Train / Monorail / StreetCar, Seattle
The Waterfront Streetcar is a tourist attraction in itself. It's also a nice way to see Seattle's Waterfront. Among its many stops is the Seattle Aquarium. It also stops at Pioneer Square. While the streetcar operates within the Ride Free Area, you always pay a fare when you ride it. Fare is $1.25 during off-peak hours and $1.50 during peak hours (6-9 AM and 3-6 PM).
This is another relic of the 1962 World's Fair and the quickest way from Seattle Center to downtown shopping/hotels. Or vice versa. We used it to cut some walking time to Pioneer Square and the International District - still a hike but a good one when the sun is out. It only goes a mile, takes 2 minutes, runs every 10 minutes and only stops at Seattle Center on the one end, and Westlake Center shopping mall on the other. Tickets are $4 RT for adults, $1.50 for kids (5-12) and $2 for seniors or persons with disabilities. One-way tickets are 1/2 of RT prices.
The stations and ticket booths are near the Space Needle at Seattle Center, and on the 3rd floor of Westlake Center.
2011 UPDATE: You can now get to downtown Seattle from SeaTac airport or near the Amtrac station via a slick new lightrail system. The last station in the city center is the Westlake shopping complex, and trains don't run 24/7 but based on the traffic around the city, this is, hands down, your quickest way downtown if flying in. Tickets are about $2.50 from airport to Westlake at time of this writing. There are lots of hotels around the Westlake area, and cabs/buses are easy to snag from there to other parts of the city. See this website for lightrail info:
The Seattle Monorail has a rather dubious reputation: is it public transit or a massive boondoggle?
It can't be a boondoggle, because Seattle never hosted the Olympics and therefore had no cause for such massive folly.
Okay, so I don't know exactly what to make of the monorail, frankly. I will only say that crashing in Queen Anne and needing to be Downtown, daily, it was a convenient, fast, and rapid form of transit to the center.
But my situation was particular, and I did not dig pushing past round-bellied tourists as I hustled to catch the next train out.
So, it works for you or it does not. And if you want to go Downtown to Space Needle - embrace it.
It is what it is.
The Seattle Monorail was built for the 1962 World's Fair, or "Century 21 Exposition", to bring visitors from downtown Seattle to the newly created Seattle Center area. It's estimated that over 8 million people rode the Monorail during the 6 months of the fair, and today it still carries about 1.5 million people annually. Since it only covers a distance of about 1 mile, I might not have bothered taking it had it not been for the fact that the downtown station was right around the corner from our hotel, inside Westlake Center. One-way tickets cost $2, and with the monorail traveling at a top speed of about 50 miles/hour (making it the fastest monorail in the US), it takes about 2 min to travel to the Seattle Center station. I must admit that it was kind of a fun ride - we managed to sit at the very front of the train (I even shot a little video) and had a great view of the Experience Music Project building as the monorail drove through it.
The Monorail runs daily from 9:00 am to 11:00 pm, with trains departing every 10 minutes.
Even though the Sea/Tac Airport is located quite a long way from downtown Seattle, it's pretty easy to travel to and from the airport using the Link Light Rail system. Once you get to the airport, just follow the train signs to the station - it takes about 5 min to walk over there. Train runs from 5:00 am to 1:00 am daily (6:00 am to midnight on Sundays) and depart every 10-15 minutes. It only costs $2.50 to travel downtown and tickets can be bought from the machines located at the station using cash, credit or debit cards. There isn't that much room for luggage inside the trains, but patrons are used to people traveling with suitcases so it's no big deal. Depending on where you get off, it takes about 35-40 min to travel downtown. If you're staying near Pike Place Market, you'll want to get off at the Westlake station (on Pine Street between 4th and 5th avenue), at the very end of the line.
This tip is divided into two sections: the useful part that actually talks about Seattle's first modern streetcar line, and the not-so-useful part that talks of how it wound up with the most unfortunate name in modern transit history in the USA. Naturally, the not so useful materal starts first:
For decades, Seattle's trolley bus operations have been called "trolleys" and so when a heritage streetcar line opened on the Seattle waterfront naturally it was called the "Waterfront Trolley" - so for a very long time electric public transportation here in Seattle has been called The Trolley.
