One of the easiest ways to view Seattle from the water is by taking the King County Water Taxi (official site here) which sails between Downtown Seattle and West Seattle. The route serves as an important means of transportation for local commuters, but savvy tourists will find much to love about it as well. The route is the cheapest boat ride in town and it offers magnificent views of the Seattle skyline, along with easy access to West Sea ttle and Alki Beach.
The ‘King County Water Taxi’ itself is actually the Spirit of Kingston, a 65-foot catamaran that formerly sailed in Alaska and was most recently used for service between Kingston and Downtown Seattle. The Spirit of Kingston just began service on May 18 of this year, replacing the Rachel Marie, an older leased vessel that was handling the route since April of 2010, according to a post by the West Seattle Blog. The Rachel Marie is now being moored at Pier 48, right next to Pier 50 where the Water Taxi departs from. The Rachel Marie will be used as a backup for both the Vashon Island/Downtown Seattle and West Seattle/Downtown Seattle routes until her lease expires at the end of the year. For background information, read more from the West Seattle Blog.
What To Expect When Riding the King County Water Taxi
The King County Water Taxi has capacity for 147 passengers and a crew of three, along with a bike rack that holds 16 bicycles. There are three restrooms onboard, one inside and two on the exterior deck. The King County Water Taxi has four 740-horsepower propulsion engines that can maintain a cruising speed of 24 knots, allowing the vessel to cross between downtown Seattle and West Seattle in under 10 minutes. There is both indoor and outdoor seating, with the top deck especially popular during Seattle’s famously perfect summer days. The ride is fairly smooth, but if you’re prone to seasickness you may want to grab an indoor seat. It’s always a good idea to bring a light jacket or a windbreaker in case of inclement weather.
Upon leaving downtown you will have fantastic photo opportunities of Smith Tower and other skyscrapers and Seattle’s newest attraction, the Seattle Great Wheel. As the King County Water Taxi speeds along, you can also track the progress of the Bremerton/Bainbridge ferries and on weekends keep an eye out for cruise ships bound for Alaska, usually Holland America Line and Norwegian Cruise Line. A variety of other vessels can usually be seen, including barges, sailboats and yachts. On a clear day, you will also have views of the Space Needle and the Cascade Range, including Mt. Baker.
On arrival into West Seattle, the choice is yours. Salty’s on Alki Beach is located just a short walk from the boat terminal, to your left as you walk off the pier. Salty’s offers excellent seafood and is famous for its weekend brunch; reservations are recommended. For more information about Salty’s, please see Brunch at Salty’s on Alki Beach.
You may also take the free shuttle Route 775, serving the Admiral District and Alki Avenue SW, to Alki Beach, known for its beach sports, dining, bike rentals and more. With its laid-back, carefree attitude, Alki Beach feels more like southern California than Seattle. Also along Route 775 is a scale replica of the Statue of Liberty and the iconic Alki Point Lighthouse. For the best dining options take the shuttle to California Ave. SW, where there are restaurants to suit every taste.
Another free shuttle is Route 773, serving West Seattle Junction. West Seattle Junction is a hub for shopping, coffee shops, bars and more. If you’re not as interested in seeing Alki Beach, or if the weather is not cooperating, this route is another great way to explore West Seattle and all it has to offer. The specifics of Route 773 and 775 can be found in the informational Water Taxi pamphlet, found at the Terminal.
How To Get There
If leaving from Seattle, simply walk to Pier 50, located on the waterfront at 801 Alaskan Way (at Yesler Street), just south of Ivar’s Acres of Clams and the ferry terminals to Bremerton and Bainbridge Island. There you will find an automated machine that dispenses tickets, $5.75 each way, payable with credit card. Attendants on board can also accept cash fares, but they are not able to give change so be sure to bring exact fare. If you have an ORCA card, the price is lowered to $5.00 each way. See the official Orca card site, which details how to purchase and use the card throughout the Puget Sound’s public transit systems. Seniors and disabled persons ride for $2.50 each way. (Note: Prices are current as of Dec. 2019).
After purchasing your ticket, it’s smooth sailing. During the Summer-Fall season downtown weekday departures are Monday to Friday, 6:00 am to 6:45 pm, with return departures leaving West Seattle 6:15 am to 7:00 pm. On the weekend, the King County Water Taxi has downtown departures leaving from 8:30 am to 7:30 pm, with return departures leaving West Seattle 9:00 am to 8:00 pm. Extended hours are available on days that coincide with Mariners, Sounders and Seahawks games. Crossing time varies between 10 and 15 minutes, depending on time of day. The Water Taxi terminal in West Seattle is located at Seacrest Park, 1660 Harbor Avenue SW.
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