Many people take the Bainbridge to Seattle ferry as part of their commute, but the fact is that it’s a whole lot of fun just to take it for no reason or as part of a little getaway to Bainbridge Island.
We recently spent a long weekend on Bainbridge and decided to take the ferry for fun – just walking on and then turning around in Seattle and walking right back on to come back. Where people pay a whole lot more to take sightseeing cruises out of Seattle, the Bainbridge Island ferry offers a very similar opportunity for a lot cheaper. Wide open views of the water? Check. A really stellar view of the Seattle skyline? Got it. A nice, peaceful 35-minute cruise through the Puget Sound? Oh, yah, you betcha!
What You Need to Know
- You can walk or drive onto the ferry. Driving on is more expensive.
- You only pay for the ferry going from Seattle to Bainbridge. The trip from Bainbridge to Seattle is free.
- Because you only pay one direction, everyone will need to get off of the ferry in Seattle (everyone pays on the Seattle side).
- There is available parking on both the Seattle and Bainbridge Island sides if you want to walk on the ferry.
- The ferry boards at Pier 52 in Seattle and at 270 Olympic Drive SE on Bainbridge Island.
- You can check the ferry schedule here.
Where to Park
If you’re coming from the Bainbridge Island side, parking is easy. While the ferry terminal is officially located at 270 Olympic Drive SE, don’t follow your GPS all the way there if you want to walk on. Instead, on the approach, take a left onto Winslow Way E. There is a large lot located about a block down Winslow on your right that will have a sign indicating it’s parking for the ferry. Is it your cheapest option? Probably not. But you can pay for 0-12 hours or a full 24 hours and rates aren’t discouraging (they range from $7-15). Once you pay, you’ll find the walkway leading to the ferry right near the pay station. If the ferry isn’t there yet, grab a coffee at the coffee stand in the parking lot or just wait in the enclosed walkway.
If you’re on the Seattle side, parking is not as easy…because Seattle. Still, there are tons of options and tons of different rates near the terminal at Pier 52. Use this downtown Seattle parking map to find the best spot for you.
A Word About Tickets
You’ll only need a ticket if you’re traveling from Seattle to Bainbridge Island. If you get on at Bainbridge Island, you can just walk right on without paying anything. However, if you’re looking to turn around and return to Bainbridge, then you’ll need to get off the ferry in Seattle and buy a ticket, if you don’t already have one. This isn’t tough to do. Get off the ferry and follow the signs to exit. When you see the big long tunnel (you can’t miss it), venture down that tunnel and you’ll find some ticket booths where you can buy a return ticket. Then venture back the way you just came from and the terminal is located at the end of the tunnel and to your right. Go inside and there will likely be lines waiting to go both to Bainbridge Island as well as Bremerton. Your ticket works for either. Choose your own adventure! But if you want to go back to Bainbridge Island, follow the masses to get back on the Bainbridge Island ferry. There are big signs above the doors.
What to Expect on the Ferry
If you’re riding the ferry for fun, it’s best to do it on a clear day. You’ll enjoy lovely Northwest views on your 35-minute jaunt across the Puget Sound, but you won’t see them if it’s rainy, foggy, etc. If you like sailing through a sea of gray, then you know what to do.
If you go on a sunny, clear day, expect to watch the shining Seattle skyline get closer as you journey to Pier 52. You’ll be itching to take photos of it the whole way, but just hold your horses and wait until you’re about 10 minutes out for a good shot. Right when you see the full skyline, it won’t look that great in your photos unless you’re using more than a cell phone camera.
You’ll also see Elliott Bay Marina to the north with its expanse of masts, the Seattle Great Wheel, Harbor Island, and Mt. Rainier in the distance. And keep an eye out for wildlife in the water around you. Just about any day, you’ll see all kinds of birds and maybe some watery critters, but if you’re lucky, you might spot a porpoise or seals or even an orca (if you’re really lucky. I’ve never been so lucky).
While you’re on board, you can walk around. There are tons of seats, both single seats and large booths. You can see the water from almost anywhere, but the best seats are window seats. If you’re coming from Bainbridge and want to see the best skyline views, keep walking all the way through the ferry to the opposite end of where you came in and grab one of the seats on the far end.
You can also go outside, which is a lot of fun, but it can be windy. Smaller children (read: my child) may not enjoy the experience, so window seats are a great invention.
There’s a restaurant at the center of the main deck. It’s nothing too fancy, but it’s a great spot to grab a bite to eat. You’ll find some Ivar’s clam chowder, chili, popcorn, and lots of snacks to choose from.
If you’re traveling with kids, you might expect that your child or children will be super excited to sail across the sea on a large vessel. And maybe yours will, but be advised that there’s some waiting involved to get on the ferry, a little more waiting as the cars load into the ferry, and then a 35-minute-ish trip across the water. Kids might get bored, depending how old they are. Be prepared with some snacks or small toys for them, walk around, let them explore.
When to Catch the Bainbridge to Seattle Ferry
There are ferries leaving Bainbridge Island all day long, from the early a.m. hours until late at night. You can just show up and wait for the next ferry, but you might be waiting longer than you need to. You can also check ahead and see when the next ferry is coming. Scroll down for ferry alert bulletins to see if any ferries are running behind schedule.
Schedules can change seasonally and you can look at the full schedule by selecting the route you want here.
Also be aware that plenty of people use this route to commute. If you’re riding the ferry just for fun, you might want to skip doing that right in the middle of rush hour, especially if you’re driving on. Lines to drive on can and do back up and you may even need to wait for the next ferry during really heavy times!