Rebels By Bus

Slow Travel With Low Carbon Footprint

Vashon Island: A Pleasant Time-Traveler Journey

A short ferry ride from Seattle or Tacoma takes you to a microcosm of a friendly, slower-paced life style.  The Washington state ferry system is admired worldwide.  And for good reason.  What better way to enjoy our water and mountain views than a trip on a ferry? 

 As of summer of 2009, the Rhododendron gracefully flows from Pt. Defiance (Tacoma) to Vashon.  The Rhododendron is the smallest car ferry on line (the Hiyu is the smallest car/passenger ferry, but as of summer 2009, did not have a regular run), with only one lane of traffic loading at a time.  The route provides a beautiful view of Mt. Rainier, with Tacoma’s Commencement Bay in the foreground. 

 The more popular Fauntleroy/Vashon route is served by three different ferries, departing twice an hour from each end of the 20 minute run. 

 Once on the island, the Metro bus 118 is waiting for you.  To get an overview of the island, stay on the bus for the 1 ½ hour route.  The 118 travels Vashon Highway, the north/south route between the two ferry terminals, as well as a loop around Maury Island.  The Maury Island side-trip passes through the small villages of Portage (at the isthmus connecting Vashon and Maury Islands), Burton (at the lovely and protected Quartermaster Harbor), and Dockton. 

The town of Vashon:  Get off the bus as it passes through the town of Vashon.  Vashon is the largest town on the island, the busiest intersection (Banks Road and Vashon Highway) has a four-way blinking light.  There are several choices of restaurants within two blocks of this intersection, as well as bookstores, art galleries, grocery and hardware stores, as well as gift and boutique shops.  One could spend all day wandering in and out of the shops.  The pace of the town is soothing; the shopkeepers are friendly and clearly proud of their island community.  Even the dogs are friendly, and welcomed everywhere (as evidenced by dog water bowls at many store entrances).

What else is in the neighborhood?:

There are many places to explore within the town of Vashon.  South of the heart of the town, there are several other shops, such as an ice cream/coffee house.  This area includes the popular Country Store and Garden has been a destination shopping experience since 1964, featuring a Victorian house as a garden supply and clothing store, as well as 10 acres of beautiful gardens and plant nursery.  This is a nice place to (literally) stop to smell the roses.

 The Hardware Store Restaurant is noteworthy as the oldest commercial building on the island, built in 1890. The building is listed on the national Register of Historic Places.  This popular gathering place is always busy, featuring a full bar, expresso stand, and art gallery.  The restaurant is located at the corner of Banks Road and Vashon Highway.  The sign over the door captures the Vashon Island spirit:  “Today’s special; so is tomorrow”.

A fun store to visit is the Fair Trade gift gallery , Giraffe.  Handcrafted home accents and clothing from over 56 countries are represented.

 There are several parks on the Island which include Puget Sound beachfront.  The largest is Maury Island Marine Park, on the northwest side of the Island.  This 320 acre park features a fishing pier as well as almost 3 miles of trails.   The bus also passes by the 23 acre Dockton Park (9500 SW Dockton Street) which joins into the Dockton Natural Area.  This park features a boat launch, picnic areas, children’s play area, restrooms, and swimming beach.  There is a public pool south of downtown Vashon, just off Vashon Highway at 204th, which is open during the summer.   

The arts scene is evident and prolific.

The Vashon Allied Arts Non-profit group champions a variety of art forms.  The group holds an annual fundraising art auction, holds classes in many art forms for all ages, hosts a downtown gallery featuring island art work, and new in 2009:  the Arts and Humanities Series, featuring speakers in the five evening series from different artistic perspectives.

The Vashon-Maury Island Heritage Museum has an impressive collection of photographs and other treasures in celebration of the island’s past.  The Museum, located a block west of the Bank Road/Vashon Island Highway, is staffed by volunteers and is open on Wednesday, Saturday, and Sunday afternoons from 1:00 p.m. to 4:00 p.m.  A fall 2009 exhibit featured the renown artist, Abby Williams Hill, who summered on Vashon Island in the early 1900’s.

 Contact:  Vashon-Maury Island Chamber of Commerce: (206) 463-6217    

 Where:  Vashon Island is in King County, northwest of Tacoma and southwest of Seattle.  A short ferry trip (15 minutes from Point Defiance Park in Tacoma or 20 minutes from the Fauntleroy Ferry terminal in West Seattle) takes you to a Northwest-style island paradise.

 How to get there:

This trip is an example of “getting there is half the fun!”  Vashon is the ideal walk-on ferry run, since there’s adequate transportation on the island side.  Walking on the ferry is a great way to see the docking up-close-and-personal. As a walk-on, you are treated royally on the ferry:  Walk-ons board the ferry before the cars, as well as disembark before cars. 

 From downtown Seattle, there are two different ways to get to Vashon, via the Fauntleroy (West Seattle) ferry which takes you to the Vashon (north end of Vashon Island) ferry terminal:

  • Metro bus 54 leaves from downtown Seattle (3rd and Pike) and the Fauntleroy (West Seattle) Ferry terminal, running every 30 minutes, or
  • Water taxi service is available from May through October, leaving from Pier 52 in downtown Seattle, arriving at Seacrest Park on Alki Beach.  A free bus shuttle (route 773) takes you up Harbor Avenue and Alaskan Way to the West Seattle Junction.  Catch bus 54 at Alaskan Way and California to the Fauntleroy Ferry, or

A third method of travel between downtown Seattle and Vashon (north end of Island) is a Washington State foot ferry from Pier 50 (downtown Seattle).  This method is available only during peak commute hours (leaving Seattle at 7:45 am, returning to Seattle at 5:25 p.m.)

 From Downtown Tacoma (10th and Commerce), take bus 11 to Point Defiance Park/ferry terminal.  The route travels through the lovely North Tacoma residential area, past the spire-topped Stadium High School and Wright Park, through the Proctor district, then Ruston and on to the edge of Pt. Defiance Park.  The bus takes you directly to the ferry terminal.

 The adult fare for a passenger is $4.30 round trip, from either the Seattle or Tacoma terminal.  You pay for your trip going TO Vashon, not leaving the island.  Walk-on passenger tickets can be purchased at the passenger terminal, from a clerk or a ticket kiosk.  Ferries to and from Seattle run more frequently than the Tacoma route.  There is a wide gap in afternoon island bus service to the Tahlequah ferry.  No worries… there’s plenty to see and do in the town of Vashon.  Catch the 5:15 p.m. bus at the corner of Vashon Highway and Banks Road to catch the 5:55 p.m. ferry back to Pt. Defiance. 

Cost summary: 

Bus – $2.50 one way from Olympia to downtown Tacoma (Intercity 603); $1.75 downtown Tacoma to Pt. Defiance/Ferry dock

Ferry:  $4.30 round trip, adult fare (a bargain, compared to $18.50 for car and driver)

Bus on island:  $1.75 to $2.00 (Metro adult fare) depending on time of day

Check the state ferry website to get up-to-date schedules and fares at:

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