Please heed my warning... if you are planning on catching a cab to go to dinner... call ahead of time. On a two mile walk throughout all of downtown, I did not see a single cab to hail. Once I arrived at the restaurant, they were nice enough to call a cab for me when I was ready to go... make sure you write the cab companies number down!
Sounder Commuter Train
One of the nice transportation options from Tacoma up to Seattle is the Sounder Commuter Train. The Sounder also has a light rail option with four stops in the Tacoma area.
The main reason I wrote this tip is so you could read this advertisement... I had to laugh! Enjoy!
SeaTac Airport gets its name from the two main cities that it supports, Seattle and Tacoma, Washington. Due to its loaction, directly in between the two, make sure you allow yourself plenty of time to land here and still be able to get to your destination on time!
SeaTac serves Air Canada, Alaska Airlines, America West, American, ATA, Asiana, Continental, Delta, Hawaiian, Northwest, Southwest, United, and US Airways among others serve the Seattle area.
Tacoma - Vashon Ferry: Scenic Route to Pt Defiance
Point Defiance is the north end of the mainland and of Tacoma, but from Point Defiance it is possible to continue northward onto Vashon Island by using the Vashon Island (Tahlequah) to Point Defiance Ferry, but this ferry is useful for more than just local commuter traffic going to and from Vashon Island. It is also a possibility for a scenic trip on the water, as on a clear day you can see Mount Rainier and other features of Puget Sound. It also forms a small link in a public transportation chain creating the most scenic route to get to Tacoma from Seattle.
If you are visiting Seattle, and want to take a day trip to Point Defiance Park in Tacoma, you have several different rotues you could take, but this ferry is included in the last option listed here:
1. Drive from Seattle to Tacoma and various local highways from Tacoma north to Point Defiance Park. You will typically hit traffic congestion at all times, and none of the roads are very scenic.
2. Public Transit from Seattle to Tacoma (this avoids having to fight traffic on your own) by way of SoundTransit express bus or Sounder commuter train and local transit on Pierce Transit bus routes. Still, none of the routes are very scenic.
3. Downtown Seattle to Vashon Island ferry terminal via the Seattle to Vashon Island passenger only ferry service. Then, by bus route 118 from the northern (Vashon) ferry terminal to the southern (Tahlequah) ferry terminal, then to Point Defiance Park by way of the Vashon Island to Point Defiance ferry.
This last option is the slowest option, but it is also the most scenic option. It involves using three different transportation services: King County Water Taxi from downtown Seattle to Vashon Island, then take Metro Bus Route 118 that connects the two ferry terminals. This can involve quite a long wait, as the bus frequency on that particular Vashon Island route isn't that often - about once every 1 1/2 hour. Once you get to the ferry terminal on the southern end of the Island (the spot is called Tahlequah) it is then necessary to take the Washington State Ferry Tahlequah to Point Defiance route. Service on that ferry route is once every 40 minutes or so during the week days, and so it is the most frequent of the services you will run into on this route.
To make up for the time consuming nature of making the trip this way, the route is far more scenic than Interstate 5 or other land-only routes. From the Seattle to Vashon ferry, you will be treated to a number of scenic views from Puget Sound. The bus service on Vashon Island isn't too much to talk about for most of the distance, but certainly seeing the expensive homes along the roads of Vashon Island are far better than anything offered by Interstate 5. There are several small and interesting-looking communities with some personality on the Island that you will pass through, and the bus runs along a narrow two lane road along the edge of the water towards the southern end of its route.
From the ferry from Tahlequah to Point Defiance you also offers wonderful views of the southern end of Puget Sound, and on a clear day you can see Mount Rainier towering over the top of downtown Tacoma. Unfortunately, under many weather circumstances, the mountain is invisible to cameras unless you have a UV filter, though it is very visible to the naked eye.
It is then possible to take Pierce Transit bus route 11 from the Point Defiance ferry terminal to downtown Tacoma.
