[We periodically update this page to remain current. The last update is September 7, 2018].

We’re excited to have you all here!  Our transportation system has a few quirks, so please check out our handy Seattle for Visitors page.  If you’re the kind of person that doesn’t like to be tethered to technology all the time you’ll want to download and print out our Seattle Frequent Transit map.  Below we’ve put together some urbanism-specific sightseeing suggestions.

1. Link from the Airport. After disembarking at SeaTac airport, it’s only a short walk until you reach the Link airport station directly east of the terminals. It’s a cheap, relatively fast way to reach downtown Seattle, but what distinguishes it even further is it offers an opportunity to see an under-appreciated quadrant of Seattle from the comfort of your train seat.

South Seattle is often passed over in favor of the Space Needle and other icons, yet neighborhoods throughout the area are thriving and expanding. There’s a mix of old and new bars and restaurants, and all generally affordable. These neighborhoods are an interesting mix of old, walkable, narrow-storefront streetcar suburb; postwar car-oriented poverty and neglect; and now gentrification with the very beginnings of proper transit-oriented development.

The zip code to the east of this segment of the line is said to be the most diverse one in the nation. Walk along Rainier Avenue (which roughly parallels Link but intersects it at Mt. Baker), and you may hear several languages and see food trucks and restaurants offering cuisine ranging from Ethiopia to Cambodia to New Orleans.

If you can only make one stop in this corridor on your way in or out, the best overall experience is probably Columbia City, whose downtown is about three short blocks east of the station with that name. Othello has lots of fast, cheap, delicious Southeast Asian dining options. As you enter the tunnel around Beacon Hill Station, don’t stop looking out the window.

2.  DSTT Bus/Train Joint Operations. When the train gets you downtown, stop for a moment and note the buses coming in right behind it. Seattle is nearly unique in having joint bus/train ops in a downtown tunnel. It was used exclusively by buses for over 20 years, now supports both, and when Link ridership justifies it, will become train only. You may hear that your train is delayed due to “traffic ahead,” which is due to people paying as they board a bus.

Directly above the tunnel, Third Avenue has been (mostly) bus-only since Link opened in 2009 and is in the early stages of a major revamp.

3. Leaving right in front of the Westin, the South Lake Union Streetcar (affectionately know as the South Lake Union Trolley, or SLUT) is an excellent Rorshach Test for participants in the streetcar wars. Proponents see a new, dense neighborhood that has sprung, from a dilapidated light industrial zone, around the streetcar line; and a transit line in so much demand that companies are chipping in both to build it and operate it frequently. Detractors note that, despite some signal priority, the line is short and slow, to the extent that there’s an occasional stunt to show one can beat it on foot. There is a plan to extend it further into downtown and connect it to the somewhat less useful First Hill Streetcar line, but the city may put this plan back on the shelf.

In any case, South Lake Union is a bit sterile, but has some nice places and is notable for having the headquarters of Lake Union Park, near the end of the line, is a nice spot to watch the floatplanes come in and to tour the Museum of History and Industry.

4. Take light rail to Capitol Hill. Capitol Hill is an old, dense neighborhood and the epicenter of the Seattle gay scene. It is the best spot to eat and drink in the city.

5. Experience Seattle’s transit past by riding the monorail, a relic of the 1962 World’s Fair, and solely useful for trips from the Westlake area to Seattle Center. Its fare system is not integrated with everything else, but it is notable as one of the few profitable transit lines in the world. The monorail inspired an effort to build a longer (distinct) monorail line, but that collapsed in a fiasco of bogus funding estimates about a decade ago.

Seattle Center, built as a World’s Fair back in the ’60s and still alive with the Space Needle, a great fountain, several museums (science, glass, children’s, sci-fi, and experience music project), an events arena, opera hall, ballet theatre, art film theatre, children’s theatre, Shakespeare theatre, dinner and acrobatic entertainment theatre (Teatro Zinzanni), skate park, and probably a dozen other forms of entertainment.  If you walk East you can ride WWII “ducks” that will take you on a tour of Seattle and its lakes.  Or walk Northwest for the center of the Uptown neighborhood, with great restaurants and bars.

