Moving to Tacoma

Nestled in the gorgeous Pacific Northwest, just stone’s throw away from Seattle, Tacoma is the happy medium for Washingtonians seeking a balance between big cities and rural I-5 stops like Centralia. It’s big enough to get lost in crowds—and there WILL be crowds when big-name entertainers fill out the Tacoma Dome. But it’s also small enough to find your quiet spaces, and the housing costs won’t give you as much of a headache as they would closer to Seattle.

When you want to get lost in nature, you’ve got an hour head start on Seattleites flocking to Mt. Rainier (fun fact: one of Mt. Rainier’s native names is “Tacoma”). When you want to escape to a big city, it’s less than an hour to Seattle and Olympia, and Portland is only a couple hours away. Once you settle in and learn the back roads, you’ll be able to avoid the dreaded Tacoma slowdown on I-5. 

To help you prepare for your move, we’ve put together a comprehensive guide to everything you need to know about Tacoma!

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Living in Tacoma, WA: What to Know Before Moving to Tacoma

Tacoma isn’t a huge city, but its 200,000+ residents make it the third-largest city in Washington. It’s a regional hub for businesses, many of which you can find in the bustling port district along the south end of Puget Sound. That port is where the “City of Destiny” got its motto: “When rails meet sails.” 

Pros and Cons of Living in Tacoma

Pros:

  • Big City Conveniences: You can find almost any kind of store you need within city limits
  • Proximity: Just over 30 miles away from both Olympia and Seattle
  • Revitalization: Recent investments in redeveloping neighborhoods
  • Entertainment: Major entertainers of all genres play the Tacoma Dome

Cons:

  • Congestion: Traffic here is among the worst in the state
  • Crime: Struggled with high crime rates in the 20th century
  • The weather: Rains often in the Pacific Northwest

Tax Rates

  • Income Tax: The entire state of Washington doesn’t impose an income tax, so that’s a major draw for workers in their prime earning years. That’s not to say you’ll be able to avoid taxes completely, however.
  • Sales Tax: Tacoma imposes an additional 3.7 percent sales tax, on top of Washington’s 6.5 percent sales tax, for a (whopping) total sales tax rate of 10.2%. 
  • Property Tax: The average property tax rate in Tacoma is about 1.237 percent. That comes in at just above the national average of 1.211 percent, but well above the statewide average of 1.083 percent.

Housing Market

Tacoma residents are split roughly in half between renters and buyers, with 44.6% of the population renting. For those who decide to buy, they can expect to spend about $302,000 (the median home cost). Renters, on the other hand, can expect to shell out $1,256 per month for a one-bedroom apartment, or $1,564 for a two-bedroom. However, housing costs can vary significantly from neighborhood to neighborhood. Redevelopment projects are forcing housing costs to rise in several neighborhoods, with no end in sight for the price hikes.

Cost of Living

A typical family, with two adults and two children, can expect to spend nearly $7,000 on living expenses every month. Those costs include $1,145 for housing, $782 for food, and $1,186 for transportation. 

That may sound like a lot, but it’s far less than Seattle, where living expenses for the same family would top $8,000 per month. Even the relatively rural Clark County, Washington sees living expenses of nearly $7,500, due to its proximity to Portland, OR.

Weather & Natural Disasters

Consistent with other parts of the country, Tacoma’s warmest months are July and August. However, you won’t have to worry about scorching heat – summer highs hover pleasantly in the upper 70s during the day, with overnight lows in the mid-50s. December and January are the coldest months. During the winter, highs rarely make it out of the 40s, while lows dip into the 30s or colder. One of the hardest adjustments when moving to Tacoma might be the lack of sunny days. While the U.S. averages 205 sunny days, the city of Tacoma only sees 141 days of sun. The remaining days have above-average rainfall (approximately 41 inches annually) and the occasional snowfall (4 inches annually). All in all, the city enjoys a mild climate—just make sure you can handle the long, grey, rainy season.

The Pacific Northwest lives with the threat of “the Big One” looming—a massive earthquake for which the area is geologically overdue. The area also has higher than average potential for volcanic activity, with the massive Mount St. Helens, an active volcano, looming nearby. Other than these two threats, there are little-to-no natural disasters to worry about.

Economy & Job Market

The average salary in Pierce County, according to the latest government data, is $49,531. That’s less than the statewide average of $62,077, which is bolstered, in part by high-paying tech jobs in the Seattle area. The average unemployment rate throughout 2018 was 5.2 percent, which is slightly higher than the U.S. unemployment rate.

