Thinking about moving to Seattle? The first thing you should know about Seattle is that it’s constantly evolving and feels like both a big city and a small city at the same time.
On a clear day, heading south on 1-5 via the Ship Canal Bridge gives you a view of all Seattle truly is: The glass skyscrapers and steel construction cranes are encircled by pine-dotted hills, deep-blue lakes, and two soaring mountain ranges crowned by Mount Rainier.
Seattle is pretty, there’s no doubt about it. And while it would seem everyone in the country would move here if given the chance, the one detail holding people back is the weather. Yeah, it rains. But real Seattleites can handle it. One of the biggest inside jokes among locals is that we don’t use umbrellas (even though many of us actually do). But the truth is: A rain jacket is often the better solution since the weather is usually more damp than actually rainy.
More and more people are making the leap to the biggest city in the Evergreen State. Seattle’s population has grown 18 percent since 2010 (one of the highest increases in the country), with an estimated 730,000 residents in the city limits and another 3.5 million in greater Seattle and counting. To accommodate the surge, the city is constantly upgrading.
With homegrown giants like Amazon and Microsoft firmly situated in the region, the city can sometimes feel like San Francisco and Silicon Valley had a baby, and that baby drank Starbucks. Expedia, Alaska Airlines, Nintendo, Boeing, and Costco also call the Emerald City home, and Facebook, Google, and other Bay Area companies have satellite offices here.
But it’s not all tech. There’s no shortage of things to do here, including outdoor activities like hiking, kayaking, mountain biking or live events like catching a show at the historic Paramount Theatre or one of the OG music venues like the Crocodile. In the summer, you might find yourself enjoying a craft brew at an outdoor food festival or rollerblading along the sun-drenched shores of Alki Beach. In the winter, you might head up to one of the mountain passes for some all-day snowboarding or cozying up in a wood cabin and soaking your feet in a hot tub. As more and more transplants are beginning to find out, Seattle’s a pretty special place. But before you say yes to whatever could possibly bring you to the city, here are a few additional things you should consider.
- The weather can be damp, but don’t expect that much rain.
The number one question, by far, that most non-Seattle natives have is: “Does it really rain that much there?” If I’m being honest, the weather typically fluctuates between rainy, drizzly, and dry but threatening rain. Ironically though, there’s not actually that much rainfall (nevermind what you saw in Sleepless in Seattle). The average actual rainfall per year is 37.7 inches, which makes it only the 32nd rainiest city in the country. So why the wet reputation? For one, there’s frequently a light drizzle, so while it rarely pours, the rain is persistent (and can persist several months). Secondly, the number of days that can be described as overcast can be daunting to the uninitiated. When you’re in the middle of February and you haven’t seen the sun in what seems like half a year, the gray sky can start to take its toll.
So yes, the weather isn’t all sunshine, but it also isn’t as bad as you might have heard. Overall, the temperature is pretty moderate. In the winter, temps average around 40 to 50 degrees, and in the summer, it’s usually in the upper 70s, so it’s never really too hot or too cold. Plus, you really get to experience all four seasons, so that’s something.
Due to its latitude, Seattle has different daylight patterns than most U.S. cities. It gets dark earlier in the winter, but also stays lighter longer in the summer, sometimes not getting dark until past 10 p.m.
2. The economy is surging, but maybe not as much as you think it is.
The Amazon headquarters brings a lot of money and jobs to the city (as do other big tech firms with roots here). Retail and fashion are strong drivers of the economy too, with REI, Nordstrom and Zulily all headquartered here. And manufacturing and construction companies, like Boeing, remain stalwarts. Having so many major companies here means lots of opportunities for people in all kinds of professions and industries.
Yet despite this, the unemployment rate is at 3.8 percent, which is on the higher side for a major U.S. city. More than 11,000 people are experiencing homelessness countywide, with more than 5,000 without shelter—and if you drive by almost any major road, you’ll see swaths of encampments. So while the city is growing, so is the disparity between the rich and the poor.
3. Housing costs are escalating.
Currently, the typical rent for an apartment in Seattle metropolitan area is $1,965, according to Rentcafe, or $2,285 by Zillow’s numbers. While housing still costs more in New York and San Francisco, Seattle’s not cheap either. Longtime locals are getting priced out by high-wage tech workers who aren’t balking at the rising housing costs.
There is some good news: Rising rents in the city have stalled for now, as apartment complexes have been built to meet the demand. Over the past year prices went up only .5 percent. Rents on the Seattle outskirts are still rising, but only slightly—they grew 4.7 percent in the past year. Which is all to say that while moving to the area won’t be cheap, at least it seems like your rent won’t spiral out of control anytime soon.