No fares are currently collected for walk-on passengers at the Tahlequah end of the Point Defiance ferry, so going south costs nothing on that portion of your trip. Point Defiance northward to Tahlequah costs $4.45 for a walk-on passenger.
If you decide to do the trip this way, you are going to want to carefully check the timetables from each of the agencies, and make sure that you know exactly how long you are going to want to spend waiting at each end. I was fortunate enough that the bus and ferry timetables worked out almost exactly right, so that I was never left waiting more than about 10 minutes at any of the points, including the connection to Pierce Transit in Point Defiance. However, at different times of the day I would expect to be kept waiting longer, as the ferry and bus schedules don't always seem to match that well.
You can not take any vehicle larger than a bicycle on the Seattle-Vashon Island ferry, so this is a trip that can only be done by public transit, no matter if it is Tacoma -> Seattle or Seattle -> Tacoma. A bike could be useful for getting around in Tacoma, or touring Vashon Island, which is apparently a somewhat popular destination for bikers.
Due to the long waiting times that may occur in getting from ferry to bus or from bus to ferry, I highly recommend making this method of travel only one way. For the other direction of travel between Point Defiance and Seattle, I suggest instead going from Point Defiance to Tacoma on bus route 11, and Tacoma to Seattle on Sounder train or SoundTransit express bus as the trip is a bit faster that way. It is also a bit less expensive.
As the ferry trip from Tacoma to Vashon Island is only about 50 minutes round trip, this ferry would also be useful for those wanting to take a bike tour around Vashon Island (this is apparently quite popular, though I haven't done this), or simply take a short trip out on the water to see the views of Puget Sound up close and personal. It is going to be hard to beat the $4.45 walk-on passenger fare in terms of finding a way of seeing the lower Puget Sound region from the water.
The current ship used on this ferry route is usually the Rhododendron, which was built in 1947 and was given a complete restoration in the early 1990s. Some items are obviously modern additions, while others are historic fixtures. Outdoor seating is limited to wooden benches across the edges of the upper cabin. The upper cabin also features several snack vending machines. There is an elevator for those who are unable to climb the stairs between the auto deck and the passenger cabin.
At either end of the route, the ferry does not have the capacity to load or unload passengers separate from vehicles. Therefore, walk-on pasengers must walk off the ship before the auto traffic is allowed to leave, and are given a head start before the auto traffic so they can reach safety before the auto traffic is allowed to start moving.
Web site for King County Water Taxi
Be sure to check the timetable for the Vashon Island to Seattle route, and not the West Seattle to Seattle route.
My VirtualTourist tip and a few photos of the Seattle to Vashon Island Passenger Only Ferry
Web site for Washington State Ferries
Web Site for King County Metro (operators of the bus routes on Vashon Island)
King County Metro by bus route 118 is one of two routes that serve Vashon Island.
I also have a King County Metro tip, though it focuses more on the Seattle area rather than the routes on Vashon Island in particular.
- Budget Travel
Public Transit in/to Tacoma
There has been a significant effort at building a major transit center at the "Tacoma Dome Station" in Tacoma. This station is supposed to serve as the central station for Tacoma, featuring Amtrak, local bus, and regional commuter bus services. However, the main Tacoma business district is actually located to the northwest of this station, which is no longer convenient to get to by either train or regional express commuter bus as it is not located on a through route between Seattle and Olympia by either interstate highway or railroad main line. This primarily has to do with the construction of Interstate 705 and how that has altered a number of the older transportation routes around downtown.
Therefore, public transit in Tacoma has now been built around a system that has two centers: the Tacoma Dome Station and downtown Tacoma. Many of the SoundTransit express buses from Seattle enter Tacoma and head first to the Tacoma Dome Station, and then go to downtown Tacoma, with some of the core routes operating as far north as 10th & Commerce Streets.
