Car Rental in Seattle
Cheapest Car Rental Rates
Most Popular Car Rental Deals
Why rent a car in Seattle?
Seattle is the largest city in both Washington and the Pacific Northwest and is certainly bound to be on every traveler’s itinerary. Though the city has extremely famous attractions such as the Space Needle and Pike Place Market, it has much more to offer just outside the city limits in nature.
The city is surrounded by natural beauty. The Cascade Mountains lie to the east of the city. Mt. Rainier provides a postcard-perfect backdrop for the city from many perspectives around town. On the other side, there are the Olympic Mountains. The city lies between Puget Sound and Lake Washington, providing waterfronts all around.
Most visitors not only enjoy all that downtown and other neighborhoods of Seattle have to offer but also its natural surroundings. They typically drive to Mt. Rainier National Park for at least a day. Many also drive a loop around the Olympic Peninsula and Olympic National Park. Time permitting, many also manage to see more of the Pacific Northwest.
Like many areas of the United States, public transportation is limited outside of the center of the city. While a car is very useful to reach attractions in the suburbs, like the Boeing factory in Everett, it is essential to get to the more scenic places outside of the city. It’s, therefore, no surprise that most visitors to Seattle rent a car. Of course, you have the option of picking up a rental car in downtown Seattle instead of the airport if you plan to stay in the city for a few days and don’t want a car while there but would like to make a trip (or trips) outside of it later. If you plan to spend a few days in the city and a few days in the surrounding areas, bundle your city trips together, and then your driving excursions later. This way, you only have to rent a car for part of your trip. Parking in Seattle can be difficult and/or expensive, so it’s preferred to avoid it if you can.
One-Way Car Rentals in Seattle
The most popular one-way rental options for pick up in Seattle and drop off in another city include:
- From Seattle to Los Angeles - 24 offers from $95.81 per day
- From Seattle to San Francisco - 43 offers from $91.20 per day
- From Seattle to Salt Lake City - 12 offers from $95.81 per day
- From Seattle to Calgary - 10 offers from $76.61 per day
- From Seattle to New York - 13 offers from $95.81 per day
Top ways to enter Seattle
Seattle-Tacoma International Airport (SEA), or Seatac as you might hear it called, is the largest airport in the state and in the Pacific Northwest. The airport has many international connections. If coming from Europe, you may be better served with a connection on the east coast, though. The airport also has connections with almost every major domestic airport. Rental cars can be picked up at the airport with all major companies located in the Rental Car Facility which can be reached via a shuttle 24 hours a day.
Vancouver International Airport (YVR) is just a two-and-a-half-hour drive north of Seattle, though it is in Canada. Crossing the border, even in a rental car, shouldn’t pose much of a problem to travelers. Do however note that if renting a vehicle in Canada and then bringing it to the United States, an additional fee will likely be charged. This is still a viable option for those visiting Vancouver and wanting to see Seattle, too. It is unlikely that anyone would fly into Vancouver with Seattle being their intended destination, though, due to Canada's hefty fees for domestic air travel. In fact, many Canadians choose to fly to Seattle and then take a bus across the border when trying to reach Vancouver. In any case, rental cars are readily available at the airport.
Portland International Airport (PDX) is only 173 miles (278 km) south of Seattle, a distance that takes about three hours to drive. Renters should have no problem renting a car at the airport and then taking it to Washington (unless it is a luxury car or van). One-way rentals are also possible, for example dropping the car off at Seatac or vice-versa. All rental car providers located on-airport are located on the lower level of the Short-Term Garage. Others, such as Thrifty and Alamo, require a shuttle to reach. To reach the shuttle, find the center island outside of Baggage Claim.
Some travelers may arrive in or depart by train from Seattle via Amtrak at King Street Station. Amtrak has three routes that either pass through or end in Seattle:
The Coastal Starlight connects Seattle to Los Angeles with stops in San Jose Emeryville (on the other side of the bay from San Francisco), Sacramento, and Portland.
The Amtrak Cascades line is a faster, more luxurious train line that will remind many of the trains of Europe. It passes through Seattle on its way from Vancouver to Portland, Oregon, and vice-versa though it only runs the entire route once a day. It runs sections of the route once a day, also.