The port continues to be a driving factor in Tacoma’s economy. More than 28,000 people work at the Port of Tacoma in some capacity, which generates $477 million in wages throughout Pierce County. In addition to the port, the nearby Joint Base Lewis-McChord is a major employer for both military members and civilians. The massive base—usually just called “JBLM”—was created in 2010 by merging two longtime military installations: Army Camp Lewis and the McChord Air Force Base. Other major employers include healthcare providers MultiCare Health System and CHI Franciscan Health, Tacoma Public Schools, and government agencies, including Washington State, Pierce County Government, and the City of Tacoma.

Traffic and Transportation

Traffic has come up a couple of times already, and for a good reason. Throughout the Pacific Northwest, the Tacoma area is known for its backups. Traffic has gotten worse throughout the Puget Sound area in recent years, and Tacoma may have borne the brunt of the slowdown. I-5 connects Tacoma with the rest of the Seattle metro area to the north and is the primary thoroughfare for travelers headed south to Portland and beyond. State Route 16 links Tacoma to destinations northwest of the city, and five other highways help commuters navigate the metro area.

Unfortunately, cars are somewhat of a necessity in Tacoma (perhaps exacerbating the traffic problem). According to walkscore.com, Tacoma has a walk score of 53, and a lack of bike lanes pushes its bike score down to 47. Pierce Transit offers some bus transit options, which is especially convenient for those who live in or near Downtown. Regional transportation provider Sound Transit offers rail and bus service between Tacoma and Seattle, an expedient option for those who commute to the Emerald City for work. Amtrak provides rail options for those looking to travel across the U.S. 

What to Do

There’s plenty to do in Tacoma, and even more to do just about 30 miles north in Seattle. 

  • On the Sound: In town, Point Defiance Park offers 760 acres of attractions with views overlooking Puget Sound. Visitors can walk miles of trails or lounge along the beach, while families can make use of play structures or visit the zoo and aquarium. From here, you can also catch a brief 15-minute ferry to the town of Tahlequah on Vashon Island. The most expansive island in Puget Sound, Vashon has quaint towns nestled among wineries and small family farms. It’s the ideal destination for a day trip or a relaxing weekend getaway. 
  • Museums: Back on the Tacoma side, history buffs can learn the local history at the Fort Nisqually Living History Museum. Creative types will relish a visit to the Museum of Glass, which hosts exhibits of glass art as well as an onsite studio where visitors can watch artists busy at their craft. Arguably the world’s most well-known glass artist, Dale Chihuly, originally hails from Tacoma. The MOG routinely offers a Chihuly Walking Tour, which takes visitors on a guided tour to view Chihuly art installations around downtown Tacoma.
  • Great Outdoors: The city also boasts dunes, an off-leash dog park, and a whole lot more. A short drive to the southeast is the picturesque Mount Rainer National Park. This 263,000-acre wilderness claims the state’s highest peak – Mount Rainer – which tops out at a snow-capped 14,410-feet. As a Tacoma resident, you’ll be able to enjoy the park’s nearly endless recreation opportunities – including 260 miles of trails and 500+ campsites – whenever the mood strikes.
  • Eats, Drinks & Entertainment: Around the city, locals enjoy dozens of great food options of many different styles. Popular bars include the Parkway Tavern, the Mix, and the Tacoma Cabana. There’s also the Tacoma Dome, which hosts the country’s biggest musicians, comedians, and entertainers of all kinds.

Schools and Universities

The primary school district serving Tacoma is Tacoma Public Schools. The district operates some 35 elementary schools, nine middle schools, and eight high schools, making it the third-largest school district in Washington. In addition to enrolling 30,000 students, the district is also one of the area’s largest employers, with more than 5,000 educators and administrators on the payroll.

As for higher education, there are lots of colleges and universities in the Puget Sound area, including many in Tacoma itself. The University of Puget Sound is in Tacoma, and the University of Washington has a campus in Tacoma. Evergreen State College, which is known for its artistic culture and long history of political activism, has a campus in Tacoma. The city also has a junior college, called Tacoma Community College.

Crime

Tacoma’s crime rates have fallen drastically in recent decades after seeing an alarming spike in the late 20th century. Back then, the crime rate earned the city the nickname of Tacompton, which has stuck even as crime rates fall. The city is still working to improve its less-than-desirable reputation. The crime rate in Tacoma is 84 percent higher than the statewide average and 133 percent higher than the national average. There’s an especially troubling problem with violent crime, which is 167 percent higher in Tacoma compared to the rest of Washington.

