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Seaplane on Lake Union

Photo by John Bahr

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Finding Your Way Around Town

Visiting Seattle: Seattle by Bus, Boat, Rail and Foot Watch the Video

In this video from Seattle Channel, explore Seattle's many sights without the hassle of driving, traffic and parking. Using public transportation, such as free downtown buses, the monorail, the West Seattle Water Taxi, and Light Rail, travel from Pioneer Square to the Seattle Center, Pike Place Market to the International District, and South Lake Union Park to the Waterfront, while learning Seattle history and folklore.

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Arriving by Plane

Many Seattle visitors arrive by plane at the Seattle-Tacoma International Airport (SeaTac). The municipal corporation that runs SeaTac Airport is called The Port of Seattle. There are many shuttle buses that can take you to Seattle and elsewhere in the region, or you can rent a car, grab a taxi or limo, or take public transportation.

Link Light Rail will whisk you from the airport to downtown Seattle in about 35 minutes, 7 days a week. At about $2.50 a ride, it is the best deal in town to travel between Seattle and SeaTac.

The drive to downtown Seattle from SeaTac Airport will take 20-30 minutes -- depending on the traffic. A trip to downtown Seattle from the airport on public transportation takes 30-40 minutes.

If you are driving yourself, from the airport to downtown Seattle, start going towards the AIRPORT EXIT on NORTH EXIT WAY, take the WA-518 EAST ramp, merge on WA-518 EAST, take the I-5 NORTH EXIT, merge on I-5 NORTH and head north for 10 miles. You will see the Seattle skyline approaching as you near downtown.

There are several downtown exits; exit 165 will take you to Seneca Street in the heart of downtown Seattle; if you take exit 167 and follow the SEATTLE CENTER signs, this will take you to the Seattle Center and the Space Needle.

Here are a few quick links to some of online resources.

Port of Seattle

Buses, Shuttles and Courtesy Vehicles
Ground Transportation
Public Transit
Taxi Cabs and Limos
Rental Cars
Ground Transportation by Location

Sound Transit

Link Light Rail (Central Link)

King County Metro

Buses to and from SeaTac Airport

Arriving and Traveling by Boat/Ferry

The Port of Seattle, which runs SeaTac Airport, also runs Seattle's ports, both for maritime trade and leisure activities. Norwegian Cruise Line and Celebrity Cruises depart from the Bell Street Pier Cruise Terminal at Pier 66. Holland America Line, Princess Cruises and Royal Caribbean homeport at the Terminal 30 Cruise Facility. There are bus, taxi and shuttle connections at both piers to you get to your Seattle destination.

All of downtown Seattle is easily accessible from the waterfront, a mile-and-a-half north/south stretch along the west side of the city, facing Elliott Bay, which is part of Puget Sound. A major feature of the waterfront area is the Alaska Way Viaduct/State Route 99, an elevated roadway you will need to cross under to get to the rest of downtown Seattle. Be prepared for hills and steps if you decide to walk up into the city.

Along the Seattle waterfront, there are several other docks where you can find water transportation for commuting and for fun. The Washington State Ferry runs ferries from the Colman Dock (Pier 52) and also from Pier 50 just to the south, on the waterfront, to destinations such as Bainbridge Island, Bremerton and Vashon Island, with more connections to other destinations all around Puget Sound. There are street connections to taxis and buses just outside the Colman Dock ferry terminal. The Washington State Ferries to Bainbridge Island and Bremerton take both auto and walk-on passengers, and the Vashon Island ferry is for walk-on passengers only.

Other ferry and boat services along the waterfront include the Elliott Bay Water Taxi, that runs between May and September each year from Seattle to West Seattle, Argosy Cruises, offering many different leisure cruises from Piers 55 and 56 on the waterfront, and the Victoria Clipper, with popular runs to the San Juan Islands and Victoria, B.C. from Pier 69 on the waterfront.

Follow this link for an excellent tour maps of Seattle provided by TourMap.Com, showing the Seattle waterfront, downtown area, names of the various piers, and routes between them. It will help you get your bearings on where the various piers are located.

Here are a few quick links to some of online resources.

Port of Seattle

Cruise Seattle
Parking and Transportation for the Port of Seattle Cruise Ship Piers
Maps of Cruise Ship Terminals and Local Attractions

King County Metro

Route 99 (Waterfront) Schedule
King County Water Taxi Information

Washington Department of Transportation

Washington State Ferries
Seattle Pier 52 (Colman Dock) Transit Information

Cruise Lines and Ferry Vacations

Argosy Cruises Information
Victoria Clipper Information

Arriving and Traveling by Train/Rail/Bus

Amtrak provides train service along the west coast. The Amtrak Cascades runs three trains a day between Seattle and Portland (two run between Seattle and Eugene, Oregon, via Portland). The trains stop at King Street Station, which is located just south of downtown, near Safeco Field, one of the two major stadiums in Seattle.

