Welcome to the Emerald City, crown jewel of the Pacific Northwest. This is the land of NPR, bookstores, corporate giants, farmers’ markets, and copious amounts of caffeine. Yes, it does rain here, but that doesn’t stop Seattleites from enjoying life. When the sun comes out, you’ll find residents heading for the mountains and lakes, attending a festival, or flocking to the city’s many parks. And, in the winter, music, art, theater, and diverse cuisine keeps the city buzzing.
Keep reading for some practical—and playful—tips for settling into your new hometown.
Cost of Living
Like most coastal big cities in the U.S., Seattle isn’t cheap. Those moving from more affordable regions, like the Midwest, may experience sticker shock. According to the Council on Economic and Community Relations, the cost of living in Seattle is currently 24% higher than the national average.
Data from Zillow shows that the median home value in Seattle is $764,700, an increase of 13.2 percent over last year. While that number is high, the price varies depending on neighborhood, ranging from $424,100 for a home on First Hill to $870,700 for one in East Queen Anne. As you might expect, prices for single-family homes, where available, are often higher than those for condos.
The cost of rent in Seattle has risen faster than in any other major city in recent years and now ranks as tenth highest in the U.S., according to the Census Bureau. As with home prices, rents tend to be lowest toward the edges of the city limits. Check out this calculator provided by CNN Money to compare Seattle’s cost of living to that of other cities.
There’s a neighborhood in Seattle to suit just about everyone, whether you’re seeking a vibrant nightlife or a quiet place to house your urban chicken coop. If car-free living and proximity to downtown are important, Capitol Hill or Belltown could be in the cards for you. Quieter, family-friendly ‘hoods include Greenwood, Magnolia, and West Seattle. If you want to get even further from the hustle and bustle of the city, the community of Bainbridge Island offers a quaint, small-town vibe and can be reached via a short ferry ride from downtown.
When you start telling people you’re moving to Seattle, you’re probably going to hear a lot of this: “But it rains all the time there!”
And you should reply, “Actually, Seattle ranks 44th among major U.S. cities in average annual rainfall. It rains more in Houston than in Seattle.
To be honest, though, Seattle does get a lot of drizzle and cloudy skies. On average, Seattle has 201 cloudy days and 150 rainy days each year. The wettest months are October through January.
On the plus side, Seattle is quite temperate—rarely too cold or too hot—and the summers are one of the region’s best-kept secrets. They’re generally sunny, low in humidity, and hover around 75 degrees. Occasional heat waves can send temperatures into the 90s, while winter temps rarely dip below the 30s. Significant snowfall is so unusual that it’s been known to virtually shut down the city.
Where to Play
After you’ve visited all the usual tourist attractions, it’s time to find out what really makes Seattle a great place to live. Opportunities to enjoy nature abound, and Seattleites love getting outside. On a nice day, you might join the crowds soaking up the sun at Golden Gardens Park, Green Lake, or Alki Beach. Stroll the Washington Park Arboretum, paddle a canoe among the lily pads on Lake Washington, or take a day trip to Mount Rainier for a glimpse of the Northwest’s wild beauty. A windy ferry ride to a nearby island is another quintessential Seattle experience.
For (mostly) indoor fun, take an Underground Tour in Pioneer Square, which offers an entertaining look at the city’s quirky history. Seattle also boasts world-class museums, including smaller, specialized institutions like The Center for Wooden Boats and the Wing Luke Museum of the Asian American Experience.
Festivals draw big crowds in Seattle. The biggest is Bumbershoot, a Labor Day weekend music and arts celebration named by Rolling Stone magazine as one of the five best festivals in the U.S.
Where to Eat
Food is a big deal in Seattle. From fine dining to holes-in-the-wall, you’ll find the freshest seafood, a variety of Asian and fusion cuisines, Oprah’s favorite fried chicken, and more.
Top picks include:
- Ivar’s for fish and chips
- Ray’s Boathouse for seafood
- Canlis for seasonal Northwest cuisine fine dining
- Duke’s Seafood & Chowder for—you guessed it—chowder
- Dick’s Drive-In for a ‘50s-style burger and fries
- Portage Bay Cafe for brunch (get there early to avoid epic lines)
- Molly Moon’s for locally made ice cream.
For many more options, peruse VisitSeattle.org.
Where to Shop
Downtown Seattle is the city’s core retail shopping district, with big names such as Nordstrom, Macy’s, and Gap, as well as two indoor malls, Pacific Place and Westlake Center. At the edge of downtown, REI’s huge flagship store is a tourist destination all its own, with a rock-climbing wall, waterfall, and mini-trails.
Along with many of the same chains and department stores you’d expect to find in any major U.S. city, Seattle is home to plenty of unique gems. Elliott Bay Book Company has been a fixture for decades and is thriving in its spacious new digs on Capitol Hill. Fremont Vintage Mall is the place to get lost if you’re hunting for a classic record or velvet Elvis. Want to feel like a kid again? Stop in at Card Kingdom, a card and board game shop in Ballard that lets customers test out games for free next door at Cafe Mox. Or try Magic Mouse Toys in Pioneer Square, which offers 6,000 square feet of pure childish bliss. Finally, Archie McPhee’s is a celebrated destination for gag gifts, costumes, and oddities like the Screaming Pickle.
