Seattle is one of my all-time favorite cities to visit in America. In fact, it was the destination of my first solo vacation when I was 20 years old traveling by train from Wisconsin to Washington.
It’s a vibrant community with enough things to do to keep tourists occupied for months. If it weren’t so gloomy from October to March, I would consider living full time in the Pacific northwest.
One of my favorite things to do when visiting this part of the country is to take a ferry trip. Seattle is located on the eastern edge of what’s called Puget Sound, a group of waterways that connect the city to the Pacific Ocean.
Seattle could very well have the worst traffic congestion in the United States. I know it’s hard to top Atlanta, Washington D.C., Dallas, Chicago and Los Angeles, but Seattle outdoes itself. It’s a landlocked community with a four-lane highway – two in each direction – navigating through the downtown area. It can literally take hours to drive from one point to the next.
That’s why ferries are a wonderful alternative.
Saturday, I drove to Bremerton, Wash., and parked my towed vehicle near the ferry terminal for an entire day for just $8. I boarded the ferry to Seattle, which could connect me to pretty much wherever I want to go in the region from there.
There are 20 different ferry terminals, some with multiple routes. Passenger fares are relatively inexpensive, too. I paid $8.10 for a round trip ticket. Monthly passes are available as are multi-trip packages.
Where Seattle fails in serving auto commuters, it makes up for it with its ferry system. These giant ships can carry well over 200 vehicles and a hundreds of passengers, too. On board the ship, people can recline in large booths that can accommodate big families with plenty of table space for playing games. There are also benches and regular seats. Movement during the crossing is allowed, and many people – especially me – enjoy hanging out on the deck admiring the mountain scenery and islands.
There is often food service available with choices between healthy food like salads and sandwiches to not-so-healthy foods like fish and chips, burgers and fried chicken. A number of snack items like popcorn and candy are also offered for sale at prices less than you’d find at a ballpark or movie theater.
While the entertainers aren’t sanctioned by the ferry system, there are often musicians and other performers delighting audiences on some routes. Sometimes you may find a knowledgeable person serving as an informal tour guide during the voyage.
On my journey from Bremerton to Seattle, we traveled past huge navy ships, dozens of sailboats and other pleasure water craft. We could see the Cascade mountains to the west and Mount Rainier towered over the region from the south looking like a surreal landscape with its snow cap seemingly out of place standing all by itself.
As we turned the corner and Seattle came into view, people rushed to the front of the ship with their cameras to capture the skyline, which includes the infamous Space Needle and the Columbia Center, 2oth largest building in the world.
The Seattle port is bustling with activity, too, with plenty of souvenir shops, fast food and sit down restaurants. A Ferris wheel attracts people of all ages, as does the Seattle Aquarium.
The downtown area is within walking distance, and that includes the famous Pike’s Market where you can buy anything from fresh flowers for $10 per huge bouquet, to fresh fish, fruits and vegetables. The market also houses about 100 specialty shops and boutique stores in the five story facility.
One of my favorite journeys is from Anacortes (north of Seattle) to Friday Harbor through the San Juan Islands. The scenery is spectacular with several mountain ranges visible on a clear day. There are plenty of restaurants and shops in Friday Harbor to make it a fun day trip.
People can even travel by ferry to Canada, and RVs are welcome, too. The cost to travel from Anacortes, Wash., to Sidney, British Columbia, is just $109.45 for the RV, $52.35 for the towed vehicle and each adult passenger is $19.95.
But, the trip winds its way through some splendid scenery where, if you watch closely, you may spot a porpoise, harbor seal or even a whale. That makes it an affordable and memorable adventure.
A ferry not connected to the Washington State Ferry system operates from Port Angeles to Victoria, British Columbia. The cost to get a 35-foot motorhome with a towed vehicle and two passengers is $249.50 – well worth avoiding the hassle of driving through the busy traffic corridor between Olympia to the north of Seattle.
Traveling by ferry is an enjoyable and inexpensive way to get around the Seattle area, especially for kids. So grab a camera and some binoculars and cruise the sound. It may be the highlight of your trip to the Pacific Northwest.
To see the ferry system map, click here.
For more information about the Washington State Ferry System, click here.