This guide to moving to Seattle looks beyond the stereotypes of the Emerald City. Here’s what you need to know, from a local’s perspective.

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Moving to Seattle Guide

There are many great reasons to consider moving to Seattle. The world-class schools, hot job market, and endless opportunities for outdoor adventure are just the tip of the iceberg at this Pacific Northwest gem.

Seattle is consistently ranked among the 10 best places to live in the United States by U.S. News, and for good reason. Not only is Seattle surrounded by lush evergreen forests, but the city is famous for being environmentally friendly. Plus, its residents earn above-average incomes.

Seattle has a reputation for being a rainy city. While Seattle technically accumulates less rainfall in a year than Houston, New York, or Atlanta, the winter is often filled with gray and drizzle. Nevertheless, there’s nothing better than summer in Seattle. High temperatures and low humidity are a perfect mix for spending a day at the lake or going on a hike. 

For these reasons and more, we think moving to Seattle is a fantastic idea. Below, you’ll learn the best places to live in Seattle, how much it costs to live in the city, where to find jobs, and much more. This guide will teach you all you need to know about moving to Seattle and what makes the Emerald City so great.

Rainy Seattle Commute - What it's really like to live here

Seattle Neighborhoods

With over 100 distinct districts, there’s certainly a place for each of us to call home in Seattle.

Early Seattle neighborhoods were founded by immigrants who settled in small communities that were eventually connected by wagon roads and trolley lines. From these small settlements, neighborhoods evolved with the city as it grew. This is why each neighborhood has a personality all its own, which makes Seattle such a great place to live.

“Each neighborhood has unique differences that make it special,” says real estate broker Jeff Reynolds on his Seattle-focused urban living blog UrbanCondoSpaces. Jeff suggests that most people who move to Seattle are looking to become a part of a thriving community. He likens Seattle to New York in that there are boroughs or municipalities that create vibrant diversity throughout different areas of the city.

Overall, Seattle has 18 distinct districts, each of which is divided into smaller neighborhoods. Learning Seattle’s different localities is a great way to begin your search for a new home. Here are several of the most unique and popular Seattle neighborhoods.

The Best Places to Live in Seattle

For Students: The University District

This neighborhood is where the students come to live and learn. The University District contains several educationally focused communities including University Park, Greek Row, University Heights, and the Brooklyn Addition.

Centered around the University of Washington, this area tends to draw a younger crowd. However, many older Seattleites stick around, especially postgraduates who stay involved with academia.

For Young Couples: Capitol Hill

Seattle Neighborhoods - Downtown and Capitol Hill

A densely populated neighborhood in the center of the city, Capitol Hill is all about the hustle and bustle of metropolitan living. This is where the crossroads of the entertainment scene, the counterculture movement, and commerce collide.

If block parties and busy streets sound like your cup of tea, this is the neighborhood for you. The spectrum of wealth on Capitol Hill varies from low-income housing to Millionaire’s Row, making this a community for everybody. The list of things to do here is endless, as are the types of people you will meet.

For a relaxed summer afternoon, take a walk around Volunteer Park and soak up the sunshine. Check out the statue of Jimi Hendrix at the corner of Broadway and E Pine Street. Catch a movie at the Egyptian Theatre. The opportunities are endless! 

For Families: West Seattle

Virtually a city away from the city, West Seattle is separated from the rest of Seattle by the Duwamish River while still being to the downtown skyscrapers. Plus, West Seattle is the gateway to places like Vashon Island — just a quick ferry ride away.

The communities in West Seattle feature an abundance of beautiful parks and beach-laden waterfront. Public schools and infrastructure are top-notch in this district, and, as it’s the oldest of Seattle’s neighborhoods, the area is steeped in history.

For Retirees: Queen Anne

Rising above the hustle and bustle of downtown life, the Queen Anne district is brimming with the finer things in life. This affluent slice of suburbia is home to some of the best views in the city. Residents adore the beautiful parks, landscaped gardens, and historical landmarks that adorn the area.

Upscale homes and thriving retirement communities are perfect for those who want comfort and luxury. The social calendar is always full in Queen Anne, with live theater shows, neighborhood farmer’s markets, and the always-entertaining Seattle Center just outside your front door.

