Parking Paranoia
April 26, 2010 4:37 PM   Subscribe

Please give me advice about parking (and food?) in Seattle.

I'll be in Seattle with a friend for vacation soon; we are going to rent a car and will be staying very close to the Space Needle.
We'll be doing a bunch of things from the Go Seattle card as well as some outdoorsy things further away.
Of course we'll walk and take the bus when practical, but I am SUPER paranoid about knowing where to park when we do want to I'd like as many parking tips as possible for Pioneer Square, Fremont, the International District, Capitol Hill, and anywhere else. Free and easy are the best, but I'll also shell out a few bucks for the "easy" part if it means not stalking people to their cars OR parallel parking.

Bonus, if you feel like it....I'll take pescetarian friendly Seattle restaurant recommendations if you have 'em.
posted by hellogoodbye to Travel & Transportation around Seattle, WA (34 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
"Pioneer Square, Fremont, the International District, Capitol Hill ... Free and easy are the best"


As a former Seattlite, I'm afraid my best advice on parking is "lower your expectations."

In fact, if you really are "SUPER paranoid" about being able to figure out where to park then Seattle might not be the ideal vacation destination for you.

"pescetarian friendly Seattle restaurant"

Wherever you go, make sure you have some salmon while you're in Seattle. Everywhere else in the world seems to cook it wrong.
posted by Jacqueline at 4:49 PM on April 26, 2010 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Capitol Hill, Fremont, and International District are all relatively safe to park and walk to attractions if it is not extremely late at night. You will only find free parking in those neighborhoods if you're willing to park a few blocks away in a more residential area, and walk to the attractions. Be on the lookout for residential zone labeled areas in Capitol Hill and Fremont - you can only stay there a couple of hours before being towed since you won't have a residential zone permit. If you can't find street parking, be prepared to pay up to $10 for a parking lot. Most parking lots take credit/debit cards, but have some bills on hand just in case. If you use a card, use a fraud protected card and keep an eye on your balance because the machines might have been tampered with using skimmers.

There are no residential areas near Pioneer Square - you will need to park in a lot there. It's basically downtown so you might be better off busing it. During the day it is reasonably safe there but at night it turns kind of marginal, so walk with your friend and have your big-city street manners on. The Seattle approach to panhandlers is to make eye contact, do not stop walking, and say "sorry."

Try Kaosamai Thai restaurant in Fremont and the Grand Central Bakery (soup and sandwiches) in Pioneer Square.

Don't forget to visit Ballard as well! It's just northwest of Fremont and even more fun.
posted by matildaben at 4:51 PM on April 26, 2010

Ivar's Salmon House in the U-District was our go-to restaurant when we lived in Seattle, and we're pescetarian.

You will not find free non-parallel parking anywhere.
posted by rabbitrabbit at 4:52 PM on April 26, 2010

All the restaurants on South Lake Union, including Ivar's and Duke's, have free parking.

I wouldn't recommend driving anywhere near Pioneer Square (what will you be doing there anyway – neither the Underground Tour nor the Klondike Gold Rush National Park are included in your pass). It's served by dozens of bus lines, and you can easily walk if you're staying near the Space Needle – it's less than 2 miles. Forget about parking there if there's a game at Safeco or Quest Field.
posted by halogen at 5:01 PM on April 26, 2010

I like Cutter's, near Pike Place.
posted by jgirl at 5:05 PM on April 26, 2010

Argh, sorry, no Ivar's in South Lake Union, but Chandler's and Duke's are pretty good seafood restaurants too.
posted by halogen at 5:06 PM on April 26, 2010

Response by poster: I'll be doing other things than the Go Seattle card....I just found it an easy link to put up as reference along with neighborhoods rather than listing every place I think we might like to go.

Yup, I do have low expectations and the understanding that "a few bucks" might really be quite a few...
posted by hellogoodbye at 5:11 PM on April 26, 2010

Take a taxi.