Due to the dual center nature of the transit system, SoundTransit has also built Tacoma Link, which is a very short and free of charge sreetcar route between the Tacoma Dome Station / Freighthouse Square and 9th and Commerce Streets. There are five stations, and as the route is somewhat segregated from auto traffic, which allows for somewhat higher speeds than the buses are able to operate between the two. Unlike the rest of SoundTransit's system, and the rest of public transit in Tacoma, Tacoma Link is free of charge.
SoundTransit also operates the Tacoma Dome Station, which I have covered under a separate tip. This is a large parking garage and transit route transfer point about five blocks north of the Tacoma Dome itself.
Pierce County Transit operates the local bus services around the city of Tacoma. While it may not be as large a transit district as a number of other cities have, one of the better features is that many of the bus stop signs have maps of the route (including also schedules). Many of the newer buses also feature more comfortable seats than is standard for most transit buses in the USA. The seats may not recline, but they are at least padded. Many of these bus routes operate through Tacoma in such a way that they pass through downtown Tacoma, and then pass close to the Tacoma Dome Station. However, many of these bus routes change number as they pass through downtown Tacoma. Thus, for example, if you want to catch bus route 11 to Point Defiance, you need to catch bus route 41 going north (NOT South) as it goes past the Tacoma Dome station, as may bus route 41s change into a bus on route #11 as they go through downtown Tacoma. Standard bus fare is $1.75 as of this writing.
However, it is much less confusing if you need to transfer between a SoundTransit bus and a Pierce Transit bus to simply do so in downtown Tacoma, as that is where you will find bus stops labeled with the correct number.
Commuter train service between Tacoma and Seattle is also operated by SoundTransit. Currently, the Tacoma Sounder train station is located on the south side of Freighthouse Square, on the south side of the Tacoma Dome station. To get there, you need to go either through or around Freighthouse Square. Sounder fares vary by ultimate destination, but Seattle to Tacoma fare is $4.75.
Amtrak serves the same Tacoma station as does SoundTransit with the Cascades Trains. Those are intercity trains with some going as far north as Vancouver, BC and as far south as Eugene, Oregon. The once per day Coast Starlight goes all the way to Los Angeles, California. Currently, the Tacoma Amtrak station is located about five blocks east of the Tacoma Dome station on the north side of Puyallup Avenue and J Street.
Available in many places in Tacoma is a Pierce County Bus Schedule and Map book (see photo 4), which gives bus routes and schedules for all bus routes operated by Pierce County Transit. This includes availability in literature racks on many of the buses. This book includes a huge amount of information that acts as a good introduction to public transit in Pierce County, as well as various good local information that may be useful.
For more information see:
Pierce County Transit at http://www.piercetransit.org/
SoundTransit at http://www.soundtransit.org/
My tourist tips about:
Amtrak Cascades (mostly about Portland to Seattle service, but some trains do go to Vancouver, BC and Eugene, OR)
SoundTransit is the regional transit operator for routes going between many cities around the Puget Sound region.
- Budget Travel
Tacoma Dome Station
While it is located several blocks from the SoundTransit Sounder / Amtrak train station, SoundTransit's Tacoma Dome station is the closest large parking lot to that train station. It is also one of the largest single free parking lots in Tacoma.
SoundTransit long distance commuter buses to Seattle, plus intercity buses run by Greyhound, operate out of the north side of the station.
To get to Amtrak trains going north or south, you need to walk about 5 blocks east on Puyallup Avenue (north side of the station).
Most of the time, Sounder Commuter trains operate out of a short siding on the south side of Freighthouse Square, which is directly south of the Station and across the street from the station. There are fare purchasing machines located inside Freighthouse Square inside the entrance labeled "SoundTransit" above the doors. Photo 4 is a photo of the Sounder train station with Frieghthouse Square on the left side of the photo. The "Tacoma Dome" station is on the other side of this green building.
