The trip to Des Moines on the express ferry begins like an informal boat cruise. The pilot — which runs four times daily from Wednesday to Sunday from August 10 to October 9 — is operated by the Puget Sound Express, departing Seattle from Bell Harbor Marina, and arriving at Des Moines Marina about half an hour later.
As we exited Seattle on the 65-passenger Chilkat Express catamaran on a recent Thursday morning, a friendly crew member named EJ grabbed a microphone and greeted us on board, telling us the boat’s history, information about the helicopters, the location of our safety gear and our cruising speed – 32 Cold knots, or about 40 miles per hour. EJ is a naturalist, available for questions about wildlife as he flits the right amount of friendly jokes during his five-minute talk.
As the boat wrapped around Alki Point and settled for a shot directly below the Salish Sea, it looked as if everyone on board was holding their breath in the hope of seeing an elusive whale – but alas there was none.
Michael Mathias, a Des Moines city manager, told me that when he made his first test flight last September before the project was scheduled, he was 10 minutes from Des Moines when a group of orca started jumping off the boat. I ask him not to rub, and he laughs.
Since the project was launched, Matthias says he has been “amazed at the response”.
“A lot of people would like us to expand this to serve passengers. We would like to do that as well,” Matthias says.
The program isn’t over yet – there’s still a little less than a month left – but so far Mathias says the fare fund returns have been substantial, “more than we thought”. The fare is $10 one way, with discounts for seniors and military. Children 13 years old or younger are free.
After the program ends in October, Mathias and his staff will present their findings to the Des Moines City Council for review and a decision on the continuation of the program. At this point, he’s optimistic about his continuation, saying, “It’s all about revitalizing downtown and the marina. The phrase fits right in with that.”
Among the plans for the ongoing Marina Revitalization Project — which began with a $15 million renovation of the North Sea Wall — is a set of steps, modeled on the Seattle Harbor Steps, that will create more access between downtown Des Moines and the marina.
For now, when the boat pulls up at the marina slip, you have two options for getting to the city center. The first is to head toward the conservation area to the left of the sidewalk to connect to Cliff Avenue, walking uphill for half a block before turning a sharp left up steep Fifth Avenue to Sound View Park. At the top of the hill, turn south 222second abbreviation Four blocks street to Marine View Drive main driveway.
If you head this way, you’ll be close to Sweet D’Licias (22021 Seventh Ave. S.), a lively Mexican ice cream shop with its green walls. There are fresh juices, passion fruit ice cream, and my all-time favorite, mangonia ($8.50). This refreshing 16-ounce drink combines the sweetness of mashed mango and the slightly spicy citrus flavor of chamois and tagine. The brick-red chamois is stirred throughout the brew, piled on top and flowing in a row of three small dots arranged over a few slices of fresh mango that crown the brew (along with a tamarind-coated straw). You know how you’ll sometimes eat sour candy and cause you that pain in the back of your jaw, but you love it? Be prepared for it to happen while sipping on this delicious drink. It’s infinitely refreshing – and with the hoods on, it’s almost as if they expect you to share.
Also nearby are small white and pink Mini The Dog Not Shop (21925 Marine View Drive S.; minithedough-nut.com), which was unfortunately closed due to unforeseen circumstances (according to the note on the door) the day I was there, but is on my list for next time.
If hill climbing isn’t your idea of fun, after getting off the boat, take a leisurely stroll down the marina walkway towards South Marina Park. You will exit from the marina to the south 227The tenth Street and ascent of the four buildings to Marine View Drive.
Here, you will come across Cubanos on Wheels Café (22341 Marine View Drive S., Suite E; 253-326-1244; cubanosonwheelsllc.com), which specializes in “Cuban fusion with southern flair”. I ordered a classic Cubano sandwich ($13.99), a side of yucca potatoes ($6), and a guava pasteletto ($4). The sandwich’s pressed exterior gives way to grilled ham and sliced ham topped with thinly sliced pickles, Swiss-American cheese, and tangy mustard. The sandwich is delightfully messy—drops of lard can trickle down your hand as you eat. The salty, starchy yucca sticks and pillows are perfect on their own, but they’re also dipped in the creamy garlic sauce that accompanies the sandwich. The cream cheese and guava pastelto was flaky and rich. (I should have saved it for the boat trip home.)
Just around the corner on Marine View Drive in the same building as Cubanos Marina Mercantile (22341 Marine View Drive S., Suite A; 206-651-7526; marinamercantile.com), a quaint market filled with just about anything you might want to make for a picnic: fancy cookies, meats, cheeses, pastries, soft drinks, wine, you name it. There are also delicacies: canned seafood, salt, spices, chocolate. I picked up a bottle of miso salad dressing for only $2.50 (double check at the register wasn’t wrongly priced!) and a mortadella ($9.95). If you’re in the mood to stay awhile, there’s coffee, beer and wine by the glass as well as meat and cheese platters for snacks.
Sadly, Des Moines DogHouse and the legendary condiment bar are also closed, adding another spot to my list next time.
I only had a little over two hours to explore Des Moines before heading back for our 2nd ferry afternoon ride to Seattle, but there was still plenty of time to wander around and eat plenty of food.
The return flight was packed with nearly 40 passengers, and I got to know a few people from my previous trip. We were doing what Matthias had hoped for when the program started – he took a few hours to check out his city. I know I will be back.