Also, at the corner of 1st and Pike is the entrance to the Pike Place Market. It's touristy, sure, but it's pretty fun for a walk-through as well. If you are standing at the entrance to the market, facing the water, there'll be a florist on your right. Just to the right of the florist is a small place called the Crumpet Shoppe. They have really fantastic crumpets, shockingly enough, and their teas are pretty great too. They also make a pretty good sandwich, so I'm told. My favorite crumpet was always the pesto, cheese, and tomato, but there are plenty to choose from. If you go, tell them that Kele says "hi."
posted by Pecinpah at 5:19 PM on April 26, 2010

Best answer: Generally some of the places you want to go are easier to get to by bus than even thinking about parking. You can take the monorail to downtown and then it's a free bus or a short [8-10 block] walk to Pioneer Square and from there it's a similar hop to the International District. You're in the free zone [been a while since I've lived there, so check maps] so buses within this whole zone is free. No reason to take a car. Will not be convenient.

Capitol Hill is also well served by buses. There are a few parking garages, the one that I can think off offhand is on the North end of Broadway. There's another big one on 15th. Most of the other parking is going to be parallel parking so if this is a real problem for you, be forewarned.

Fremont you're going to also see mostly parallel options, though you can park a few blocks away and walk to the central business area. You can check this map (pdf) for specifics on neighborhood zoning stuff and this general website from the City of Seattle may give you more information that's useful.

So I don't mean to be fatalistic about any of this, but the best advice as far as parking if it's something you're worried about, is "don't" Capitol Hill is fine with garages
posted by jessamyn at 5:21 PM on April 26, 2010 [1 favorite]

If you're staying near the Space Needle, take a cab or a bus (or the monorail to go downtown).

Anecdotally, you can realistically find places to park (still parallel parking, though) in University District, Belltown and Fremont before dusk, Ballard, most of West/North/South Seattle, and the suburbs.

Pioneer Square, Capitol Hill, Fremont/Belltown (after dusk), I almost never even try to drive, just take a cab/bus/walk. The few times I've driven to these places it's been one of those "drive around in circles for 15 minutes then give up and pony up $5-10 for parking" kinds of deals. Queen Anne has been fairly hit or miss for me.
posted by qvantamon at 5:47 PM on April 26, 2010

Parking in Seattle is awful and you can wait a long time for a taxi to arrive - can't you find a friend willing to drive you around who knows the area or plan a bus route trip?
posted by meepmeow at 5:53 PM on April 26, 2010

I'll take pescetarian friendly Seattle restaurant recommendations if you have 'em.

Ray's is not far from downtown and sunset dining should not be missed, but do plan ahead.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 6:12 PM on April 26, 2010

Best answer: Fremont: On weekdays, I frequently park for free along Fremont Avenue, just north of Dad Watsons [Google Map, street view], or on N. 36th in front of the restaurant. It's parallel parking, but both streets typically offer plenty of room between cars.

International District: Look for cheap (or free, after 6pm, I believe) diagonal parking on Main Street, in front of the Kobi Terrace (across from the Panama Hotel/Cafe) [Google Maps]. You'll want to grab sushi at Maneki, btw. Best in the city.

Capitol Hill: I always find free parking along 12th or a nearby side street. Depends on the time of day, of course, so this is one destination that might be best visited by bus/cab.

Downtown (Seattle Center, Belltown, Pioneer Square, Pike Place): walk from your hotel, if possible, or grab a bus/cab. Definitely not worth the expense/hassle to park your car.

And yes, do visit Ballard! Have fun.
posted by prinado at 6:15 PM on April 26, 2010

Best answer: Parking in Seattle isn't hard. There are pay lots all over the place, but they're the most expensive option. Most upscale restaurants in the city have valet at reasonable rates, so I'd go with that. If you're willing to spend 10 or 15 minutes orbiting around and walk a few blocks, street parking is pretty easy. Most places you park are pretty safe, though don't leave anything visible in your car (like bags, change, iPhone 4Gs, etc) or you might get a busted window. Seriously, I wouldn't worry about driving for this reason. Cabs are a reasonable choice, as are the busses during the day (though I dunno about at night--not sure when ride-free ends (if it does) or how sketch they become or how infrequent). Most of Belltown is pretty walkable from Seattle Center.

Driving in Seattle can be very confusing to the uninitiated. The streets make no sense as it is the merging of three separate coordinate systems with different orientations, plus some hills and lakes and things that dictated strange intersections. Also, lots of one-way-ness. Plan on getting lost, and remember you'll hit the Space Needle if you go north, the water if you go west, a I-5 if you go east and Chinatown if you go south. At that point you know where you are and can turn around.