The south side of the station is directly across the street from the Freighthouse Square shopping center, and that side of the station is also served by SoundTransit's Tacoma Link streetcar line. This is a free streetcar line running between the Tacoma Dome station and the true downtown area of Tacoma. Most Pierce Transit bus routes that serve downtown Tacoma also go fairly close to (not directly to in most cases) the Tacoma Dome station, but they change numbers in downtown Tacoma. Therefore, the number of the route near the Tacoma Dome will not be the same as north of downtown. For example, if you are getting bus route 11 to Point Defiance Park, you will usually want to grab bus route #41 near the Tacoma Dome, as that changes to bus route #11 as it goes through downtown Tacoma.
Please see my Basics of Public Transit in/to Tacoma tip for more information.
Please note that the Tacoma Dome Itself is actually about four blocks south of the Tacoma Dome Station. The dome is an OK land mark for finding your way to the general area, but don't arrive at the Tacoma Dome and expect to also be right at the transit station.
The station and parking garage take up two entire city blocks, starting east of E Street and south of Puyallup Avenue. There are several vehicle entrances to the parking structure, including one on 25th Street just west of G street and on G street itself. The entrance on E street is hidden at the end of a short dead end street running south off of Puyallup Avenue.
The easiest way to get to the station and parking lot from Interstate 5 is to take Interstate 705 (exit 133) going north, exit at the very first exit (21st Street) and go east (across the large white bridge) to the first major intersection (D Street). Turn right on D street and turn left onto Puyallup. The station is on the south side of the street, and fairly obvious as most of it it is a huge multi-level parking structure.
Artwork at the station includes the Rainwater Preservatory kinetic contraption, and an outdoor garden with historic machinery pieces.
- Budget Travel
- Road Trip
Eleventh Street Bridge may be Gone Soon?
Scheduled for demolition sometime in 2006, yet still looming over the Thea Foss Waterway in early 2010, this bridge has been closed to road traffic for some years now, but still provides a useful pedestrian and bicycle link between what has become Tacoma's main business district and the new waterfront developments at water level along the Thea Foss Waterway. Less useful for tourists is the connection it provides to the industrial area on the north side of the bridge. The bridge also has a reasonably spectacular view of Mount Rainier rising above downtown Tacoma, if you are lucky and visit on a clear day.
This is a reasonably useful transportation route if you are walking or biking in the downtown area, as it is faster and more convenient to get between the Tacoma Dome Station, the Museum of Glass, and the core of downtown Tacoma if you use the Thea Foss Wasterway Esplanade and this bridge as your connection to the Tacoma core business district. While this walking / biking route parallels busy Dock Road, you can get all the way from this bridge to the Tacoma Dome station while only crossing two road intersections, and both of those are at the Tacoma Dome. The entire walkway along the waterfront is free of true traffic obstacles.
The old sidewalks on part of the bridge are not considered safe for walking and are closed, but as there is no longer road traffic over the bridge, one can use the entire road section instead for walking or biking.
Access from the main deck down to Dock Street and the waterfront is provided by a long wooden staircase on the south side of the bridge. The staircase drops down through the sidewalk.
There have been several proposals to replace the bridge when it is demolished, and there is at least a small grassroots effort to preserve it. However, it appears that money for any of that is in short supply - seeing how there isn't even enough money to demolish the bridge in the first place just yet.
Until that happens, enjoy the view of downtown Tacoma and Puget Sound and provided by this bridge, as it may not be around too much longer.
This bridge has been known by several names in the past, and was renamed the "Murray Morgan Bridge" in 1997 in honor of the Tacoma born historian. For the purpose of the VirtualTourist web site I have called it the 11th Street Bridge, which is a name still sometimes used, because no matter what other names it may carry, it will always be attached to 11th Street - at least, until the bridge is demolished.
Update: As of August 2010, a Public Notice has been applied to the approach to the bridge, with "Proposal for Development Permit for repair and maintenance along with the relocation of a staircase and the construction of a stormwater facility."
- Hiking and Walking
- Arts and Culture
Eleventh Avenue Bridge has been Saved!!