Weekend trips to local farmer’s markets are a tradition here. Although most shut down for the winter, the Ballard market and Fremont Sunday Market go year-round. And while Pike Place Market is a major tourist destination, it’s also worth a visit for the fresh seafood, gorgeous (and cheap!) floral bouquets, and unusual shops tucked away on the lower floors.
Finally, every Seattleite should make at least one trip to Uwajimaya, a vast Asian grocery store located in the International District. You may not be able to read all the labels, but the sheer variety is a good reminder of the diversity we enjoy in this region.
Where to Bank
Seattle offers plenty of options when it comes to banking, from local and national banks to credit unions. What’s the difference, you may wonder, between a bank and a credit union? Unlike banks run by stockholders, credit unions, like Seattle Credit Union, are owned and controlled by members.
As a not-for-profit institution, Seattle Credit Union can offer better rates on loans, keep fees low, and create new ways of giving back to the community. Our local control and autonomy as a co-op have kept Seattle Credit Union sound and secure since 1933. And with more than 28,000 surcharge-free ATMs across the country as part of the Co-op Network, Seattle Credit Union offers convenience far beyond our Northwest stomping grounds.
All Washington State residents are eligible to join Seattle Credit Union.
Where to Get a Checkup
Seattle is a major hub in the medical world. With giants like UW Medicine, The Polyclinic, Virginia Mason, and Swedish Medical Center right here in the city, chances are you won’t have to worry about a lack of specialists for your health needs. For “on-demand treatment” at a flat price, schedule a same-day visit at one of six Zoom+Care Neighborhood Clinics around town.
How to Get Connected
In 2016 Mayor Ed Murray declared it the city’s “moral obligation” to make affordable high-speed internet access available to all Seattle residents. While we still have a ways to go before that dream comes to fruition, most neighborhoods have some form of reliable internet access available, whether from industry giants like Comcast and CenturyLink or smaller companies like Cascadelink and Atlas Networks (offering up to 1,000 Mbps). If you’re in the vicinity of downtown, you’ll have more options. For more information, visit the City of Seattle’s website.
How to Get Around
Seattle traffic jams can get pretty ugly, parking can be scarce, and tolls are making commutes costlier than ever for some. Even so, about half of commuters get to work in a single-occupancy vehicle, and there’s no denying that a car makes it easier to zip between Seattle’s outlying neighborhoods and suburbs. But for many, owning a car isn’t necessary. If your auto needs are limited to the occasional day trip or Costco run, car share companies Zipcar and Car2go rent by the hour or minute, with waiting cars parked all over the city.
For public transportation, Seattle has a reliable, well-connected bus system. You can view real-time bus whereabouts from your mobile device using the app OneBusAway. Light rail is also gaining ground here, with a Central Link connecting downtown to Sea-Tac Airport and South End communities, and an extension to the University District. A modern streetcar system is also available with lines in South Lake Union, Capitol Hill and Pioneer Square.
During rush hour on certain Seattle streets, you’d be forgiven for thinking you’d wandered onto the route of a popular bike race. Seattle is a bike-friendly city with a high number of bike commuters and dedicated bike lanes. You can download the City of Seattle’s bike map here.
Licensing and Vehicle Registration
If you’re not ready to ditch your car, prepare to get a Washington driver license and register your vehicle within 30 days after moving. This can be done by mail or by visiting a Department of Licensing office. The fee for a first-time Washington license is $89; visit the Washington Department of Licensing website for more details. For car registration, the Department of Licensing recommends that you call a vehicle licensing office to find out fees and next steps. Click here for more information on registering your vehicle.
If you’re a dog lover, you’ll have plenty of company in Seattle. Dogs are part of the culture here. Numerous off-leash parks, both indoor and outdoor, offer the chance for fuzzy friends to run free; there’s even a slew of dog-friendly pubs and cafes around town. But cat lovers, don’t despair—kitty-crazy folks can visit the following cat-friendly establishments here.
Word to the wise: Seattle law requires that all dogs, cats, miniature goats, and potbellied pigs be licensed. An off-leash dog caught without a license in a city park can result in a fine of $125 or more. You can purchase Seattle pet licenses online, by mail, or at vet clinics, pet retail stores, and other locations. (Proceeds to go the city’s animal shelter.) For more information on fees and how to obtain a license, visit the City of Seattle’s website.
Seattleites tend to be a politically active bunch, engaged in local races and vocal about what they do and don’t want to see happening to their hometown. Other hot topics include the city’s transportation woes, Tim Eyman’s small-government ballot initiatives, and the latest tunnel progress updates to replace the outdated Alaskan Way Viaduct.
To join in the fun, you’ll need to register to vote. You can do so online at the Secretary of State’s website or fill out a form at any driver licensing office.