Utility Providers

Utility service is imperative for a smooth transition into your new home. Here’s the scoop on setting up your Tacoma utilities:

  • Electricity and water: Tacoma’s city government offers utilities through the division known as Tacoma Public Utilities. The publicly managed organization offers electricity, water, and, rather surprisingly, also TV and internet through its Click! Cable TV Program. The same utility also manages rail service in the area. 
  • Trash collection: The City of Tacoma will cart off your trash and recyclables weekly, though it collects items in rotation. The city collects compostable food and yard waste every other week, while it picks up garbage and recycling on the alternate weeks. Don’t worry, the city provides color-coded bins for each of these pick-ups and has a handy tool so that you can look up collection schedules by address here.
  • Gas service: Puget Sound Energy provides natural gas service to most communities surrounding Puget Sound, including Tacoma.
  • Internet and Cable: For-profit options for internet and cable service in Tacoma include CenturyLink, DIRECTV, Xfinity, Spectrum, and Dish.

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Best Neighborhoods in Tacoma, WA

Whether you want to live among quaint craftsman bungalows in a historic part of town or prefer living big in a sprawling suburban home, Tacoma’s sure to have a neighborhood that’s right for you. For a full list, check out this helpful article broken down by general area. Here are our top picks: 

Hilltop

Hilltop has changed a lot in the 21st century. Once best known for its gang activity, Hilltop is now better known for its historic homes, modest prices, and proximity to just about anything you want to do in Tacoma. The neighborhood sits just above Downtown, so all the restaurants and bars there are within reach, but Hilltop has a nightlife all its own. Hungry? Lele, Ezell’s Famous Chicken, and Pho King are just a few of the establishments that draw in customers from throughout the region. 

During sunny summer days, Hilltop residents don’t have to leave their neighborhood to reach the Scott Pierson Trailhead. This trail is available to both hikers and cyclists, and it takes visitors over the Narrows Bridge to Gig Harbor. Home prices here are affordable but rising quickly. With a light rail extension planned for Hilltop in the next five years, the home prices are only expected to continue rising. The neighborhood also includes “Medical Mile,” a dense concentration of medical centers including Tacoma General Hospital, Mary Bridge Children’s Hospital, Kaiser Permanente Tacoma Medical Center, and more.

  • Median Home Price – $280,000
  • Median Rent Price – 1-bed $1150, 2-bed $1245 (based on data for Central Tacoma)
  • Schools – McCarver Elementary (2/10), Stanley Elementary (8/10), Bryant Montessori (5/10), SOAR Academy (NR), Evergreen State College

Downtown

Geographically, Downtown makes up a small portion of Tacoma. But the relatively small neighborhood packs in plenty of attractions. It’s a cultural hotspot, with museums like the Tacoma Art Museum, the Washington State History Museum, Museum of Glass, Children’s Museum of Tacoma, and more. This community is also the epicenter for Tacoma’s thespians, but Downtown’s theater district also hosts musicians—local and touring.  The food here runs the gambit, giving residents diverse dining options. If you aren’t satisfied with your options in Tacoma, Downtown has public transportation options that will take you all the way to Seattle.

Historic signs and sights give visitors and residents a sense of how long this port city has operated. The story to this neighborhood is like Hilltop, but the renovations here have been going on longer. The Downtown neighborhood fell into an ongoing recession in the ’70s and ’80s. But by the turn of the century, revitalization efforts made the neighborhood much safer for families, and businesses soon sprung back to life. 

  • Median Home Price – $285,000
  • Median Rent Price – 1-bed $1150, 2-bed $1245 (based on data for Central Tacoma)
  • Schools – University of Washington – Tacoma

St. Helens

The St. Helens neighborhood overlaps with Downtown in the theater district. It’s also known as the “Triangle District” and hosts LGBTQ events during Pride month. Most of the housing here is a mix of condos, apartments, and townhomes. There’s a good mix between residents who own their homes and those who rent.

Being so close to Downtown makes St. Helens a very walkable neighborhood. The proximity to Downtown also allows St. Helens residents to take advantage of public transit options. For those who prefer to drive, this neighborhood is right off the freeway. Last, but not least, local favorite The Mix serves up cheap drinks, karaoke, and grub late into the night.

  • Median Home Price – $257,000
  • Median Rent Price – 1-bed $1150, 2-bed $1245 (based on data for Central Tacoma)
  • Schools – Stafford Elementary School (6/10)

Old Town

This small little neighborhood next to Downtown is where Tacoma first began way back in 1865. The neighborhood was established by a Civil War veteran who moved out west and built himself a log cabin with a view of Commencement Bay. From there, the city began spiraling out, and early historical sites remain in this neighborhood as a testament to those beginnings. Those sites include Tacoma’s first church and a recreation of the original log cabin.