The best seafood is on the eastside at Seastar, but downtown I like Elliott's, The Brooklyn, but the most fun foodie experience is Matt's in the Market.
posted by jeffamaphone at 6:20 PM on April 26, 2010

Best answer: It's not as bad as they'll have you believe. I live in Seattle, and regularly drive to Cap Hill, Fremont, and the ID at all hours. Weekend evenings are by far the most difficult; Pioneer Square is impossible unless you pay (there are literally no free spots that I know of - unless its a Sunday or after 6PM).

What time of day will you be visiting these places? And as Jessamyn comments, how are you with parallel parking?

Try underneath & east of I-5 in the International District - there are 2 hour spots there; north of 35th in Fremont is a lot of neighborhood parking; same with east of Broadway in Capitol Hill. In Capitol Hill you might trying parking on First Hill and walking over...

Other tips: I park downtown for dinner about once a week. My trick is to get into downtown about 5:30, and then pay for 30 minutes of parking on the street. It'll cost you a buck, but then you get it for free (after 6PM). This is a good strategy for Pioneer Square.

Always check the Mariner's/Sounders schedule - these will impact parking in the ID and Pioneer Square.

If you find a free spot in Capitol Hill, don't give it up: walk down Pine to the bus tunnel and take a free bus (all of them downtown) to Pioneer Square and the ID (both have stops). The trip in the bus tunnel across downtown is literally only a few minutes.

Fremont: I wouldn't hesitate to drive there at all. I've never NOT found a spot in Fremont within 5 blocks of the action.

The other Seattle neighborhoods where there could be trouble are the U-District, lower Queen Anne, Belltown, and South Lake Union. Again, its all highly contingent on time of day.

But don't be scared! Seattle is not Manhattan.
posted by kables at 6:53 PM on April 26, 2010

Best answer: I live in Seattle and am familiar with all the neighborhoods you've mentioned. You might want to practice your parallel parking before you get out here (and your not-rolling-backward-down-hills, too). It sounds like you'll be spending the bulk of your time in the central parts of the city; free/cheap parking tends to be overwhelmingly parallel in these areas. In addition to the suggestions above, though, I'd recommend checking the back-in angle parking (note: this may or may not be more terrifying than parallel parking; YMMV) on the east side of Cal Anderson Park on Capitol Hill (should be 11th Ave E, just north of Pine).

As for pescatarian-friendly fare, you'll be able to walk into darned near any restaurant and find something delicious to eat. There will be a total surfeit of options. I do emphatically second the recommendation of sushi at Maneki in the ID, though. That place is phenomenal.
posted by girlstyle at 9:01 PM on April 26, 2010

Oh, and if you happen to take advantage of the bus tunnel (where all the buses really are magical and free), please be forewarned that the train that runs through the tunnel is magical but, alas, NOT free.
posted by girlstyle at 9:03 PM on April 26, 2010 [1 favorite]

If you plan to stay within the city limits, renting a car is pure foolishness. You might consider renting for day trips outside the city -- you'll pay 30% less by not renting at the airport.
posted by mmdei at 9:11 PM on April 26, 2010

Best answer: Pioneer Square and the International District are both very easily reachable by public transport from where you'll be staying. And, depending on where you are in relation to the Free Ride Zone, it's either free or free if you take a short walk.

Fremont is extremely well served from where you'll be but not free - look for the 5, the 358, the 26, and a couple of others depending on where you want to end up. Buses to Ballard are not bad either.

Capitol Hill is a little trickier, but you might want to try it anyway, as parking there sucks.
posted by Artw at 9:32 PM on April 26, 2010

Also if you plan on visiting Woodland Park Zoo the 5 will take you right to it.
posted by Artw at 9:33 PM on April 26, 2010

Downtown, I usually park at Pacific Place. They have a $4 all-evening parking deal that's pretty sweet, and a $6 weekend deal. (Not parallel.)

International district, park at Uwajimaya then buy something to get the parking validated. You will not have trouble finding something to buy, because Uwajimaya is fucking awesome. (Not parallel.)

Cap Hill and Fremont you're stuck driving around in circles looking for a spot. (All parallel.) Beware the "zoned parking," and keep a mental map of the compass points since there are many "No parking east of here" "No parking west of here" signs. And some areas where you can't park between 4-6PM or whatever.

