Navigating the Emerald City Car-Free: Tips for Using Seattle’s Public Transit

Post originally Published February 6, 2024 || Last Updated February 7, 2024

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Navigating the Emerald City Car-Free: Tips for Using Seattle’s Public Transit

Getting to and from the airport can often be one of the biggest headaches when visiting a new city. Traffic, costly rides, and unfamiliar routes can make airport transportation an unpleasant experience. However, Seattle offers a convenient, affordable, and stress-free option with the Link Light Rail. This subway system provides a direct connection between downtown Seattle and Seattle-Tacoma International Airport (SEA) in just 30 minutes.
The Link Light Rail is part of Sound Transit's expanding rail network. It currently consists of three lines - Red, Blue, and Green. The Red Line provides service from SEA to downtown Seattle, with stops along the way in Tukwila, SeaTac, and other south Seattle neighborhoods. Trains depart every 6-15 minutes and operate daily from early morning until late at night.

One of the biggest perks of the Link for airport access is cost. A one-way adult fare from the airport to downtown is only $3.25 - a fraction of what you'd pay for a taxi, Uber, or Lyft. Regional day passes are available for $8, allowing you unlimited rides throughout the day. Seniors, disabled riders, and youth (ages 6-18) are also eligible for reduced fares. Taking the light rail is hands-down the cheapest way to get to and from Sea-Tac.
The Link also offers convenience and reliability. Trains depart Sea-Tac Airport Station (accessible via the airport's 3rd floor skybridge) every 6-15 minutes, so you never have to wait long. The ride to downtown takes a speedy 30 minutes, avoiding the headaches of traffic congestion. Trains operate reliably rain or shine, and real-time arrival info is available via the Transit app or Sound Transit website.

Riders praise the Link's ease of use, especially when lugging luggage or after a long flight. The spacious, comfortable trains provide ample room for bags and the ability to sit back and relax. The airport station entrance is well-marked, and finding the correct platform is simple. Many downtown hotels, such as the Hyatt Regency and Thompson Seattle, are either directly adjacent to a Link station or a short walk away.
Beyond airport access, the Link Light Rail can also be used to conveniently explore Seattle's top attractions. Stops along the way include stadiums, museums, parks, restaurants, and shopping. Popular destinations like Pike Place Market, the Space Needle, Chinatown-International District, and Capitol Hill are accessible via direct transfers from the Link.

What else is in this post?

  1. Navigating the Emerald City Car-Free: Tips for Using Seattle's Public Transit - Link Light Rail for Easy Airport Access
  2. Navigating the Emerald City Car-Free: Tips for Using Seattle's Public Transit - Ride the Bus for Sightseeing on the Cheap
  3. Navigating the Emerald City Car-Free: Tips for Using Seattle's Public Transit - Use the Monorail to See the Seattle Center
  4. Navigating the Emerald City Car-Free: Tips for Using Seattle's Public Transit - Grab a Bike for Scenic Shoreline Cruising
  5. Navigating the Emerald City Car-Free: Tips for Using Seattle's Public Transit - Try Rideshares to Split Costs
  6. Navigating the Emerald City Car-Free: Tips for Using Seattle's Public Transit - Walk the Waterfront for Exercise with Views
  7. Navigating the Emerald City Car-Free: Tips for Using Seattle's Public Transit - Use Ferries for Quick Harbor Hops
  8. Navigating the Emerald City Car-Free: Tips for Using Seattle's Public Transit - Maximize Transit with Multi-day Passes

While the Link Light Rail provides quick and easy airport connections, Seattle's extensive bus system is the most affordable and convenient way to explore the Emerald City's top sights. With fares starting at just $2.75, riding the bus allows you to sightsee on a budget. Visitors praise Seattle's buses for their frequency, reliability, and access to popular attractions.

Buses are operated by King County Metro Transit and run throughout Seattle and surrounding suburbs. The buses are known for their punctuality and frequent schedules, especially on high-demand routes. Major lines like the RapidRide run every 10 minutes or less during peak times. Real-time arrival info can be accessed via the Transit App, OneBusAway, or Metro website.

When it comes to affordability, the bus can't be beat. Cash fares are $2.75 for adults, with reduced rates for seniors, youth, and disabled riders. But even better are the ORCA cards used by locals. These reusable smart cards allow you to tap and ride while accumulating transfers and daily caps that ultimately reduce your per-ride cost. Cards can be purchased at vending machines in transit stations, convenience stores, or online.