Unfortunately, that didn't necessarily work that well a few years back when local developers and the city joined forces to build a new streetcar line (tram line) linking the shopping district around the Westlake Mall with the south end of Lake Union. Some maps call this new streetcar line the "South Lake Union Streetcar" while others call it the "Lake Union Trolley" but unfortunately for the city planners and boosters, the accidental descriptor arrived at years ago from area residents was South Lake Union Trolley (or SLUT).
Thus, when you ask for directions to the Wooden Boat Center or a few other tourist attractions, and are told the easiest way to get there is "Ride the SLUT" the person giving you instructions isn't trying to be obnoxious or funny. That is the unfortunate name used by everyone other than city and South Lake Union boosters for this streetcar (tram) line.
These days, the SLUT has been made somewhat of a folklore icon in certain areas of Seattle, with Ride the SLUT T-shirts and other memorabilia available. There is even a slightly off-color song by a local band about The SLUT.
Unofficial Ride the Slut information and memorabilia is available at the Ride the SLUT web site, which does also contain a map but no actual official information on how to ride the actual streetcar:
The route of the South Lake Union Streetcar is from Westlake Mall at the north side of downtown Seattle (near the Westlake Monorail station) at approximately Westlake and OliveWay. The line runs north on Westlake until it arrives at Lake Union (Broad Street). The line then runs up Fairview several blocks to the southeast corner of Lake Union.
Payment for riding is made by purchasing a ticket before riding if you have a debit or credit card, or by using cash on board the car. Transfers from King County Metro bus routes are also accepted, and the ORCA Card (tap the card before entering) but transfers from other forms of public transit are not accepted at this time.
I'm not that convinced that this streetcar really serves any useful transportation functions, as it doesn't go anywhere the bus routes don't already and the route stops short of the downtown area as well as not going anywhere that useful at its north end. Yet people do seem to be riding it quite a lot, and it does go by several art galleries, interesting restaurants, and the new park at the south end of Lake Union.
The monorai is a fun and convenient way to travel between downtown and the Seattle Center area, which has the Space Needle and more. The distance is not really great, so one could walk, but this makes it much faster and easier while part of the stretch is not that pleasant to walk.
Like the Space Needle and Seattle Center, the monorail was built for the World's Fair and has been kept. It is one of the highlights of Seattle and one of the unique qualities of the city.
In downtown, the station is in the Westlake Centre, the shopping mall at 4th Ave and Pine Street.
King Street Station in Seattle is a great story of success. Built in 1905 in the heart of downtown Seattle, its tower was modelled on one in Venice and at 242 feet tall was the highest building in town at the time. Over the years, it fell into disrepair with much of the interior features covered in thoughtless renovations. It would have been easy for the city to bulldoze it but its central location and potential prompted a restoration in 2003 that is nearly complete. It looks quite nice from the outside and certainly adds to the luster of the sports complex that dominates the neighborhood. But it is the interior that is the real marvel. If you are in the area, be sure to stop in and see what a real train station in the US can and now does look like. Now, all we have to do is get more trains going and more people riding them!
There are some lines still running through Seattle like the Coast Starlight that runs all the way from King Street Station to Los Angeles as well as one up to Vancouver, BC in Canada. It is unfortunate that there are no services to the National Parks in the state.
We were on a six month camping trip so a car was the best way to go. It allows us access not only to the National Parks that were the focus of the trip but also a means of getting around them. We could also carry all our equipment with us. Typical distances: Seattle to Mount Rainer National Park/100 miles and 2.5 hours. Seattle to Olympic National Park/100 miles and 3.5 hours (including ferry to peninsula). Seattle to Vancouver/230 miles and 2.5 hours. Seattle to Portland, OR/175 miles and 3 hours.
You can walk around most of Seattle's touristy areas and buses service the outlying neighborhoods.
I haven't boarded a Seattle Streetcar but if you are visiting Seattle and you wanted to see some of Seattle's best shopping centers, the bus is the way to go. However the Seattle Streetcar is also good if you are at the South Lake Union.
