I think you’ll agree when I say:

It can be a challenging and even stressful to plan how you’re going to get into downtown, your hotel or your cruise ship once you arrive. You’ve navigated baggage claim walk out the door, but now what?

What you might not yet know is that while Sea-Tac Airport is relatively small compared to massive hubs like JFK or LAX, finding your preferred transportation option is sadly NOT intuitive.

Sea-Tac has some quirks that could add stress and confusion when there doesn’t need to be any.

This article breaks down 8 of the best ways to get from Sea-Tac Airport to Downtown Seattle, and walks you step-by-step from baggage claim to each of these options.

Know how you’d like to get into Seattle? Awesome—just skip ahead to that section. If you’re still on the fence though, check out the options below and decide which is the best for you!

1) LINK LIGHT RAIL FROM SEA-TAC TO DOWNTOWN SEATTLE

If you’re looking for, by far, the cheapest way to get to downtown, you don’t mind a little bit of a walk and if don’t have a ton of luggage to worry about, Sound Transit’s Link light rail makes the trip from Sea-Tac to Seattle with trains arriving every 6-15 minutes depending on the time of day.

From the airport terminal it’s about a 10 to 15-minute walk to the light rail station, and then it takes about 35 to 40 minutes to reach the final stop at Westlake Center. Westlake Center is a four-story shopping and business center located downtown at 400 Pine Street, with the southern terminus of the light rail located across Pine Street from Westlake Park.

Pro Tip: If you end up at Westlake Center, make a mental note that this is THE spot to hop aboard Seattle’s historic Monorail, which has been running between downtown and the Seattle Space Needle since 1962. Although the Monorail is one of the more “touristy” things to do in Seattle, it’s authentic and it’s fun. The ride from Westlake Center to the Space Needle takes about 2 minutes and it runs every 10 minutes.

If the Like Lite Rail sounds like a good choice for you, let’s get you there!

From baggage, find the closest escalator and go UP and you’ll be at the entrance to one of the terminal’s 6 “Skybridges.”

At the top of the escalator, you’ll be facing the Skybridge, an elevated walkway that takes you away from the terminal (behind you) and toward the enclosed parking structure. It doesn’t matter which Skybridge you take.

Skybridge 1 is on the south end of the terminal and Skybridge 6 is on the north end.

Skybridges 3 and 4 are roughly in the middle of the U-Shaped Terminal.

Take an escalator from baggage claim up 1 level and cross the Skybridge
Walk across any of 6 Skybridges from the terminal

When you get to the end of the Skybridge, you will be on the 4th FLOOR. Yes, I know, it doesn’t feel like the 4th Floor. You took 1 escalator up from what felt like the Ground Floor so you must be on the 2nd Floor, right? Wrong…it’s the 4th floor, but stay focused.

Don’t worry about this part…

Just remember: Whichever Skybridge you take, turn LEFT (that’s North) and walk following the signs to the Link Lite Rail.

At the end of the Skybridge, turn LEFT to walk North
If you don’t want to walk, there’s a free shuttle to the station

For those who want to walk, it’s about 10-minutes from the time you leave baggage claim until you arrive at the Link Light Rail Station. A free electric shuttle bus runs back and forth along the corridor that connects the station to the terminal itself. You’ll still have to walk to the North end of the terminal to catch the shuttle, but once you’re there, you can take the small shuttle, which would cut 5 minutes’ walking time off your trip.

If you do want to walk… it’s about 10 minutes
This free electric shuttle runs along the corridor that connects the terminal to the Link Light Rail Station.
Link Schedule & Fares as of March, 2020.

Depending on where you need to get to in downtown, you can get the Link Light Rail from Sea-Tac to the International District, Pioneer Square, University Street, Westlake, or Capitol Hill.

Of course there are other stops before and after, but these will all get you proximate to a number of hotels in and around downtown Seattle.

Regular adult fares are around $3 for most stops with Youth Fares as cheap as $1.50. Basically for less than the cost of a cup of very mediocre coffee in Seattle, you can get yourself from Sea-Tac to downtown Seattle.

Yes, you will have to work for it a bit with the walk from the terminal and you’ll need to decide how much walking you’re willing to do from the downtown station once you get there, but if your baggage is light and you need to bump up your daily step count after sitting on an airplane for several hours, this may be the good option for you.