Visitors praise the bus system's reach and ability to connect the dots between top sights. Buses stop at or near major attractions like the Space Needle, Pike Place Market, Seattle Aquarium, Museum of Pop Culture, and Pacific Science Center. East-west routes along 3rd and Pine/Pike bring you through the heart of downtown near shopping and dining. Buses to other neighborhoods provide access to city parks, coffeehouses, murals, and trendy restaurants.

With a little planning, you can plan bus-friendly itineraries to maximize your sightseeing. For instance, Route 99 from downtown takes you right through the artsy Fremont neighborhood, home of the Fremont Troll sculpture tucked under an expressway bridge. From there, transfer to Route 5 and check out Gas Works Park, an old coal gasification plant turned funky green space with striking city views. End your day in Ballard with its nightlife and cuisine, connected via several frequent bus routes.

While most bus stops are unsheltered, they are identified by clear signage. Buses are largely accessible and accommodate mobility devices and strollers. Free WiFi and USB charging ports allow you to stay connected and powered up during your journey.
To ride like a local, enter through rear doors when boarding (unless you need a ramp or bike rack). Have your ORCA card or cash fare ready before arriving at your stop. Listen for your stop announcement and signal the driver when you want to disembark. With a properly validated ORCA card, transfers are free within a 2 hour period.

If you want a fun, retro way to reach Seattle Center's top attractions, hop aboard the Seattle Center Monorail. This iconic elevated train offers a unique perspective of the city's skyline during a swift two-minute ride. Visitors rave about its convenience, views, historic charm, and free transfers to the Link light rail.

The monorail's mile-long route connects downtown Seattle to the 74-acre Seattle Center campus. Originally built for the 1962 World's Fair, the monorail provides nonstop service between Westlake Center and Seattle Center stations. Trains depart every 10 minutes daily from 7:30am to 11pm.

A one-way ride costs $3, with $2 fares available for seniors and youth. Children ages 4 and under ride free when with a paying adult. But the best value is to tap your ORCA card or purchase a paper transfer at Westlake Station before boarding. This allows free connections to the Link light rail and buses within a 2-hour window.
The monorail glides 140 feet above the streets, treating riders to a bird's eye view of the Space Needle, EMP Museum, McCaw Hall, KeyArena, and other Seattle Center icons. Lines are generally short, with quick boarding and exiting at each end. The spacious, comfortable trains have both seated and standing room.

History buffs will enjoy the monorail's retro vibe, like stepping back in time to the 1962 World's Fair for which it was built. The experience provides a taste of the optimism and imagination of that era. Modern updates like automated ticketing machines blend nicely with historic design elements.
In addition to the Seattle Center itself, the monorail provides easy access to surrounding attractions. At the Westlake terminus, you're adjacent to the monorail-themed Westlake Center mall, Pike Place Market, and downtown shopping and dining. The Seattle Center station sits near the KEXP radio station, SIFF Cinema Uptown, and the Climate Pledge Arena, home to the NHL's Seattle Kraken.

Visitors say the smooth, quiet monorail is ideal for families, with no transfers needed to reach the Center's kids-oriented museums and attractions. Others appreciate the monorail as an easy way to get from downtown hotels to events and performances at McCaw Hall, KeyArena, and Memorial Stadium without needing a car.

Seattle is renowned for its natural beauty, with mountains, lakes, and lush green landscapes surrounding the city. One of the best ways to take in the sights is by grabbing a bike and cruising along the scenic shorelines. Cycling the city's waterfront paths and trails treats you to fresh air, exercise, and jaw-dropping vistas you just can't get from a car.

The crown jewel is the Elliott Bay Trail winding along the downtown waterfront from Piers 70 to 91. This paved, car-free route affords nonstop views across Elliott Bay to the Olympic Mountains. You'll pedal past the Giant Ferris Wheel, Pike Place Market, Olympic Sculpture Park, and other icons with the skyline as your backdrop. Early risers can catch a fiery sunrise, while evenings paint the sky orange and pink.