The Cost of Living in Seattle

Living in Seattle is almost twice as expensive as the United States’ average, making Seattle one of the more expensive cities in the country.

The largest expense is housing, whether you’re renting or purchasing a home. Transportation is also a significant cost for Seattleites, but the exorbitant costs end there. However, in many other categories, such as groceries and healthcare, Seattle residents pay a similar amount to many other Americans.

If you’re able to find a steady job, the higher costs can be offset by relatively high incomes. We’ll dig into that in a bit, but first, let’s look at why housing in Seattle costs so much.

Moving to Seattle - The Housing Market

The Housing Market: To Rent or to Buy

The average home-buyer in Seattle is paying nearly three times the United States’ average for a home.

These high prices result in high mortgage payments, which in turn results in higher monthly costs for renters.

When it comes to average rent, the costs are still high, but not quite as dramatic as the prices for homeownership. In general, Seattle residents can expect to pay around twice as much as the national average.

“Seattle’s housing market is very competitive,” says President Marco Santarelli of Norada Real Estate Investments on the company’s blog, attributing a portion of this to an increase in high-paying jobs in the growing tech industry around Seattle. As we’ll discuss, the Seattle area is home to corporate powerhouses like Amazon, Microsoft, and Expedia. The competitive nature of the housing market and the increasingly lucrative jobs market combine to send home prices soaring.

Jobs in Seattle - Microsoft

Seattle’s Stellar Job Market

Counterbalancing the pricey Seattle housing market, Seattle residents earn above-average incomes, making roughly 12% more than a typical American. The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that hourly wages and yearly salaries are both well above national averages, including a significantly above-average minimum wage.

Incomes for top-tier jobs have skyrocketed due to increased demand for highly skilled and well-educated employees in Seattle’s burgeoning tech industry.

Tech Giants

Forbes has ranked Seattle as the top city in America for technology jobs, citing nation-leading job growth in tech-specific and STEM-related fields. Tech businesses abound in Seattle, including everything from investor-funded startups to well-established tech giants.

Microsoft and Amazon lead the way in the Seattle tech industry, combining with Boeing, Joint Base Lewis-McChord, and the University of Washington to fill out the city’s top five employer list. Other big tech organizations of note include Expedia, Tableau Software, and Nintendo of America.

Retailers Based in Seattle

Though several of the biggest companies in the Emerald City are tech-related, Seattle is also home to names in the retail, food and service industries that call the Pacific Northwest home (including Nordstrom, Tommy Bahama, and Zulily).

Seattle is the 11th largest metropolitan economy in America, according to IHS Global Insight. Both the Port of Seattle and Seattle-Tacoma International Airport are major gateways for trade into Asia, making the area an appealing place for retail conglomerates.

As the world has fallen in love with coffee, they’ve fallen for Seattle. Coffee businesses like Starbucks, Seattle’s Best, and Tully’s are known around the world and still base their operations around Washington’s Puget Sound. Visit Pike Place Market to see one of the first Starbucks stores, serving coffee long before the company made it on the Fortune 500 list.

Other big retail brands such as Costco and REI also have their headquarters in the Seattle area, adding to the corporate diversity of the region.

Schools and Universities

Seattle proudly holds the title of America’s most educated big city, according to the Seattle Times. The statistics show that four out of every five people who move to Seattle have a college degree. Three out of every five Seattle-educated students start college within a year of their high school graduation.

Over 500 schools call Seattle home, including a diverse mix of public and private institutions.

Seven universities and colleges reside within Seattle’s borders, with 14 others located within 40 miles of the city. The University of Washington is the largest and most well-known institute for higher learning in the Seattle metropolitan area. Seattle University, Seattle Pacific University, and Seattle Central College also house large student populations.

The University of Washington has an outstanding graduation rate, with over 80% of students consistently earning a degree. Among Seattle residents 25 and older, 63% have a college degree while 27% have graduate or professional degrees.

