Did you forget about West Seattle while the bridge was down? If so, all is forgiven. This sweet little urban village and former “accidental island” is particularly thriving around the Alaska Junction and California Avenue, where a mix of gift shops, vintage stores, restaurants, bars, and cafes make for a street-level scene worth getting out of your pajamas for. (Don’t worry, they have plenty of coffee there—plus doughnuts.)
Are you shopping for a pal who loves records? Art? What about fiction? Maybe your bestie is into pampering themselves with at-home spa treatments and fantastic candles? Whomstever you’re shopping for, West Seattle has you covered. Bonus: Many of the stores in this guide are owned by women, queer folks, and people of color, and they focus on brands owned and run by similar groups. Supporting these businesses is a great way to keep money local and out of the hands of giant chains.
The stores in the Junction are also readily accessible on the C line, which only takes about 20 minutes from downtown. That was true even when the bridge was down—but shhh, it’s OK if you forgot. West Seattle is nice enough that they’ve already forgiven you.
Sound & Fog
📸: Sound and Fog
Start your West Seattle trip here, around the corner from the Alaska Junction, because you need caffeinated beverages before engaging with capitalism. And oh, do they have beverages. Beyond the drinks your barista can create, there are booze and booze-adjacent options to take home: rare wines, beer, amaro, and—my favorite—BLÅ sparkling tea from Denmark. I drank most of a bottle of their crisp, subtle LYSERØD rosé alternative myself at Thanksgiving dinner and felt fantastic the next morning, so it’s a great option to bring to holiday meals.
Gift-wise, also check out all the chocolates: the Vaka chocolate from Ontario is so good it will hurt your brain, and the Cloudforest chocolate is packaged in beautiful origami-like folds that make it feel special. (The “Moonwalk” flavor has pop rocks in it, for a little dance party on your tongue.) There are also vegan cheeses highly suitable for a cheese board, tea from O-5 Rare Tea in Vancouver, BC, coffee (of course), and Aeropress coffee makers. I just bought an Aeropress, and it’s by far the easiest, cleanest, least-likely-to-burn-yourself method of coffee making I’ve encountered. It’s also inexpensive, and the Aeropress GO option would be great for travelers and outdoorsy types.
One more thing: This place even has its own scented bar soap, which smells not just like coffee—they’re not that basic here—but licorice, cardamom, and saffron. Proceeds go to Transpire Oklahoma, which assists the trans community in (you guessed it) Oklahoma.
Easy Street Records
📸: Easy Street Records
For local rock types, Easy Street needs no introduction. It’s now Seattle’s most famous record store, and walking inside is a portal back to the ‘90s, when the city was hipper, grimier, and had a little more attitude (in a good way). The historic brick building is redolent with history, there are hundreds of records to paw through, and music (and Sonics!) memorabilia covers every inch of available wall space. The cafe area next to the shop is even papered with covers from the beloved and sadly long-defunct local music rag The Rocket. Aside from the obvious gift potential—lots and lots of records—you can buy music history books, Easy Street t-shirts and hats, posters, candles devoted to rock patron saints (why not?), and even record players. But the gift that just might delight the audiophile in your life most is an Easy Street gift certificate.
Side note: While you’re near the Junction, hit up Pegasus Book Exchange next door. They carry new and used books, with a wonderfully varied selection, and the staff is highly knowledgeable and chatty. Got a bunch of extra books lying around that you don’t love enough to keep? Bring ‘em in for store credit, and get your new (or new-to-you) books for cheaper! Also check out Virago Gallery just up the street, which focuses on women and LGBT+ artists, and has witchy jewelry and oils as well as fashion and art. It’s a spot that feels dark and secret and more like something from NYC’s West Village than West Seattle. That may be part of why it’s closing at the end of 2023, so support it while you can. And if you love vintage fashion, Doll Parts is definitely a must.
5902 California Ave SW
Is the idea behind this shop having a really sweet older sister who’s into self-care and whose room you get to raid? Because it feels like that, only the sister could be of any gender and the items there cost money (obviously). The shop has been open a little more than a year and focuses on BIPOC-owned and local brands. Picture beautiful colors, many soothing creams, comfy slow fashion socks, jewelry from Faris, sparkly (and somehow plant-based) hair clips, soaps from Tacoma-based Bell Mountain Naturals, teas, printed textiles, and even puzzles from Piecework. Oh, and there’s vintage fashion too: This time last year, I picked up a wine-red satin dress that is somehow a little fancy and a little Western but also won’t land me in goth jail.
When I spoke to owner Ennjoili Fleck, she told me that the puzzles have been big sellers recently, as have gua sha tools from Chinese American-owned brand Mount Lai. I find gua sha slightly intimidating, but Fleck assured me that the tools come with instruction booklets, and that it’s a lovely little ritual for your skin once you’re in bed at night, or any time. And really, who couldn’t use another way to be nice to yourself this time of year?
📸: Paper Boat Booksellers
No shopping trip is complete without a bookstore, of course. About a block and a half south of Good Sister you’ll find Paper Boat, a family-owned indie gem that’s particularly strong in fiction and outdoorsy, Northwest-related titles. The “Art and Gift” section—toward the middle of the shop—is a great place for those huge, glorious coffee table books that it never feels appropriate to buy for yourself but that you should definitely buy for someone you like. There are lots of choices for smaller gifts here, too, including very charming journals made locally using recycled fabric slivers, patchwork-quilt style. (Some even involve cats!) There are cards and gift wrap and pens and plenty of kids books, too.
Bonus: If all the literature makes you hungry, pop next door to HeartBeet for juices, smoothies, bowls, salads, and fantastic vegan pies. If a bakery sounds more appealing than a green juice in the dead of winter (fair), Little Prague European Bakery is right across the street for some life-giving carbs and Central European specialties.
Nepantla Cultural Arts Gallery
📸: Nepantla Cultural Arts Gallery
White Center is a little further afield, but it’s definitely worth a trip. If you listen to some people talk, it’s the buzziest area of the city (or near-city—technically it’s on the edge of city limits) right now. It feels like a place where you might find one of the region’s most talked-about restaurants, but also some rabid raccoons and a trash can set on fire.
Nepantla Cultural Arts Gallery is a multicultural arts space focused on Chicana/o Latinx arts traditions. Technically, it sits right around the border between West Seattle and White Center; appropriately, the name “Nepantla” comes from the Nahuatl for being in the middle (often with a sense of endangered and marginalized communities, which feels apt in several ways here). Inside, you’ll find a beautiful, welcoming energy, affordably priced art prints, clothing, candles, sweet handmade gifts, and more. Some of the art is by gallery co-director Jake Prendez, a local Chicano artist and scholar whose brightly colored paintings deal with social justice and pop culture, among other themes. Some pieces are inspired by Indigenous iconography; others, by Mexican wrestling.
While you’re in the area, you can get delicious pastries from Fresh Flours, a drink at Can Bar (check out the bar shaped like a boat), coffee and pantry staples at Moonshot, plants at the Plant Store, or slices at Proletariat Pizza. Just keep an eye out for the raccoons.