If you walk to the corner of Roy and Queen Anne Ave you can read the engraved history of the counterbalanced trolley that used to roll up and down this hill.  Walk back to 1st Ave N and Roy and you can ride the electric trolleybus #2 or #13 up the hill and walk down Upper Queen Anne‘s main street, or over to 2nd Ave W and Highland for the canonical view of Downtown Seattle.

6. Washington’s ferry system is one of the largest in the world and is mostly run by the state highway department (and it shows!). That said, if you walk down to the waterfront your best bet is to catch a ferry to Bremerton or Bainbridge Island, both relatively old cities with cute, compact downtowns. On a nice day the view from the ferry deck is exceptional.

Farther Afield

7. King County Metro’s first attempt at Bus Rapid Transit is RapidRide. It’s on the low end of the BRT service quality continuum, but the frequent red buses on 3rd Avenue will get you to Ballard. A fast-developing neighborhood with old bones, Ballard is jam-packed with microbreweries, coffee shops, bars, pubs, and more. Westward lie the Ballard Locks, where you can watch ships pass through to Puget Sound. Take the D Line further north to Crown Hill and you reach a quieter, residential area of Ballard that nonetheless offers a pleasing stroll westward until you hit Golden Gardens, a nice little beach park with gorgeous views of the Olympic mountains.

8. Thanks to our many miles of HOV lanes, Seattle has one of the best commuter express bus systems in the nation. The fastest option is to get a 550 in the tunnel to Bellevue, a very pleasant but conventional suburban edge city. A large chunk of Microsoft (but not the headquarters) is in the relatively compact, high-rise downtown

9. For a longer adventure, there are two reverse-peak round trips on Sounder Commuter Rail, which is a fun way to get to the industrial port city of Tacoma, which has a decent crop of museums,  restaurants, and shops. Pick the train up at King Street Station by the International District/Chinatown Link stop. If you don’t want to wait for the return train, the 590 through 594 buses can get you back to Seattle from downtown Tacoma about as quickly as the train.

41 Replies to “Welcome to Seattle, Rail~volutionaries!”

  1. I’m not coming to the event, but I’m going to file this post away for the next time I’m in Seattle. It’s a fantastic overview, and I can’t wait to see the neighborhoods and sights listed.

    I have one question: Your blog posters have produced incredibly useful, and, to my mind, essential resources for anyone who actually uses transit: the frequent network map and the link schedule. Are your transit agencies so clueless as to not see the need for these?

    1. An advantage of being independent from the transit agencies is that we can experiment; e.g., with different map formats and theoretical network reorganizations (like David L’s Frequent Network Plan). The “Seattle for Visitors” page is probably too critical for any agency to publish. But the agencies know what we’re saying because several staff read the blog. Sometimes it results in incremental improvements; e.g., when Metro published complete RapidRide schedules, started improving its maps, and invested in One Bus Away when its creator graduated from college. Regarding Link schedules, that has been a controversy forever.

    2. When STB first published its frequent transit map KC Metro had, as aw mentions, just a downtown frequent map (the “rainbow map” with tons of routes converging on 3rd Ave… which I’ve always had a hard time reading). Metro’s recent maps have actually done a pretty good job highlighting the frequent network within the rest of the system. They probably overemphasize RapidRide routes and the Link line tends to fade into the background, but the emphasis on frequent routes (in black) and the equal inclusion of routes from other agencies (routes in the 500s, operated by SoundTransit, are prevalent all over the map, and around the edges of the county routes from neighboring county agencies are also shown).

    3. short walk until you reach the Link airport station ”

      Not true especially if you have a couple of bags and family in tow.

