Settlement in the Burien area dates to 1864, when George Ouellet (1831–1899), a French-Canadian born in Quebec, purchased his first of several land patents for homestead sites directly from a Federal land office. Three years after purchasing his homestead in the Burien area, he married 14-year-old Elizabeth Cushner, who was born in the Washington Territory, and started a family. Several years later, the Ouellet family moved to the White River Valley, near Auburn.

A popular local tale recounts that an early settler named Mike Kelly gave the community its first name after he emerged from the trees and said, "This is truly a sunny dale." Today, a few long-time residents still refer to the Burien area as Sunnydale.

Burien has been busy rebuilding and reinventing itself. Downtown’s major arterial received a makeover with widened sidewalks, benches, landscaping and old-fashioned lampposts. In 2009, Burien Town Square opened its first buildings, a joint King County Regional Library and Burien City Hall, in a multi-story condominium/retail building. During the same time, Town Square Park was completed at the center of the development. Town Square has reshaped the downtown area into a central gathering point for the community. Currently, construction is underway for the final two phases of the Town Square development: a four-story Merrill Gardens senior housing complex and a six-story market-rate apartment complex.