Seattle public transportation offers many different ways to get around and take you wherever you want to go. Options include bus, light rail, the Seattle Monorail, water taxi, streetcar, and Washington State Ferry system.
You can get around downtown quite nicely without a car. Between traffic and expensive parking, you are better off walking and using Seattle public transportation to get around. When we go downtown (about 18 miles from our home), we either leave the car at home and take the bus, or take the car and park in a garage or lot and leave it there while we get around on foot. There is a lot to see and do in a relatively small area which makes it easy.
The core of downtown is bordered by Puget Sound on the west, Pine Street on the north, Jefferson Street on the south, and Interstate 5 on the east. Several landmarks and facts can help you keep your bearings.
- Downtown Seattle is laid out in a basic grid.
- The north-south streets have number names like 5th Ave.
- The east-west streets have names like Pike St. or James St.
- The numbers get larger as you head east away from the waterfront, and I-5 is just east of 6th Avenue.
- The Space Needle at Seattle Center is north of downtown.
- If you are going uphill, you're probably heading east away from the water!
- The two sports stadiums, CenturyLink Field and Safeco Field, are south of downtown.
If you are planning to visit some of the outlying areas around Seattle public transportation can probably provide you with a way to get there.
The Seattle metro bus system consists of three providers that work together to take you throughout the Puget Sound - Metro Transit, Sound Transit, and Community Transit.
Sound Transit is a regional inter-county bus, rail, and train system that serves riders from Tacoma to Everett including the entire Seattle metro area. For in-town bus trips over a few miles, you'll arrive faster by catching a Sound Transit bus, which shares stops with Metro Transit. The Sound Transit buses are more comfortably equipped with nicer seats and, its express routes stop less frequently than Metro. For schedule and fare information go to Sound Transit.
Metro Transit is the primary bus system for the King County metro area including Seattle and the Eastside. Unlike Sound Transit, it normally stops at all bus stops, so it's better for short or medium hops. Many websites mention a $5 Visitor Pass. Metro discontinued the sale of its Visitor Pass as of January 1, 2009, so be aware of this as you make your plans. For more information go to Metro Online.
Community Transit connects to the University of Washington campus, Seattle, and the Eastside (of Lake Washington) from Snohomish county communities like Lynnwood and Everett.
George Benson Waterfront Streetcar
This is a streetcar line that runs along the waterfront of Elliott Bay from Pier 70 at the north end of downtown, through Pioneer Square, to the International District (Chinatown) just south of downtown. Streetcar service has been temporarily suspended while improvements are made to Seattle's north waterfront area. In the meantime, Metro provides replacement service with free service on Route 99 Waterfront Streetcar Line buses painted to look like a streetcar.
The South Lake Union line of the Seattle Streetcar operates on a round trip route from the corner of Fairview and Ward in the South Lake Union neighborhood near the Center for Wooden Boats to the corner of Westlake and Olive at Westlake Center Mall. For more information go to Seattle Streetcar.
Seattle Light Rail (LINK Light Rail)
This is the newest system of Seattle public transportation that opened on July 18, 2009. The Central Link currently operates service between Westlake Center downtown all the way to Sea-Tac Airport. The stations in and near downtown are University Street (3rd and Seneca), Pioneer Square, International District and Stadium (near Safeco Field). For more information on fares and schedules go to LINK Light Rail.
It runs between Seattle Center (across from the Space Needle) and Westlake Center Mall at Fifth and Pine Street. Trains depart every ten minutes from each station, and the trip takes two minutes to cover the 1-mile route. More about the Seattle Monorail...
Ferries and Water Taxis
From the Washington State Ferry terminal downtown, you can take a scenic ferry ride to Bainbridge Island, Bremerton, or Vashon Island. This is the most enjoyable method of Seattle public transportation and one that is worth doing just for its own sake. If you've never ridden the ferry, you should!
King County Water Taxi
This shuttle service operates out of Pier 50. There are two passenger-only water taxi routes . One is seasonal (April to October) and goes to Seacrest Dock in West Seattle. The other is a commute-hour weekday route to the ferry terminal at the north end of Vashon Island. Bicycles are welcome onboard the Water Taxi at no additional charge. For information on schedules go to King County Water Taxi.
Find a small map in one of those racks of tourist brochures in hotel lobbies, the convention center, and other places. These are usually small enough to fold and put in your back pocket. Whether you are walking, driving, or using Seattle public transportation, you'll want a map to help you get around. Tourmap puts out a nice one of downtown that's easy to read and includes the location of all the popular attractions. And if you get lost, don't be afraid to ask a local for help - we're friendly!
Seattle public transportation is always a hot topic in the news and local officials are continually mulling over plans and ways to make things better. While the geography of our area - bodies of water here, there, and everywhere, and hills, hills, and more hills - make it one of the most beautiful on earth, it also poses challenges to efficient ways to move people around!