clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile
Seattle Photography by Chona Kasinger

Filed under:

There’s lots to love about living outside Seattle

The Seattle area is full of great communities—maybe one is perfect for you

There’s so much more to the Puget Sound area than Seattle. Sure, the Emerald City has stunning water views, an abundance of beautiful parks, and a great library system. But depending on what you’re looking for, you can find a city or town with all those amenities—and more—less than an hour from the city proper.

Looking for those water views? Try the beachfront town of Edmonds. Want a walkable, in-city vibe? Burien and White Center both have fantastic downtowns. Wondering where all the artists are going? There’s the potential for a thriving art scene anywhere in the area, if the cities below are any indication.

It’s important to not think of these towns as extensions of Seattle. They all have their own deep cultural roots, rich histories, and specific quirks that keep longtime residents around— and draw new ones. While these towns are all growing, make sure you love your new home for what it is right now, not what it could be—gentrification is looming for a lot of these places, but they’re already perfect in their own ways.

Here are some of our favorites.

Edmonds Washington Shutterstock


Transit time to downtown Seattle: 1 hour by bus

Edmonds is so great that, even after seeing the world, travel icon Rick Steves decided live here—and make it the base of operations for his public travel center.

“I’ve spent four months a year in Europe for the last 40 years, but nothing beats the joy of coming home,” Steves tells us. “Edmonds has been my home since I was 12 years old, and I can still see my old junior high school from my office window. I love living where the mountains hit the salt water—in a community where Kathmandu is a household word.”

Even for those adventurers who stick closer to home, it’s a jumping-off point for outdoor fun, with multiple marinas, a ferry to Kitsap County, and in-city hikes. But it also provides a small-town vibe with a vibrant arts community, including a revered performing arts center with both community events and nationally touring acts.

Andrea Dunlop has lived in Edmonds for two years. Initially, moving there was a financial decision—she and her husband were escaping Seattle’s soaring rent prices and looking for a bigger place—but it turned out to be the perfect fit.

“We’ve ended up loving it so much I don’t think we’d have it any other way,” Dunlop tells us. “Edmonds really feels like a community, and it’s much more like living in a small town than living in a suburb because everything is so centralized.”

Although it’s still a little sleepy, says Dunlop, the city exudes charm, with a “lovely” downtown that features a movie theater, a bookstore, restaurants, art galleries, and coffee shops. “If you’re looking for somewhere that’s calm but still interesting and vibrant, it’s perfect.”

But the seaside setting is what Edmonds is really known for—and for good reason. “The waterfront is stunning, and on a clear day when you can see out over the sound to the Olympics, I think it’s one of the best views in the area,” explains Dunlop.


Transit time to downtown Seattle: 1 hour by ferry

Just a gorgeous ferry ride across the Puget Sound from Seattle, Bremerton is a seaside town with plenty of room for creative folks to thrive.

“I love being around for the formation of things and love watching grassroots community organizing power... make stuff happen,” says Garrett Kelly, who founded Hollow Earth Radio in Seattle but moved to Bremerton last year. Kelly says it has the benefits of a small town, like little traffic and close relationships with neighbors.

“People seem hungry for new ideas because it is a small town, so people are super supportive of pop-ups or whatever venture you’re doing,” Kelly tells us. “They want to see new things happen here. There is a true community of people who want to support you.”

That supportive community is allowing the local arts scene to thrive—for example, two Bremerton artists built an experimental art space called cogean? in their home. Kelly also enjoys the Saturday vintage flea market, Saboteur bakery, and the planetarium. The town also takes its local goods seriously, and has an online co-op that allows you to get local goods delivered. For Kelly, who co-founded the metaphysical mapping project Liminal, Bremerton’s unique mythology is a particular selling point; for example, Bremerton has its own Sasquatch-like myth, only it’s about a giant shrimp.

Plus, Kelly says, the commute is great. The ferry ride is an hour, but it’s not like driving or riding the train or bus. While ferry commuters can listen to podcasts or read, they can also grab food, drink a beer, chat with neighbors, and walk around. That hour-long trip is reliable, too, since there’s not really traffic on the water. Those looking for a shorter commute can also grab the fast ferry, which runs during peak commute hours and cuts the trip time by half an hour.

“I feel like it’s an easier commute than when I lived the South End [of Seattle],” says Kelly.

