Moving to a new city is always challenging. A big portion of that challenge is finding a good place to live, especially when you don’t know what it has to offer.
We’ve got your back! That’s why we packed this article with information about Seattle’s best suburbs to see if one is the right fit for you!
You’ve no doubt seen our Seattle City Guide, which includes a short section on a few of Seattle’s most popular neighborhoods (oh, and by way of introduction, we’re Bellhop—Seattle movers and movers throughout the country).
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A little history about Seattle’s Best Suburbs
As far as cities goes, Seattle is new, founded in 1851. The suburbs are even newer. The city’s growth for years was hampered by what makes it so spectacular: water and mountains.
Most early growth was north-south along the I-5 corridor to towns like Renton and Burien to the south, and Mountlake Terrace and Bothell to the north. Small communities such as Bellevue and Kirkland ringed Lake Washington with the ‘big city’ accessible by passenger ferries. Locals had summer cabins on Mercer Island! This idyllic-sounding life changed forever with the I-90 floating bridge in 1940, and the 520 bridge in 1963. Developers followed, offering cheap housing to (mostly) Boeing employees.
TV shows fictitiously set in Seattle like Frasier and Gray’s Anatomy attracted a few curious out-of-towners. So did its cheap houses. That all changed with the booming ‘90s when Microsoft, Starbucks, Costco, and Amazon ‘arrived.’ Seattle’s gradually expanding housing market was never the same, fueling the suburbs, growth, and prices we see today.
Today these suburban towns all share the same growth story, and with a few exceptions look the same. They’ve all merged together into one suburban ‘blob’ so we will summarize their distinctions.
What You Need to Know About Seattle’s Best Suburbs
Crazy Growth: They grew a lot as King Country encouraged ‘in-filling.’ Renton grew 104%, Bellevue 32% as its schools’ reputations attracted international tech families (now over 38% Asian).
High Home Prices: Home prices are well above the US average. In these ‘best’ suburbs you can expect the average home price to be $1.1 million with condos in the $600K – $800K range. Rentals are similarly inflated around $2,600 for an average 1-bedroom. The issue is a limited supply. Folks who refinanced or bought when interest rates were low are loathe to sell as rates stay high. These prices encouraged locals to cash out and move early during the pandemic. In some towns the population has declined.
Personality: City managers had to make tough decisions – stay ‘small-town folksy’ or hug growth. Most have chosen to keep some semblance of their original downtown, adding mid-height, mixed use apartments. Bellevue embraced growth with high-rises challenging Seattle’s.
Schools: School districts are considering closing some schools as school-aged kids population declines – even Bellevue recently closed two. A great educational system is what attracted many transplants, so this is a painful decision. If schools are part of your moving decision, we encourage you to research the facts in each district.
Commuting: Seattle has lousy commuting times. Use mapping tools like Google Maps to calculate ‘honest’ commute times. Their ‘bus route’ choice on maps is wildly accurate for greater Seattle.
What helps is the region’s better than average Metro bus system. A $2.75 bus trip from Redmond to downtown Seattle takes 30-40 minutes and is a significant saving over tolls, parking, and gas.
Coming Soon is Light Rail. By 2042, the region is planning 242 miles of four Link light rail lines covering downtown Seattle and branching out to Redmond, Issaquah, Everett, and Tacoma. The line to Redmond is tentatively opening in 2024.
Your Remote Job May Go Away. As much as you like working in slippers, Seattle’s tech leaders have gone hybrid. Your perfect remote gig may go likewise. Take this into account if looking to live in far-out areas like North Bend, or even ‘over the pass’ places like Cle Elum.
Highway Tolls: Recently the state has added tolls on bridges and freeways around Seattle. A $3.50 toll one-way on a bridge adds up for commuters, nearly $2,000 annually. The toll shifted traffic patterns and made sleepy towns like Bothell on the north end of the lake more appealing.
Building Standards: Worried about not having enough housing, cities are considering allowing Accessory Dwelling Units (ADUs). Bellevue says ‘nope,’ Kirkland says ‘sure.’ If you have an opinion pro or con about an additional structure in your neighbor’s backyard (or yours), it’s worth checking out the city code before you buy.
Earthquakes are a reality here. Newer buildings have stronger codes and reinforced structures, which some may find more appealing than ‘mid-century modern.’
Diversity: Seattle’s history as a trading hub means it’s always welcoming transplants. Recent new arrivals seem to arrive in waves, bringing skills, languages, and great ethnic cooking. A typical strip mall may contain a well-reviewed ethnic restaurant or a specialty food market. Diversity varies by town: Bellevue is 38% Asian, Sammamish 33% South Asian. That’s compared to Seattle’s 16% and the US’s 6%.
Climate: It’s changing. Forest fire smoke seems to be a regular nuisance now each summer. It makes hot days worse as one must close the windows.Consider adding AC as a requirement to any home purchase. Most new apartments do not have it, so choose wisely if you have respiratory issues. A portable in-room AC is a necessity, particularly if you have pets.
‘Almost’ Bike Friendly: Seattle is leading the local charge in making streets bike-friendly and giving over streets. Suburbs are following, mostly with lane markings, rather than dedicated paths. One exception is the Burke-Gilman trail, a 27-mile bike / pedestrian pathway on an old rail line. It connects Woodinville, a northerly suburban town with the downtown. It’s possible to make a 50-mile circuit around Lake Washington mostly on dedicated pathways; (some street use is necessary in places.) Towns like Kirkland are converting similar rail paths and adding bike / walker ramps around busy intersections.
