How to Have a Great Time Exploring Seattle without a Car

Don’t get me wrong, I love driving a car and there are those rushes of freedom it can give you. On the other hand there is a whole different kind of freedom that you feel when you don’t have to have one and can still get around. And this is especially true here in Seattle where you might end up spending as much to park your car as you do to own it.

My goal yesterday was to explore and use mass transit and foot power to do it. I started out by researching at www.metro.kingcounty.gov where I was able to access a trip planner and locations where I could buy an Orca pass. I started the day walking uphill (puff, puff…) to the Safeway Grocery on California Ave. where the transaction was processed. The pass costs $5 and I decided to put $30 on it toward transit fares. Now, anytime my husband or I come to Seattle we can ride the bus without having to search for the right amount of cash. It worked great on all the rides I took, even the ferry, and each time I had it scanned the remaining amount was displayed. I know I am going to like this system.

No fuss bus pass
No fuss bus pass

My online trip planner gave me details on which bus to take and where to wait for it. It was only half a block away and I was only there a few minutes before a small bus pulled up. It wasn’t what I was expecting so I didn’t get in, but the driver wasn’t satisfied to see me standing there. She was my first really interesting encounter of the day. She had to know what bus I was waiting for and where I was going, after which she told me to get in or I would be waiting forever. She drove the water taxi, which she said was free. I didn’t argue. I got in.

This amazing driver went on to practically read the minds of people at all her stops, telling them which buses ran on weekends, where they could access them and how to get where they wanted to go. She had been driving her water taxi route for years and was a wealth of information. Water taxi’s are not well explained in the online trip planner (she told me this) and as you will see later, I still don’t understand them.

This ride took me around West Seattle with a great view across the water of downtown and the harbor. It ended at a business district called the Junction where I was to catch the C line to the Fauntleroy Ferry station. The C line is a bus on steroids. The vehicles are huge, sometimes double buses, and they are fast, serving commuters between major areas. I had to use my Orca pass for this ride – the scanner was on the bus.

Marathon man and others leaving the Vashon Ferry
Marathon man and others leaving the Vashon Ferry

It always works well for me when I’m not sure how to proceed, to pick someone who looks like they know what they’re doing and follow them. My victim this time was a man with a backpack who strode away from the Fauntleroy Ferry stop with confidence and headed toward the water. A backpack in the city can mean you’re homeless or you’re simply a person without a car to carry all your stuff. This guy looked fit so I assumed he might be the latter. I was right, as my conversation with “Mr. 15 Boston Marathon runner” later revealed. He probably had a car but he hardly ever uses it, preferring to run/bus to his lawyer job and his weekend home on Vashon Island. He had already done his 9 miles that morning.

We walked onto the Issaquah ferry, again using the Orca pass at the turnstile scanner. What a beautiful day to be out on the water! The crossing took only 20 minutes, start to finish, and was super relaxing.

On the ferry to Vashon Island
On the ferry to Vashon Island
Lot on Vashon where you can park your car... or your deer.
Lot on Vashon where you can park your car… or your deer.

Vashon is not a suburban area. It is more like country. I walked uphill a short ways to a parking lot but there were no business districts close by (there were deer strolling between parked cars) and it was time for me to find food before heading back. Easy to find, because it was the only one, was the Family Mexican Restaurant at the ferry dock, right on the beach. This is what I ate and it was good.

Super nachos. Yes, I would do again.
Super nachos. Yes, I would do again.
An interesting view while dining.
An interesting view while dining.

The ride back to West Seattle was a mirror image of the ride to Vashon. Passage on the ferry is bought round trip and there are no pay stations on Vashon so I just walked on the boat with the other foot and bicycle passengers. And thinking to backtrack the same route I had taken, I boarded the C line bus again. The Orca pass can also be scanned at some bus stops, before boarding the bus. I guess this is to save time at the busiest places?

Although this bus was headed in the direction I wanted to go, I may have gotten off too early. The sign at the stop indicated that the water taxi picked up there, and the schedule online said it came every half hour on Sundays, but after more than an hour of reading my Kindle, there still was no water taxi. Thankfully these days we have smart phones with GPS and if we are smart enough to use them they will point us in the right direction.

After walking to a familiar intersection, I gave up on the bus altogether and walked all the way home. Such a nice day, why not? I was able to finish my route by coming down through Schmitz Park, an awesome forest in the midst of a city. According to my fitness app, again on my smartphone, this was my best day of exercise for a long time, 13,500 steps or about 6 miles. I had a great time and saw a lot of West Seattle. Just sayin’, walking is still a reasonable way to get around (if you’re not in a hurry).

If you’ve had an interesting walk lately, where was it?

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