What is It Like Living in Seattle, Washington?

Seattle is a beautiful port city on the Puget Sound in the northwestern U.S. state of Washington, 100 miles south of the Canadian border.

As the largest city in the state (and the Pacific Northwest for that matter), Seattle is heavily endowed with natural resources. It boasts freshwater and saltwater, hills, meadows, mountains and forests—gorgeous by any stretch of the imagination! Seattle seems to be one of the most expensive places to live in the U.S., Seattle’s cost of living is 50% higher than the national average.

This hilly city earned the nickname Emerald City because of its natural beauty and the rich, green forests and parkland. With its campaign to further beautify the city with seasonal flowers came the moniker, City of Flowers.

The phrase, Gateway to Alaska, also rings true because of the many cruise lines operating out of Seattle with an Alaskan destination. Here’re the 12 key factors you should know before moving to Seattle, Washington.

1. Busy highways, seaport and airport

Busy highways, seaport and airport in Seattle, Washington

As the eighth busiest airport in the United States, Seattle-Tacoma International Airport, affectionately known as Sea-Tac, is served by 31 passenger airlines. This 80-gate airport is operated by the Port of Seattle and served almost 8 million passengers in 2018.

Its busiest passenger carriers are Alaska and Delta. The Port of Seattle not only serves the cruise industry but also manages heavy cargo container services, making it a gateway for trade with Asia.

The city is served by major interstates I-90 and I-82 with construction to be expected during the season. With heavy traffic daily, I-5 and I-405 run (or stall) with north-south traffic. The highway system can definitely get you where you want to go but perhaps not as expeditiously as desired.

As the 20th largest city in the U.S. hemmed in by the mountains, hills and water, it is difficult to increase the highway grid in this lively city. Urban planners are continually working toward increased mass transit solutions to relieve the inevitable congestion.

What is It Like Living in Seattle, Washington?

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2. Diverse population equals variety in attractions and activities

Diverse population equals variety in attractions and activities in Seattle, Washington

With a population of over 700,000 residents, Seattle attracts millennials, career professionals of all ages, and nature lovers. The city is a hub for educational, technological, medical and scientific fields, and creativity and diversity are becoming more apparent.

You’ll find many Native Americans and residents with Scandinavian, African and Asian heritage. The city is also home to a growing LGBTQ community.

According to areavibes.com, 37% of Seattle residents were born in the state of Washington, 42% were born out of state, 2% were born outside the United States and 18% were foreign born.

You won’t get bored when living in Seattle. There are plenty of attractions and activities, many with an ethnic flair for added interest.

You can head to the International District for an authentic Asian meal or to South Park for flavorful Latino cuisine. You’ll find cultural events, festivals and seasonal outdoor activities for a laid-back casual outing or a competitive adventure.

3. Moderate climate appeals year round

Moderate climate appeals year round in Seattle, Washington

This hilly city has something for everyone: a moderate climate, water, beaches, mountains and forests. It’s known as a rainy city with an average of 38 inches of rain annually.

That seems standard since it’s equal to the U.S. average, except that half of that rainfall occurs in November, December and January, therefore the reputation for rain and more rain. Stats show that, as a rule, Seattleites experience some form of precipitation about 155 days each year.

It’s not all rain, however. You can look forward to an average of 152 sunny days each year. Compared to the national average of 205 sunny days, it’s not overwhelming, but perhaps enjoyed even more as a luxurious treat.

Temperatures are comfortably pleasant with summer highs around 76 degrees Fahrenheit and winter lows around 37 degrees.

You can typically expect snow to total less than 7 inches each winter. Compared to a national average of 28 inches of snow per year, that’s not much snow to contend with for a northern state—hardly warrants owning a shovel! For snow lovers, you can reach the mountains quickly to enjoy the snowfall and wintertime activities.

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4. High praise for Seattle’s standard of living

High praise for Seattle’s standard of living, cost of living in Seattle, Washington

The cost of living in Seattle is 104% higher than the U.S. average, making it much more expensive than other cities. Housing is often the culprit, but you can find some very nice, less expensive housing options. Seattle’s sales tax rate is 10.1%, also higher than the U.S. average of 7.3%.

The good news is there is no personal income tax in the state of Washington; however, in 2017, the Seattle City Council enacted a law to collect income tax from higher income earners which is still under heated debate.

U.S. News & World Report ranked the State of Washington as #1 in the Best States in 2019, followed by New Hampshire and Minnesota. For 2019, Niche.com ranked Seattle #3 in the Best Cities for Young Professionals category, #2 for Best Cities for Outdoor Activities (behind Portland, Oregon) and #7 for Healthiest Cities in America.