Moving to Seattle - Public Transportation

Seattle Has the Best Public Transit

Seattle’s public transportation system is ranked number one in the nation in a study by WalletHub, reported by Business Insider. Though many Seattle commuters still rely on cars, the diversity, safety, and efficiency of Seattle-area public transit make it the best in any major city.

The average workday commute in Seattle is around 30 minutes, which is one of the country’s longer average commutes. Highway bottlenecks are part of the problem, especially as more people have moved to the city. However, as more people opt to use the different public transit options around the city, such as the light rail, bus lines, streetcars, monorail, and bike-sharing, the hope is that overall traffic should decrease over time. Plus, public transportation can help save you money on tolls on popular roadways like the 520 bridge or the SR 99 tunnel.

The Emerald City is looking to double down on its commitment to go green. Seattle aims to reduce carbon emissions and further enhance its public transit by replacing “1,400 diesel-hybrid buses with rechargeable electric vehicles,” as Mike Lindblom reported to the Seattle Times. The report states that the city’s goal is to “cut carbon pollution in half by 2030.”

Things to Do in Seattle

The wildly diverse landscape and eclectic mix of people creates endless opportunities for fun and recreation in Seattle. While we’re sure you’ll always be able to find something new to do, we’ve put together a list of a few popular attractions to help get you started.

Things to Do in Seattle - Museums

Museums

Young or old, it’s always great to learn something new. As we’ve already established, Seattle is America’s most educated large city, and that knowledge extends beyond the college campuses.

You’ll have a wide range of opportunities to learn in Seattle. The Pacific Science Center provides a fun learning experience for the entire family, offering interstellar discovery at its planetarium, immersive virtual reality adventures, and larger-than-life IMAX experience.

The Museum of Flight, an interactive air and space museum, offers traditional museum tours and provides enhanced education experiences through the Boeing Academy for STEM Learning, which delivers user-driven education around space, flight, and robotics.

Seattle’s Puget Sound provides an aquatic atmosphere that is wholly unique to the Pacific Northwest. You can learn more about life under the sea at the Seattle Aquarium.

For a unique museum experience, check out the Chihuly Garden and Glass Museum in the Seattle Center. Delight your senses with an array of gravity-defying glass sculptures. After winding through the indoor museum, end your tour in the open-air glass museum, with spectacular views of the Space Needle. 

Finally, if music is your thing, check out the Museum of Pop Culture. Formerly called the “Experience Music Project,” the museum has a giant statue with hundreds of guitars, exhibits showcasing Seattle legends like Jimi Hendrix and Kurt Kobain, and studio rooms where you can make and record your own music on in-house instruments.

Moving to Seattle - Sights to See

Seattle Sightseeing

The sights of Seattle never grow old, even for long-term residents. Let’s take a look at some of the most iconic Seattle landmarks.

The Space Needle is undoubtedly Seattle’s most recognizable building, and the view from its observation deck is breathtaking. Interactive digital elements and a rotating restaurant await at the top, making this a complete way to experience the Seattle skyline.

A Seattle hallmark since 2012, the Seattle Great Wheel is a beautiful highlight along the dynamic boardwalk. This recent addition to the city skyline is a fabulous highlight of the waterfront — one you won’t soon forget.

The Washington State Ferries are as iconic to Seattle as anything else. Though many residents use these ferries as a part of their workday commute, you can also enjoy them for recreational purposes. The boats travel to destinations throughout the Seattle area, so make sure to plan ahead to find the most exciting itinerary. If you move to Seattle, farries may become a part of your commute.

Seattle’s Pike Place Market is the city’s most visited attraction, drawing people from around the world. You’ll see the famous fish markets, a wealth of delicious restaurants, and the Gum Wall. Add your own piece of gum to the strange and delightful piece of public artwork. 

If you want something a little off the beaten path, head to Melrose Market, Pike Place’s little cousin between Pike Place and Capitol Hill. Melrose Market has fewer tourists, but still offers a delightful combination of restaurants, cocktail bars, and retailers.

Moving to Seattle - Coffee Capital

Dining and Entertainment

You’ll never run out of ways to indulge in Seattle. From sky-high fine dining to sourdough clam chowder bowls on the waterfront, a wondrous array of food speckles the shoreline of this great Washington city.

