn-crusted calamari ($8) before digging in to the heavenly chicken fried chicken with chorizo sauce ($14) or the soft and cuddly butternut squash enchiladas ($12.50). Wash it all down with a beer, a mojito, or any number of variations on that perfect summer drink, the margarita.
Get Away from It All
Maybe the beach scene's a bit much for you. Overdosed on spandex and the Eagles, you want some peace and quiet, but the day's too nice to go home. Head back toward the city, but turn off at Seacrest Park where the redoubtable water taxi ferries downtown denizens to the beach. Just off the pier sits the Alki Crab and Fish Company (1660 Harbor Ave SW, 938-0975) and its brand-new beer garden. Relax at one of the picnic tables and tip back a cold one or elegantly nuzzle a glass of rosé as you wait for your fish and chips.
Without heavy batter, the halibut ($9.95) retains its metallic tang while the cod ($6.25) tastes faintly of the sea. The fries are crisp and the ketchup is plentiful. Try to get your hands on some of those fried clams (the combo platter costs $9.99) because they're just right: salty and a little sweet.
And while you're there, watch as the light goes down on the skyline, giving our modest skyscrapers an almost marine hue. Take a moment now and listen to the slap of the waves against the pier. It's late spring in Seattle and you're right where you should be.