      “relatively fast way to reach downtown Seattle”

      If you think 15 minutes is the same as 45 minutes (because I’ve never had to wait for a taxi).

      “see an under-appreciated quadrant of Seattle”

      = “enjoy the ghetto” and “you may get mugged leaving a trains station after dark”

      “Walk along Rainier Avenue”

      After sunset? Even the locals aren’t that stupid.

      My advice to visitors to Seattle is rent a car (dirt cheap except in July and August). Parking is easy in Seattle. In city traffic is light compared to most places I’ve lived (9 cities, 6 countries).

  2. When I host visitors we almost always take a walk in Pioneer Square (just north of King Street Station). The Smith Tower might be the best looking building in Seattle, in a neighborhood filled with great-looking old buildings. Pioneer Square is also loaded with art galleries. King Street Station punches below its weight as transit infrastructure, and its recent exterior renovation included some choices an urbanist might rightly question, but its restored interior is the sort of cared-for public space that is worth having; it would be great to add enough train service to really take advantage. I love the “Underground Tour” — if you want to hear stories (with a pronounced entertainment slant) about Seattle’s early history you could do worse than its walk under the historic vaulted sidewalks of Pioneer Square.

    There are also lots of opportunities to see stuff under construction in Seattle, which I enjoy tremendously… a long walk (or short run) including lots of construction might start at the towers going up near King Street Station, continue along the future First Hill Streetcar route (heading east along Jackson from there through the International District, then turning north past Yesler Terrace and through First Hill and Capitol Hill (so named as it vied, unsuccessfully, to be the site of Washington’s state capitol building), finishing at the future light rail station at the north end of Cal Anderson Park (probably Seattle’s best urban park… though Seattle has many more spectacular parks they’re mostly out of the way; this one is “the living room of Cap Hill”). Just north of there in the quieter Volunteer Park there’s a little tower you can climb for a nice lookout on a clear day, if we happen to have any of those :).

    1. First Avenue has an impressive collection of historic buildings from Cherry or Columbia St past King St and almost all the way down to the stadiums.

  3. 2. Essen Germany had joint electric trolleybus and LRT operation in a tunnel during the 1980s and 1990s. The DSTT was exclusively bus between fall 1990 and fall 2005, when it was closed for retrofit for joint bus-rail operation. During DSTT closure, fall 2005 to fall 2007, 3rd Avenue became a bus priority street in the two weekday peak periods (but not bus only) and that continues today. The end of joint operations is not known; it may depend on Link headway. Through the length of downtown, the DSTT is about eight minutes faster than the surface operation and that will likely be slower over time. Fare collection could be improved. SDOT and Metro continue to improve 3rd Avenue; note the real time information at several stops.
    4. Routes 10, 11, 43, and 49 all reach Broadway.
    5. The Seattle streetcar network was torn up in 1940, replaced by an electric trolleybus network. It was reduced in scale in 1963. The current network has about 70 miles of two-way overhead and carries more than 20 percent of Metro’s daily riders on routes 1, 2, 3, 4, 7, 13, 14, 36, 43, 44, 47, 49, and 70. A new low-floor trolleybus fleet will be implemented in 2014-15.

    1. The core of Broadway, though, is the part north of Seattle Central Community College, which only the 43, 49, and 8 (to Seattle Center on the one end and South Seattle as a shadow for the Link train on the other) serve. That’s not to say the area around Pike and Pine doesn’t have its own charms.

      1. Why would anyone send tourists to the north end of Broadway when “Pike & Pine” exists?

        Of course, why would anyone send tourists to Ballard on RapidRide without mentioning the geographic obfuscations of that service?

        I’m aghast at how many tourists I’ve met who were sent northwestward by guidebooks — made it to the Locks, even — but never entered the historic district because no one mentioned they would need to leave Market or Leary!

