This guide to moving to Seattle looks beyond the stereotypes of the Emerald City. Here’s what you really 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, expansive job market, and endless opportunities for outdoor adventure are just the tip of this Pacific Northwest iceberg.

Seattle is 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 verdant evergreen countryside, but it is also environmentally friendly and its residents earn above-average incomes. Those attributes combine to make “The Emerald City” an apt nickname for this town.

The city’s reputation for inclement weather may sound like a bother, but it is a misconception. Seattle does see an abundance of rainfall during the winter months, but the summers are quite sunny. Seattle actually accumulates less rainfall in a year than Houston, New York, or Atlanta.

For these reasons and more, we think moving to Seattle is a fantastic idea. Below we’ve detailed 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 city great.

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

Seattle Neighborhoods

Seattle is a city of neighborhoods. Comprised of well over 100 distinct districts, there’s certainly a place for each of us to call home in Seattle.

These neighborhoods were born by groups of early European immigrants who settled in small communities that were eventually connected by wagon roads and trolley lines. From these small settlements, communities were created that shaped the city as it grew. This is why each neighborhood has a personality all its own, and why Seattle is 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 not simply looking for a condo to purchase, but to become a part of a living community. He likens Seattle to New York in that there are boroughs or municipalities that demarcate areas of the city.

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

The Best Places to Live in Seattle

For Students: The University District

This is where the laureates come to live and learn. The University District is made up of several higher-learning focused neighborhoods 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, but there are reasons for postgraduates to stick around, especially those who love living within the presence of academia.

For Young Couples: Capitol Hill

Seattle Neighborhoods - Downtown and Capitol Hill

A densely populated hillscape situated in the center of the city, Capitol Hill is all about the hustle and bustle of metropolitan living. This is the epicenter of Seattle 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 extends from low-income housing to Millionaire’s Row, making this an everyman’s neighborhood. The list of things to do here is endless, as are the types of people you will meet.

For Families: West Seattle

Essentially a city away from the city, West Seattle feels separated from the rest of Seattle by the Duwamish River while still residing within walking distance of downtown skyscrapers.

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 downtown hubbub, 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 numerous beautiful parks, landscaped gardens, and historic landmarks that adorn the area.

Upscale homes and thriving retirement communities befit those who seek comfort and luxury. The social calendar is perpetually 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 twice as expensive as the United States’ average, according to Numbeo. Seattle stands as the 21st most expensive city in the world.

The largest expense is housing, no matter whether you’re renting or purchasing a home. Transportation is also a higher than average expense for Seattleites, but the exorbitant costs end there. In most other categories, such as groceries and healthcare, Seattle residents actually pay less than most Americans.

This is all balanced out by the fact that Seattle residents take in more income than the average American. 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. Zillow reports that as of August 2019 the median price for a home in Seattle is $713,100 while the median price of a home in the United States is $229,600.

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

Seattle rental payments aren’t quite as dramatic as purchasing prices. The median rent payment in Seattle in August 2019 was $2,800 per month while the United States median was $1,569.

Whereas home purchasing costs in Seattle are close to triple the national average, rental costs are less than double 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. The competitive nature of the housing market coupled with increasingly lucrative jobs combines to send home prices soaring.

Seattle’s Stellar Job Market

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

The economic law of supply and demand is on full display in Seattle. The city’s unemployment rate is well below national numbers, meaning more people are in the workforce and can readily afford the rising housing costs. Incomes have skyrocketed due to increased demand for highly skilled and well-educated employees in Seattle’s burgeoning tech industry.

Jobs in Seattle - Microsoft

Tech Giants

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

Microsoft and Amazon lead the way in the Seattle tech industry, rubbing shoulders 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 Seattle revolve around tech, there are also large names in the retail, food and service industries that call Seattle home (including Nordstrom, Tommy Bahama and Zulily to name a few).

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, so too have they fallen in love with Seattle where America’s love for the green bean first blossomed. As such, coffee corporations such as Starbucks, Seattle’s Best, and Tully’s are known around the world and still base their operations around Washington’s Puget Sound.

Other big retail brands such as Costco and REI also have their headquarters in the area.

Schools and Universities

Seattle proudly holds the reins as 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.

There are a whopping 553 schools in the Seattle area, including 176 elementary schools, 103 middle schools, and 77 high schools. A diverse mix of public and private schooling options are available.

Seven universities and colleges reside within Seattle’s borders, and a total of 21 exist 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. Bellevue College, Seattle University, and Seattle Central College also house large student populations.

The University of Washington has an outstanding graduation rate with 84% of all students earning a degree. Among Seattle residents 25 and up, 63% have a college degree while 27% have advanced degrees such as a master’s or Ph. D.

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. Though most Seattle commuters still use personal vehicles, 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 30 minutes. Highway bottlenecks are the cause of long commutes, but 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.

The Emerald City is looking to go green, even more so than it already has. 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 city, and that knowledge extends beyond the college campuses.

There is a wide range of explorative opportunities 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 a tried-and-true 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 is a unique west coast city in that it exists on the shore of the brackish Puget Sound which empties into the vast Pacific Ocean. This provides an aquatic atmosphere that is wholly unique to the Pacific Northwest. You can learn more about life under the sea, and the sound, at the popular Seattle Aquarium.

Moving to Seattle - Sights to See

Seattle Sightseeing

The sights of Seattle never grow old, even for long-term residents. The best part of Seattle’s skyline is that it can be enjoyed as an interactive experience.

The Space Needle is a curiosity when seen as a part of the city from afar, but the view from its observation deck is breathtaking no matter how many times you witness it. Interactive digital elements and a tastebud-tantalizing restaurant await at the top, making this a more complete experience than you’d expect.

A Seattle hallmark since 2012, the Seattle Great Wheel is a wonderful highlight along the dynamic boardwalk. This recent addition to the city skyline is a fabulous highlight of the waterfront. This is one Ferris wheel ride 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, they can also be enjoyed for recreational purposes. The many ferries travel to varying destinations, so make sure to find the trip you’re looking for. If you move to Seattle this may become a part of your own commute.

Moving to Seattle - Coffee Capital

Dining and Entertainment

There are so, so many ways to indulge in Seattle. From sky-high fine dining to sourdough clam chowder bowls on the waterfront, there is wondrous food galore among the shoreline and hills 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.

Just outside of the city, Woodinville Wine Country is a growing wine collective and local wines such as these can be found in shops all over Seattle. More notorious is 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.

Hidden Seattle Gems

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

The Seattle Underground is one of those hidden spectacles that few people talk about. 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.

Looking for something a little less spooky? Visit the Center for Wooden Boats which offer historic exhibits, fun family boating programs, and has a Sail for Free Sunday event where volunteer skippers take passengers out for voyages on their collection of wooden boats.

Events & Festivals

Once you’re settled into Seattle you’ll want to dive right into the city’s enthrallment with all things art. An annual touchstone 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.

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. Take note to not miss essential steps such as applying for a Washington State driver’s license and registering to vote.

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.


We think you’re going to enjoy Seattle and all of the awesome experiences you’re bound to have. As Dr. Frasier Crane would say, just steer clear of those tossed salads and scrambled eggs!

About the Author

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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