If you’re looking for an idea of how far your money will get you, check out our Curbed comparisons breaking down what you can rent at certain price points in Seattle.
For those interested in buying a home, there’s some good news as well on that front. It seems like the bubble on home prices has popped over the past year, and it’s on a cool climb down—the average price of a home is currently sitting at $717,800. And Zillow predictions have it falling farther next year, about 3.8 percent.
4. Personal biases aside, it truly is beautiful out here.
Even those of us who were born and raised here can’t stop admiring the breathtaking beauty that surrounds us on a daily basis. The major parks here feel untouched, and the frequent drizzle contributes to a cleaner air quality.
To a newcomer, living here can feel almost like camping. The city makes a big deal about preserving its tree canopy, and our roots in the logging industry mean wide swaths of forests in the area. It can take awhile to get used to, but once you’ve been submerged in Seattle’s eco-friendly, nature-loving culture, it’s hard to imagine going anywhere else.
5. Expect to be indoctrinated into the coffee culture.
Whether you’ll fit in here may depend largely on how you view coffee. Coffee lovers will find themselves right at home, while the non-caffeinated may struggle to adapt. While we’re well known for being the birthplace of Starbucks, you can stroll around any neighborhood in Seattle and you’re likely to find just as many, if not more, independent roasteries, coffee bars, and tea shops. Some of the best local options include Caffe Vita, Fuel, Milstead & Co., and Zeitgeist.
The coffee shops here are known as much as spots to socialize as they are places to consume caffeine. Most cafes here are built with an industrial chic design and have knowledgeable and (usually) friendly baristas who can tell you everything about the flavor of coffee you’re drinking, including how the beans were roasted.
6. Not having a car is possible, but it can be tough depending on where you live.
Seattle fancies itself as a bike-friendly town, but with its hilly terrain, wet climate, and lack of dependable bike lanes, it’s definitely no Amsterdam. Additionally, the city is playing a bit of catch up in the mass-transit department, as it started its light rail projects relatively late in the game compared to other major cities, and has been mostly relying on the bus system (this system, however, is fairly extensive).
But the good news is that the light rail can now take you from the airport to downtown in under an hour, while stopping at a few key neighborhoods along the way, with future plans to extend to more of the suburban areas like North Seattle (Capitol Hill and U-District got their stations in 2016).
But most Seattleites do own cars, as the light rail and bus options aren’t quite practical choices yet for some areas. Public transit also isn’t quite robust enough for weekend venturing to nearby campgrounds, towns, and hiking trails (although, there are some trailhead shuttles being offered and a small number of campgrounds are transit-accessible).
7. The traffic is awful.
Many cities feel like they have terrible traffic, but a recent INRIX study ranked our traffic as the sixth-worst in the country. In addition to the lack of public transit options, Seattle doesn’t have a robust highway network, which causes backups that feel agonizingly soul sucking. Unless some of the bigger businesses move out of town, there might not be immediate relief for quite some time. The plans to expand the light rail train to more areas up and down the greater Seattle area could potentially help. Exactly how much remains to be seen, but after the light rail was extended north to Capitol Hill and the U District, downtown Seattle saw the biggest drop in drive-alone commuters ever recorded for the city.
To alleviate some congestion, more companies are offering flexible working options such as working remotely or are providing employees with an ORCA pass, which will get you on the train, rail, or ferry.
8. Beware the “Seattle Freeze.”
In case you’re unfamiliar with the phenomenon known as the “Seattle Freeze,” it’s a popular theory that Seattleites are shy, introverted, and anti-social. Is it true? Well, it depends on who you ask, but considering that I’ve gotten very few new Instagram followers over the past five years, I’d say that I’m not only guilty, but it’s a fairly accurate portrayal (and further explored by a recent Seattle Times article). But don’t let a little anti-socialness get you down. The truth is, since Seattle is made up of as many transplants as locals, you probably won’t have too much trouble finding friends who will talk to you. And freezers’ social hesitation can be popped as long as you’re willing to extend yourself a little more than you might have with a non-Seattleite. We’re not unfriendly; we’re shy.
9. You’ll learn to thrive in the great outdoors.
Or at the very least, you’ll be exposed to it. And if you already consider yourself an outdoorsy person then the Seattle area just might be your perfect match.
Surrounded by mountain ranges, dense rainforests, blue lakes, and nearby Pacific shores, there’s plenty of options for the adventurous. There’s almost no limit to the amount of activities available, as long as you’re open to quick excursions outside the city limits. Kayaking, rafting, Jet Skiing, hiking, and backpacking are all common go-tos for locals. In the colder months, skiers and snowboarders will love their close proximity to several ski resorts like Stevens Pass and Snoqualmie, plus world-class resorts less than a day’s drive away in Whistler BC, Canada. Year-round rock climbers will enjoy the quick 2-hour drive to the iconic Mount Rainier. In the coastal regions, there’s also a wide assortment of things to do in the sea, from whale-watching to fishing, or just setting up a tent near one of the region’s sandy beaches.
