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Carless in Seattle: 3 Ways to Get Around Seattle Without a Car

When I moved to Seattle initially, I brought my oversized SUV with me from the Midwest.

Quickly, I realized driving and parking that behemoth in Seattle’s tiny parking spots wasn’t for me. After careful consideration, I decided to sell my car and try living without wheels.

Over the next four years, I learned to navigate the city without a car, became a pro at navigating public transportation, and heard the life stories of too many uber drivers to count!  

A bouquet of flowers on public transportation in seattle.
A bus leaves pike place with passengers and flower bouquets.

Living in Seattle without a car is not without its challenges, but I found this city to be easy to navigate carless. If you’re considering living in Seattle without a car, know that it’s an option with many rewards for your body, your budget, and the environment. In this article, I share some of the valuable lessons (and carless life hacks!) I learned while navigating Seattle without a car.

This article is split into two sections:

living in Seattle without a car

visiting Seattle as a tourist without a car

 

 

It is possible to live well in Seattle without a car

Getting around Seattle without a car is remarkably easy. A range of options from public transportation to private cars makes going carless an option for Seattle residents and tourists across the income spectrum. In fact, there were many times that I thought it was so much easier to get where I needed to go by bus or rideshare than it was to retrieve my car from a parking garage, drive to my destination and circle the block till I found a parking space (often, making myself late in the process). Because parking in Seattle is so expensive, sometimes I paid less to get from Point A to Point B via rideshare than I would have paid for parking!  

How to Live in Seattle without a Car

The most popular ways to navigate the city of Seattle without a car include:

Walking

There are few cities in the United States more friendly to walkers and pedestrians than Seattle. Because of the high population density of King County, much of Seattle feels almost European. Because residential and commercial properties are scrunched together, it’s easy to get around on foot. For tourists and residents alike, walking can be a great way to get around Seattle without a car or the hassles that accompany having a car in the city. If you plan to navigate Seattle by foot, I recommend living or staying in the downtown or downtown adjacent neighborhoods, as these are the easiest to navigate on foot.

Taking the Bus

Buses in Seattle are generally clean, easy to navigate, and mostly on time. They’re also very affordable. (For students and low income folks, it’s easy to get an ORCA lift card – which makes it possible to get anywhere in the city for $1.50).

For both residents and tourists considering getting around Seattle by bus, I advise trying to stay in the downtown area – Seattle’s public transportation is pretty good for getting north to south but kind of awful for navigating from East to West: that means that if you need to get from the east side of the city to the west side of the city you may have to take an hour detour to first travel to a downtown hub. From downtown, however, you can hop a bus to anywhere in Seattle and beyond (In the summer, you can even take King County Metro buses to Cascade Mountain hiking trailheads!)

Sunset as seen from seattle's link sound transit light rail train.
Public transportation in Seattle is generally clean, modern, and efficient.

Using Taxis and Rideshares

Getting around Seattle by rideshares like Uber of Lyft is a popular way to navigate Seattle. Even Seattle residents with cars often use rideshare is to avoid the cost and hassle of parking. If you have the financial ability to access rideshares, it makes going carless in Seattle much much easier. Ride shares were a life saver when I was running late, missed the bus, or was just too weary to walk. Budgeting for a few ride shares a month helped me maintain my goal of being of living in Seattle without a car.    

Living well in Seattle without a car

Listen, living in Seattle without a car really is so easy. I’m from the midwest. I never even imagined living without a car, but the day I sold my car and was carless for the first time in Seattle was a great day. After having had a vehicle in Seattle for a few months, it was clear that having a car in Seattle was just more hassle than it was worth. Selling my car meant that I never had to worry about circling the block a dozen times looking for a parking space or waiting for a call from the police that my car and been broken into.

Personally, I felt that my quality of living increased significantly after I sold my car- it was just so much easier to navigate using ride shares, public transportation, and private cars! Because I walked a lot more, I got in better shape and even lost a little weight without having to spend time or money at a gym.

While going without a car in Seattle is a necessity for some, it can be a luxury depending on the alternative forms of transportation that you choose to use. Not having a car supports wellness in a unique way – you’ll not you won’t have to stress about your vehicle, you’ll walk more simply by necessity, and you’ll be able to order a car to get you anywhere you need to be within a few minutes. For weekend excursions you can easily rent a car even using the Airbnb–like app Turo to rent cars from private individuals who will drop them off at your apartment.        

The seattle skyline as seen from an approach on the bainbridge to seattle ferry. Ferries are one way to navigate seattle without a car.
No article about Seattle without a car would be complete without mention of my favorite form of public transportation: Riding a Ferry in Seattle.

Visting Seattle Without a Car

Why you Should Never Rent a Car to Visit Seattle

If your Seattle Itinerary includes the typical attractions, you absolutely do not need a car to visit Seattle. The most popular destinations are within easy walking distance from each other, and having a car in that area is a HUGE headache. If you are arriving to Seattle by car, you might even want to consider leaving your car in commuter parking or a suburban residential area (depending on the length of your stay) to enjoy downtown without having to deal with one-way streets, tiny parking spaces, fender benders, and the cost of parking near attractions in Seattle.

Here’s what you should know about having a car downtown as a tourist:

  • Hotels charge for parking. Parking downtown starts at about $30/night
  • Traffic is terrible – If you’re staying within a mile of the Space Needle, it’s often faster to walk from destination to destination.
  • There is little street parking, and the parking lots that are available are expensive – often starting at about $12/hr on weekdays.
  • Car break-ins happen constantly in downtown Seattle. If you leave anything visible in your car there’s a good chance it will be gone when you return.
A bright sunset as seen from seattle public transportation.

In Seattle, tourists can get around much easier by using rideshares or walking. Even public transportation in Seattle is really easy to use if you have any familiarity with city bus systems. Seattlites love to hate on their public transportation, but it’s actually a clean, efficient, and affordable way to navigate the city.

Where you should stay in Seattle without a car

If you’re a tourist planning on visiting Seattle without a rental car, you’re making a smart move! If you plan to navigate Seattle on foot, public transportation, or even ride shares, your best bet is to stay in the core of the city. While the official “downtown” neighborhood, filled with office highrises and corporate restaurants, isn’t very much fun to stay in for tourists, the downtown-adjacent neighborhoods are great alternatives and can put you within a five-minute walk of the space needle, the waterfront, and Pike Place Market.

The best places to stay in Seattle for visitors without a car are Belltown neighborhood, the Pike Place Market Historical District, or the Lower Queen Anne neighborhood. Capitol Hill, on the far side of downtown, is also a popular area to stay in for visitors who are interested in enjoying Seattle’s nightlife and queer culture epicenter.