From King Street Station, take the overpass over the train tracks, and a few blocks to the east is the International District Chinatown Stration, where Light Rail and local/regional buses run, connecting to downtown, the airport, and all around Seattle.

Sound Transit operates a rail/bus system around the region, including a commuter train between Seattle and Tacoma, and the Link Light Rail (Central Link) between downtown Seattle and SeaTac airport.

Metro Transit is the major local bus line in the Seattle area. Their buses and bus stops can be found all around downtown Seattle..

Seattle Center Monorail provides fast, fun, direct transportation between downtown Seattle's Westlake Center (5th Ave. & Pine Street) and Seattle Center/Lower Queen Anne. Open daily - train departs approximately every 10 minutes. The Monorail is a great way to connect from Sound Transit's Link Light Rail to the Space Needle, Pacific Science Center, Experience Music Project Museum, and more.

Cross-country buses are mainly provided by Greyhound Bus Line, which has a bus terminal at the northeast edge of the downtown Seattle core. Gray Line Tours is a major regional bus line that provides many leisure bus tours.

Here are a few quick links to some of online resources.

King County Metro

Metro Transit Information

Amtrak

Amtrak Cascades Information
King Street Station Information
Transportation around King Street Station

Sound Transit

Link Light Rail (Central Link)
Sound Transit Information

Monorail

Seattle Monorail

Greyhound/Gray Line

Greyhound Bus Information
Gray Line Tours Information

Arriving and Traveling by Car and Taxi

If you are arriving in Seattle by car, there are several ways you may be driving in. The largest freeway is Interstate 5 (I-5), which runs up the middle of Seattle, north-south. If you are coming from the east, you may be headed in via Interstate-90 or Freeway 520. All routes from the west are going to be by ferry.

Seattle is a fairly large city, with a number of commuters driving in and out of the downtown core at the usual commute times, Monday through Friday. There are also two large sports stadiums just south of downtown Seattle, and if there is a game or event at one of these, traffic can clog in the surrounding streets and freeways just before and after game times.

There are only two roads that run all the way through Seattle from north to south -- Interstate 5 and State Route 99 (which is also known as Aurora Avenue within the city limits, and which becomes the Alaska Way Viaduct while running through downtown Seattle). Thus they are natural traffic magnets. The only east-west street to run directly from the waterfront area of downtown Seattle to the shore of Lake Washington to the east is Madison Street.

Foreign driver's licenses are recognized in the United States, but if your home driver's license is not in English, you should consider getting an international driver's permit (IDP). Contact your own government to obtain one. If you are an American traveling abroad and need to get an IDP.

Here are few online resources:
International Driver's Permits for Americans Traveling Abroad
US State Department's Tips on Driving Abroad
International Road Signs and Signals

If you want to rent a car when you arrive, there are many rental car locations all around Seattle, and generally you should be able to rent a car for about $20 a day. Renting a Car in Seattle from Expedia.Com

The City of Seattle regulates taxis and sets rates within the city limits. Use TaxiFareFinder a map-based taxi fare finder to estimate prices taxi trips around Seattle.

Seattle's Street System

The overall shape of the City of Seattle is like an hourglass, stretching from north to south. The city is flanked by the water bodies of Lake Washington to the east and Puget Sound to the west, and divided more or less at its center by the Lake Washington Ship Canal (which runs east-west). The topography is very hilly; the city is built on seven adjacent hills. As a result, while the city street system is generally laid out in a grid pattern, it is full of streets that wind and curve and run at arbitrary angles to one another.

Seattle streets that run north-south are labeled "Avenues", and east-west running streets are labeled "Streets". Most of the streets that tend to wind and curve, or run diagonally to the gridded streets, are labeled "Boulevard", "Road", "Place" and so on. The city also has a number of bridges, many of which cross the Lake Washington Ship Canal, joining the north and south sections of the city together.

The founders and early leaders of Seattle, the Misters Denny, Maynard and Boren, didn't see eye to eye on how to lay out the street plats in the downtown area, and as a result, the streets along the edges of the central business district sometimes join up at odd angles as you head in or out of the downtown core. These discrepancies can be fun to discover when you are walking, but confusing when you are driving.

Outside of downtown Seattle, pay attention to the directional designations (NE, SW, etc.) of any street address. Check out this excellent Wikipedia article about Seattle Street Designations for a more thorough description of how to navigate Seattle streets.

Your best bet is to buy and carry a street map when you're trying to find an address or navigate around Seattle.

Here are a few online resources

City of Seattle

My Neighborhood Map
Interactive Seattle Map
Seattle Map
Where in the World is Seattle? Map
Western Washington Map
Downtown Seattle Map
Seattle Center Map
Woodland Park Zoo

Wikipedia

Street Layout of Seattle

Map-Based Address Locators

Google Maps
Map Quest
Yahoo Maps and Location Finder

More Information

You can also find more information by go to our Living in Seattle page:

Weekend Events