2) RENT A CAR

On the opposite end of cost spectrum, renting a car is arguably the most convenient way to get from Sea-Tac to downtown and you’ll have your own wheels for the remainder of your itinerary in Seattle or wherever you need to go.

Sadly, this is also one of the most expensive options out there. You pay for convenience.  

Before you get too excited about convenience, however, we must inform you that the major rental card companies are not located within the Sea-Tac Airport Central Terminal.

All the major rental car companies are located nearby at nearby centralized Rental Car Facility (3150 S 160th St.). This facility is too far away to walk to and must be accessed via the airport’s Rental Car Facilities shuttles, which operate 24 hours a day.

How to find the Rental Car Facility Shuttle Bus….

There are 2 locations to catch the shuttle: one at the North end of the Terminal and one at the South end of the Terminal.

From central baggage claim, there are about 22 doors that access the outside passenger pick-up area. Once outside the door, look above your head to check the number of the door.

If the number is closer to 22 than it is to 2, turn LEFT. If the number is closer to 2 than it is to 2, turn RIGHT. You will also see signs curbside that point to the nearest Rental Car Facility shuttle. Walk until you see the waiting area and one of these blue buses will pull up (about every 5-10 minutes). You’ll see the logos for all the rental car companies on the side of the bus.

After about 5-10 minutes, you’ll arrive at the central Rental Car Facility, go inside and find your rental desk of choice.

One thing to consider in addition to the total cost of the rental, fueling up, etc., is that downtown parking is very expensive, with hotels charging as much as $45 for self-service parking and $68 for valet. The drive from SeaTac to downtown takes about 20 minutes without traffic. That can be much longer during commute times. But getting stuck in traffic is part of an authentic Seattle experience, right?

3) CATCH A TAXI

To step up the convenience factor, and for those who aren’t yet synced with rideshare apps, there’s always the old-fashioned option to take a taxi. Just when you thought you could grab your luggage from baggage claim and walk out the door to the curbside pick-up area, you’d be wrong. Sea-Tac’s centralized taxi pick-up location is hidden in plain sight—you just have to know where to look for it!

From Sea-Tac’s terminal, cross over one of the Skybridges to the parking garage.
At the end of the Skybridge, an electronic sign will inform you that you’ve arrived on the 4th floor.
From the 4th floor of the parking structure (the same floor as the Skybridge) find an elevator or escalator and go DOWN one floor.
Even though you’re clearly on the ground floor, the taxi waiting area is located on the 3rd floor of the parking garage.

Here’s how to find the taxi area from the main terminal’s baggage claim area….

First, take any escalator UP 1 floor to any Skybridge. The Skybridges are elevated enclosed walkways that connect Sea-Tac’s main terminal to the parking garage. If you walk directly outside from the baggage claim area and try to follow signs for the taxi area, you will be confused and disappointed. There is no easy, safe way to cross traffic to get to the parking garage—you must take one of the Skybridges.

After crossing the Skybridge, you’ll have arrived on the 4th floor of the parking garage. Yes, I know that it doesn’t feel like the 4th floor. The Skybridge itself is just 1 floor above ground level, but stay with me…. Find the nearest elevator or escalator and go DOWN 1 floor to the 3rd floor of the parking garage.

Finally, Sea-Tac airport’s terminal is a bit like a horseshoe shape. The taxi waiting area is in the middle of the horseshoe. At any hour of the day, you should find a line of taxis waiting. Some taxi companies maintain dispatcher stand on site and they can get you a taxi to your destination of choice in the greater Seattle area.

You can download the Yellow Taxi app on your smartphone to book in advance and see where your taxi is on the map or simply call for service. A taxi from Sea-Tac to downtown is charged at a flat rate of approximately $40 (surcharges may be added depending on the gas prices); however, this is for a direct trip only, with no stops, and it’s only in effect for rides from Sea-Tac to downtown Seattle’s hotel district, not vice versa. There is no flat rate from downtown to Seattle airport. The current cost runs anywhere from a little under $50 during non-commute times to more than $75 during rush hour.

4) TAKE AN UBER OR LYFT

You can easily Uber from Seattle airport to downtown (and make the reverse journey) too. Once you book a ride, be aware that you’ll have to find your driver in the designated rideshare pick-up area.

