Ferries are a major part of Seattle's transportation network, and they're the only way to reach such points as Vashon Island and the San Juans. Thousands of commuters hop a boat from Bainbridge Island, Bremerton, and other outer towns to their jobs in the city each day—which makes for a gorgeous and unusual commute. For visitors, ferries are one of the best ways to get a feel for the region and its ties to the sea (plus, they're just plain fun). You'll also get outstanding views of the skyline and the elusive Mt. Rainier from the ferry to Bainbridge.
Passenger-only King County Water Taxis depart from Seattle's Pier 50 weekdays during rush hours on runs to Vashon Island and West Seattle. The Vashon Water Taxi is $5 each way in cash (discounts for ORCA card users, seniors, and youth). The West Seattle Water Taxi makes a quick journey from Pier 50 Seacrest Park in West Seattle for $4 each way. Pier 50 is served directly by several Metro bus routes—even if you've rented a car, it's a major hassle to park on the waterfront so bussing is the way to go. Two free Metro DART shuttles take passengers directly from the West Seattle dock to the West Seattle Junction and Admiral neighborhoods. For a great, inexpensive outing, hop on the Water Taxi to West Seattle, take the free shuttle, and spend the afternoon enjoying the great shopping and restaurants in West Seattle.
Clipper Navigation operates the passenger-only Victoria Clipper jet catamaran service between Seattle and Victoria year-round (except Christmas through mid-January) and between Seattle and the San Juan Islands, May through September. These longer journeys are a little pricier: $99–$166 round-trip to Victoria, $70–$120 round-trip to the San Juans. Note that Victoria Clipper fares are less expensive if booked at least one day in advance, children under 12 are free with select trips (be sure to ask about any promotions or deals), and there are also some great package deals available online. In general, package deals are your best bet for Clipper trips. You’ll get greatly reduced transportation rates for staying even one night in Victoria.
The Washington State Ferry system serves the Puget Sound and San Juan Islands area and is the largest ferry network in the country and the third largest in the world. Peak-season fares are charged May 1 through September 30. However, ferry schedules change quarterly, with the summer schedule running mid-June through mid-September. Ferries around Seattle are especially crowded during the city's weekday rush hours and holiday events, while San Juan Islands ferries can be jammed on weekends, holidays, and all of May through September. Be at the ferry, or have your car in line, at least 20 minutes before departure—and prepare to wait several hours during heavily traveled times (on nice days, the ferry lines can take on somewhat of a party feel, and impromptu, multicar Frisbee games are not unheard of). Walk-on space is always available; if possible, leave your car behind.
You can pick up sailing schedules and tickets on board the ferries or at the terminals, and schedules are usually posted in local businesses around the docks. The Washington State Ferry (WSF) automated hotline also provides travel details, including weekly departure and arrival times, wait times, cancellations, and seasonal fare changes. To ask questions or make international reservations for journeys to Sidney, British Columbia, call the regular WSF hotline. Note that schedules often differ from weekdays to weekends and holidays, and departure times may be altered due to ferry or dock maintenance, severe weather or tides, and high traffic volume.
Regular walk-on fares from Seattle are $7.70 to Bainbridge and Bremerton, and from Edmonds to Kingston; $5 from Fauntleroy in West Seattle, Point Defiance in Tacoma, or Southworth to Vashon Island; $4.65 from Mukilteo to Clinton, on Whidbey Island; $3.10 each way between Port Townsend and Coupeville; and $5.95 round-trip between Fauntleroy and Southworth. Round-trip rates from Anacortes to any point in the San Juan Islands run $12.45. If you'd rather head to Sidney, British Columbia, from Anacortes, it will cost you $18 one-way; or you can travel to Sidney from the San Juans for $24.65 round-trip. You'll need reservations to visit Sidney. Senior citizens (age 65 and over) and those with disabilities pay half fare; children 5–18 get a smaller discount, and those under age 6 ride free.
Peak-season vehicle fares (including one adult driver) are $16.40 from Seattle to Bainbridge and Bremerton, and from Edmonds to Kingston; $20.90 from Fauntleroy, Point Defiance, or Southworth to Vashon; $12.70 from Port Townsend to Coupeville, and from Fauntleroy to Southworth; and $9.75 from Mukilteo to Clinton. From Anacortes, peak season vehicle and driver round-trip fares through the San Juans are $40.30 to Lopez Island, $48.30 to Orcas and Shaw islands, $57.35 to Friday Harbor, and $59.85 (one way) to Sidney, British Columbia. Peak-season rates are higher, so be sure to check ahead. For all fares, you can pay with cash, major credit cards, and debit cards with MasterCard or Visa logos.
Clipper Vacations. 206/448–5000; 250/382–8100; 800/888–2535; www.clippervacations.com.
King County Water Taxi. 206/477–3979; kingcounty.gov/transportation/kcdot/WaterTaxi.
Washington State Ferries. 800/843–3779; 888/808–7977; 206/464–6400; www.wsdot.wa.gov/ferries.