Finally, the Empire Builder is Amtrak’s flagship cross-country train. It departs Chicago on its way to Spokane where it splits with part terminating in Portland and the other part in Seattle. The train passes through dramatic scenery including passing right through the heart of Glacier National Park in Montana, The westbound train passes through Glacier in the evening while the eastbound passes through in the morning. Therefore, especially in winter, travelers should prefer the eastbound route if only traveling one way. If you need to drop off a rental car downtown in order to take the train, this is, in most cases, possible.
If you arrive or depart by train at King Street Station, you can conveniently pick up or drop off a rental car at the rental companies' downtown offices which are located roughly a mile north of the station and can be reached with a quick taxi (or Uber) ride or the Link (Seattle’s light rail network). There is a light rail station for the Link conveniently at the airport.
Another popular route travelers use to get to Seattle is via a ferry from Victoria on Vancouver Island in British Columbia, Canada. The journey takes 2 hours and 45 minutes and the ferry arrives at Pier 69 in Downtown. As with arriving by train, rental cars can be picked up at the downtown offices of car rental companies which can be reached with a short taxi ride. If wanting to make the reverse trip, be sure to ask the rental company (the local office is likely to have better information with regard to this) if you can take the car on the ferry. Though there are usually no problems with crossing the border, the ferry itself may be a problem for the company.
Seattle, and the coast of the Pacific Northwest in general, is thought of as experiencing non-stop rain. This idea is misleading though. The total amount of rainfall in the city is quite moderate, though it does have more rainy days per year (152 on average) than any other major U.S. city. Most of the rain comes in the early winter (November through January). It can rain, or rather drizzle, for days on end during this period. During the winter and spring, you can expect more gray skies than less. Occasionally, there may be snow, too, though it won’t stick around for long. Full-on storms are rare, though. Summer is usually pleasant with little rain and warm temperatures.
Other areas of the Pacific Northwest do fit the stereotype. This is because Seattle partly lies in a rain shadow produced by the Olympic Mountains. Take Olympia some 60 miles south of Seattle. It does not lie in the rain shadow and sees more rain, at least 13 inches more per year.
The two things travelers should bring to the city with them are a good waterproof jacket and warm clothes just in case. If visiting in November, leave the umbrella at home. It will likely be windy in addition to being rainy leaving your umbrella inside-out. Carrying around an umbrella is also a dead giveaway that you're a tourist — none of the locals use umbrellas.
Since the departure of the Seattle Supersonics basketball team to Oklahoma City in 2008, Seattle was left with just two teams in the four major sports leagues. The city, however, just received a new hockey team in 2021 called Seattle Kracken (a mythical octopus monster that terrorizes the sea). The Seattle Mariners of the MLB play their home games at T-Mobile Park which is just south of downtown. The Seattle Seahawks of the NFL host home games at CenturyLink Field just north of T-Mobile Park. The city also hosts one of the most successful and popular soccer teams in the U.S., the Seattle Sounders of the MLS.
Seattle has served as the setting for a variety of television shows and movies. You probably know that hit TV shows like Fraisier was set in the city, though as with most television shows, it was filmed in Los Angeles. There was, however, one episode (the 1000th Show) that was filmed in Seattle and is worth watching before visiting. Grey’s Anatomy, which will begin its 16th season in the fall of 2019, is also set in the city. Finally, Twin Peaks was another popular show that was set in Northeast Washington. As for film, Sleepless in Seattle is doubtlessly the most well-known movie to have been set in Seattle.
Top destinations and activities
- Space Needle - Seattle’s most famous tourist attraction is the Space Needle just north of downtown in the Seattle Center. It can be reached by another iconic Seattle landmark, the Seattle Center Monorail. The Space Needle recently underwent renovation. Now there is a rotating glass floor on the lower level and tilted glass walls on the upper level, which is open-air. You can also grab a bite to eat or a locally brewed beer in the cafe or enjoy a glass of wine in the wine bar. The Space Needle is open from 8 AM to 12 AM. The best time to visit is probably just before sunset as the views over the mountains are incredible at this time. Be sure to reserve a time online in advance, though.
