7 Places for Mercer Island Kids to Take Free Public Transportation

September 28, 2022 | by Aleenah Ansari

Explore +

Public transportation provides kids with a new avenue for freedom and independence, and it became even more accessible on September 1st, when Washington State made nearly all public transportation free to anyone under age 18. The Free Youth Transit Pass includes King County Metro and Sound Transit buses, Link light rail, the Seattle streetcar, water taxis, and more. To get on fare-free, kids simply show their existing Youth ORCA card or a current middle or high school ID when boarding (though they can still ride free without them).

Metro and Sound Transit buses connect Mercer Island to both Bellevue and Seattle at the Park and Ride, and a Metro shuttle runs an hourly route, Monday through Saturday, from the north end to the south end (DART Route 204). Kids, parents, and caregivers can choose from a variety of apps and tools to plan their trips, such as the King County Trip Planner, MyORCA, and OneBusAway.

DART Route 204 Map | Effective 09-17-22 thru 03-17-23 | Credit: King County Metro

So whether your youth is new to public transportation or a regular rider, we’ve rounded up some of the best places to inspire young islanders to take their free rides.

Mercer Island Library, Photo courtesy Mercer Island Library

1. Find Your Next Read

Just a block from a route 204 bus stop, the Mercer Island Library offers a quiet place to study, find a new book, or use public computers, printers, and copy machines for school assignments or personal projects. 

Six stops away, still more shelves await at Island Books, a local staple for almost a half-century and an essential part of the community, hosting book fairs to raise money for local schools and regular author events – don’t miss the fun children’s area in the back too!

2. Eat Through Mercer Island’s Town Center

With multiple nearby bus stops on route 204, Town Center’s many restaurants make for great gathering spots for youths, with plenty of easy options and nice seating areas for meeting friends. Grab a slice from Pagliacci, tea at L’Experience Paris, or one of the famous, enormous cookies from Metropolitan Market. 

3. Visit a Local Park

Get outside and explore Mercer Island’s park spaces, play on basketball and tennis courts, find a playground or picnic area, or take a trail walk. Route 204 has stops near many island parks, including Luther Burbank Park, Aubrey Davis Park, the Greta Hackett Outdoor Sculpture Gallery, Mercerdale Park, Island Crest Park, Pioneer Park, and more.

4. Meet Other Teens at Mercer Island Boys & Girls Club

Many families know the Mercer Island Boys & Girls Club (MIBGC) for its before and after school care or summer camps, but it also hosts a slew of sports leagues and events including e-sports tournaments, late-night gatherings for teens, and middle school dances. MIBGC is on the direct route of Route 204, with stops on the same block.

5. Shop the South End

Route 204 swoops down to the Mercer Island South End Shopping Center, which holds the happiness of Starbucks’ pink drinks, the candy aisle and hot food bar at QFC, and all sorts of goodies at the Boutique Lounge. Fashionistas can pop into Mercer Nails for a pedicure, and outdoor enthusiasts can take a walk across the street in Pioneer Park before they catch the next bus home.

6. See Sports in Seattle

Sound Transit’s frequent bus service on routes 550 and 554 brings riders directly to Seattle’s International District, where they can grab a quick bite to eat at Hood Famous, a Filipino bakery, or at the Uwajimaya Food Hall before hitting up the stadiums to watch the Mariners, OL Reign, Sounders, or Seahawks play. The bus crosses with the current Link Light Rail there, connecting to the University District, before continuing on to Downtown.

7. Go Play in Bellevue

In the other direction, the 550 brings islanders to the Eastside, with a stop at Bellevue’s central malls for food, shopping, and fun. The food court at Bellevue Square offers plenty of quick and filling food options, or grab a meal to-go for a picnic at Bellevue Downtown Park on a sunny day. The bowling alley and movie theater in Lincoln Square make this an excellent destination for days when the weather turns too rainy and cold for outdoor activities.