Basically, if the spot looks too good to be true, be very very skeptical. And rest assured, the parking pixies will tow your ass as soon as you're around the corner.

My best tip is to look for parking spaces marked with a "no parking/delivery trucks only" sign. These are no parking until 6PM at which point they become fair game. A lot of people don't read the fine print, and pass these spots up.

Pioneer Square either take the bus or park at Uwajimaya and walk.
posted by ErikaB at 10:12 PM on April 26, 2010 [1 favorite]

Best answer: OH DUDE. (Dudette? Not sure of the gender, sorry.) I had closed my browser and shut down my computer and flipped the switch for the power strip and gone off to brush my teeth when three thoughts occurred to me. Which were of such burning importance that I had to boot everything back up again and come back and tell you! THAT IMPORTANT.

1. When I lived on Queen Anne hill, I would never have bothered to take my car into downtown, the International District, or Pioneer Square. Way cheaper and less hassle to take the bus.

2. When taking the bus, you pay as you board if you're going into downtown. And you pay when you leave if you're going out of downtown. This is a kind of weird thing, I gather, because it seems to fluster a lot of inexperienced riders. It's all because of the Ride Free Area.

There's a sign right there, but it's either yellow-on-black or black-on-yellow. I don't know why they don't use completely different colors, like red for "pay now" and blue for "pay later."

3. If you're staying in Queen Anne and heading downtown YOU SERIOUSLY HAVE TO TAKE THE MONORAIL. At least once! It's fun, and surprisingly useful.
posted by ErikaB at 10:29 PM on April 26, 2010 [1 favorite]

You could ride the SLUT for a bit as well. Which you should do if only because it's the most unfortunately named public transportation ever.
posted by Artw at 10:32 PM on April 26, 2010

Pay attention to mmdei and Artw - they are on to something.
And for all you Seattle folk who've lived there awhile - have you forgotten how easy it is to get turned around when going from Cap Hill to downtown and vice versa? I really would not recommend driving, except in Ballard. Transit is great - cabs are super easy to get at the Ferry dock and any hotel, and it's just frustrating! Who wants to spend their vacation looking for a place to park?
The Ballard Locks are not to be missed on a nice day - it's the best opportunity you'll have to see salmon up close (in the fish ladder) and many millions of dollars worth of boats really close, as they go through the locks.
posted by dbmcd at 10:34 PM on April 26, 2010

Oh, don;t listen to me. Listen to ErikaB. ErikaB has it down.
posted by Artw at 10:37 PM on April 26, 2010

Also, though I am all gung-ho for public transport inside the city I would definately rent that car to get out of town - lots to explore round here. You can't go wrong visting filming locatiosn for Twin Peaks and Northern Exposure.
posted by Artw at 10:40 PM on April 26, 2010

Best answer: Be wary of empty street parking spaces in those areas - they're more likely to be illegal parks than actual empty street parking, but you have to be an astrophysicist to work out why.

Seattle has a maze of different reasons why you can't park somewhere, a bazillion parking color-codes on the side-walks which all mean different things (who knows what) and are usually faded to the point of being invisible anyway. It's like racial memory and oral tradition is what passes down the records of which parking spaces are legal, so if you're new... it's going to be weird.

Some streets you're only allowed to park on one side, but the sign mentioning this is down the other end of the street, facing the other direction, inside the beautiful blossoms of an overhanging tree. Hopefully, there won't be any decoy cars parked on that side to mislead you.

I once got a ticket - at midnight - for parking in a spot between two other cars. Unbeknownst to me, underneath a nearby pile of trash there was hidden a camo-green fire hydrant. The ticket lady was HORRIFIED that I would would so brazenly block access to a pile of trash. She ordered a tow. Now when I drive around looking for parking spots, when I eventually find one, I look at it with suspicion and drive on, thinking it must be a trap.

Parking signs here generally make no sense - "No Parking At Any Time. 6am-7pm".

It's entering the twilight zone.