- Sky View Observatory - An alternative to the Space Needle is the Sky View Observatory at the top of the Columbia Center, the tallest building in the city (and thus taller than the Space Needle). The observatory is on the 76th floor. From it, in addition to the views of the Olympic Peninsula, Mt. Rainier and Mt. Baker, you also get a nice view of the Space Needle.
- Pike Place Market - The second place that almost every tourist while have heard of is Pike Place Market. Though popular with tourists, it is actually a functioning farmer’s market. From the outside, it looks like it is just one long building, but there are actually multiple levels below the main arcade. Many small, quirky kiosks can be found in addition to the farmers and craftspeople selling their wares. The market also offers a variety of food, much of it ethnic cuisine. The waterfront is just on the other side of the market from downtown.
- Museum of Flight - Located in the southern neighborhood of Georgetown almost ten miles south of downtown, this is one attraction where having a car comes in handy. It is the largest private air and space museum in the world. Aircraft on exhibit include a faithful recreation of the plane Emelia Earhart disappeared in, the first Boeing 747 to fly (called the City of Everett), and the world’s first fighter plane. The museum also has the Full Fuselage Trainer, a mockup of the Space Shuttle that was used for training Astronauts which can be toured in small groups separately (costs more than the standard admission price). If you only have time to visit either this museum or the museum at the Boeing factory in Everett, choose this one.
- Amazon Headquarters - Amazon is the largest company in the world by market capitalization. While it was started in Bellevue, Washington north of Seattle, the company moved its headquarters to the Denny Triangle neighborhood of Seattle in 2015. Tours of the modern campus are offered to visitors. If you go on one, you’ll almost surely see one of the 7,000 dogs that also “work” for Amazon.
- Kerry Park - This small park in the Queen Anne neighborhood is where you should go for viewing the city’s skyline with Mt Rainier in the background. It is certainly one of the most Instagram-worthy spots in the city. Come during sunset or in the evening when the city lights twinkle in the dark.
- The Original Starbucks - Starbucks got its start in Seattle. The first-ever Starbucks location was at Pike Place Market which opened in 1971 (though it moved a block south to its current location in 1976). It is still operating and has kept the original design due to historic concerns. It is understandably a popular place so expect a crowd and having to wait in line outside of it.
- Snoqualmie Falls - About a thirty-minute drive from downtown Seattle along I-90, Snoqualmie Falls is a very popular attraction for those visiting the city. Its popularity is boosted by the fact that it was featured in the television show Twin Peaks. The waterfall is 268ft. (82m) high. There is a free observation that is just 100 yards (around the same in meters) from the free parking lot. You can also hike down to the bottom of the falls.
- Seattle Art Museum - One of the most important art institutions in Washington, SAM is actually made up of three separate facilities — the main museum, Seattle Asian Art Museum, and Olympic Sculpture Park. All three are fun to visit, having impressive main collections and frequently holding various cultural events. Visit the museums’ official website to learn more.
Traffic and parking
Seattle has traffic congestion that is characteristic of much larger cities. This is due to the numerous bodies of water that create bottlenecks at bridges and highways that force bottlenecks in hot spots around the city. The city also has many one-way streets, but many larger cities do. If planning to drive in the city a lot, you may want to get a GPS unit from your rental company to be able to navigate easily.
There are many hills in Seattle so be sure to park on them properly by facing your wheels so that the car would roll to the sidewalk and not the street if your parking brake fails. (also, use your parking brake). This means if you are parking facing downhill, point your wheel toward the curb and if parking facing uphill, toward the street.
As in any large city, parking in the downtown area is scarce and this may be costly. Street parking is available and you can pay for it with a debit or credit card. The machine will print out a sticker instead of a receipt. Make sure to put it on the inside of your windshield. Plenty of lots and garages are available. These are better if you plan to park for longer than two hours and see the sites. Parking is generally free in residential neighborhoods but can be a challenge to find due to the density of the city.
Washington has a law making it illegal to use a phone or any other electronic device while driving. In this case using means looking at, holding, or otherwise using in any way, even at a stoplight. This law is known as the E-DUI law because the penalties are inline with DUI penalties. So when driving in Washington keep off your phone and have your GPS destination entered before you begin driving (or have the front seat passenger deal with it).