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5. Highly acclaimed healthcare

Highly acclaimed healthcare in Seattle, Washington

Seattleites have access to excellent healthcare facilities and physicians. Here are just a few:

  1. A. Seattle Children’s Hospital is ranked as one of the best U.S. children’s hospitals by U.S. News & World. Report and serves as the University of Washington School of Medicine’s principal education and research site.
  2. B. University of Washington Medical Center was rated #1 by U.S. News & World Report in nine adult specialties.
  3. C. Virginia Mason Medical Center ranked regionally and nationally as a high performing facility by U.S. News & World Report.
  4. D. Cascade Valley Hospital & Clinics provide a full range of services.
  5. E. Minor & James Medical touts a multi-specialty approach with locations in Seattle, Bellevue and Mercer Island.
  6. F. The Polyclinic has multiple locations offering dozens of medical specialties.
  7. G. The VA Puget Sound Health Care System serves veterans with primary and specialty care.

6. Universities and schools highly rated

Universities and schools highly rated in Seattle, Washington

Whether you’re looking for public, private, charter or alternative schools, you’ll find them in Seattle. With over 200 schools to choose from and ratings that are publicized, many options are available. The area is also home to over 20 four-year colleges and universities.

Here are some recent Niche.com ratings for the Best Colleges in Seattle:

  1. a) University of Washington #1, with dominant majors in psychology, communications, biochemistry and molecular biology
  2. b) Seattle Pacific University, a private Christian college, was #3 with majors in education, business and nursing
  3. c) Seattle University rated #6 as a private Catholic university with popular majors in nursing, finance and marketing
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7. Job market and local economy going strong

Job market and local economy going strong in Seattle, Washington

With its strong economy, Seattle’s unemployment rate remains low (3.1%) compared to the national average of 3.9%. Top industries are technology, scientific, professional, education, healthcare, hospitality and retail.

Several major employers that are headquartered in Seattle are: online retailer Amazon, coffee shop icon Starbucks and the customer-centric department store Nordstrom.

REI and Boeing also have roots in Seattle, although Boeing has moved its headquarters to Chicago. Alaska Airlines is based at the Seattle-Tacoma Airport, and the Sea-Tac Airport itself employs well over 87,000 people, with thousands of additional workers in related fields.

And, let’s not forget that native Seattleite Bill Gates and his team created a booming Microsoft business in nearby Bellevue. The robust technology presence has naturally created a multitude of related business opportunities as well.

As these high-profile businesses continue to grow, as do others, the city grows with them. Plans are continually underway to improve mass transit and local amenities.

As expected, there is some urban sprawl, but the average commute time is 27.5 minutes (comparable to the national average of 26 minutes), meaning that most employees live fairly close to their workplace.

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8. Entertainment and activity options galore

Entertainment and activity options galore in Seattle, Washington

With the thousands of acres of parkland in and around Seattle, outdoor activities are exceptional. There are magnificent trails for hiking and biking. Try the scenic, 2.8-mile long Discovery Park flat trail.

Or, enjoy views from Olympic Sculpture Park’s Elliott Bay Trail. Higher elevation trails are accessible and available for all levels of hiking ability.

If mountain climbing is your thing, Mount Rainier and the National Park are close by. Get there for an early climb, make your descent and enjoy the grounds and hospitality café when you return. The park has beautiful sites including the Grove of the Patriarchs Trail with its amazing 1,000-year-old fir and cedar trees.

And, with water everywhere you look, you can participate in your favorite water sport or relax on the beach or commons. Enjoy the saltwater of Puget Sound (gateway to the Pacific Ocean) and fish for trout, bass or salmon on Lake Washington, the second largest natural lake in the state.

In the city, undoubtedly, the most well-known landmark is the Space Needle, an observation tower built for the 1962 World’s Fair, and a draw for tourists every year since.

It is located in Seattle Center, the large area originally designated to accommodate Fair visitors and now the perfect spot for entertainment, art, education, socializing and hospitality.

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Here are a few more of the wonderful places to visit:

  1. a) Close to the Space Needle, be amazed at the colorful glass works of Dale Chihuly and possibly catch a “yoga under glass” experience or a summer concert
  2. b) The Seattle Art Museum with three facilities of special exhibits and collections of current and historic work
  3. c) The 92-acre Woodland Park Zoo in the Phinney Ridge neighborhood, with 300 species, a carousel and summer concerts
  4. d) The Seattle Aquarium with underwater viewing, coral-reef tank, touch tank, marine mammals and weekend diver shows—located on Pier 59 on the Elliott Bay waterfront
  5. e) The Sky View Observatory—Columbia with scenic views of the water, islands, city and mountains from its 73rd floor observatory and café. It’s taller than the Space Needle and, at 902 ft., the tallest observatory in the Pacific Northwest
  6. f) Seattle Symphony Orchestra, Seattle Youth Symphony Orchestra, Seattle Opera and Pacific Northwest Ballet
  7. g) Seattle International Film Festival—a 24-day film celebration
  8. h) At Pier 57, an observation Ferris wheel overlooking Puget–the Seattle Great Wheel
  9. i) Take the Seattle monorail to visit the Museum of Pop Culture, a non-profit museum with dozens of exhibits, some of which go on tour domestically and internationally
  10. j) The popular Pike Place Market, a bustling, downtown farmers’ market for an unforgettable experience with a view of the city’s harbor—beautiful Elliott Bay
  11. k) The bizarre Market Theater Gum Wall—a brick wall covered with used chewing gum. You have to see it to believe it, but you might not want to touch it!