Maybe that's the secret. Accept that you've fallen down the rabbit hole, and don't expect parking to make any sense, but that's part of the adventure! :)

It's a rental car - how badly wrong can things go?! :-)
posted by -harlequin- at 1:24 AM on April 27, 2010

Best answer: I would recommend not driving at all to places like Pioneer Square, Fremont, the International District, Capitol Hill, etc. If you are staying near the Needle there is no need to drive to any of those places, and driving in Seattle will make you insane. As will parking. Ride the SLUT because it's awesome to say "I rode the SLUT!" Ride the Monorail because it rocks. Ride Link Light Rail if you want -- it's not free but it's not expensive either, and you can get to some good restaurants and such in places like Columbia City. Ride the bus because it is free downtown and in the tunnel until 7:00 pm. (After 7:00, you might as well take Link through the tunnel.) The places you've mentioned are dead easy to get to by transit and much less stressful than driving. Save the car for getting out of the city.

There are very few restaurants here that aren't pescetarian-friendly. Seattle likes its seafood, and for good reason. I second the recommendations for Elliott's and Maneki.

Crawfish King, also in the International District like Maneki, is sort of fun -- Cajun-style crab and crawfish boiled in a bag. (Also po-boys, etoufee, etc.) But there are tons of places to get seafood here. Try the Dungeness crab somewhere if you haven't had it before. Dungeness is the best.

If you do try to park in the city, here's a tip: carry a compass. You will find that a lot of signs say things like "no parking east of here" instead of using arrows like some other cities do, and if you're a tourist and you can't tell which direction is which, those signs may cause you grief. Do not rely on where other drivers have parked to know what is legal. Those drivers might be tourists, too.

People mentioned that you should watch out for residential zone parking in some neighborhoods. This is what a residential zone sign looks like. Some of them restrict parking during the day, others during the evenings or weekends, depending on when they are needed, so be very careful when reading the signs.

Someone also mentioned parking at Uwajimaya. Yes, you can do this, but there is a time limit (because they don't want people parking there and going to Mariners games, etc.). I think 2 hours is the most you can get with your parking validation, and you have to spend a not-insignificant amount of money inside Uwajimaya to get that validation. However, it is worth visiting Uwajimaya and the Kinokuniya bookstore that's in the same building. Uwajimaya is also the rare place where people will tell you "try the food court!" because it's got Hawaiian, Korean, Vietnamese, Thai, and Japanese fast food -- and there are cream puffs, too!

You don't really need a car to go to Uwajimaya, though. It's across the street from the International District/Chinatown transit station, which means you can easily get there by Link train or bus through the tunnel.
posted by litlnemo at 5:13 AM on April 27, 2010 [1 favorite]

Good suggestions from everyone here. The only thing I'll add is that if you're going to call a cab Crown Black Car is the only place you should ever call. Every other cab service in this town is horrible. With Crown you get picked up in a black town car by an old punk rocker playing metal and driving fast. They don't run a meter, know where the hell they're going and the quickest way to get there, and are almost always cheaper than Yellow Cab.

They don't have a huge amount of cars so you might have to wait awhile during prime cab hours, but I will almost always wait 45 minutes for Crown than hail one of the many Yellow Cabs on the street.
posted by Jawn at 7:33 AM on April 27, 2010

Kinokuniya is currently selling some awesome t-shirts featuring a tofu robot climbing the Space Needle, if you want an awesome souvenir AND parking validation.
posted by Artw at 8:04 AM on April 27, 2010 [1 favorite]

Food court recommendation: try the pork sandwich from the Pho place - cheap and incredibly tasty.
posted by Artw at 8:06 AM on April 27, 2010

My rule for parking safety in Seattle is to look down first. If you see all sorts of broken window glass, it's not a good spot to park.

This bike thru volvo window is not typical, but leaving your car parked on lake union overnight is a bad idea. Same goes for parking under the viaduct, during the day==OK, at night, not so much.
posted by nomisxid at 8:38 AM on April 27, 2010

Response by poster: Thanks to everybody....I did actually initially think about renting a car only for the days when we wanted to get out of the city, but I couldn't make myself pin down which days those would be.
posted by hellogoodbye at 3:13 PM on April 27, 2010

Yeah, what nomisxid said too. Watch out for those "no-parking within 30 feet" signs, or the "no parking north of here" signs. Generally if there is a spot in front of one of those, you can't park there.
posted by jeffamaphone at 5:54 PM on April 27, 2010

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