There are only a few toll roads in the Seattle area. Given that not many from out of state know about them and the payment system is confusing if in a rental car, many renters find them to be a headache after it is too late. Your best option for dealing with these toll roads is to avoid them altogether.
There are two different types of toll packages that rental companies offer. One is a daily fee (that may or may not be capped for the rental period) for the use of the transponder with the total for the tolls incurred billed to the renter after the rental period concludes. The other is a daily fee that includes unlimited tolls. Unless you plan to use toll roads often, the latter of these types of toll packages will be much more expensive.
The following are examples of what rental companies in Seattle charge for their toll packages (as of August 2019):
- Thrifty - $11.49 per day for unlimited tolls
- Sixt - $10.99 per day for unlimited tolls or a smaller fee plus tolls incurred
- National - $3.95 (capped at $19.75 for the rental period) plus toll incurred
If you plan to use the rental company’s toll package, be sure to include this cost when comparing rates. This can easily make what seems like a cheap rental turn out much more expensive.
The road that gives renters the most trouble is the bridge across Lake Washington as part of State Route 520. Most don’t realize that this is a toll road until it is too late. There is also confusion on paying the toll, as it is all electronic. In other states, you can register online to pay the toll in a rental car. In Washington, however, most of the rental companies will have registered the car already which will prohibit you from doing such. This will force you to pay for their toll program (as described above) or get hit with a hefty administrative fee for billing the tolls to your credit card. Of course, the road is not necessary, you can go south to I-90 or north around the lake and avoid the toll altogether.
The Tacoma Narrows Bridge is unique. First, it only requires a toll payment if traveling in the east direction (i.e., toward Seattle). It also has physical toll booths at which you can pay with cash or by credit card. The current rate as of July 2019 is $6.
As of 2019, the State Route 99 tunnel underneath downtown is also tolled in the same manner as the SR520 bridge. Renters will have the same problem with paying the toll. This section of road can likewise be easily avoided.
Finally, I-405- east of Seattle and State Route 167 southeast of Seattle have Express and High Occupancy Toll Lanes that can be used by those traveling alone with the payment of a toll. This requires a toll pass, though, and is generally not available to renters. Those with more than one person in the car may use the HOT lanes on SR167 without any type of toll pass or payment. The Express Lanes on I-405, however, require a toll pass. If unsure about all of this, just simply avoid the lanes altogether.
Ideas for day trips
- Bellingham - The last city before you reach Canada, Bellingham is a cozy small city with a nicely developed downtown where visitors can find many options for dining, going out at night, or catching a concert or play. Its various museums are also worth visiting. Its main draw, as you will see over and over when it comes to cities in Washington, is the nearby outdoor opportunities such as skiing on Mt. Baker or enjoying Bellingham Bay. Bellingham is just 90 miles (145km) from Seattle, a distance which can be driven in two and a half hours.
- Everett - Just 28 miles north of Seattle, Everett is now the northern limit of the Seattle Metro Area. It is famous as the location of one of Boeing’s main factories. It is here, in the largest building in the world by volume, that the Boeing 747, 767, 777, and 787 are made. The facility hosts tours through the Future of Flight Aviation Center in the northwest corner of Paine Field. On the tour, visitors get to see the production floor and whatever planes are currently being assembled on it. There is also a museum, though the Museum of Flight in Seattle is perhaps more thorough. The reason to come here is for the factory tour.
- North Cascades National Park - One of the lesser-known national parks, North Cascades National Park deserves to be any travelers itinerary. It is within a distance short enough to make it a possible day trip from Seattle. State Route 20 is the only road that passes through the park where it is known as the North Cascades Highway (though it is, understandably, closed in winter — usually between November to April). The park is almost entirely a wilderness area, so to see more than what you can see from the road, you’ll have to go for a hike. The park has many trails from light, short hikes to multi-day backpacking journeys. The park is 107 miles (173km) from downtown Seattle. The time it takes to drive to it depends a lot on traffic, but expect anywhere from two to three hours.