In 2010, the old Eleventh Avenue Bridge (Murray Morgan Bridge) was still wavering between being demolished and preserved. As noted in %L[http://members.virtualtourist.com/m/p/m/1f7a3b/ ]my old tip about this bridge, there were a lot of reasons for demolishing it, and a few for keeping it in place.
2010 actually marked the beginning of a turn around for the bridge, as that was the year it returned to city ownership.
After a $57 million reconstruction, including new sidewalks, a new elevator and stairway connecting the bridge to the waterway below, and a new deck so that the bridge is once again open to road traffic, the structure is once again a piece of the transportation picture in Tacoma.
While most of the auto traffic continues to use the new Highway 509 bridge further south, that bridge really doesn't connect the core of downtown with the port area on the other end. Furthermore, it doesn't really do much for the Waterfront Walkway the city would really like to have along the water here.
The new bridge, with its new elevator and stairs and sidewalk, now serve as both a link to the walkway along the water AND as a link to the port facilities, and they do so from the core business district. The new elevator and staircase are far more substantial than the wooden antique structure they replace which connected the top deck of the bridge with the waterfront on the west end.
PLEASE NOTE that unlike the previous incarnation of this bridge, the stairs and elevator that connect the top deck of the bridge to the waterway walkway below are on the NORTH side of the bridge. You need to be on the north side of Eleventh Avenue when crossing the bridge in order to access this area to go down to the waterfront.
The bridge helps complete a loop that is possible by walking to the Bridge of Glass then north on the Waterway Esplanade, and then return to downtown Tacoma by going up either the stairs or the elevator that connects the Eleventh Avenue Bridge to the waterfront.
The new black color? That is part of the historical restoration as well, as the structure was originally painted black.
The newly rebuilt bridge had its grand opening on 15 February 2013, on the 100th Anniversary of the bridge originally opening to traffic.
- Hiking and Walking
- Arts and Culture
- Historical Travel
Walkway from Thea's Park to Old Tacoma
Currently, the end of the Thea Foss Esplanade happens at Thea's Park. From Old Tacoma going north almost to Point Defiance, there is the Ruston Way Walkway that also runs along the waterfront, only in a different part of town - one that has had most of its waterfront industry completely eliminated and replaced by waterfront restaurants, stores, one hotel, and a few over the water parks.
There is a way to connect these two walkways and make one long waterfront walk from the Tacoma Dome to Point Ruston and Point Defiance.
HOWEVER, the connection between the Ruston Way Walkway and the northern end of the Thea Foss Esplanade is not extremely pleasant. It is a narrow sidewalk beside a very busy road, and on wet days there is little choice but having to put up with a lot of high speed water splash from vehicles. You must pay close attention to what is coming, as larger vehicles will have large side mirrors that could easily hit you in the head, as the sidewalk is narrow and almost nobody uses this sidewalk as it is far from a pleasant place to walk.
However, it is also the only way to get an entire waterfront walk from downtown Tacoma to the Old Tacoma area. From Thea's Park your only choices are to turn around and go back up the hill and continue on a bus, or go back to downtown Tacoma. This is the only water level route and there are few connections that cross the busy Schuster Parkway and railroad lines north of the Eleventh Avenue Bridge. There is no crossing at all north of Thea's Park and south of Old Tacoma.
With all that out of the way, here is what you do:
From the south end, at Thea's Park go to the south end of the park. If you look towards the railroad line, you will see that the overpass that runs along the road that crosses the railroad has a sidewalk on the park side of this roadway. The roadway that crosses the railroad on the bridge is S. 4th Avenue at this location. Walk from the park to this sidewalk, then use this bridge to cross the railroad line on the sidewalk. This gets you to the intersection of S. Schuster Parkway and S. 4th Avenue, and you can use the traffic light here to cross S. Schuster Parkway. From here north, there is a paved sidewalk all the way to Old Tacoma.
