There are many reasons for moving to Seattle, including great tech jobs, access to incredible nature, and the opportunity to live in a city steeped in exceptionally rich culture. Regardless of why people move to Seattle, once they get used to living in the Emerald City, there’s no turning back. Perched on Puget Sound, between the Cascade and Olympic Mountain ranges, stunning views and amazing hikes are around every corner. With a reputation for the best cups of coffee in the country and farmer’s markets galore, it’s a foodie paradise.
The mild seasons, buffered by the Puget Sound, are notoriously accompanied by constant cloud cover, but those overcast skies make outdoor recreation pleasant in warmer months and offer you a city with a comfortable year-round climate. Bring a raincoat, and welcome to your beautiful new home.
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Living in Seattle, WA: What to Know Before Moving to Seattle
Headquarters of Amazon, Microsoft, Expedia, and many other tech giants, this Pacific Northwest city is not only the largest city in the region but the epicenter of commerce. An exciting and thriving seaport city, Seattle is home to an estimated 744,955 residents who enjoy living under the watchful eye of majestic Mount Rainier.
Pros and Cons of Living in Seattle
- Local farm-fresh organic produce galore
- A tremendous number of farm-to-table, ethnic, and gourmet restaurants
- Fantastic nightlife
- Superb cultural activities
- No state income tax
- Proximity to amazing outdoor recreation
- Almost no mosquitoes
- Cost of living considerably higher than most cities
- It drizzles and is overcast a lot
- Occasional earthquakes
- Heavy traffic congestion
- Pro sports teams are on a losing streak
- Winter is long and very gray
Seattle’s property tax rate is .99%, a rate higher than most of the state, but lower than the national average of 1.19%. Residents of the Emerald City pay a shocking premium for sales tax with a combined sales tax rate of 10.1%. While that’s a difficult number to swallow, you can celebrate the fact that Washington doesn’t levy a state income tax.
Just under half (48.1%) of Seattle residents own their homes. The median home value is currently at $736,500, according to bestplaces.net.
The average rental rate is currently $1,659 per month for a one-bedroom apartment, making rent about $500 more the national average. Renters will find Seattle to be on the expensive side compared to most other large cities, but a bargain compared to San Francisco. Despite high prices, you can still find a good deal in neighborhoods such as Belltown, High Point, Industrial District, Mount Baker, and Fauntleroy.
Cost of Living
The cost of living in Seattle is twice that of average American cities, but then, so is the quality of life. As is usually the case, incomes tend to skew higher to keep pace with the cost of living. Compared to 100 as the average cost of living index, Seattle cost of living expenses are lower for health at 81.7 and utilities at 68.8, but higher for transportation at 156.5 and housing at 407.4. The exceptionally high cost of housing puts Seattle’s overall cost of living at 204.
The median income in Seattle, $82,133, is considerably more than the state median income of $70,989, and almost $35,000 more than the national average. Based on Economic Policy Institute calculations, a single person living in Seattle can expect to get by on $3,630 per month, but a couple with one child will need to bring in $6,804 month to live comfortably.
Weather & Natural Disasters
Seattle is world-famous for its gray skies and frequent rain, usually around 34″ annually. Rain often falls in the form of a light mist, so dealing with heavy downpours isn’t a daily occurrence. Average summer highs are in the low to mid-70s, and it cools down to the low 50s at night. Heat waves can push temps up into the 90s a few times during the summer season.
Autumns and winters are wet and chilly, although rarely freezing, and you can expect an average of 294 days of cloudy or partly-cloudy days. Winter day highs average in the high 40s and nights get down to the mid to high 30s. Seattle is beautiful when a light dusting of snow frosts the city once or twice a year. Pro tip: umbrellas are for tourists. Real Seattleites wear hooded jackets.
While Seattle is an idyllic place to live, it’s at considerable risk of natural disasters. Earthquakes pose a threat, with a major fault line running right through the city. Tsunamis are possible in the event of an earthquake, but this would mainly affect waterfront areas. Otherwise, the only significant threat to the city is from flooding caused by windstorms and ice storms, which are both rare.
The city is close to five active volcanoes, but all are very low-risk for anything more than falling ash. It might be worth checking flood maps before buying. There are no risks facing residents of Seattle that they can’t manage with a good plan, which the city government offers assistance with.
Economy & Job Market
Seattle’s booming economy is largely based on tech. The city’s economy is steadily trending upward, with a recent job growth rate of 2.4%. The largest employers in the city are Boeing, Microsoft, Amazon, the University of Washington, Joint Base Lewis-McChord, Providence Health & Services, and Fred Meyer.
Job seekers should look for jobs in engineering, higher education, healthcare, tech, tourism, and marketing. The bottom line is that there are plenty of jobs in Seattle for eager job-seekers.