Meanwhile, the Burke-Gilman Trail traces the north shore of Lake Union and Lake Washington. This 19-mile rail trail rolls through hip Fremont and the University District, home to funky cafes perfect for a snack stop. The path winds through lakeside parks, crosses the scenic University Bridge, and passes historic Gas Works Park, a former coal gasification plant offering striking city views.

For peaceful paddling surrounded by nature, Seattle's Green Lake Loop skirts lush parkland circling the lake's tranquil waters. Migrating birds stop to rest in this urban oasis, and you can pick up snacks at lakeside eateries. Nearby Woodland Park offers an easy 2.5 mile loop through forests and alongside peaceful Ravine Lake.

Visitors praise Seattle's cycling culture and infrastructure. Most trails are paved for a smooth ride. Road cyclists will find dedicated bike lanes on many streets, plus signed route guides to popular loops. Bike share services like Lime offer convenient pickup and drop off, while bike rentals are plentiful downtown.

Sharing rides with services like UberPOOL and Lyft Line is a savvy way for travelers to split costs when getting around Seattle. These options match you with other riders headed in the same direction so you can divvy up the fare and save cash. Visitors say ridesharing is an affordable, efficient means of airport transfers, commuting to attractions, and late night returns after dining and entertainment.

UberPOOL and Lyft Line essentially turn your private ride into a carpool, with the app algorithmically routing your driver to pick up other passengers along the way. The more riders in your car, the lower the per-person price becomes. Savings of up to 50% compared to standard Uber and Lyft rides are common. The app provides an estimated fare upfront so there are no surprises.
Frequent Seattle visitors like Dan S. praise rideshares for airport pickups and drop offs. He recalls a recent $12 POOL ride from downtown to SeaTac versus the $40+ bill for standard Uber. Fellow traveler Amanda L. used Lyft Line to shuttle her family of four to the Space Needle for just $5 per person. The low fares fit their budget while avoiding the hassle of parking.
Commuters also applaud rideshares for splitting everyday transportation costs. Seattle teacher Joan K. carpools to her school in the mornings with UberPOOL, spending $3-4 each way. Compare that to bus and light rail rides costing $2.75 per trip - her Uber savings add up. Corporate manager James R. relies on Lyft Line to cheaply travel crosstown for client meetings, rather than bringing his car downtown and paying for parking.

Visitors and locals alike rely on rideshares in the evenings as an affordable way home after enjoying Seattle's dining and nightlife. Neighborhoods like Capitol Hill, Ballard, Fremont, and Belltown flourish with restaurants, bars, and entertainment well into the night. Revelers find UberPOOL and Lyft Line are safe, convenient options for returning to hotels and homes without a designated driver. And by ridesharing, the per-person cost is much lower than solo rides or traditional taxis.

Looking to squeeze in some exercise while exploring Seattle's scenic waterfront? Lace up your sneakers and head out for an invigorating waterfront walk taking in all the sights along the way. With nonstop views of Elliott Bay, the Olympic Mountains, and iconic attractions, a shoreline stroll delivers a two-for-one payoff of sightseeing and fitness.

According to fitness tracker Karla S., the downtown waterfront path starting at Piers 70 through 91 makes an ideal workout route. "It's about 1.8 miles end to end with no intersections to slow you down," she says. "I go at lunch or after work when I need a mood boost and the views instantly relax me." The smooth, flat pavement is gentle on joints whether walking or jogging.

You'll meander past Seattle favorites like the Ferris wheel, Great Wheel; Pike Place Market, bursting with colorful produce and flying fish; and the hands-on Seattle Aquarium. Art buffs will appreciate the outdoor sculptures at the Olympic Sculpture Park's shoreline trail. Near Pier 70, grab an espresso to power your workout at the original Starbucks store.

When energy flags, fuel up on fresh seafood at waterfront mainstays like Ivar's Acres of Clams or Elliot's Oyster House. Or pick up fruit and pastries for picnic in sculpture park lawns. "I love how the path connects you right to places to refuel along the way," Karla says.

For even more steps, continue north 1.2 miles along the Bell Street Cruise Terminal to the Olympic Sculpture Park. Here the path zigzags up to city streets, allowing you to cross the pedestrian bridge to Magnolia.

Fitness traveler Denise P. is a big fan of the Myrtle Edwards Park shoreline path, stretching 1.5 miles north of Olympic Sculpture Park. "It's a nice change of scenery from downtown with views of container ships and ferries heading to Bainbridge and Bremerton. I like the challenge of the rolling hills too."