10 . There are plenty of neighboring cities to visit.
Since Seattle is in the upper corner of the U.S., it may seem isolated from other interesting areas. But there are actually quite a lot of places to visit within driving (or ferry) distance from the city, or even car-free. First, take a ferry across the water to Bainbridge Island or Kingston and spend the day in the small-town communities there that are as friendly as they are charming. Then, ferry across the sound to the San Juan Islands or take a scenic drive over to the Olympic National Forest, with tons of clam-digging and camping options in the immediate vicinity.
Or, if you’re up for more of a road trip: Head south, where quirky and fun Portland, Oregon, is just 3 hours away. To the north, you can even leave the country and explore Vancouver BC, a 2 to 3 hour trip from Seattle (depending on border congestion). If you go east, you’ll find the ever delightful Bavarian village of Leavenworth a mere 2 hours away.
11. Staying out may mean turning in earlier than you’re used to.
Seattle’s not the best place for nightlife, unless you’re coming from a place where the last call comes before midnight. The after-dark options have gotten better in recent years. But if you’re used to staying out late drinking and partying ‘til the sun comes up, you might be underwhelmed. In addition to the aforementioned Seattle Freeze that keeps us from being comfortable in large groups, bars close at 2 a.m., and most restaurants close up shop by then as well (although Chinatown International District has good late-night eats).
Having said all that, if you’re looking for a chill place to have drinks, your best bet is Ballard or Wallingford. Each neighborhood offers dive bars, cramped music venues, and open-late taco trucks. Or, if you’re really looking to cut loose, Capitol Hill is your best bet, as mainstays like Q, Neumo’s, and Rhino Room are always packed with lines to get in spilling out onto the sidewalks (and you can enjoy a famous Seattle dog while you wait).
12. Seattle is an ideal spot for raising kids.
On top of the relatively low violent crime rates, clean air, and number of kid-friendly activities, Seattle’s education system is a haven for students. Education is a priority for the city—and Washington State currently ranks No. 19 in K-12 and No. 2 in higher education, according to US News and World Report. And while the public school districts perform well, so do the private schools, where Bill Gates and Paul Allen got their educations.
The city’s most recent $600 million education levy was overwhelmingly approved by voters and marked a significant milestone in the advancement of education standards. It addresses educational issues for low-income households, including providing public school students 2 free years of community-college tuition.
College-bound students are rewarded by staying local, too—the prestigious University of Washington was ranked the No. 15 best public university in the nation by a recent Forbes article.
13. Seattle is (mostly) very progressive.
Seattle is one of the most progressive cities in the country, which could be a plus or minus for you, depending on which side of the political aisle you stand on. The city is gaining a reputation for taking a strong stance for liberal positions on both the local and national stage. U.S. representative Pramila Jayapal is one of the leading members in Congress at tackling emotionally charged issues such as the Equality Act, which would extend civil rights protections to the LGBT community. Governor Jay Inslee was one of the few governors who vehemently opposed President Trump’s 2016 executive order that banned travel from certain countries, which disproportionately impacted Muslims, and is currently campaigning to be the Democratic presidential nominee on a 100 percent clean energy plan—wiping out fossil fuels entirely. And Washington was also one of the first states to legalize cannabis.
While the city can be starkly divided on local issues—for example, zoning and approaches to our homelessness crisis—most residents are unified in moral and social stances that lean (or heavily tilt) left of center.
14. Whether you stick around or not, you’ll come to appreciate your time here (and you’ll probably be back).
Sometimes it takes living in Seattle for awhile, then moving away for a bit to truly appreciate what you once had. Many residents will relocate in search of other experiences and job opportunities, but the affection for the home of the Space Needle rarely wavers—and often brings them back. In addition to the distinct northwest vibe and culture rarely found in other parts of the country, many regard Seattleites as being some of the friendliest people around (once you’ve overcome the freeze). Companions made here tend to last a lifetime—and does our fanaticism for the Seahawks, Sounders, Storm, and, if you’re one of the faithful, Sonics.
Outside of the people, the picturesque natural surroundings tend to make former residents nostalgic—whether what’s made an impression are the vibrant hues of falling maple leaves, the slightly sweet smell of post-drizzle pavement, or the tranquil serenity of the grove of cherry blossoms in the UW quad.
Seattle just feels like home, and no matter where you came from originally or how far you go from the city, it always seems to stay that way.