Walk down the streets in Columbia City, the Southeast Seattle historic business district that's been undergoing a renaissance after decades of decline, and you'll feel as if you're in a small town -- a small, diverse town where neighbors do their shopping and vintage buildings show various degrees of restoration. The compact downtown contains shops, activities and a surprisingly large number of child-friendly restaurants within strolling distance. So park the car and take the kids on an urban exploration that can include brunch, a movie and a trip to the bookstore.
At the district's north edge, the Columbia Branch of the Seattle Public Library -- located in a restored Carnegie building -- hosts story or activity times in its small children's area. Next door, charming Columbia Park looks like an old-fashioned village green. Walk south to the single-screen Columbia City Cinema located in a beautifully restored Masonic Temple. Catch a matinee or attend "Cry Baby Tuesday," a weekly screening for parents of young children (the first two shows of the day on Tuesdays), and enjoy the theater's total lack of multiplex impersonality.
Find a well-chosen selection of toys, clothes and baby gear at Sweet Pea's, or visit the kids' section at new-and-used bookstore Bookworm Exchange. On Wednesdays between October and May, the Columbia City Farmers Market takes over the Columbia Plaza parking lot from 3-7 p.m. Look for kids' entertainment, live music and the usual array of straight-from-the-farm produce.
Stop in for a luscious bakery treat at Columbia City Bakery, or enjoy updated diner food (the pancakes are particularly good) at the popular Geraldine's Counter. El Sombrero Family Mexican Restaurant features a kids' menu and friendly service. Perennial favorite Tutta Bella serves up individual Neapolitan-style pizzas, while children can order a plate of spaghetti marinara off the kids' menu at chic La Medusa. All of these restaurants, and several more, are located within steps of each other, many in handsome, restored buildings.
The business district is located in the two blocks along Rainier Ave. S. between S. Angeline and S. Ferdinand streets. For more information about visiting the area, go to columbiacityseattle.com.
The Columbia City BeatWalk brings music to district shops, galleries and restaurants on the first Friday of every month for a $5 cover. Kids are free.
Bicycle Saturdays and Sundays take place on selected weekend dates May through September on nearby Lake Washington Boulevard South and Seward Park.