White Center Seattle Washington Photography by Chona Kasinger

White Center

Transit time to downtown Seattle: 45 minutes by bus

Since White Center begins right as the city limits end at Roxbury Street, it’s sometimes regarded as a Seattle neighborhood, but despite some rumblings about annexation, it’s a place of its own. A main downtown drag is packed with small, local businesses, including grocery stores, Vietnamese and Mexican restaurants, and a record store. Longtime businesses mingle well with newer additions—for example, the beer hall Beer Star, which just opened in 2018, is a great place to have a sit-down meal from taco truck Taqueria la Fondita 2, which has been serving food in the area for more than a decade.

Nathan Adams opened White Center’s first LGBTQ bar, called the Lumber Yard, back in 2017, and was touched by how welcoming the community was.

“There is a renewed energy in White Center,” Adams tells us. He says the community’s coming together in a big way—something he felt during White Center Pride. Adams says there was giant turnout for the Pride kickoff flag-raising ceremony and it was a vibrant week for local businesses “as we celebrated this diverse neighborhood.”

When the community was tested later that month—Adams and other businesses found their pride flags had been stolen—it only brought everyone closer together.

“People replaced the flags, and went through the community displaying more pride-related media to show solidarity,” explains Adams.

Everett Washington Shutterstock


Transit time to downtown Seattle: 1 hour by commuter rail or bus

One might move to Everett—maybe the most unsung Puget Sound city—for its lower-cost housing and decent transit access to Seattle, but it has its own bigger-city vibe.

“Everett is not Seattle. It’s its own city,” says Maxwell Mooney, who moved to Everett in 2011 and co-owns local java joint Narrative Coffee. “It’s got its own culture, ethos, and work ethic. It’s gritty, sophisticated, blue collar, and artistic.”

With Paine Field (now a commercial airport, too) right in town, it’s a major hub for Boeing employees. But gaming culture is currently on the rise, most visibly through the massive, Disneyland-esque Funko Pop campus. Mooney notes a high concentration of game stores and a thriving music and arts scene. “It’s a really cool city and I love playing a small part in it,” says Mooney.


Transit time to downtown Seattle: 45 minutes by bus

Those outside of Lynnwood can sometimes look down on this town as a pillar of suburbia centered around the Alderwood Mall. But the residents know it’s a lot more.

“If you were to just drive through, you’d see big box stores and parking lots,” explains Lynnwood resident Teo, who requested we not publish her full name. She points to “a really active tabletop game community and cafe,” as well as great Korean, Mexican, Indian, and Thai restaurants; a solid comic book store; and the ultra-relaxing Olympus Spa. “They’re just hidden behind an outdated, car-centered [city design].”

The city is embracing change as it prepares for a light-rail station connecting it to Seattle come 2024. Some of those big superblocks in the area surrounding the mall that make it easy to drive and park, but difficult to walk, will be broken down into normal, pedestrian-sized blocks with storefronts along the sidewalk. Teo says the street revisions are “ambitious,” but that it’ll highlight what’s already great about Lynnwood—just brought down to eye level.

One thing that Lynnwood has always done well: blending city amenities with a semi-rural sensibility. Where she lives, Teo says, “if you walk 10 minutes to the left of our house, you’re at Alderwood Mall. If you walk 10 minutes to the right of our house, you’re at a farm.”

All that greenery and low farmland leads to some spectacular views—mountains in almost every direction atop a sea of evergreen trees. “You can forget you’re in a city at all,” says Teo.


Transit time to downtown Seattle: 1 hour by bus

This is another place with a very suburban reputation: Infamously, there’s a sign that reads “Welcome to Bothell for a day or a lifetime,” and people keep crossing out the “Bot.”

But here’s the thing about Bothell: More and more housing is going into its amenity-rich downtown area, making living there more walkable. There’s even some fun and whimsy here, including the McMenamins Anderson School complex, which features multiple theme bars, including a tiki bar overlooking a quirky pool beloved by both kids and adults.

It’s also the ideal location if you want to live outside the city but commute by bike. It sits on the terminus of the Burke-Gilman Trail, which will take you right into Ballard—or, after an easy connection to the Westlake Cycle Track, South Lake Union or downtown.


Transit time to downtown Seattle: 1 hour by bus

Some view Shoreline, which officially incorporated in the 1990s, as a kind of extension of Seattle—but it’s its own place, with a lovely, friendly creative community that’s still small enough that people can pull off some fun stunts that nobody would bother with in the big city.

For example: Local author Tiffany Pitts ran a mayoral campaign for her dog, Thor Michaelson, and distributed yard signs with a bold stance: “Thor Michaelson says no to vacuums: They’re loud and they freak him out.”

Shoreline is also a popular city for raising kids.

“Cascade K-8 was brilliant for my daughter, although it isn’t for everyone,” says CP Scott, who lives in Shoreline’s North City neighborhood. “The school has changed over the years, but the core desire for a more inclusive, community oriented, hands on learning environment has continued throughout. The entire school district is fantastic.”

