Updated November 29, 2023
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.
The overall cost of living in Seattle is 50% higher than the national average and 31% higher than other cities in the state. Seattle residents tend to earn an average of around $75,000.
Housing is a whopping 111% higher than the national average. The median home price is nearing $1 million.
When it comes to renting, apartments average $2,800 , 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 healthcare system, Providence Health & Services, is also in the area and employs more than 100,000 people.
The community culture around health and wellness in Seattle is robust, characterized by a general awareness and proactive approach to health. This is manifested in the city's numerous health-focused events, farmers' markets, and community wellness programs.
Fitness and health are a significant part of Seattle's culture, with the city's natural landscape offering a plethora of outdoor activities. From kayaking in Puget Sound to hiking in the nearby Cascade and Olympic Mountains, the options for staying active are abundant and varied. The local diet leans heavily towards fresh, nutritious foods, thanks in part to the city's proximity to the ocean and rich agricultural surroundings. The emphasis on seafood, particularly salmon, and locally grown produce, is a hallmark of the region's cuisine. And the city’s public health policies focus on preventive care and public health initiatives, which contribute to the overall well-being of its residents.
Seattle is known for its commitment to sustainability and environmental protection, which is reflected in its relatively good air quality, especially compared to other major U.S. cities. However, Seattle is not immune to environmental challenges, including occasional air quality issues due to wildfires in the region. Overall, Seattle's combination of accessible healthcare, healthy local diet, abundant fitness opportunities, and a strong environmental consciousness contributes to its status as a city that prioritizes and supports the health and wellness of its residents.
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 violent crime rate in the city hit an all-time high in 2022.. The increase in overall crime is up 4% from 2021..
This Kings County city has 570 schools in total. With that many schools to choose from, a visit to Seattle won’t answer all your questions about where the best schools are in the area. These suggestions for schools in Seattle, on the other hand, should help.
There are 132 public school districts in Seattle, many of which are highly rated when it comes to teachers, academics, and college prep. Seattle Public Schools, which has 53,973 students between PK and K-12, is one of these school districts.
The math proficiency is 64%, and the reading proficiency is 72%. Research shows the math proficiency for Washington State as a whole is about 50%, putting Seattle Public Schools above the mark. Washington State’s reading proficiency is roughly the same in many areas–but not Seattle.
How about the high-school graduation rate? Seattle’s high-school graduation rate is 86% as of the 2020-2021 school year. Recent numbers show Washington State’s graduation rate at 82.9%, with 90% and more in many cities.
This all goes to show that if you move to Seattle, you’ll find some of the best schools in Washington State. Now, if you venture to the suburbs, you may notice that overall school ratings go up even more in some areas.
These are some of Seattle’s best public schools between elementary and high school:
Check out these schools, which come in as some of the top-rated private schools in Seattle:
The Seattle suburbs are some of the highest-rated schools in the area. With a lower student-to-teacher ratio in general and plenty of honors and AP classes to help prepare students for college, suburban Seattle schools are a great choice for kids of all ages.
Many suburbs rate well for schools, particularly these ones:
Here are some of the best of the best:
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, just under four miles from downtown, 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 a mile from downtown, 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.)
Just a mile from downtown, 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 thePuget Sound. It is about 5 miles from downtown Seattle.
Some locals believe it has a crime problem, while many others think it has a snobby-locals problem. If you can afford the median home price of $1.1 million 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, but 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 of 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 Bellhop. We coordinate local and long distance moving services in Seattle and would love to help.
Book movers online near you.