Columbia City: Diverse Eating and
Entertainment Just South of Downtown
Since its early days, Columbia City has been known as an up-and-coming, trendy neighborhood. With diverse demographics as well as food offerings, it has attracted people from all kinds of places and with all kinds of interests for decades.
Rainier Avenue South is the primary thoroughfare of the neighborhood, with lots of choices for coffee (such as the favorite Columbia City Bakery), specialty foods such as old-fashioned butchery Bob’s Quality Meats, shopping at unique spots such as high-end women’s consignment shop Gather, and so much more. There’s also plenty of other boutiques, fitness centers, and both casual and chic dining options, including gourmet wood-fired pizza at Tutta Bella Neapolitan Pizzeria and ethnic cuisine such as Caribbean, Mexican, Vietnamese, Thai, and Japanese restaurants, all within steps of one another.
2019 Data at a Glance
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Pros & Cons of Living in Columbia City
Despite its size and relative difficulty to get to from Downtown, Columbia City has a lot to offer, which is probably a reason why it has been a popular place to move to for those looking to get away from the more expensive neighborhoods that are more centrally located. There is an exceptional variety and diversity of things to do and eat, in addition to Columbia City’s friendly ambiance and attractive community spirit.
Columbia City is home to some cool, historic buildings, an independent movie theater (Ark Lodge Cinemas) in addition to one that shows only independent films (The Beacon Theater), and, as mentioned, people and restaurants from all over the world.
Get your favorite java beverage at Empire Espresso, enjoy brunch or breakfast any time of day at Geraldine’s Counter, sample authentic Ethiopian fare at Kezira Cafe, or snag a taco or two from Tacos El Asadero food truck.
In summation of the pros, Columbia City has a small, neighborhood feel while being close enough to the Downtown area via the light rail. It’s also close to Seward Park, one of Seattle’s best parks with a 300-acre forest with hiking trails, walking paths, beaches, and a playground. There are about 20 parks and green spaces in Columbia City, and Genesee Park & Playfield is another favorite, with its dog park.
Two of the primary cons of living in Columbia City are its size and accessibility to Downtown Seattle. The neighborhood itself is quite small, which has caused issues with home sellers or landlords listing their home as being within the neighborhood, when in fact the residence is further north, south, or west in areas that aren’t as nice as Columbia City proper.
Commuting to or from Columbia City can require some creative driving, particularly during rush hour when the main routes are clogged. The addition of the light rail station in Columbia City was very necessary for accessibility, since bus routes have had a tendency to change and cause problems for commuters. However, it can still take up to an hour by bus to get to the neighborhood from Downtown, and parking along Rainier Avenue South can be a challenge.
History of Columbia City, Seattle
Seattle was originally settled by the Denny party in November, 1851, and at the time, the area that would become Columbia City was a dense conifer forest. Early settlers in the neighborhood linked it to exploration, naming it in honor of Christopher Columbus.
J. K. Edmiston was one of the first to develop the area, building an electric rail line from downtown Seattle through the Rainier Valley along what is now Rainier Avenue. Columbia City was then incorporated as its own town in January 1893, but was later annexed in 1907. The Heater Glove Company and Hitt Fireworks Company drove the early economy of the neighborhood prior to World War II. But in the mid-1900s, Columbia City transformed to house defense workers who were employed in military production at Hitt Fireworks and other businesses driving the war effort.
During the 1960s and 70s, the neighborhood underwent some serious financial hardships as well as civil unrest due to racial clashes. But the 1980s brought rebirth, and today, Columbia City is known as one of Seattle’s most diverse and internationally welcoming communities.
Home Prices in Columbia City
The average value for a home in Columbia City is $649,200, and like much of the city, home values have seen some decline (-2.5%) during the last year. However, Zillow and other home price indexes are predicting a rise in home values during 2020.
As it’s lower than the Seattle average price per square foot of $512, Columbia City’s $483 per square foot makes the area a bit more affordable than neighborhoods such as Queen Anne, Capitol Hill, and Ballard.
The average age of a home in Columbia City dates to the 1920s, with a median square footage around 1,500 sq. ft. for a single-family home in the neighborhood. In contrast to Ballard, however, around half of Columbia City’s residents own their home, and there are more single-family residences — especially in the much-loved Craftsman style — than condominiums and apartment buildings. Many of these older homes have been restored to their early- to mid-century beauty.
The average rent for a one-bedroom in Columbia City is $2,032 per month.
Walk Score & Transportation in Columbia City
Columbia City has a walk score of 84, a transit score of 62, and a bike score of 64. It’s the 15th most walkable neighborhood in the city of Seattle.
Since Columbia City is about five or six miles outside of Downtown and the bus system can be slow during rush hour along the main routes of Rainier Avenue South and Martin Luther King Junior Way, the Columbia City Station of the Link light rail system is a much-needed transportation option. The station opened in July 2009.
Route 9 of the Seattle Metro system runs from Rainier Beach to Columbia City and then to Broadway in Downtown.
Unique Gems in Columbia City
Several restaurants, cafes, and entertainment options have been mentioned on this page already, but like we said, Columbia City has a lot to offer. Some exciting festivals and attractions occur throughout the year, especially during the summer. For example, Columbia City Beatwalk is a free mini music festival that takes place monthly on the second Sunday of the month from June through September. And on Wednesdays from 3 p.m. to 7 p.m. May through early October, the Columbia City Farmers Market has an excellent selection of produce and locally made goods with food trucks to snack from while you shop. There are also a few neighborhood gems offered daily, year-round:
Full Tilt Ice Cream: Taste some delicious ice cream (over a dozen flavors) while you enjoy live music, pinball, and arcade games at Full Tilt’s Columbia City location. The establishment even has vegan flavors of vanilla and chocolate available.
La Teranga: With West African-style dishes and a laid-back ambiance, La Teranga is the only Senegalese eatery in the city of Seattle, and a must-visit when you’re in Columbia City. Most of their dishes come highly recommended by locals as well as Yelpers, especially their signature fish entree. La Teranga only has a handful of tables, though, so be sure you have plenty of time unless you’re getting takeout. But the service is exceptional and the staff are truly welcoming.
Island Soul: Get your Caribbean cuisine fix at Island Soul, with dishes inspired by both Jamaican and Louisiana cuisine, such as Bayou Gumbo, Curried Goat, or Savory Oxtails. Come at happy hour to get a taste of their renowned jerk fried chicken, or visit anytime to sample a cocktail made with Island Soul’s vast selection of 65 high-end rums. The specialty cocktails are made with rum and complemented with freshly squeezed juices and house-made syrups.
Columbia City Theater: Built in 1917, Columbia City’s ex-vaudeville theater now hosts acts from a range of genres for live music, comedy, and other vibrant shows almost every night.
The Royal Room: This is a not-to-be-missed live concert venue in Columbia City, and you’d be hard-pressed to do so, since they offer live music seven nights a week. In addition to jazz and other sounds, the Royal Room serves a Southern-influenced menu and has a bar and lounge for imbibing their specialty drinks.