Seattle's street designations make sense once you understand them but, if you don't understand them, you can end up many miles away from your destination.
North-South streets are labeled "Avenues" while East-West streets are labeled "Streets". The city is roughly divided into a 3 by 3 grid with 7 directional sectors (E, SW, W, S, N, NE, & NW) Street addresses are written with the sector before the name, e.g. NE 45th Street or NE 45th. Avenue addresses are written with the sector after the name, e.g. 45th Avenue NE or 45th NE.
One way to remember avenues: University Way NE, the main street through the city's University District (neighborhood) is called "The Ave" by the locals, and all avenues run north-south. But, don't confuse University Way with University Ave; they're two completely different streets!
"Ways" are long diagonals, "Drives" are long, circuitous routes, "Courts" are one block long.
Important Streets to Know
Alaskan Way runs along the shoreline in downtown next to the Alaskan Way Viaduct (SR99), soon to be replaced by a tunnel.
Elliot Ave and "15th St" (directionals change on 15th although it is the same street)run from Alaskan Way to North Beach in North Seattle.
Westlake Ave runs from Westlake Center to Fremont and Eastlake Ave runs from Downtown to the University District.
Denny Way runs through downtown from west to east by the Seattle Center.
Yesler Way runs along the south border of downtown from Elliot Bay eastward.
There are four major exceptions:
The twelve streets in the central business district are named as six first-letter pairs (south to north): Jefferson, James, Cherry, Columbia, Marion, Madison, Spring, Seneca, University, Union, Pike, Pine. One way to remember the order of the street pairs is with the mnemonic "Jesus Christ Made Seattle Under Protest."
Downtown between Denny and Yesler is on a grid relative to the shorline while all other streets are usually relative to the cardinal grid.
Metro Transit (electric, hybrid, and diesel city buses) actually works pretty well. The web trip planner is straightforward and accurate, as long as your bus is on time. Using Google Maps' trip planner works well too, but fare information can sometimes be incorrect. During rush hours (M-F 6-9AM and 3-6PM), adult bus fares are $2.50 within the city limits. All other times of day and weekends adult bus fare is $2.25. The youth fare is always $1.25.
Pay exact fare when boarding, as drivers carry no change. You can get a free paper transfer from one Metro bus to another Metro bus, but the only way to transfer for free between transit agencies is with an ORCA card, which costs $5.00 in addition to the money you put on it, available at all Link Light Rail and Sounder stations or online (Click on "Get a card").
When traveling to destinations outside of the downtown core, you should make sure to ask the drivers in Metro buses with green and white "EXPRESS" signs in their windows and those whose route signs say "VIA EXPRESS" if they are going to your destination. Some of these express routes are intended for regular commuters traveling between residential neighborhoods and downtown and make few or no stops between, but many may be useful for getting to destinations such as the University District, West Seattle, and Ballard.
Sound Transit buses have many convenient express routes that travel South (to Tacoma), East (Redmond, Bellevue), and North (Bothell, Everett). Some of these buses run during only rush hours, but most, including the routes to the destinations mentioned above, run all day. Check the schedule to make sure. The fare schedule is slightly different than Metro, with no off-peak discount: $2.50 all for trips within King County, and $3.50 for trips crossing the county line.
Traveling to Downtown
Most buses to downtown go southbound on 2nd Avenue and northbound on 4th Ave except RapidRide buses which operate on 3rd Avenue and high-capacity routes that use the Downtown Seattle Bus Tunnel . The "bus tunnel" operates from 5 AM to 1 AM every day and has five stations, from north to south, Convention Place, Westlake, University Street, Pioneer Square, and International District. The bus tunnel is useful for bus and light rail transfers but watch your belongings.
RapidRide is a new service from King County Metro that offers continuous service from around 5:00 to about 24:00 every day. Routes are Downtown-Crown Hill (North Seattle), Downtown-West Seattle, Downtown-Aurora Village (North Seattle) via SR99, Federal Way-Tukwila (South Seattle), and Bellevue-Redmond. Look for the red and yellow buses at marked "RapidRide" bus stops.
Link Light Rail operates between Westlake Center downtown and Sea-Tac Airport, running through South Seattle and Tukwila. Fares are $2.00—$2.75 depending on how far you travel; ticket machines are located at all stations, and the tickets must be retained for the duration of your trip.
Sound Transit also operates a commuter rail service called the Sounder between Seattle-Tacoma and Seattle-Everett. However, the Sounder is limited mostly to rush hour service on the weekdays, with some service for special events like Seahawks games.
In Seattle, there is also the South Lake Union Streetcar, which runs between Downtown and South Lake Union, the Seattle Center Monorail, which makes a quick connection between Downtown and the Seattle Center, home to the Space Needle, and a passenger ferry, the King County Water Taxi, which offers a quick connection between Downtown at Pier 55 and West Seattle, at Seacrest Park near Alki. The water taxi also offers beautiful views of Downtown, the Olympic Mountains, and much of the city.
If you need any help, go to the Customer Stop at Westlake Station in the Downtown Seattle Transit Tunnel, or ask a local. Seattleites are always eager to help and may even offer help if they just see you looking at a tourist map!
Unlike some other American cities, visitors should not be intimidated by the thought of navigating Seattle by car. While rush-hour traffic can be quite frustrating (especially on the freeways), the city's streets and roadways are otherwise quite hospitable. On weekends, you can often rent cars at locations throughout the city for well under $20/day.
Be mindful of where you park because parking laws are enforced and the fines can be hefty! A parking ticket can be in excess of $35 for going overtime in a 2-hour zone.
Although Pike Place is a street and can technically be driven on, it is almost always chock full of pedestrians. If you are going to Pike Place Market, park in a lot or garage east of the Market and walk a block or two.
The areas rainy weather makes motorcycling difficult but not impossible. Drivers exhibit an alarming obliviousness to motorcycles, and riders should take care to stay well out of a car's blind spot and preferably ahead of, rather than behind, any car. Motorcyclists get preferred boarding on the ferries and can by pass the lines and there are many parking spots downtown reserved for motorcycles.
Cycling is better than in most cities, except for the damp roads, frequent rain and hills, so you may wish to pick up some raingear. Some major roads in Seattle have properly maintained bicycle lanes. Bicycle usage is increasing significantly since the early 2000s and the car drivers are perhaps a bit more accustomed to bicycles than in some other major cities.
You can pick up a free Seattle Bike Map (as well as other local city and county bike maps) at the Seattle BikeStation, 311 3rd Ave S between Main St & S Jackson St almost next door to the train station. They also give suggestions on how to bicycle where you are going and how to do it safely.
Bicycle transportation in the greater part of Seattle is facilitated further by the Burke-Gilman Trail. This is a paved walking/jogging/cycling trail that winds its way from the north end of Lake Washington, down around the University of Washington, then west towards Ballard. The trail is on an old railroad right-of-way, so it maintains a very consistent elevation and is excellent for commuting or a casual day's touring. Myrtle Edwards path is on the sound, starting at the north end of downtown and continuing for the most part all of the way to the Ship Canal Locks. It is much more scenic than the Burke and more peaceful as it does not intersect with any roads. It has gorgeous views of the Olympics and Mt. Rainier, as well.
All Metro buses are equipped to carry three bicycles on racks on the front, at no extra charge.
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