Downtown Seattle is fairly compact and can be easily navigated on foot, but finding your way by car can be frustrating. Traffic, especially during rush hours, can be a nightmare. Drawbridges, one-way streets, I-5 cutting right through downtown, and steep hills all add up to challenging and confusing driving conditions. Here are some guidelines to help you find your way around.
Main Arteries & Streets
Three interstate highways serve Seattle. Seattle's main artery is I-5, which runs through the middle of the city. Take the James Street exit west if you're heading for the Pioneer Square area, take the Seneca Street exit for Pike Place Market, or take the Olive Way exit for Capitol Hill. I-405 is the city's north-south bypass and travels up the east shore of Lake Washington through Bellevue and Kirkland (Seattle's high-tech corridor). I-90 comes in from the east, crossing one of the city's two floating bridges, and ends at the south end of downtown.
Downtown is roughly defined as extending from the stadium district (just south of the Pioneer Square neighborhood) on the south to Denny Way on the north, and from Elliott Bay on the west to I-5 on the east. Within this area, most avenues are numbered, whereas streets have names. Exceptions to this rule are the first two roads parallel to the waterfront (Alaskan Way and Western Ave.) and avenues east of Ninth Avenue.
Many downtown streets and avenues are one-way. Spring, Pike, and Marion streets are all one-way eastbound, while Seneca, Pine, and Madison streets are all one-way westbound. Second and Fifth avenues are both one-way southbound, while Fourth and Sixth avenues are one-way northbound. First and Third avenues are both two-way streets.
To get from downtown to Capitol Hill, take Pike Street or Olive Way. Madison Street, Yesler Way, or South Jackson Street will get you over to Lake Washington on the east side of Seattle. If you're heading north across town, Westlake Avenue will take you to the Fremont neighborhood, while Eastlake Avenue will take you to the University District. These two roads diverge at the south end of Lake Union. To get to the arboretum from downtown, take Madison Street.
Remembering Seattle's Streets -- Locals use an irreverent little mnemonic device for remembering the names of Seattle's downtown streets, and because most visitors spend much of their time downtown, this phrase could be useful to you as well. It goes like this: "Jesus Christ made Seattle under protest." This stands for all the downtown east-west streets between Yesler Way and Olive Way/Stewart Street -- Jefferson, James, Cherry, Columbia, Marion, Madison, Spring, Seneca, University, Union, Pike, Pine.
Finding an Address
After you become familiar with the streets and neighborhoods of Seattle, there is really only one important thing to remember: Pay attention to the compass point of an address. Most downtown streets have no directional designation attached to them, but once you cross I-5 going east, most streets and avenues are designated "East." South of Yesler Way, which runs through Pioneer Square, streets are designated "South." West of Queen Anne Avenue, streets are designated "West." The University District is designated "NE" (Northeast), and the Ballard neighborhood "NW" (Northwest). So if you're looking for an address on First Avenue South, head south of Yesler Way.
Another helpful hint is that odd-numbered addresses are likely to be on the west and south sides of streets, whereas even-numbered addresses will be on the east and north. Also, in the downtown area, address numbers jump by 100 with each block as you move away from Yesler Way going north or south and as you go east from the waterfront.
If the streets of Seattle seem totally unfathomable to you, rest assured that even longtime residents sometimes have a hard time finding their way around. Don't be afraid to ask directions. You can obtain a free map of the city from the either of the two visitor centers operated by Seattle's Convention and Visitors Bureau (www.visitseattle.org). One of the visitor centers is in the Pike Street lobby of the Washington State Convention Center, and the other is in Pike Place Market at the corner of First Avenue and Pike Street.
You can buy a decent map of Seattle at most convenience stores and gas stations. For a greater selection, stop in at Metsker Maps, 1511 First Ave. (tel. 800/727-4430 or 206/623-8747; www.metskers.com).
If you're a member of AAA, you can get free maps of Seattle and Washington State either at your local AAA office or at the Seattle branch in the University District, 4554 Ninth Ave. NE (tel. 206/633-4222; www.aaawa.com).