Getting To and Around Seattle

I’m so excited for CreativePro Week this year! For all the usual reasons, of course, but also because everyone will be coming to my city. I’ve only been here 2 years, but I love it, and am excited to share it with old friends and new.

One of the great things about Seattle is the ease of getting around using public transit. So I thought I’d share some transit tips for getting to and around the city, to help make the most of your visit to Seattle.

Getting Downtown

If you’re flying in to Seattle–Tacoma International Airport (SeaTac) there are several easy ways to get to the Westin Seattle and the downtown core, including rideshare and the Light Rail.

Both Uber and Lyft rideshare services operate throughout the metro area. From the airport, this option will run you about $32–40 and the ride to downtown takes about 30 minutes. Catch your rideshare on the 3rd floor of the parking garage. Get there by exiting from the arrivals level and following the signs for rideshare pickup.

My favorite hassle-free way to get downtown is to take the light rail. It’s a whole lot cheaper ($3), takes about 40 minutes without any of the sometimes stressful traffic, and drops you two blocks from the hotel. Take the Sky Bridge (one level above baggage claim) to the parking garage and follow the signs to Link Light Rail. There’s even a handy video to explain it all.

There are ticket vending machines to easily grab a ticket and jump on the train headed towards “Seattle/U of Washington,” which come by every 10 minutes or so. If you don’t think you’ll be taking other public transit during your visit, just purchase your one-way ticket and be on your way. Otherwise, see the transit card options in the “Navigating the Transit Options” section below.

If you’re heading to the Westin (or another nearby hotel), exit at the Westlake Station, then head north on 5th or 6th Avenue. You’ll see the Westin’s double-barrel towers looming about two blocks away. The Sound Transit site has more info.

The Westin Seattle and the Seattle Monorail near Westlake Station

Venturing Further Afield

When you’re not at the conference and you want to see the sights that are further out, there are several transit options. The bus system is pretty decent and many buses run super late, or even all night. Fares are generally $2.75.

If you prefer to be in control of your transportation, there are several carshare programs: Car2Go, Reach Now, Zipcar, and Lime; as well as a couple of “free-roaming” bikeshare programs: Lime Bike and Jump. You’ll see the bikes parked all along the sidewalks. (Note that there is a technically a helmet law for everyone in Seattle, and that bikes can be ridden on the sidewalks.)

Free-roaming bike rentals are all over Seattle.

If you are going to check out the infamous Space Needle (and if you don’t, have you even really visited Seattle?) you can certainly walk there in under 20 minutes. Or, you can hop on the space-agey monorail that will take you right there! Catch the Seattle Monorail at Westlake Plaza, mere steps from the Westin (you can see the tracks right outside the hotel). Catch the monorail from within the Westlake Plaza (mall) or via the outside escalators on 5th Avenue. It’s only $2.50 each way and will zoom you from Westlake to the Seattle Center (also home to the Museum of Pop Culture and the Pacific Science Center) in under three minutes. It runs until 11pm.

Seattle also has a streetcar that runs a short distance, with the end of one line sitting right next to the Westin. The short trip runs out to Lake Union and back. After afternoon sessions, you could check out the lake—a favorite activity of mine is watching the seaplanes land on the lake—and still be back in time for that evening’s presentations.

A trip to the waterfront or out on to Puget Sound is also an easy outing. You can easily walk to Pike Place Market and the waterfront or you can catch the free waterfront shuttle. There are two downtown shuttle stops: one at 1st and Pine and one in front of the Sheraton on 6th and Pike. If you’re like me, you might walk down there and save the shuttle for the return ride back up. (Did I mention Seattle is super hilly? If you don’t have “biking calves” before you arrive, you will by the time you leave!)

The waterfront has lots to offer, including the Seattle Aquarium and shops and restaurants. If you want a little water-based sightseeing without spending a lot of money, jump on a ferry out to Bainbridge Island (35 minutes) or Bremerton (60 minutes) for $8.50. I like to jump on the Bainbridge ferry just before sunset: you get to watch a sunset over the evergreen trees along the shore and then return to the city all lit up after dark. The ferry terminal is located at Pier 52.

Navigating the Transit Options

The most confusing part of having all these transit options is that they are run by different agencies, each with their own ticketing and fare systems. If you are going to ride multiple modes (light rail to streetcar to bus, for example), know that you can’t transfer between these with individual paper tickets. In this case it’s best to buy an ORCA card (at the airport and other vending machines) and load up your ORCA “e-purse.” The card costs $5 and you can load from $5 to $300 onto it. It works on the buses, light rail, streetcar, and the ferries (though not the monorail). If you’re going to be using the card a lot, you can also buy a regional day pass for $8/day.

To use the ORCA Card, tap your card on the yellow card readers at light rail stations, at the front of the bus, or at the streetcar stops and certain bus stops. Using an ORCA card on the light rail also requires you to tap again as you exit the station…but if you forget, it just charges you the maximum fare difference (like, maybe 50 cents more). The nice thing about the card is that you have a 2-hour transfer window, which means you can board the streetcar to grab a quick coffee by Lake Union and jump back on within 2 hours and not pay an additional fare. Also, transferring between bus and light rail with a card automatically figures out any fare difference and pulls it off the card. Bottom line: If you’re going to use a lot of transit during your visit, it might be worth buying and loading up an ORCA card; if not, pay as you go might be the best option.

Also there is an app for buying tickets called TransitGO and the One Bus Away app for checking on upcoming buses, trains, streetcars, etc. is a must.

Whew! As you can see there are many ways to get around the city, the hardest part is actually navigating the system for buying tickets. Your next big task to figure out is, what to see when you’re not filling your head with all the great info at CreativePro Week!

I love to help people find cool stuff in Seattle, so if you’re coming to the conference, reach out to me on the Connect Forums.