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Because Seattle is associated with such strong cultural touchstones as grunge music, Amazon, and Starbucks, it’s easy to have expectations about its overall vibe. But if you’re considering a move to the city, it helps to have more specific insight about the things that will affect your day-to-day routine—you know, things like the cost of living, traffic and transportation, and the neighborhoods where you might want to live.
That’s why we’ve gathered information and resources to help make your decision easier. We’ve also reached out to folks who live there to find out what they love about the city and what they think it could improve upon. (And FYI, we’re movers in Seattle, in case you were wondering.)
With an estimated 730,000 residents, Seattle is the largest city in the Pacific Northwest. Its climate is temperate all year long, with relatively dry summers and wet winters. There’s a common misconception that it rains more in Seattle than in other cities, but Seattle actually receives less precipitation than New York, Chicago, Miami, Philadelphia, Atlanta, Houston, Baltimore, and many other places.
It used to be known as the “Queen City” but its official nickname became “Emerald City” in 1981, as a reference to the lush evergreen forests in the area. It’s also referred to as “The City of Goodwill,” which was adopted right before it hosted the 1990 Goodwill Games.
According to a study reported by Seattle Refined, a lifestyle publication devoted to the area, you need to make $72,092 a year to live comfortably in the city. Of course, this really depends on your definition of comfortable. Seattle residents, according to the same article, tend to earn an average of around $67,000.
According to Numbeo, it costs a four-person family around $3,845 a month to live in the city (excluding housing), and expenses for a single person run a little over $1,000 a month (excluding housing).
When it comes to renting, apartments tend to range from $2,161 to $2,492, depending, of course, on where you want to live.
If you would like a more thorough review of the cost of living in Seattle, Expatistan is a great site that will provide you with an extensive list of expenses such as health care, groceries, clothing, and pretty much anything else you can think of.
The local economy is driven by a mix of older industrial companies and newer technology companies: Amazon, Starbucks, Nordstrom, and Weyerhaeuser are a few Fortune 500 companies headquartered in Seattle. And Costco, Microsoft, Nintendo of America, T-Mobile, and Expedia are headquartered in nearby Puget Sound cities.
Seattle is also a hub for global health, with the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, the Infectious Disease Research Institute, the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center, and the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation. The state’s largest health-care system, Providence Health & Services, is also in the area and employs more than 100,000 people.
Due to the city’s rapid growth, traffic in Seattle is now considered among the worst in the country. In an effort to escape the gridlock, one local went without a car for a year, and then wrote about her experiences, concluding: “All forms of transit have their moments of exasperation...I’ve just come to believe that they’re rarely as maddening as the ones I experienced behind the wheel.”
If you decide to conduct your own experiment with public transportation, rest assured that Seattle has quite a few options:
According to The Seattle Times, the overall crime rate in the city is down, but it really depends on the neighborhood. This interactive map is a handy resource for determining the level of safety in particular areas.
Seattle’s neighborhoods are diverse and ever-changing, so we’ve tried to simplify things by briefly highlighting some of our favorites. If you’re interested in a more extensive review, make sure to check out our other guides to the best neighborhoods in Seattle, the best up-and-coming neighborhoods in Seattle, the best neighborhoods for families in Seattle, and the best suburbs in Seattle.
Located on the north bank of the Lake Washington Ship Canal, this neighborhood’s boutiques, bars, and bohemian spirit make it a popular hang-out spot for both residents and the employees of nearby tech companies. It also happens to host the Fremont Solstice Parade, where many participants ride their bicycles naked. Really. (That link is a little NSFW, obviously.)
Another waterfront neighborhood, Belltown is known as a trendy area that offers an abundance of boutiques, art galleries, restaurants, and nightclubs. Many consider it one of the most walkable neighborhoods in the city, so if you paid particularly close attention to our "Getting Around" section, this is where you want to be—unless, of course, you're set on owning a home. (Due to the area's zoning ordinances and proximity to the water, condos and apartments are the primary type of residence.)
Seattle's oldest neighborhood, Pioneer Square is known for having a large number of historic brick buildings that have been renovated into upscale loft apartments and galleries. These features—along with a few impressive restaurants and shops—are highlights, however, and not the best way to define the area. Its wide selection of bars and nightclubs attracts a younger, single, party-going crowd, but many tend to outgrow the area after a few years, especially when they tire of the prevalent homelessness in its nearby parks.
As is the case with many affluent neighborhoods around the country, opinions abound about Magnolia, a residential neighborhood situated on a peninsula with beautiful views of the Puget Sound. Some locals believe it has a crime problem, while many others think it is has a snobby-locals problem. If you can afford the median home price of $1,000,000, then you’re welcome to find out the truth for yourself. What can be agreed on by everyone, however, is that Magnolia’s Discovery Park offers both residents and visitors the chance to explore a bucolic landscape with beaches, hiking trails, meadows, and tide pools.
Seattle is one of the greatest arts cities in the world, and its legendary music scene is a big reason why. Not only is it the birthplace of Jimi Hendrix, Nirvana, Pearl Jam, Soundgarden, and many others, it also has the Seattle Symphony, the Pacific Northwest Ballet, and the Seattle Opera—if you’re more into, shall we say, refined music. Historic music venues such as Easy Street Records, The Crocodile, and the Moore Theatre are all great places to catch a show.
Seattle has plenty of attractions for art-lovers as well. In fact, there are far too many to list, but we’d be irresponsible if we didn’t mention the Museum of Pop Culture, the Chihuly Garden and Glass, the Seattle Art Museum, and the Seattle Center.
We've mostly focused on the pros of moving to Seattle, and that makes sense because there are a lot them. But as with any city, living in Seattle has its share of drawbacks as well. Here, we’ll briefly weigh a few of those—along with the top benefits—to help you decide whether a move to Seattle is the right choice for you.
James Keeler has been living in Seattle for almost four years now, and although he doesn’t like the winters, he loves how “you can be at the beach and then drive an hour and go skiing on a glacier.”
According to Douglas Almquist, a lifelong resident, you have to be cautious when looking for your dream house. “The cost of housing is a very real issue,” he says. “[One] that you need to consider carefully and avoid unrealistic optimism about the financial impacts to your life.”
Kevin Rivers, who just moved from Seattle, says that “whatever your cup of tea, Seattle has your flavor. It could be arts, music, cuisine, sports, et cetera. Seattle has diversity in options and opportunity.”
The Stranger, a local arts and culture magazine, decided to ask locals to call out the worst things about the city, which seems like a pretty on-brand thing for a Seattle-based publication to do. Check it out here. Just as a heads up, there’s more than one mention of people not picking up their dog’s poop in there. Yikes.
And that’s it. Our job is done. If you’re feeling overwhelmed by your potential move, that’s OK. It’s all part of the process. Hopefully, what we’ve provided will help alleviate some of your anxiety and enable you to decide if Seattle is the right move for you. If you decide to take the plunge, don't hesitate to reach out to your friends here at Bellhops. We coordinate local and long distance moving services in Seattle and we would love to help.