- Olympia - The capital of the state of Washington is located on the southwestern part of Puget Sound. It is about an hour’s drive along I-5 south of Seattle. While the city has a different feel than Seattle and Tacoma, it is quite small without a lot of interest to tourists. Instead, it serves as a great stopover on the way to the southern end of Olympic National Park. Visitors can spend a few hours seeing the state’s Capitol and the Bigelow House Museum, the city's oldest home that is still standing.
- Mt. Rainier - At 14,410 ft. (4,392m), Mt Rainier is the highest mountain in Washington and the Cascades. It can be seen from many places in Seattle during clear weather and is within perfect distance to be a day trip from the city. Summiting the mountain is very popular during the summer months, though it is a long, strenuous climb and is not for the inexperienced as it requires climbing on glaciers (you must have the knowledge or a guide with knowledge of glaciers). The park has much more to offer to those that don’t plan on climbing the mountain including many hiking trails, camping in developed campgrounds and the backcountry. It takes a little under two hours to make the 65-mile drive to the entrance to the park
- Olympia National Park - Covering a large part of the Olympic Peninsula across Puget Sound from Seattle, Olympic National Park is a very popular destination for those visiting the Pacific Northwest. It is even designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Almost all of the park is a wilderness area. Thus, no roads penetrate into the center of it, requiring visitors to hike in. The road encircling the park is worth the drive and described below. Don’t forget that the coast is also part of the park and should not be missed. You can reach the park from Seattle in about two hours.
- Mount. St. Helens - This active volcano is most famous for its 1980 eruption which killed 57 people. The Mount St. Helens National Volcanic Monument protects the volcano. The volcano is a popular destination for climbers, particularly beginners as it is not a technical mountain. The climb is still steep and strenuous though. Permits are required to be obtained online in advance from April to October. Be prepared for the standard route to be incredibly crowded during the summer months. From November through March, you can register for the permit at the trailhead, though be prepared with snowshoes and perhaps crampons.
Many renters may want to start a longer road trip in Seattle or at least visit neighboring Canada. They should be aware of which rental companies allow their cars to be taken where they plan to travel. Most rental companies allow their cars to be taken to any state along with any province in Canada. This includes Thrifty, Europcar, and National.
Sixt is the notable exception. Sixt only allows its cars to be taken within a geographical area that doesn’t make much sense. This consists of the states of Arizona, California, Nevada, and Oregon along with the Canadian province of British Columbia. This precludes the last two destinations in the following list (as Wyoming and Montana are not in this list).
- Portland - Just three and a half hours south of Seattle is Portland, the largest city in Oregon. In recent times, the city has been known for its hipster scene. This includes indie music, the maker movement, and the craft beer craze. The city has numerous microbreweries and pubs serving craft beer. It also has many places where you can see live music performances. Oregon’s Wine Country (the Willamette Valley) is also just 25 miles(40km) southwest of the city if you’re more of a wine lover than a beer person.
- Vancouver - The largest city in British Columbia in Canada (not to be confused with the city of the same name in Washington) is another typical Pacific Northwest city. Much like Seattle, it is surrounded by mountains and the Pacific Ocean. It is widely regarded as one of the most livable cities in the world, but it is also one of the best to visit. Vancouver is just two and a half hours north of Seattle, though waiting time at the border may make this slightly longer. In most cases, you are allowed to take a rental car from Washington to Canada, though you must return to Washington with it (no one-way rentals).
- Eastern Washington - The area of the state east of the Cascades is generally known as Eastern Washington. It is much drier and desert-like in many places but has a lot of scenery to take in. See our Washington article for some amazing drives through the region. Spokane, the largest city in Eastern Washington, is about four and a half hours away from Seattle. Riverfront Park which sits at the center of the city is beautiful with waterfalls and the American Pavillion from the 1974 Expo. You can find many historic buildings and a few museums, too. The real fun begins just outside of the town though with whitewater rafting on the Spokane River.
- Vancouver Island - A popular part of many travelers' itineraries when visiting the Northwest, Canada’s Vancouver Island is easily reached with a ferry from downtown Seattle. It is better to plan to spend a couple of days on the island rather than making it a day-trip. Victoria, British Columbia’s capital, is on the southeastern coast of the island (and is where the ferries arrive). It is a unique, beautiful city. There are multiple provincial and national parks on the island and in general, the further northwest you go, the more remote it becomes.