Traffic and Transportation
If you’ve got good rain gear, there’s little reason to drive around Seattle daily. Public transportation is excellent, and the city is very bike-friendly. King County Metro, a vast network of buses, offers the main method of public transportation in the city. Seattle Streetcar links a few areas to the downtown center with trains running every 10-15 minutes from 6 a.m. to 9 p.m. weekdays and until 11 p.m. on Friday and Saturday. Sound Transit runs light rail lines from north to south Seattle and connects to Seattle-Tacoma International Airport (SEA-TAC). Seattle’s ubiquitous ferries and water taxis can get you across the waterfront and out to the Puget Sound islands with ease.
Seattle commuters who drive regularly complain about traffic — it’s currently ranked the 9th worst in the nation. To be fair, it’s still only half as bad as Los Angeles traffic. Things are not getting any better at the moment, with the permanent closure of the Alaskan Way Viaduct. The so-called ‘Seattle Squeeze’ resulting from this closure will put increased pressure on roads as the tunnel that will take Highway 99 under the city is constructed. Nevertheless, between this and the light rail expansion slated for 2021, commuters will feel some relief in the coming years.
On the upside, Seattle has an exceptional walk score of 73, with some neighborhoods hitting 100. Downtown tops the list with a walk score of 99 and a transit score of 100. Pioneer Square and First Hill are not far behind. The overall bike score in Seattle is 70, with many neighborhoods in the 80s and 90s. The overall transit score in town is 60, with six neighborhoods hitting 99 or 100. Living in Seattle is a great choice for people who prefer to leave their cars at home.
What to Do in Seattle
Seattleites may complain about the excess of overcast weather, but residents never kvetch about a shortage of things to do. Foodies will be in heaven here, lovers of the great outdoors will never tire of nature, art and culture abound, and there is every kind of shopping a person could hope for. From the waterfront to the top of the skyline, here’s a short list of what you can expect in your new hometown:
This region is celebrated for its smorgasbord of incredible foodstuffs, from oysters to cherries, and gourmands will not be disappointed. Farmers have been hawking delectable edibles at Pike Place Market for over 100 years, going back to 1907. Over 200 vendors will tempt you with their goodies ranging from handicrafts to produce, cheese, bread, ultra-fresh seafood, and specialty ingredients. Sprawling over nine acres of goodness, this is the place to come for local, artisanal everything. For coffee aficionados, the Starbucks Reserve Roastery and tasting room is a treat.
For arts and culture, Seattle has something for everyone. The Seattle Arts Museum is worth a trip for its collections alone, but it also regularly screens films, hosts dance parties, and more. The Museum of Pop Culture in all its unmistakable, glistening glory is home to many collections that conjure up iconic images from our youth, while families will get a kick out of the Pacific Science Center or Seattle Aquarium. Just south of the city, Boeing Field will wow those with a penchant for aircraft — it’s the largest indie air and space museum in the world. Anyone looking for a view from on high will be delighted to visit the famous Space Needle or the less-busy Sky View Observatory.
For nature lovers, there are 485 parks in the city, so no matter where you are, you’ll find some green space close by. Kerry Park, on Queen Anne Hill, provides the undisputed best view of the city, while Alki Beach is a dream for a day at the beach, observing sunsets, or stargazing. Gas Works Park pays homage to the industrial past with a fully preserved gasification plant on the north shore of Lake Union. For canoeing, jogging, or picnicking, you cannot miss Green Lake Park in north central Seattle.
Regardless of your sport of choice, Seattle has something for you. Five professional sports teams are a stone’s throw from downtown. See the Seattle Seahawks play in Centurylink Field for a glimpse at one of the rowdiest crowds in the NFL. The Seattle Storm can wow WNBA fans at Alaska Airlines Arena where this champion team of women is playing while the Seattle Center arena undergoes renovation. Baseball fans can visit Safeco Field to see the Seattle Mariners do their thing. For professional soccer, Seattle Reign offers women’s soccer at its finest, and in the Seattle Sounders, the fellas kick the ball around the Rave Green. Last but not least, the Seattle Seawolves brought a professional rugby franchise to Seattle in 2017, and it’s well worth a visit to the Starfire Stadium in Tukwila, WA to watch them play.
Schools and Universities
Seattle Public Schools is the largest district in Washington, serving around 47,000 students among 113 schools. The school district is known for national above-average rankings and benefits from a partnership with Amazon to bring computer science and robotics to some of the underserved communities in the district.
The Seattle area is home to several four-year institutions, including the highly rated University of Washington, Antioch University, Argosy University, Bastyr University, Northeastern University, and Seattle Pacific University. Additionally, the city is home to several two-year colleges including North Seattle College, Seattle Central College, School of Visual Concepts, and the Seattle Vocational Institute.
