Things to Do in Mercer Island

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“I am convinced that the island will become the most desirable residential district near Seattle. Mercer Island is 4,000 acres of evergreen playground, forever set apart from the smoke, bustle and noise of the city, ready for people who value good things to build good homes. Mercer Island has, indeed, a bright future.” – John P. Dunney, Mercer Island’s first real estate agent, as quoted in the Livewire Mercer Island newspaper, 1947

It was true for John Dunney in 1947, and it’s true for island residents today. Mercer Island is a great place to live. This fact was recognized nationally in 2018, when Money magazine selected Mercer Island as the best place to live in the state of Washington.

Here’s what Money magazine wrote about Mercer Island:

“Just over 5 miles long and 2 miles wide, Mercer Island is known for its affluent residential areas, preserved parks and nature, as well as miles of scenic shoreline. Located between Seattle and Bellevue on the southern portion of Lake Washington — and connected to the mainland on either side by floating bridges carrying Interstate 90 — the island has a commercial hub and popular gathering spot in its town center, where islanders can enjoy events, like the Mercer Island Farmers Market or Summer Celebration.”

A baker’s dozen batch of reasons to love Mercer Island

Top-Notch Schools

Excellent schools are the single-most important reason young families cite for moving to Mercer Island. The district is recognized widely for offering a high-quality public school education, from kindergarten through high school.

Mercer Island High School continues to receive a gold medal ranking among the nation’s best high schools in the 2018 ranking by U.S. News & World Report for student achievement. Standardized test scores are among the highest in the state, and Mercer Island High School has a very low dropout rate. More than 90 percent of grads go on to college. The district has four elementary schools (West Mercer, Northwood, Island Park and Lakeridge), one middle school (Islander Middle School) and one high school, (Mercer Island High School), which includes the alternative high school, Crest Learning Center.

In addition, private school options include St. Monica Parish School (pre-K through eighth grade Catholic school); Northwest Yeshiva High School (the state’s only Jewish high school); the French-American School of Puget Sound (multilingual pre-K through eighth grade program); and the Yellow Wood Academy (offering special needs and gifted K-12 programs) and Privett Academy (six through 12).

Parks and Green Space

There’s lots of room to play on Mercer Island, with 475 acres of parks and open space. There are parks of all sizes, from small street-end parks to the largest park, Pioneer Park, with 120 acres. Some parks are highly developed for active use, with tennis courts, baseball fields, picnic shelters and playground areas, while others are passive or natural, for quiet contemplation.

Dogs even have their own water park in the off-leash dog park area at Luther Burbank Park. The island also has one skateboard park. More than 50 miles of marked walking trails wind all over the island. Beautiful neighborhoods, stunning views across the lake and lots of trees enhance the tranquil, woodsy feel of the island.

Water, Water Everywhere

Beautiful Lake Washington is all around, making Mercer Island the only city in King County surrounded by a lake. The island’s shores provide a number of beautiful waterfront parks and public beaches where individuals can swim, paddleboard, kayak and fish. There are two private swim clubs along the shores of Lake Washington and a public boat launch is located under the eastern high-rise of the East Channel Bridge.

A Safe Place

Mercer Island has one of the lowest crime rates of any city in King County. Island residents enjoy top-notch fire and police protection. The island has its own police department and fire department, as well as a Marine Patrol unit for patrolling the shoreline. A special dive team unit handles recovery and rescue operations around the lake.

Emergency preparedness is very important to islanders too. The city, schools and citizens work together to constantly update the island’s emergency plans. National Night Out brings neighbors together for crime prevention awareness and emergency preparedness, and to strengthen neighborhood spirit.

Vibrant Business Community

Continuing revitalization efforts are creating a vibrant, active and accessible town center. New retail shops and the addition of several restaurants have brought people downtown to shop, eat or simply walk around. Courtyards, benches, public art and expanded landscaping are making downtown an attractive place to walk and people watch. The town center is home to residents who enjoy a variety of apartments, condominiums and retirement communities.

Summer evenings find residents dining outside at many town center restaurants. While most business activity is in the town center, there is also a shopping center serving the south end, with restaurants, medical offices, a grocery store and a variety of service businesses.

Location, Location, Location

Connected to Seattle and Bellevue by bridges, Mercer Island is literally in the center of everything. It’s a short 10- to 15-minute trip on I-90 to either city, making its location convenient for people who work in companies such as Microsoft, Amazon, Boeing or Starbucks. The commute will become even easier in the future, because Sound Transit is constructing its East Link light rail connection, which will put a station on Mercer Island for trains running across the Mercer Island Floating Bridge from Seattle to Bellevue and beyond.

Sense of community

The island has about 24,000 residents, but people invariably say it “feels” smaller. Mercer Island Youth and Family Services is the city’s social service agency, which provides services for all ages. Its mission is to ensure that islanders have the support necessary to grow, thrive and, later in life, to mature gracefully and comfortably.