- Crater Lake National Park - The only national park in Oregon is about a six-and-a-half drive south of Seattle. The lake, which formed in the crater of Mount Mazama after it erupted around 8,000 years ago, is one of the deepest in the world. The park also includes the surrounding area. Visitors can swim in the lake with access from the Cleetwood Cove Trail. The same trail also leads to the departure point of boat tours to Wizard Island. Of course, you should also drive around the crater on Rim Drive on which there are many scenic pullouts.
- Glacier National Park - One of the most popular national parks, Glacier National Park contains some of the most stunning scenery to be found in North America. It is located in northwestern Montana, borders Canada, and takes a little over 9 hours to reach from Seattle. The drive is certainly worth it for those that are visiting the Pacific Northwest from far away. It’s also best to visit before the glaciers the part is named for disappear. Going to the Sun Road is the main road through the park and one of the most scenic drives in the world. If you plan to drive this iconic highway, it’s essential to get a timed-use permit for the exact dates of your trip.
- Yellowstone National Park - The national park that made national parks a thing. Though three of the five entrances to the park are located in Montana, most of the park is actually in Wyoming. The park is famous for its geysers including Old Faithful which erupts on a consistent schedule. The park is also famous for its natural scenery and wildlife. Most people get around the park by driving and there are often traffic jams due to drivers stopping to view wildlife, particularly bears. Try to use the pullouts provided to do this. It takes 12 hours to drive from Seattle to the nearest entrance to the park, a daunting drive to be sure. If visiting from far away, you should certainly consider it, though, as Yellowstone is one of the best places to visit in the United States.
Car Rental Prices in Seattle
- Convertibles - from $81 per day
- Large cars - from $46 per day
- Medium cars - from $46 per day
- Vans - from $71 per day
- Premium cars - from $51 per day
- Small cars - from $45 per day
- SUVs - from $48 per day
Top 6 Cities near Seattle
Bellevue Car Rentals from $70.83 per day23.3 km / 14.5 miles away
33.5 km / 20.8 miles away
Bellingham Car Rentals from $57.62 per day150.3 km / 93.4 miles away
Pasco Car Rentals from $63.49 per day276.7 km / 171.9 miles away
Spokane Car Rentals from $57.62 per day359.0 km / 223.1 miles away
3735.6 km / 2321.2 miles away
Top 5 Locations near Seattle
Seattle-Tacoma International Airport Car Rentals from $45.15 per day
Downtown Car Rentals from $67.53 per day18.0 km / 11.2 miles away
Bellingham International Airport Car Rentals from $57.62 per day150.3 km / 93.4 miles away
Tri-Cities Airport Car Rentals from $63.49 per day276.7 km / 171.9 miles away
Spokane International Airport Car Rentals from $57.62 per day359.0 km / 223.1 miles away
Map of Car Rental Locations
What is the cheapest month to rent a car in Seattle?
This information can help you identify the low season. But these are only average numbers. How much your car rental will cost will depend on the type of vehicle you rent, how long you’ll rent it for, and how far ahead you book. Simply enter your dates in the form at the top of the page to see the exact prices.
What’s the usual rental length in Seattle?
What's the most popular month to rent a car in Seattle?
Car Rental Information
|Car rental locations||2|
|Popular suppliers||Thrifty, SIXT, Alamo, FOX, National|
|Popular car categories||SUVs, Large cars, Medium cars, Vans|
|Lowest price||$45 per day|
Most Popular Car Models of Rental Suppliers
|Thrifty||Mazda 3||5||3||Large cars|
|Thrifty||Ford Focus||3||2||Medium cars|
|Thrifty||Ford Focus||2||2||Medium cars|
|Thrifty||Chevrolet Malibu||4||2||Large cars|
|SIXT||Jeep Grand Cherokee||4||2||SUVs|
|SIXT||Nissan Versa||4||0||Medium cars|
|SIXT||Toyota Camry||4||2||Large cars|
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