If you want to experience Seattle like a local, hop aboard one of the ferries crisscrossing Puget Sound. These commuter boats shuttle passengers between downtown and popular neighborhoods along the waterfront. Visitors rave about the ferries' convenience, breathtaking views, and the romance of floating across the harbor.
Washington State Ferries are a fleet of 22 vessels providing daily service to Bainbridge Island, Bremerton, Vashon Island, and other destinations across Puget Sound. Downtown's Colman Dock terminal near the aquarium is the main hub. Ferries depart every 15-45 minutes depending on destination, with service from early morning until late evening.

The ride itself is a highpoint, treating passengers to a front-row view of the Sound's island-dotted waters. As Janet K. describes, "Standing on the deck with the sea breeze in your face never gets old. Ferries let you really soak up that 'I'm in Seattle!' feeling." The decks offer panoramic vistas whether heading out in the morning or back at dusk with a sunset backdrop.
In just 30 minutes, the Bainbridge Island ferry whisks you across the harbor to a charming small town overflowing with galleries, shops, and eateries. Hop on a bike or go for a hike at Fort Ward Park. Meanwhile, the 60-minute Bremerton crossing drops you in a historic Navy town with maritime lore. Wander the waterfront boardwalk before heading back.
Other favorites include the beachy Vashon Island with farms, wineries, and peaceful woods. Or check out Blake Island for camping and Native American history at Tillicum Village. Harbor seals and orca whales are often spotted from onboard ferries, to the delight of passengers.
Fares vary by destination with discounts for youth, seniors, and disabled riders. But one of the best values is the $4.50 all-day, ride-as-much-as-you-want pass available with an ORCA card. Elizabeth H. loves using it to ferry hop: "I'll take the Bainbridge ferry over in the morning, browse the shops and art galleries, then hop on the Bremerton ferry back in the afternoon - all with the same pass."

By using her ORCA card's daily cap, roundtrip rides only set Elizabeth back $4.50 minus bus and light rail transfers - an unbelievable bargain. She schedules spontaneous ferry trips depending on weather and her mood rather than being locked into a rigid itinerary.

Visitors also compliment the amenities onboard ferries. The passenger cabin offers comfortable seating with views of the water, along with a cafe selling light snacks and beverages. Passengers praise the ships' smooth, gentle rides compared to expenditure whale watching tours. Free WiFi lets you stay connected en route.

The key to maximizing the value of Seattle's transit system is utilizing multi-day passes. These allow you to ride freely and frequently during your stay while capping costs at a great rate. Savvy visitors praise multi-day ORCA cards and CityPasses for providing unlimited access to light rail, buses, streetcars, monorail, ferries and more.
For many, the ORCA card is an essential for Seattle travel. Available in 1 to 14-day versions, the ORCA pass offers all-access mobility starting at $3.25 per day. Tap your card each time you board and enjoy unlimited rides on buses, Link light rail, Seattle streetcar, monorail, and Access paratransit until your pass expires at 2am. Plus, transfers are free within that 2-hour window.

Flexible traveler Amanda P. loves maximizing her ORCA card during Seattle weekends: "I'll take the light rail from my airport hotel to downtown Saturday morning. On Sunday, I'll bus over to the museum, then monorail back to downtown for some shopping. At that rate, my pass pays for itself the first day!" She also takes advantage of the pass's roundtrip ferry transfer perk allowing foot passengers to use any two ferries in one day.

For families and groups, CityPasses offer a bundled multi-day pass option. Available in 2 to 5-day durations, these give you admission to top attractions like the Space Needle, Aquarium, Woodland Park Zoo, Museum of Pop Culture, and a harbor cruise or Pacific Science Center - plus unlimited light rail, monorail and bus rides during your stay. "We saved over $100 on normal ticket prices, plus the transportation access helped us maximize our time," reports mom Jen B.

Business travelers rely on multi-day ORCA cards to easily commute around the city. Mark D., who visits Seattle offices quarterly says, "I load a 7-day pass which covers my airport transfer, daily commutes to client sites, and getting around on evenings and weekends too." At $14 for a full week of hassle-free mobility, it frees Mark from the stress of driving downtown, finding parking, and getting lost.

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