And some great kids are coming out of Shoreline, like the 10-year-old who led a successful campaign to get an early learning center named after Edwin Pratt, a local civil rights leader who was murdered in 1969.

Shoreline is also tied into Seattle’s transit system in a big way, since it’s just across the city border. The BRT line Rapidride E serves the area, as well as the workhouse Metro route 5.

Burien Washington Shutterstock


Transit time to downtown Seattle: 30 minutes by bus

Like White Center, Burien can kind of get looped into Seattle sometimes, but again—it’s its own place. That’s in its DNA; while it technically wasn’t incorporated until 1993, it was built up as its own community, not an offshoot of Seattle. There are plenty of homes within walking distance of its vibrant downtown area, while others are farther away from the city center, including along the Puget Sound shore.

“I love that I can go downtown, swing by a library and a bookstore, grab a beer, and hit any number of restaurants all within about four blocks from each other,” Burien resident and South Seattle Emerald interim managing editor Aaron Burkhalter says. Those businesses, he adds, are resilient: “Most of these things have been there for a long time and haven’t been displaced.”

Scott Schaefer, who has lived in Burien since 1995 and edits the B-Town Blog, calls Burien “a charming, small town with big-town access... full of great arts, entertainment, food, natural scenery—Seahurst Park is a fave—and people.”

“Burien is a magnificent hidden gem, is growing quickly, has affordable housing [compared to Seattle], is very conveniently located near the airport, and is still very safe and quiet,” adds Schaefer.

While Burien’s been the target of some hateful rhetoric against its Latinx population recently, much of the community strives to be inclusive.

“Burien City Council meetings are where the rubber hits the road on all of the social and political debates we are having today,” says Burkhalter. For example, Burien’s Sanctuary City ordinance was a hot-button topic when it was passed by a then newly elected council in 2017. “Even in the most discouraging conversations, you see the loving community coming out.”

Plus: It’s gorgeous. The aforementioned Seahurst Park stretches down the Puget Sound coastline, and up in the hills, where you can catch pretty views of the Seattle skyline.


Transit time to downtown Seattle: 1 hour by bus

It’s a theme for South King County: The easy commuting distance can make these cities seem like an extension of Seattle, but they’re distinct places with their own identities. A stretch of downtown includes a wide variety of businesses, from dive bars to coffee shops to restaurants—even an arcade bar. Renton is bisected by Cedar River, which borders the downtown area, making for some pretty waterside parks. (It’s also where the Seattle IKEA is, if you want to hit that cafeteria for Swedish meatballs more regularly.)

Renton resident Alexa Medhus says that Renton’s proximity to Tukwila and SeaTac is handy for getting to a flight quickly, Southcenter Mall is right there, and if you’re headed to downtown Seattle, it’s pretty easy to get to a nearby light rail station. But in Renton itself, there’s a great farmers market and “lots of places to bike and walk,” says Medhus, including Lake Youngs, a reservoir on the edge of town.

“I also like that the house prices can be significantly cheaper here. It’s easier to own a home here than in Seattle proper,” says Medhus. “I love my little slice of suburbia.”


Transit time to downtown Seattle: 1 hour 15 minutes by bus, 20 minutes by commuter rail

There are a lot of great things in Kent. We love the Great Wall Shopping Mall, the cheap and diverse food selection, the historic graveyards, the Soos Creek Botanical Garden, and its abundance of bike trails. The ShoWare Center arena gets national touring acts that skip venues in the Seattle city limits.

It was, however, a little difficult to drum up residents to talk it up—not because they don’t love it, but because its reputation as a boring suburb keeps the good parts a secret to everyone who doesn’t live there.

Barb Smith, however, was more than happy to share. She moved to Kent 10 years ago, eventually becoming executive director of the Kent Downtown Partnership, “a non-profit organization whose goal is to vitalize the historic downtown of Kent” (yes, it has a historic downtown—there’s even a museum). When we asked what she loves about living in Kent, she sent us a kind of love letter to the community.

“It did not take long for me to see that I wanted to be part of something that so many people care about,” writes Smith. “The community works together and you just automatically want to be part of something successful.”

Smith cites Kent’s annual International Festival, which celebrates the town’s cultural diversity with cultural performances (ranging from Mexican folkloric dancing to a Chinese lion dance to a Swiss choir), a food court, and crafts. “Many people do not realize that we have 138 different languages spoken in our schools,” says Smith. “We are a diverse community that is learning how to communicate and include each other.”

“We truly are a village and it feels good to be a part of something much greater than myself,” Smith adds.