      2. I think the goal is simplicity. The 49 is also on the Rail~volution walking map. And it is full-time frequent and goes to both Pike/Pine and upper Broadway. Otherwise you’d have to say, “Take the 10, 11, 43, 47, 49, but the 10 and 11 only go to these places, the 43 will take you to a different part of Broadway, and the 47 will take you to a weird place a few blocks short of it.” It’s less confusing to just say, “Take the 49”. Especially since it also goes to the U-District, where they may also want to go afterward,

        Re Ballard, remember that riding RapidRide is part of the goal for this crowd. But yes, I wondered if they might miss “real Ballard” too if they get to 15th & Market and think, “This is it?” The article should say in large letters, “When you get to Market Street, walk west seven blocks. Or get off at the previous station, Leary Way, and walk west two blocks to Ballard Avenue NW and turn right, and you’ll be glad you did.”

      3. To put RapidRide into perspective for visitors, RapidRide D is the worst RapidRide line. The other lines are faster and go to the center of their neighborhoods. But their neighborhoods aren’t as interesting as Ballard. Bus 40 is the “back door” to Ballard; it gets closer to Ballard’s center and also stops in Fremont along the way (but it’s half-hourly Sundays/evenings).

    2. Except that Essen’ s O-bahn bus used a fixed guideway where it shared the tracks with Light Rail.

  4. A few thoughts:
    -It’s hard to go wrong with the Ballard Locks, although perhaps this is not the best time of year.
    -What is apparently the largest bicycle club in America is located at Magnuson Park. If you’re in the mood to get active, you can rent a touring cycle and ride a nearby bike path some 34 miles across every kind of urban/suburban/rural terrain you can think of (from ocean beach to ship repair docks to a university campus, rich lakefront homes, poor riverfront homes, wineries and open fields, and back down into suburbia near MSFT campus).
    -One of the things I’ve always liked about Seattle is that it has the only downtown in the US where you can see the waterfront from any intersection. For a cheap thrill, keep an eye out for one of those big, lumbering cargo freighters, and then hike up to fourth avenue so you can actually look down on its deck.
    -In keeping with the transit theme, get a map of the Amtrak/BNSF tunnel that runs underneath downtown, and walk along its route at street level. Along the way you’ll run into a building with a false support column (the real one below is stepped back from the tracks a few feet) as well as the library, which in its previous incarnation had a basement door that opened directly onto the tracks.
    -If you take the walk-on ferry to Bainbridge to catch a view of the mountains; time it so you come back in to Seattle just after dusk. The streets of downtown are angled so that when the ferry approaches downtown on a straight line, you pass wave after wave of skyscrapers, blazing in the night sky.
    -If you want to get out of downtown, and don’t have time for some of the above, then take a quick jaunt over to Alki. This beach sits on a peninsula at the southern leg of Elliot Bay, and you can catch a sweeping panorama across the water of the port, Pioneer Square, downtown, Queen Anne, and Magnolia neighborhoods, followed by Puget Sound and its islands. Along the beach are plenty of coffee shops, restaurants, etc. I can’t think of a transit-oriented reason why you should do this, but you should do it. Oh yes: the port terminal has tracks for rail ferries, particularly an Alaskan rail ferry. Well there you go.

    1. Alki is a good urbanist beach; a walkable neighborhood with condos; and accessible by transit, but it takes a while to get there. The simplest way is to take the hourly Water Taxi and walk 15 (?) minutes along the shore to the main part. The most common way is to take RapidRide C to Alaska Junction and transfer to the 50 (hourly Sundays/evenings). ;The most rail-tastic way is to take Link to SODO station and transfer to the 50. If you get stuck at Alaska Junction between transfers, walk around the neighborhood, it’s the center of West Seattle.

    2. The King County water taxi is still running at summer hours – that’s probably a good enough transit excuse. Small boat ferries are somewhat uncommon in US cities, and it’s a way to get on the water without going very far.