To find the rideshare app pick-up area, follow the same procedure for finding a taxi above:

First, go UP 1 level from baggage claim and walk onto the closest Skybridge…

Arrive on the 4th floor of the parking garage (yes, that’s the same level as the Skybridge)…

Go DOWN 1 level to the 3rd floor. From here, you’ll need to walk into the middle of the parking garage. About 200 feet beyond the taxi area, you’ll see signs for the App/Rideshare pick-up zone. They are all centrally located in this area. Your driver will not be able to pick you up in any other part of Sea-Tac airport.

Down 1 level from the Skybridge, inside the parking garage, follow the signs for App-Based Rideshare
Digital signs like these will let you know you’ve arrived at the waiting area
Stay inside the passenger waiting area while your driver is on the way from their staging site outside the airport
Uber/Lyft vehicles will pull into numbed stalls. Look out for the green barriers that mark off the rideshare vehicle area

You’ll see green traffic barriers marking out the perimeter of the app-based rideshare area. If you’re a regular rider, you probably know how it works. Otherwise, be aware that booking Uberpool means you’ll share the costs and the ride with someone else. UberX is a private ride, so you’ll bear the full cost but enjoy the trip alone. Getting a ride on a rideshare app is usually a little bit less than what a taxi cab will cost, but keep in mind that this can differ widely depending on where you’re going, the time of day and traffic conditions.

5) CATCH AN AIRPORT SHUTTLE

Sea-Tac Airport also has a number of private companies operating shuttles, often called Airporters. If you’re willing to share a minivan or bus with other people and patiently wait for them to get to your own stop, this can be an inexpensive option and save you some walking to the Link Light Rail Station. As you might expect, Seattle’s Airport shuttles to downtown are cheaper than a taxi or ride sharing app, but it is less convenient. You’ll have a longer travel time as you’ll be sharing your ride with others. The Shuttle Express Downtown Airporter offers the service for about $20 a person to and from the airport and downtown Seattle area hotels.

To find the airporter and door-to-door shared van pick-up area, follow the same procedure for finding a rideshare apps described above:

First, go UP 1 level from baggage claim and walk onto the closest Skybridge…

Arrive on the 4th floor of the parking garage (yes, that’s the same level as the Skybridge)…

Go DOWN 1 level to the 3rd floor. From here, you’ll need to walk into the middle of the parking garage. Next to the taxi waiting area, you’ll see an plaza with some desks and a waiting area. This area is used by airporters and door-to-door van companies. If you have a reservation, find the desk belonging to the company you’ve booked with an check in. If you don’t have a reservation, you can make one on site. You’ll wait in this area until all the passengers have gathered. Your driver will come meet you and walk you out to the waiting shuttle bus.

Overall, this option is somewhere between the convenience of a taxi or rideshare app and the Link Light Rail. You’ll have to do some walking and waiting, but you will be dropped off at your final destination and the price is somewhere between these two ends of the transportation spectrum.

Find door-to-door vans and airport shuttles in the central ground transportation area
Check in for your ride at the central desk and your driver will meet you when they are ready to depart

6) TAKE TOWN CAR/LIMO SERVICE

Generally, on a per person basis, the most expensive form of transportation from Sea-Tac to downtown Seattle is by limo or town car service. These services are available through multiple companies like Seattle Town Car will take you wherever you need to go, track your flight and call you when you’ve landed and hold up a sign with your name on it in the baggage claim area. Your bags will be taken care of, you’ll be escorted to a luxurious, clean and comfortable town car or SUV, and driven by a chauffeur. But again, this service sounds nice, but it come cheap, often costing around $100 or more for a standard sedan and more than that for larger vehicles.

How to get there?

Limo and town car services usually depart from the parking area adjacent to the taxi line. If you’ve picked a reliable limo company through, your drive better be waiting for you with a sign and lead you to the parked car.

7) PRIVATE GROUP TRANSPORT

For small groups of friends, families or corporate events, there are options that provide a bit of the best from both worlds—relatively low cost on a per person basis and extreme convenience.

There are some companies in Seattle that offer private transportation between Sea-Tac Airport and any destination in the greater Seattle metro area, including the Seattle cruise terminals, downtown Seattle hotels, residences or vacation rentals.