“The fabric of a healthy and thriving community is made up of strong relationships,” said Cindy Goodwin, MIYFS director.

Mercer Island has a large network of community volunteers, who are actively involved in improving the island and the broader community. They belong to numerous organizations, which reflect their passions, interests and skills. The Mercer Island Guild publishes the annual Mercer Island Directory to raise money for Children’s Hospital. Service clubs include the Mercer Island Rotary Club, the Kiwanis Club, the Lions Club and the Masons. Special interest clubs include the Mercer Island Women’s Club; the Probus Club for retired business people and professionals; the Mercer Island Saddle Club; Mercer Island Historical Society; Mercer Island Craft Guild; Mercer Island Radio Operators; Mercer Island Preschool Association; Mercer Island Sister City Association, which has as its sister the beautiful city of Thonon les Bains, France; National Charity League; and the Veterans of Foreign Wars, Post 5760, housed in the historic VFW Hall.

Three membership country clubs on the Island (Mercerwood Shore Club, Mercer Island Country Club and Mercer Island Beach Club) as well as a Boys & Girls Club and Stroum Jewish Community Center provide numerous athletic and social activities for people of all ages. Numerous organizations for kids keep Island youth busy and engaged.

Keeping fit and healthy

Mercer Island has scores of enterprises dedicated to keep islanders healthy and fit. Town center businesses include Mercer Island Athletic Club, Orangetheory Fitness, Pilates on Mercer, YogaBliss, The Dailey Method, Club Pilates, Fitness Together, 212 Health and Fitness, 5 Elements Pilates and Mercer Island CrossFit.

Elsewhere on the island, Jazzercize, Kix & Spinz and Mindy’s Personal Training 50+, among others abound. There are three martial arts facilities, Mercer Island Martial Arts, Karate West and Z-Ultimate Self Defense Studio. The city’s parks and recreation department offers numerous health and fitness classes, primarily at the Mercer Island Community and Events Center.

Having fun

Festivals and special events throughout the year bring people together to enjoy themselves. Summer Celebration, the island’s summer festival and a Seafair event, is held on the second weekend in July in the town center. It features a two-day street fair, fireworks, a parade, entertainment and food.

Art Uncorked, an annual event sponsored by the Mercer Island Chamber of Commerce and the Mercer Island Visual Arts League, is an evening of wine tasting, art, music and food in the Greta Hackett Outdoor Sculpture Gallery in the town center. It happens on the second Friday in September.

The Farmers Market operates on Sundays, from early spring through the fall next to Mercerdale Park, with offerings from regional farmers as well as food trucks, music and other activities.

Leap for Green, an Earth Day event sponsored by the city, features entertainment and education for the whole family. The Chamber sponsors Trick-or-Treating in the town center on Halloween afternoon.

The city’s Holiday Tree Lighting and Firehouse Munch, on the first Friday in December, kicks off the holiday season. The Argosy Holiday Ship Festival stops on Mercer Island in December for a bonfire at Luther Burbank and caroling.

Focus on the arts

Mercer Island loves art in all its forms. Mercer Island Center for the Arts is being planned to become a focal point for the visual and performing arts. Mercer Island Arts Council sponsors arts events like Mostly Music in the Park and Shakespeare in the Park, as well the Community Art Gallery and the Greta Hackett Outdoor Sculpture Gallery.

Mercer Island Visual Arts League promotes visual arts and shows members’ work in its downtown art gallery. Youth Theatre Northwest is a school and theater, providing classes and programs for children ages 3-18. It’s theater by and for children. Private art galleries in the town center, such as Clarke & Clarke Art + Artifact, Suzanne Zahr Gallery and Sources Gallery sell art and host First Friday Art Walks. A number of local organizations for all ages perform music and dance.

Civic leadership

The city of Mercer Island is dedicated to good government, with an experienced staff, and a dedicated city council, which hires the city manager to run the day-to-day operations of the city. The seven city council members are elected at large, on a non-partisan basis, to four-year terms. They choose the mayor among them, who serves a two-year term. They are supported by volunteer citizen boards and commissions, including the Planning Commission, Arts Council, Civil Service Commission, Community Services Board, Design Commission, Disability Board, Mercer Island Library Board, Open Space Conservancy Trust, Planning Commission and Utility Board.

Mercer Island has been a regional leader in sustainability efforts, with strong recycling, storm water quality and waterconservation programs, among others. It continues to add electric car charging stations. The city won the Green Power Challenge of Puget Sound Energy and installed its prize, a solar panel array, at the Mercer Island Community and Events Center. The city is working with residents to promote solar panel use on single-family homes.

Giving back

The Mercer Island Schools Foundation raises millions to help bridge the gap between needs and state funding of schools. Similarly, the Mercer Island Youth and Family Services Foundation raises money for the agency at its annual breakfast as well as from the Mercer Island Thrift Shop. Community members are actively involved with service projects and helping the local, greater and world community. n