  5. I’d also recommend the Sounder upto Everett. You get to ride in the Great Northern Tunnel and up the coastline which is really beautiful. However it is one of our least productive commuter rail lines.

    1. I’ve updated both the schedule and map. Thanks for bringing it up.

      The Frequent Transit Map was mostly correct, with the exception of the 512 replacing the 511, the 358’s new downtown terminal, some additional night service and an error that had the Queen Anne/1st Ave N couplet directions swapped.

      1. Thanks! Not sure if you updated the links or not but here are the dead ones:

        * Route 510 to Everett, new link:
        * Everett Transit Route 3, new link: (side note: the fact that 510 and ET3 is the fastest way to get there is ridiculous, one shouldn’t need to take a bus all the way in to Everett to get to Boeing — the ET3 adds an extra 40 minutes not even factoring in the transfer wait time which could be 1 hour+. Seems like an ET bus should be able to stop at the freeway station.)
        * Express buses, new link:
        * Commuter trains, new link:

        Also in terms of the Frequent Transit Map: is there anything running every 15 minutes after 10pm? Would be interesting to see a Late Night map for those going out on the town (Thursday, Friday, Saturday 10pm-2:30am) — I imagine it’d have to be an every 30 minutes or less map.

  6. Please stop spreading the well-debunked fallacy that 98118 is the most diverse zip code in the nation. It’s embarrassing.

    1. It has been noted in the national media. And it’s not “most diverse” but “most balanced diversity”. In the 80s and 90s Rainier Valley was 1/3 white, 1/3 black. and 1/3 (east) Asian. Now more whites and north Africans and and Hispanics have moved in so the proportions may be different, but it’s still diverse and pretty balanced.

      1. It’s none of the above. It’s not even the most diverse zipcode in the Seattle area. It’s not in the top 50 most diverse in the country. It doesn’t have the “most balanced diversity”, because that combination of words doesn’t actually mean anything.

        I suppose you could try sending tourists to Skyway, but unfortunately for the marketing angle, there’s no “railvolution” happening in Skyway.

        The impression this fake statistic and your weasel-word corollary are trying to communicate is that the Rainier Valley contains a broad and interesting mix of cultures in (sort of) close quarters. This is true, and it is made most visible by the area’s storefront signage and cultural gathering places.

        It is less visible in on-the-street activity, because so much of the area repels pedestrian uses that at most times people are too sparse to “mix” or to enliven the streets in a palpable way. You will absolutely not experience the “disparate cultures rubbing elbows” feeling that you do in the most diverse parts of Brooklyn or Queens, places quantifiably — yes, according to the Census Bureau — far more diverse than southeast Seattle.


        You may wonder why people cringe at the endless repetition of this non-fact. On one level, it’s because words have meanings and facts are non-negotiable and Seattle is infamous for its insistence that whatever dumb opinion it has in a given moment can become true if it just feels it hard enough.

        But the deeper reason it pisses thinking people off is that it is emblematic of the deep delusion White Pseudo-Liberal Seattle has that it is living in a post-racial society, where renaming King County and voting for Ron Sims and President Obama and pointing to a “super diverse” zipcode absolves it of having to address the crippling income disparities and barriers to economic and political enfranchisement and ongoing cultural marginalization experienced by much of non-white Seattle.

        From the education system to the employment ladder, by every measure that actually matters Seattle is the most segregated city in which I’ve ever spent time in my life. But you can’t deal with that if you’re too busy wallowing in the load-of-horseshit warm-fuzzies KUOW gives you while you zip across the Rainier Valley in your Prius.

      2. “Balanced” meaning the groups are roughly the same size and none of them is a majority. It’s not a specific zip code, and it’s not about whether some other neighborhood somewhere in the country has become more balanced. You must have read some very absolutist version of the concept. It’s just a statement that there was an unusual level of harmony and melting-pot-ness in Rainier Valley, and it’s still pretty much the same.. Specifically, the statement was in contrast to single-ethnic neighborhoods in some cities that didn’t get along with adjacent neighborhoods.