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If sports are your thing, you might enjoy:

  1. A. NFL football: Seattle Seahawks
  2. B. MLS soccer: Seattle Sounders FC
  3. C. MLB baseball: Seattle Mariners
  4. D. NWSL soccer: Seattle Reign FC
  5. E. WNBA basketball: Seattle Storm
  6. F. Roller Derby: Rat City Rollergirls
  7. G. WHL hockey: Seattle Thunderbirds
  8. H. MLR rugby: Seattle Seawolves (2018 champions)

Collegiate sports? Yes—at the University of Washington, Seattle University, Seattle Pacific University and Washington State University.

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9. Emerald City pros than cons

Emerald City pros than cons in Seattle, Washington

Are there negatives to living in Seattle? Depending on your perspective, negatives could be urban sprawl, higher crime rates than the U.S. average—especially property crime rate—or summertime heat, humidity and poor air quality.

There’s also the tax rate issue and the high cost of housing. And yes, Seattle is in a major earthquake zone and has suffered damage in the past, though residents don’t blow that possibility out of proportion.

Many people would say it’s all about the pros: good water quality, lots of recreational options, arts, culture and an extraordinary natural setting. There’s economic prosperity, excellent education and a promising job market.

Home values have typically increased nicely, neighborhoods can be found to fit your lifestyle and priorities, and real estate investments can be rewarding.

10. Will I find the right neighborhood?

Will I find the right neighborhood? Looking for the right neighborhood in Seattle, Washington

There are 162 neighborhoods in Seattle, so you might want to narrow that list down a bit before getting serious. A local real estate agent with experience in the area will be able to help you with that. Yes, housing is expensive. Still, there are charming neighborhoods for every budget. We’ll mention only a few as examples:

  1. a) Greenwood is a family-friendly spot with a nice blend of older and newer homes.
  2. b) Madison Park is expensive turf with gated mansions and luxurious manors.
  3. c) South Park houses a mainly Hispanic community with the culture and cuisine to match.
  4. d) West Seattle offers a casual, beach-town personality.
  5. e) Capitol Hill is an active center of arts, music and an emerging LGBTQ population.
  6. f) Chinatown/International district displays a distinctly appealing Asian heritage.
  7. g) Pioneer Square dates back to 1852 and is rich with history, art and architecture from the late 1800s and early 1900s. You’ll also find a 22-ft waterfall at Waterfall Garden Park.
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11. Seattle home values have appreciated for a decade

Seattle home values have appreciated for a decade, increasing property values in Seattle, Washington

This northwestern city offers a variety of housing options. There are high-rise apartments and large apartment complexes to accommodate the high numbers of renters in the city (45%). Why so many renters? Many people are students who rent, and some people prefer to rent because houses are higher priced than in other cities.

Median rent is $2700—also higher than in many other cities—but may be offset by higher compensation in the tech and professional workplace.

For those who buy, the median price of a home is $640,000. Keep in mind that there are some extremely high-value homes that contribute to the higher averages. You can still find homes that can be purchased at well under that dollar figure.

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Most of these will be single-family homes, duplexes or row houses. Things to consider when buying a house? Take time to check out neighborhoods to see which might work for you.

Homes have been appreciating handsomely (as of 2019) and that trend seems to be slowing. Whether you’re looking for a real estate deal or a celebrity-style villa, you’ll find it in Seattle. There are also ample selections for senior housing, independent living and assisted living, with amenities to suit.

Because the cost of homeownership is high, this is a great market for real estate investors. The Seattle market is still a hot spot, and there are plenty of students, millennials moving to the area for career advancement, and people who prefer to rent.

Find the right neighborhood for the renters you prefer, and you’ll find investment opportunities to match. It’s a great time to become a landlord or expand your real estate portfolio.

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12. Experienced realtors as a trusted resource

Experienced realtors as a trusted resource, looking for experienced realtor

Now that you’ve had an overview of what it’s like to live in Seattle, you can dig a little deeper into the topics that interest you the most. Check on local Seattle realtors that understand the market, the neighborhoods and values. They have a wealth of information to assist you and can guide you through a successful transaction with minimal stress.

We hope you’ve enjoyed this article and are inspired to check into it more seriously. Feel free to share this Seattle information with friends and family who might also enjoy it. Thank you!

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Gloria Russell is the lead writer at Russell Resources LLC, a Minnesota-based company, serving clients across the country with business writing that sends a relevant message to a preferred audience. Her mission is to help businesses succeed and grow by creating original, written content for websites and articles and by editing and upgrading existing content. Having considerable experience in buying, selling and renovating homes as well as serving on association boards and managing complex projects, Gloria crafts insightful articles on… Read more >>