Aside from the diverse restaurant scene, Seattle is known for its gourmet beverages. The Starbucks Roastery and Tasting Room is your chance to indulge in the most luxurious and rare coffees Starbucks has to offer. Choose between espresso flights, small-batch cold brew, and specialty beverages like the Undertow — espresso suspended above chilled half-and-half and vanilla-bean syrup.

Just outside of the city, Woodinville Wine Country is a growing wine collective, which is open for tasting. Plus, make sure to check out the Pacific Northwest’s growing microbrew beer scene. Seattle is rich with independent breweries – some large, some small, and all with interesting and unique brews to discover. Check out the Fremont neighborhood for a wide selection of craft breweries. 

Hidden Seattle Gems

While there are plenty of exciting things to do and places to see around Seattle, there are also several special gems worth finding.

The Seattle Underground is one of those lesser-known hidden spectacles. When the city burned down in 1889, the new brick and mortar structure was built atop the rubble, leaving a ghost city underneath the busy streets.

Are you looking for something a little less spooky? Visit the Center for Wooden Boats, which offers educational exhibits, fun family boating programs, and a Sail for Free Sunday event where volunteer skippers take passengers out for unforgettable voyages.

For the perfect view of Seattle, head to Queen Anne’s Kerry Park. With views of Elliot Bay, downtown, and the Space Needle, you’re in for a view you will never tire of.

Events & Festivals

Once you’re settled into Seattle, you’ll want to dive right into the city’s exciting art scene. An annual favorite since the early 1970s, the Bumbershoot Music and Arts Festival celebrates creative pieces in nearly every art form from the performing arts to literary achievements and outstanding music.

The Seattle International Film Festival is a month-long extravaganza and the largest film festival in the United States. Cinephiles won’t want to miss the extensive list of showings and events that recognize classic and contemporary films alike.

Refract is the newest experience on the block, which looks to bring the Pacific Northwest’s proliferating glass artwork scene to center stage. Blown glass displays, educational glass-making lessons, and glass-focused performances form this unique experience.

If you’re willing to travel a bit outside the city, Sasquatch and Paradiso are fantastic music festivals located at the Gorge Amphitheater, just a few hours east of Seattle. Make sure to wear your dancing shoes. 

Seattle Moving Tips for New Residents

New residents can breathe a sigh of relief because the City of Seattle has done its best to make your transition as seamless as possible. The city’s own Seattle Newcomer’s Guide is your ultimate resource for settling into your new Seattle home.

All of the information you need is organized for your reading pleasure, everything from acquiring parking permits for your moving truck to contacting local utility companies and deciphering the public transit system – it’s all there. Don’t forget essential steps such as applying for a Washington State driver’s license and registering to vote in your new neighborhood.

Seattle’s got you covered on city-specific tasks, but you’ll also want to check out our ultimate moving checklist to make sure you properly prepare in the weeks and months before your move.


Ready to Move to Seattle?

Seattle is a great place to call home. But let’s face it – moving can be a pain. If you need extra space or assistance, Life Storage offers self storage in Seattle, along with moving truck rentals.

We know you’re going to enjoy Seattle and all of the awesome experiences you’re bound to have. Good luck!

Update: This post was originally published on November 8, 2019, and was revised on May 14, 2020, with new information from Seattle expert, Michael Bjorn Huseby.

About the Authors

Michael Bjorn Huseby

Michael Bjorn Huseby is a writer and attorney. Born in Seattle, he's lived in three states and two foreign countries, so he's no stranger to moving. Michael has written Seattle-based content for clients like Vamonde (travel) and Three Moon Collective (health and wellness). He earned his B.A. at UCLA and his J.D. at Columbia University.

Arthur McMahon

Arthur McMahon

Arthur McMahon is a Pacific Northwest-based travel writer and adventure journalist who currently resides in Eugene, Oregon where he earned his bachelor's degree in journalism from the University of Oregon. He has lived in the New York, Boston, and San Francisco metropolitan areas, and has also called several small towns home. Arthur has published numerous travel guides that have been featured in online magazines such as Backpackers.com and Territory Supply.

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