Seattle is about 7% safer than other cities in the country. Or put another way, other cities in the nation are 93% safer than Seattle. Property crimes and theft make up the majority of crimes in the city, with violent crimes 65% higher than the national average. Despite relatively high crime rates, the number is dropping annually with statistics showing that crime rates have dropped 4% year over year. It’s perfectly normal for big cities to have higher crime rates than smaller cities, but still, as you investigate neighborhoods where you’d like to live, be sure to check the crime levels.
Seattle residents rely on several providers for their utilities:
- Seattle Lights, which is owned by the city, is the primary provider of electric service for Seattle. Visit the site to start, stop, or transfer service.
- Puget Sound Energy provides gas for the Seattle area. To start an account or transfer service, visit the website to create or transfer your account. Contact PSE within a week of your move-in date if you want to be connected by your move-in date.
- Seattle Public Utilities is the water utility, operated by the City of Seattle. To open an account, call their service line at 206-684-3000, or go online to register.
- The City of Seattle also provides Waste Management Services. Charges depend on the size of bin provided, and a waste service account can be set up at the same time as a water account.
- For internet and cable, residents can choose between Comcast/Xfinity, Wave Broadband, and Century Link. Xfinity serves all of Seattle except the Central District. To begin service, go online, and check availability. Wave Broadband services the Central District; you can start your account by visiting the website. Centurylink is the only provider of the three that can provide a landline telephone account in addition to digital services. To start an account, visit the residential site to see the services offered.
Best Neighborhoods in Seattle, WA
Each Seattle neighborhood feels like its own mini-community. Not only do they offer diverse housing options, but each has independent grocery stores, boutiques, cafes, restaurants — and something you don’t see much of anymore — cozy bookstores. These clustered amenities create a sense of intimacy and offer distinct neighborhood personalities.
The hip, bustling northwestern neighborhood of Ballard is bounded to the north by N W 85th St, to the south by the Lake Washington Ship Channel, to the east by 3rd Avenue N W and the west by Shilshole Bay. What was once a community serving the marinas and shipyards has evolved into one of the best zip codes in Seattle. Ballard has a range of housing from newer condos, older apartments, and tranquil single-family neighborhoods.
As one of the trendiest parts of town, Ballard is chock-a-block full of hip bars, eateries, and boutiques. The nightlife is hopping, and weekends are prime time at many a brunch spot or the year-round Ballard Farmers Market. Head west, and you’ll find yourself on the beach thronging with recreation when the sun is out. Access to amenities is good with most services within walking or biking distance.
- Population – 16,713
- Home Price – Median home value $522,193
- Rent Prices – Median rent $1,410
- Employers – Gravity Payments, Ballard Labs, Bookafy, Livible, Pluto!, Shepherd Software
- Schools – Adams Elementary School, Loyal Heights Elementary School, Matheia School, North Beach Elementary School, St. Alphonsus School, West Woodland Elementary School, Whittier Elementary School, Whitman Middle School
Something to try: Check out the Nordic Heritage Museum to learn more about the area’s Scandinavian roots.
Just north of downtown, Belltown is bordered to the west by Elliott Bay, 5th Avenue on the east, Denny Way to the north, and Lenora on the south. For young professionals who want to live in an area where they don’t need a car, this is one of the best neighborhoods in Seattle. 81% of the residents here are renters, which reflects the youth and mobility of the area.
This area bustles with shoppers and professionals by day and tourists and locals by night. With numerous award-winning restaurants, bars, nightclubs, boutiques, and national chains, there is much to do.
One of the most walkable communities in Seattle, Belltown has many amenities right outside your front door, and easy access to public transportation. Plus, Pike Place Market is only a short walk away.
- Population – Just over 22,815
- Home Price – Median home value $512,043
- Rent Prices – Median rent $1,560
- Employers – Emergent Product Development, Leafly, TUNE, Rover, RealSelf, Remitly, Apptio, Zipwhip, Avalara, OfferUp
- Schools – John Hay Elementary School, Hazel Wolf K-8 STEM School, Queen Anne Elementary School, McClure Middle School, Washington Middle School, Garfield High School, Ballard High School
Something to try: See a concert at the Paramount Theater.
Walking distance to downtown, Capitol Hill has some of the city’s most in-demand real estate. Bounded by I-5 to the west, downtown to the east, State Route 520 to the north, and E Union and E Madison Streets to the south, affluent residents grace this area.
Capitol Hill has been the recognized LGBT center of Seattle since the early 1960s, a reputation it maintains today. Predictably, this means that the area is a prime destination for nightlife and entertainment. Despite the more well-heeled parts of the neighborhood, only 29% of Capitol Hill residents own, and there are still great deals to be found in housing here.
A surprisingly family-friendly vibe abounds to the east of 15th Street, and Volunteer Park makes for a wonderful outdoor escape or a cultural afternoon spent visiting the Volunteer Park Conservatory, Neumos, the Elliott Bay Book Company, and the Seattle Asian Art Museum. Plenty of close by amenities and public transportation are available.