        Broad mix of cultures? Yes. Interesting mix of cultures? That’s in the eye of the beholder. Area repels pedestrian uses? So now you’re saying Rainier Valley is unwalkable? It’s the most walkable area that’s not between 85th and Yesler Way, and it’s one of the escapes for people who can’t afford those areas.

        Crippling income disparities, barriers to enfranchisement and cultural marginaization? Those are national problems. You can’t expect us to solve here what the country has not been able to solve for 200 years. Most segregated city you’ve been in? I am curious what you mean by that, although that’s probably too big a topic to get into here.

      3. No. Sorry. You said it was “the most balanced”. You attempted to paste a superlative/objective onto your fuzzy/subjective/mistaken belief.

        The source of your “most balanced” jargon appears to be in here:

        Everyone should read it. It’s a fantastic document. And it doesn’t remotely make the claims of “harmony and melting-pot-ness” that you seem to think it makes. Like all good social and urban histories, it probes the complicated past to find links to a complicated present.

        And that’s what politicians and blog commenters are whitewashing when they parrot the “Rainier Valley = diversity gold medal” meme.

        Mike, I have never been to any other city where the most prominent fields of employment and the pantheon of civic leaders and cultural placemakers are entirely devoid of black and brown people, and where vast portions of the city maintain not a shred of integration, creating a barrier to even entry-level employment (familiarity bias).

        As much trouble as it causes when I say it, the first thing I notice every time I return to California or Chicago or to the East or South is the frequency with which I encounter professionals of color. The experience of race in Downtown Seattle is more like a rotten stereotype of New York in 1985: every black person you encounter is openly selling drugs or causing public-transit havoc.

        I mean it: that is the contrast I observe every time I travel. Economic disparities certainly exist on a macro scale in this country and in all of its regions, but Seattle is 30 years behind other major cities in even laying the groundwork for basic economic access.

        One sorta-kinda-not-really-integrated-but-let’s-crow-about-it zipcode won’t change that, especially if that zipcode acts as a cultural quarantine from the rest of the city.

      4. A very minor point:
        “It’s the most walkable area that’s not between 85th and Yesler Way,” Did you just skip the ID? Short of Pike Place I’d consider the International District the most walkable neighborhood in the city, with short and deep retail, old buildings built to the sidewalk, and our state’s largest transit hub.

      5. I know the above sounds naysaying and awful. Too bad. It’s not that civic-cultural disenfranchisement isn’t a problem elsewhere; it’s the degree of disenfranchisement and cultural quarantine that sets Seattle decades behind many other cities.

        None of this, by the way, should be taken as diminishing the entrepreneurial accomplishments of many in Seattle’s communities of color (immigrant and native-born). These accomplishments are on ripe display in the Rainier Valley, in no small part thanks to the low-cost commercial rents that result from the sprawling commercial landscape. These successes read even more impressive in the face of our stupid B&O taxes — a regressive approach that penalizes small and upstart businesses just as our regressive sales taxes penalize poor individuals.

        But geographically-constrained entrepreneurial gumption will only take you so far. When none of the smug upwardly-mobile forces in this city seem remotely bothered that their celebrated economic growth sectors exclude people of color at all levels (from educational preparedness to the elite workplaces to the support services and everywhere in between), it’s hard to get anything but annoyed about some kumbaya 98119 fact that isn’t even true!

  7. Make sure to tell the rail-volutuonists to wear hair curlers and flip-flops when they go to Bellevue.

  8. The name of the place the Bainbridge Island ferry lands at is Winslow. Enjoy the carrot cake!

    1. Winslow is still the downtown area. The ferry signs switched from Winslow to Bainbridge when the entire island became a city. But the area outside Winslow is semi-rural.

  9. So will Emory Bundy be speaking at Rail-Volution on how to retard a city’s mass transit system by 20 years?

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