Simple, right? A paved sidewalk the whole way! See the main photo, which is taken at S. Schuster Parkway and S. 4th Avenue before crossing the street. It is possible to see the paved sidewalk on the other side of the Parkway here.
Except note that the sidewalk spends a lot of time very close to traffic - which moves very fast here and has trucks with very large mirrors that overhang the sidewalk. There are places where this sidewalk drifts a bit away from traffic, and this is a wonderful reprieve. However, there are also places where the water is over the sidewalk (see photo 3).
The sidewalk eventually arrives at N. Starr Street and N. 30th Street in Old Tacoma. It connects to the south side of 30th, and there is a cross walk and a traffic light one block away for crossing 30th.
To get to the Ruston Way Walkway, you then need to north on McCarver Street (be on the east side of this street for best crossing of Ruston Way), cross the railroad line and then Ruston Way at the traffic light. From here you can continue northwest along Ruston Way along the waterfront and walkway.
If you turn southeast from this point, the Ruston Way Walkway sort of continues south a little ways, into the Chinese Reconciliation Park but from here south the walkway dead-ends.
- Hiking and Walking
Tacoma Amtrak Station
NOTE: This tip will be outdated in a few years. There is an effort to move Amtrak from its current station into the Tacoma Dome station, which is served by all of the other transit services in the region.
When Interstate 705 was built through Tacoma, it sliced the old Tacoma train station as well as the rest of downtown Tacoma off from the main railroad line. Therefore, a new station was constructed in the industrial area just east of downtown Tacaoma. This isn't a great place for a station as it is away from the main tourist areas, but it was the best that could be done under the circumstances.
The station is the third busiest station on the Amtrak Cascades routes, and while it is plain, simple, and not convenient to downtown Tacoma it does have more services than the small town stations. For example, there is a completely covered waiting room, and there is checked baggage service.
The primary public transit resource anywhere nearby is the Tacoma Dome Station for SoundTransit. This is located approximately three blocks west of the Amtrak station. However, if you are headed to downtown Tacoma or other areas, there are several buses do have a stop in front of the station. It is not easy to get to the northbound stop on the other side of the street, however.
The bus stop in front of the Amtrak station is served by Pierce Transit bus routes 41, 400, 500, and 501. SoundTransit buses 574 to SeaTac Airport and 594 to Lakewood do not stop here any more. To get those buses, you need to go 4 blocks west to the Tacoma Dome Station.
Tacoma LINK: Short, Useful Streetcar
The way Tacoma developed and the way it exists right now means that many transportation options are inconvenient to the important areas of Tacoma.
Therefore, a short streetcar (tram) was constructed linking the most important public transit interchange points, and including a massive park and ride lot near Freighthouse Square. It is called Tacoma LINK and there is no charge to use its services.
There are only five station stops, but the service is well used, and satisfies a number of the historic problems with the shape of the central areas of Tacoma.
The service two and from the massive park and ride lot at the Tacoma Dome Station (which isn't actually at the Tacoma Dome, but some blocks north of there) is useful for anyone visiting any of the attractions in downtown Tacoma.
The section of the line that runs parallel to Commerce Street includes connections to a number of bus routes that go to various areas of Tacoma, including many routes that do not go to the Tacoma Dome station.
Each station has a map of the local landmarks and public transit connections to everywhere else.
Much of the route uses sgregated traffic lanes in the streets, but other areas has the streetcar line mixed with auto traffic.
- Budget Travel
Tacoma & Pierce County Visitor's Guide
If you aren't quite sure what is available in Tacoma, please be aware there are visitor's guides available in a number of locations scattered through the city.
The photo shows the typical visitor's guide. Naturally, it makes Tacoma and Pierce County sound like it is the most wonderful place on earth. All tourist guides do that, unfortunately. However, reading through the Rah Rah Tacoma! nonsense and getting to the meat of the matter will yield some good advice on places to visit and events in the area.
There are also several good and useful maps of the region.
- Road Trip