Groups of up to 14 people will pay a fixed rate of just $299, which works out to just over $21 per person including up to 2 pieces of luggage per person plus assorted carry-ons. With Nature Nuts Travel, that flat rate applies to areas surrounding Seattle as well such as Bellevue, Redmond, Kirkland, and Everett, which would usually cost more with other shuttle companies that change their rates depending on how far you’re going.

Larger groups can be accommodated with multiple vehicles. Groups that need transportation from Seattle to Vancouver or from Seattle to Portland can find similar competitive flat rates. With this option, you’ll get private, point-to-point service with no worries about multiple stops for other passengers or surprise fees.

Unlike some of the other options such as shared shuttles, taxis, and the Link Light Rail, you will need to make a prior reservation to make use of the service, so advance planning is required.

Once you’re ready to leave the airport, you’ll need to find your way to the designated pick-up area for this service….

First, from the baggage claim area, go UP 1 floor and walk across the Skybridge….

Next, after getting to the end of the Skybridge, find the closest elevator, and take it to Level 1. Do not use the escalator—it will not take you where you need to go.

Level 1 on the elevator is where you’ll find the “Cruise / Charter Buses” passenger loading area.

After getting off the elevator on Level 1, you’ll see signs for “Cruise & Charter Buses.” Follow these signs down a white illuminated corridor. You will be on the lowest level of the parking garage at this time.

Walk for about 1-2 minutes along this corridor and you’ll get to an expansive waiting area that’s open to the outside. The outside space is the designated loading area for private charter bus and cruise passengers. Even if you’re not going on a cruise, this will be your loading area for chartered private transportation.

When you arrive at this loading area, call the contact number on your reservation and let your driver know that you’ve arrived. The driver will then be able to pull the vehicle around and load your group up in the small exterior passenger loading area.

From the 4th floor of the parking garage, take the elevator for Level 1 for “Cruise / Charter Buses”

Get off the elevator at Level 1 and follow signs down the corridor for Cruise & Charter Buses
After 1-2 minutes of walking, you’ll come to this semi-enclosed passenger waiting area
Contact your driver and the vehicle will pull up in this outdoor loading space adjacent to the waiting area.

8) AIRPORT, CRUISE OR HOTEL TRANSFER COMBINED WITH SEATTLE TOUR

Although it’s something few travelers consider as a possibility, for the leisure traveler in Seattle, it is possible to combine a tour of Seattle with your transport between Sea-Tac Airport and downtown Seattle. This option is either perfect for your needs or won’t work at all, which is why we’ve saved it for last.

As is often the case, your flight’s arrival time simply doesn’t line up with your hotel or cruise check-in time. The same often happens on the tail end of your trip. The cruise ship will deposit you at the pier at 8:00am but the cheapest flight home wasn’t until 8:00pm.

With just a few hours between flight and check-in or check-out, you can explore Seattle and its surroundings.

Awesome—you’ve got 12 hours and you’re up to your elbows in luggage. Now what…?

During Seattle’s peak summer travel season, there is perhaps no sadder sight than the big family of kids, adults and grandparents wandering down the cobbled street at Pike Place Market dragging their luggage behind them. Usually Dad looks stressed and grumpy. Mom is 1/2 a block behind with the kids in tow—a look of despair on her on face. The grandparents are nowhere to be found. Sadly, they did not plan ahead….

Pro Tip: Don’t be that group!

So now you’ve got to get between the airport and the hotel or cruise ship and the airport and you’ve got between 4-10 hours to kill. Don’t plan on sitting in the cruise terminal or the airport waiting for check-in time. You will regret it.

Instead, we recommend considering a private group tour, which will combine sightseeing along with your necessarily transfer. Combining a transfer and tour together can mean some savings compared to doing these separately, but more importantly, it also will much reduce your stress and headaches, especially if you’re traveling with a lot of luggage, kids or seniors.  Making this tour and transfer arrangement might also provide you with the motivation explore some of Seattle’s attractions or even go beyond the city to Mt. Rainier National Park, Snoqualmie Falls, the San Juan Islands or even do some wine-tasting in Woodinville. You’d be surprised how much more you can experience in a single day in Seattle, even if you’ve got a cruise or flight to catch.

Combining your necessary transfer with an optional tour is potentially perfect for some groups.
Explore Seattle’s top highlights instead of languishing in the cruise or airport terminal.