Bellevue – the Big Dog
Bellevue is a thriving retail and residential alternative to Seattle, benefitting from its location smack dab between both floating bridges. Its mall offers world-class shops and dining; (try hand-made dumplings at Din Tai Fung). Bellevue embraced the high-rise culture and will only grow more as the Light Rail system goes live, and Amazon moves more employees to the city.
Surrounding the growing downtown core are mid-century modern modest homes in this tree-loving city. More expensive homes line Lake Washington (Beaux Arts). East Bellevue’s Crossroads Mall is a family-friendly, low-cost alternative offering shopping, multiple international food vendors with a common dining area, and a public library.
Bellevue’s excellent public schools are known nationally and were a strong magnet for the Asian community’s growth from 8% in 2000 to 30% in 2010. Bellevue, Bellevue Big Picture, Interlake, International, Newport and Sammamish regularly top US New’s high school ratings. Forest Ridge Catholic School for Girls is well-respected also. Unfortunately, the high cost of homes, aging community and population decline have taken their toll, and the school district has closed two elementary schools.
The city offers pleasant walking parks, Meydenbauer Center for performing arts, and the Bellevue Arts Museum.
Home prices in Bellevue are far above the national average; the median listing price is $1.3 million, condos $718,000 according to Zillow. Rentals in the area average $2.500 monthly according to RentCafe.
Just north of Bellevue and on the lake, a popular living and dining destination is Kirkland. Its waterfront and small retail area are appealing with four thriving coffee shops and multiple restaurants. Its harbor has lots of yachting eye-candy. Stop into Zoka for a great hand-roasted coffee. Or grab a fresh macaroon at Lady Yum, or home-made gelato at Sirena Gelato. Kirkland’s home prices are in line with Bellevue’s with an average price of $1.1 million.
Once a sleepy horse-farm town, Redmond is on its 3rd stage of change adding five story, mixed-use apartments. It’s best known for the main Microsoft campus which never stops growing, and its sprawling Marymoor Park, equally popular with soccer parents and dog walkers: lots of soccer fields for league tournaments. And an even larger, actually huge, off-leash area with fields and water access. What could be better than returning home with a tired kid and a muddy dog in your SUV? (The park does offer a dog-washing service, just so you know).
Timber companies that once grew trees in these lowlands found more profit in growing homes. One of the first was Klahanie on the Sammamish Plateau. This 3,200-home planned community pioneered a population growth to today’s 65,000. What’s noteworthy is the large South Asian community (33%), and higher than average education and home value $1.4M.
The plateau is home to Eastside Catholic, a powerhouse college prep school that regularly wins the state football championship. Nearby is Trilogy, a planned community for residents 55+ with a golf course, active sports center, and activities.
Older Suburbs Worth Noting
Older towns bordering Lake Washington offer a slower lifestyle, closer-in commutes, and toll-free access to Seattle along the I-5 corridor. Like others mentioned here, they have experienced rapid growth with low-rise, mixed-use apartments and shopping.
Renton is strategically located on the south end of Lake Washington, making it an ideal location for folks needing to commute north to Seattle or Bellevue, plus close by access to SeaTac International airport. The city has converted an industrial area along the lake into a charming village-style mix of retail and apartments, which spurred its growth. There’s a 57-acre park, walking trails along the Cedar River and plenty to do. In downtown Renton Boeing assembles 737s and flies one out each nine days. Schools get great reviews and home prices are a more modest $700K.
Bothell / Lake Forest Park
Lake Forest Park and Bothell surround the north end of Lake Washington. Both older communities are growing with mid-rise apartments in a hodge-podge fashion. Lake Forest Parks is part of the well-respected Shoreline school district. Bothell has grown to the east with a satellite University of Washington campus. The Sammamish River Trail connects to the Burke Gilman Trail in Bothell. Biking to a wine tasting or brewery can be a popular afternoon outing. A home in either averages $950,000.
Want an authentic mid-century modern home? This area, really the first developed with the I-90 floating bridge, has fine, period homes developed by leading architects of the time. It’s schools are well-respected, the commute is fast, and the average home price beats all comers at $2M. What’s not to like?
Just south of Bellevue is Newcastle, a new community built around a 36-hole, 350-acre golf course. The location offers spectacular views to Seattle and Mount Rainier to the south. The city of Newcastle is served by two school districts: the Issaquah School District and the Renton School District.
Just north of Redmond is Woodinville. The city has captured the ‘winemaking’ title in Washington state with the location of the oldest winery in the state, Chateau Ste. Michelle. An old farming town with feed supply stores, Woodinville now embraces its wine title with many small-batch wineries and tasting rooms.
There you have it: the best suburbs of Seattle
Neighborhoods are about location and lifestyle, to be sure. But more importantly, they are about the people who live in them. These neighborhoods offer a variety of lifestyles to meet most anyone’s needs.
We hope this guide helps you make the right choice to fit your lifestyle. If you decide to move in or to Seattle don’t hesitate to reach out. We have local movers in Seattle and offer long-distance moves to Seattle as well. Need to move quickly? We also provide last minute moving services in Seattle and other nearby cities such as Portland should you be interested. Good luck with your move!