- Population – 37,489
- Home Price – Median home value $526,860
- Rent Prices – Median rent $1,259
- Employers – Kaiser Permanente, Wells Fargo, Urban Sitter, Sound, Optimism Brewing Company, Seattle University
- Schools – Lowell Elementary School, Stevens Elementary School, Bright Water Waldorf School, Yellow Wood Academy, Hamilton Middle School, The Northwest School, Seattle Academy, O’Dea High School
Something to try: Pay a visit to Bruce Lee’s gravesite and the Jimi Hendrix statue.
The self-proclaimed Center of the Universe (no, really), Fremont borders Ship Channel on the south, Stone Way N to the east, N 50th Street on the north, and 8th Avenue N.W. to the west. Unlike many parts of Seattle, this quirky counterculture-rich neighborhood has resisted gentrification as best it can and is still home to a unique, bohemian flavor. Only one-third of the residents here own their homes, and this owes much to a flurry of new high rise developments. The good news is that this has only added housing to a popular area that has retained its charm.
The 27-mile long Burke-Gilman Trail, a dream for cyclists and joggers, passes through the neighborhood. Fremont’s three parks are Fremont Peak Park, Ross Park, and Ernst Park. Additionally, the Fremont branch of the Seattle Public Library dates to the 1920s.
Most amenities are within walking or cycling distance of Fremont, and the 5 or 44 buses will get you downtown or to neighboring Ballard or University District quickly.
- Population – Just under 19,482
- Home Price – Median home value $577,871
- Rent Prices – Median rent $1,562
- Employers – Adobe Systems, Allen Institute for Brain Science, Google, Impinj, Sporcle, Tableau
- Schools – Northwest Montessori School, Fremont Community School, B.F. Day Elementary School, Pacific Crest School, Hamilton International Middle School,
Something to try: Visit the Fremont Troll beneath the Aurora Bridge.
In the southwest corner of Downtown lies Pioneer Square. It’s bounded, roughly, on the west by Alaskan Way S, on the east by 5th Avenue S, S King Street on the south, and to the north, it zigzags along Yesler Way. The name derives from the fact that this was the first neighborhood in the city, settled by pioneers in 1852. Today, little remains of the deep, local residential roots and is one of the least densely populated residential areas of Seattle. About 84% of residents rent their homes, and there are affordable housing options here.
Pioneer Square is a historic district with a smattering of stately examples of early 1900s era brick apartment buildings. In recent years, however, an influx of tech jobs has led to the construction of modern luxury apartment towers and condos. Among the neighborhood are a few small parks, lots of restaurants, bars, and shops to enjoy. There is plenty of art and culture around, all in walking distance.
Home to King Street train station and many bus lines, this is one of the best-connected neighborhoods in town, with a walk score of 98 and a transit score of 100.
- Population – 7,792
- Home Price – Median home value $412,188
- Rent Prices – Median rent $1,096
- Employers – Isilon Systems, EMC, Port of Seattle, Expeditors, Socrata, Swype, Zynga
- Schools – Queen Anne Elementary School, Hazel Wolf K-8 STEM School, TOPS at Seward Public School, Mercer International Middle School, Thornton Creek School, APP at Lincoln, Garfield High School,
Something to try: Check out Bill Speidel’s Underground Tour for an unusual romp through history.
North Queen Anne
This upscale neighborhood northwest of downtown Seattle sits atop the highest hill in the city. The entire Queen Anne neighborhood is bordered to the south by Belltown, Lake Union to the east, the Lake Washington Ship Channel on the north, and Interbay to the west. The name derives from the Queen Anne style of many of the historic mansions built on this hill in the city’s early days; a few still grace the neighborhood today along 14th Avenue West. Popular with young professionals, the residents in North Queen Anne are split 50/50 between renters and owners.
While this neighborhood is distinctly suburban looking, complete with picket fences and front and back yards, this is still a down-home community where families and singles rub shoulders at the local grocery store.
- There are plenty of bistros and hip shops, as well as restaurants and bars within walking distance. The Children’s Theater and IMAX family-friendly fun, and the views (Kerry Park is a perfect lookout) of the city are hard to beat.
Population – 15,540
- Home Price – Median home value $711,007
- Rent Prices – Median rent $1,540
- Employers – Amazon, BloomAPI, Boeing, City of Seattle, Facebook, University of Washington
- Schools – Frantz Coe Elementary School, Hazel Wolf K-8 STEM School, Queen Anne Elementary, John Hay Elementary School, McClure Middle School, Ballard High School, The Center School
Seattle is a beautiful, diverse city with something to offer everyone. Regardless of what brings you, take your time to find the neighborhood that you’ll be most comfortable calling home.
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