"They Paved Paradise" Federal Way by karenincalifornia

Federal Way Travel Guide: 15 reviews and 42 photos

and put up a parking lot

Federal Way, Washington - this is where I grew up - during my junior high and high school years. In 2006, I had a business meeting in Seattle, so naturally, I had to head down to Federal Way to spend some time with my childhood friend and college roomie.

Federal Way is a city with a silly name. When I was in high school, we always laughed about how silly the name was. It is still silly, but now it is mired in tradition. When I lived here, the area was unincorporated. You'd think when they incorporated the place in 1990 they'd give it a new name - one of those bucolic names like "Whispering Pines" or "Vista Del Mar". But, no. They called it "Federal Way." So Federal Way it is, and will be forever.

Federal Way is closer to Tacoma, but residents have always turned their noses up at Tacoma (due to the Tacoma Aroma from the paper mills) and insisted their area is a suburb of Seattle. It is about 30-40 minutes south of Seattle, and located right on Puget Sound. The bay near Federal Way is Poverty Bay, which is now a misnomer, since houses located on Poverty Bay are now selling for $1 million.

When I moved here, Federal Way was a rural community with 10,000 people, one strip mall shopping center, one high school, one junior high and a very small number of elementary schools. Talk about bucolic. It was mostly forests owned by the Weyerhauser paper company. You would drive along the roads of Federal Way and see nothing but towering firs. On Friday afternoon, at Federal Way High School, the question of the day was always, "Hey man, so where's the kegger at tonight?" Usually, the answer was "The Powerlines". The Powerlines was an area near the powerlines that ran right through the Weyerhauser forests - really, a perfect place for a party. Very easy to hear an intruder (aka a cop car) and disperse into the forest.

Of course, yours truly was usually home practicing the piano, or at a church dance.

Today, the city has almost 100,000 people. Every acre of Federal Way is developed. The forests are gone, and only a few trees lining the streets remain. The city developed with no planning. For years, the residents rejected incorporation, the development was in the hands of King County, which allowed anything and everything to be built. Forests were leveled and replaced with subdivisions, strip malls and parking lots. Traffic is bumper to bumper.

It used to look like this....

Federal Way used to be covered with greenery just like this. The area was packed with fir trees, and the undergrowth was lush. As a child, I would explore the forests with my brothers. We picked blackberries, huckleberries, and salmonberries, which my mother turned into jams. I collected a box of banana slugs and took them to my biology teacher. We hiked through the streams down to the beach to go clam digging and came back with buckets of clams (which I wouldn't eat, but they were fun to dig) and cases of poison oak. We waded in the Puget Sound until our feet and shins turned blue and dodged the moon jellies in the water. That was life in Federal Way when I was growing up.

Now it looks like this....

Federal Way now is a chain store and fast food mecca. Need a Target? Federal Way's got that. Borders Books? You bet. Fred Meyer? Yep. Best Buy. Office Depot. Sears. Payless Shoes. The Gap. Petsmart. It's all there. All familiar stuff. This is not a place where you have to spend time going through those expensive boutique stores, just to find a pair of sunglasses.

Here is an excellent history of Federal Way.

Federal Way history

Pros and Cons
  • Pros:The location is beautiful - right on the shores of Puget Sound, too bad it has been destroyed by development and strip malls
  • Cons:Too crowded, unplanned development, too many chain stores
  • In a nutshell:No reason to come here unless you grew up here and it's time for your high school reunion, or you happen to be in Seattle and you still have friends here.
  • Last visit to Federal Way: Jun 2006
  • Intro Updated May 9, 2016
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Reviews (7)

Comments (4)

  • Nemorino's Profile Photo
    Jul 22, 2006 at 10:49 AM

    My brother made the mistake of going back to our hometown and found that our old house had been torn down and replaced by an ugly one twice as big. But at least it wasn't painted aquamarine, LOL.

  • Hopkid's Profile Photo
    Jul 21, 2006 at 10:27 AM

    Love that room at the Vintage Park Hotel in Seattle! I'll have to remember that one!

  • mtncorg's Profile Photo
    Jul 13, 2006 at 3:49 PM

    My cousins kids went to Decataur. Federal Way's name is a lot better than that of its neighbor to the north - the City of SeaTac :-0

  • deecat's Profile Photo
    Jul 6, 2006 at 3:57 PM

    Karen, I actually did LOL when I saw the painted house you once occupied. Loved reading about Federal Way and all your insights. It is so sad to go back if things have changed that much. Good restaurant and hotel tip, by the way.

karenincalifornia Used To Live Here!


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