The South Lake Union line of the Seattle Streetcar goes to the Downtown Retail Core, Denny Triangle and South Lake Union neighborhoods. There are about 11 stops along the 2.6 mile loop.
The Seattle Streetcar runs daily at 15 minute intervals during the following service hours:
Monday-Thursday 6 am - 9 pm
Friday & Saturday 6 am to 11 pm
Sunda/Holiday - 10 am - 7pm
Adult fare is $1.50
Reduced fare $.50 - good for 65 and over' youth ages 6-17; persons with disability
Children under 5 is free.
If you are not up to walking because you are wearing high heeled shoes, have minor children, senior citizen and have a hard time walking or have disability, then take the streetcar that goes back and forth at the Waterfront.
Hiring a cab will be more expensive so, better wait for the George Benson Waterfront Streetcar Line and see the places you wanted to see! Most of the waiting areas are covered.
The Monorail (although it is a pain for the local residents because it causes more traffic than you can imagine) provides a more convenient link from downtown to Seattle Center with an easy access to most of the tourist destinations.
The stations are located at Westlake Center (5th and Pine St.), 3rd floor and at the Seattle Center (adjacent to the Space Needle and EMP.
For more information, check their website at www.SeattleMonorail.com
The telephone number is 206-905-2620
Like the space needle, the Monorail offers a 1960s view of the future which is now the present. However, the monorail is an effective means of transportation between downtown and Seattle Center. The Seattle Center is home to the Space Needle, the Experience Music Project, the Science Fiction Museum, and other attractions.
The trains run on ten minute intervals. The track is only one mile long. The journey lasts about two minutes. It has only two stops, downtown and Seattle Center.
Roundtrip fare is $4.00 for adults, which is a bit steep given the short distance covered.
The monorail operates between 9:00am to 11:00pm. Those taking it for a late night on a town will need to return via the Metro Bus or taxi.
The Seattle Center stop is at the Seattle Center near the Space Needle. The downtown stop is at Westlake Center Mall, which is located at Fifth and Pine Street.
One word of caution. We tried to take the monorail back to Seattle Center on a holiday evening after the Westlake Center Mall had closed. All the signage to the monorail directed us to locked doors of the mall, some were up several flights of stairs. The system is set up and signed to try to make patrons walk through Westlake Mall and hopefully buy something on their way to the train. However, when the mall is closed, it is not easy to find one’s way to the monorail. In fact, it is frustrating and a little exhausting to the follow signage that only lead to locked doors. But don’t despair, a door to the monorail station does exist after the mall is closed. However, we had to ask a helpful custodian where it was and he was happy to provide directions.
Route 99 will take you along Elliott bay and you can visit the Maritime Museum, Seattle Aquarium, Olympic Park, Chinatown and the not-to-be-missed Pike Place Market.
Best of all, it's free. You just have to know where and when to catch it because it runs every 20 mins. Pick up your travel brochure at a mall near Seattle Center.
The monorail connects the Space Needle Grounds with downtown at the Westport Center. There are no inbetween stops. This last trip, it was closed for repairs and plans were being made to extend it through downtown and out the south side. I think they were looking to connect the sports complexes on the southside to the museums at the Space Needle.
The previous visit , we rode the monorail. It's quieter and smoother than anythingelse I've ridden.
By the way, the Westport Center is also the north end for the bus tunnel. See my Bus Tunnel Tip. It's just an elevator (lift) ride from the Monorail above the street down to the tunnel below the street.
Constructed in 1962, Seattle's Monorail seems pretty useless as it has never been expanded beyond its original one-mile route, and it costs a kind of expensive $2 each way for adults (I guess it is cheaper than a taxi, though). The monorail departs every ten minutes and takes just two minutes to go the entire route. It connects the central downtown area at Westlake Center Mall, at Fifth and Pine Street to the Seattle Center near the base of the Space Needle. In its defense, its website claims the Seattle monorail is America's only fully self-sufficient public transit system.
Unfortunately the 14 mile Monorail expansion project was rejected by voters, leaving us with this virtually worthless one-mile of touristy track in the sky.