Old Town is one of the nicer neighborhoods in the city, so housing is a little more expensive here. There’s a robust business association that helps local establishments thrive. Those businesses include The Spar, which is Tacoma’s oldest saloon. If you feel like walking, the neighborhood stretches right to the waterfront.

  • Median Home Price – $578,500
  • Median Rent Price – 1-bed $1225, 2-bed $1763 (based on data for North End Tacoma)
  • Schools – Point Defiance Elementary (7/10)

North Slope

North Slope, or the Stadium District, is another Tacoma neighborhood that’s rich with history. Almost 80 percent of the homes in this historic district were built before 1930. Some date back to the late 1800s. The old homes are a point of pride in this tight-knit community. The city comes alive during community events like the 4th of July parade, and the annual Wine Walk.

This neighborhood is good for families that want to put a little distance between them and the hustle & bustle of Downtown—without losing the convenience. Homes here are just a short walk from Sixth Avenue, where there’s enough shopping, restaurants, and bars to fill any weekend. Public transportation options are close by, but if you want to take your own car, the freeway is just a short drive away.

  • Median Home Price – $345,000
  • Median Rent Price – 1-bed $1225, 2-bed $1763 (based on data for North End Tacoma)
  • Schools – Stadium High School (7/10), Annie Wright School (private boarding school PK-12, NR), Lowell Elementary School (8/10), St. Patrick Catholic School (PK-8, NR)

Browns Point/Northeast Tacoma

Technically, Browns Point isn’t part of Tacoma, but it bumps up against East Tacoma. It isn’t its own city, either. This census-designated area is home to about 1,200 people, making it one of the smaller neighborhoods in the Tacoma area. It’s also physically small. The total physical area is less than half a square mile. You don’t lose that small-town feel when you cross into Tacoma proper. The eastern side of the city is farther away from businesses and port activities, which gives it more of a suburban feel.

Outdoors lovers will want to visit the Browns Point Lighthouse Park. The waterfront nature area includes picnic areas, beach access, and a restored lightkeeper’s cottage that’s open for tours and rentals. The lighthouse dates to 1887, though now it operates automatically. This location is a great spot for anglers to cast off from, as well. Natural preservation and public access are important to Browns Point residents.

Last, but certainly not least, East Tacoma and Browns Point residents can skip the worst of Tacoma I-5 traffic by getting on at Portland Avenue. Traffic is bad in Tacoma, so this is a major perk.

  • Median Home Price – $445,000
  • Median Rent Price – 1-bed $1275, 2-bed $1710 
  • Schools – Browns Point Elementary School (6/10)

Lincoln International District

Lincoln is the melting pot of Tacoma. Several distinct cultures have carved out their own spaces in this neighborhood. There is an especially large Vietnamese community in this neighborhood, which means there’s no shortage of bakeries to find delicious pastries and Bahn mi sandwiches. The neighborhood also hosts the TET Vietnamese New Year festival every year. Two Asian supermarkets, Hong Kong Market and the Asia Pacific Market, offer up ingredients you won’t find at Safeway. The cuisine isn’t limited to Asia, however, and restaurants in this neighborhood serve up food from around the world.

There are lots of improvements in store for this neighborhood. Roadways, sidewalks, and other infrastructure renovations are underway. The city anticipates that it will complete the bulk of the work before 2020.

  • Median Home Price – $275,000
  • Median Rent Price – 1-bed $1015, 2-bed $1283 (based on data for South End Tacoma)
  • Schools – Lincoln High School (3/10)

West Slope

If you’re looking for a suburban setting that doesn’t sacrifice convenience, West Slope is the Tacoma neighborhood for you. Despite being on the west side of the city, the neighborhood is still fairly centrally located. The neighborhood stretches to the waterfront, where the Narrows Marina has some of the best breweries and seafood spots in town. 

But perhaps the best part of the West Slope neighborhood can’t be explained with words. You have to see the views from these homes to believe them. Lush greenery fills the immediate surroundings. Looking out farther, picturesque mountains rise above the horizon, and sunsets reflect off the sound. Sure, West Slope homes are close to bars, food, and shopping—but you’ll probably be content to sit and enjoy the views from the comfort of your backyard.

  • Median Home Price – $527,000
  • Median Rent Price – 1-bed $1225, 2-bed $1763 (based on data for North End Tacoma)
  • Schools – Skyline Elementary School (6/10), Arcadia Montessori (PK, NR), Geiger Montessori (K-5, 4/10), Jack & Jill Cooperative Preschool (PK, NR)

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That’s just scratching the surface on all Tacoma has to offer. More questions on your mind? Curious about a specific aspect of moving? Don’t hesitate to reach out! If you need help putting together a moving plan, we can connect you with the best moving services Tacoma has to offer.

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