Crystal lakes, jam-packed stadiums, art galleries and IPA’s: if you’re relocating to the ‘Emerald City’, there are a few things you should know first.
Stretched along the coast between Puget Sound to the west and Lake Washington to the east, Seattle’s seven hills form the nexus for its many districts, each with their own character - but sharing in the community spirit, local feel, and amicable nature of the city, made possible by its walkable size, public transport, and public spaces.
We’ve talked to people who have lived in and around Seattle to share with you some of the best things it has to offer, from city sights to outdoor adventures; game days to classic tastes of the region; and, of course, a need-to-know rundown of the many districts.
Of course, when you first get to the city, you’ll want to hit all the top spots – and there are many to hit. If you want to see the landmarks, head to the historic Pike Place Market, well known for its bustling atmosphere. There’s also the Space Needle, built for the 1962 World Fair, which now offers amazing views that, thanks to its elevators, you won’t need to climb one of the steep hills to see. If you want to learn more about the history of the city and check out what it used to look like before the Great Fire of 1889, take the Underground Tour to see the old city from below.
If you’re in the mood for something a little less crowded, you can always head to Discovery Park, which is full of conifers and beaches, along with an old radar dome from the Cold War. Or, if you want some amazing selfies, head to the Tropical Butterfly House at the Pacific Science Center, a huge indoor forest with paths with thousands of butterflies so used to passing strangers that you might find one perched on your head.
However, you won’t get to see the full scope of the city if you don’t seek out some of its art scene. There are art fairs and art stores everywhere. It’s common to see artists painting outside in parks or exhibiting a local craft fairs. If you’ve never heard of Chihuly glass, there’s a permanent exhibit in the center documenting the city’s glass phase, or if you’re in the mood for something more modern, the Museum of Pop Art offers variety of changing exhibits which have featured Star Trek, Jim Henson, and Independent Gaming. For the more musically inclined, Jimmy Hendricks and Kurt Cobain both originated here, so there’s plenty to discover both the museums and in the thriving scene found in smaller gigs and bars. If classical is more your scene, there are plenty of theatres where you can see anything from touring shows to opera to ballet.
It’s not a question of if you and your friends are going camping - it’s when. Sunsets take on a whole new meaning over the Pacific, making even a day on the coast worth your while. With all the outdoor sports to try given the glittering lakes, majestic mountains, and long stretch of coast (locals refer to the beach simply as the “coast” here) just beyond your backyard, and easy access to Alaska and Canada if you feel like a bit farther afield of an adventure, Seattle is a dream for the outdoorsman within each of us.
With companies like REI, Adidas, Nike and Columbia all based in the region, it only makes sense that people here regard the outdoors as much a part of their lives as the indoors – and it’s a beautiful way to live. Many hike hunt, and fish all year long, and there are national forests where you can walk, jog, hike, bike, or drive between glittering waterfalls, mountains, alpine lakes, and even rainforests. The clear bike lanes encourage long trips, and the trails of every level of expertise mean that not only are the outdoors physically accessible but that anyone can participate.
Of course, if you’re more serious about your outdoor adventuring, you can climb many of the mountains or ski down them (night skiing is offered only an hour outside the city), and the lakes offer ample opportunity to sail, jet ski, kayak, or whatever else strikes your fancy. Lakes Union, Washington, Sammamish, and Green are all right by Downtown, and there you can watch the sea planes take off or take a trip on one yourself.
Participating in Sports fervor is not considered a voluntary exercise. The huge sports culture here is driven in part by the strong teams that call Seattle home – from the Seahawks to the high-performing University teams – and in part by the strong sense of community. People here like to go outside and do things together, and when the weather becomes too much of a hassle for that to be possible, they’ll do that in the stadium, cheering for their favorite team and retiring afterwards to the bar to celebrate or console.
Seattle Sounders soccer games draw some of the largest crowds in America, and when the Seahawks won the Superbowl in 2017, the whole city was basically a giant party, with University classes cancelled for game days and the bars filled with crowds. The Seattle Mariners are also high profile and well worth seeing on game day.
However, in Seattle the party continues outside the stadium, in the bars and the streets where people will continue to cheer and celebrate. Even if you don’t get tickets, it’s hard not to be swept up in the city-wide enthusiasm.
Why stop at a taste? Have many! For the casual beverage, Seattle is home for artisan coffee and independent breweries. Starbucks was founded here, which should give you an idea of the kind of coffee culture that the city has, but while Starbucks has gone big, Seattle has gone small - coffee is a big part of the culture and downtown Seattle is full of shops, each offering their own special take and blend.
The bar scene is healthy, with plenty of nice bars serving fancy cocktails – but closer to the heart are the many breweries. A quick internet search will reveal independent breweries on nearly every block, each with their own story and flavors. The hops, the part that make beer bitter, are grown locally in the Cascade mountains, i.e. cascade hops. With so much pride that goes into their work, it makes sense that the bartenders here are unusually friendly and helpful. Don’t be afraid to ask for a sample or query them with anything you’ve ever wondered about taste profiles, because they’ll usually be happy to tell you. If you don't feel like buying beer from someone else, home brewing is a common hobby; locals swap and share recipes, and there are stores selling everything you need to make your own brew. We recommend Pike Brewing Company as fun and delicious, but if you simply wander and keep your eyes open, you’re sure to come across something you won’t find anywhere else.
Of course, you’ll need some food alongside your artisan beverage – and with Seattle’s many farmers markets filled with fresh produce amply available in the farmland or open ocean a mere hour in any direction outside the city, you need to try a little bit of everything. The seafood, and the salmon in particular, is some of the best you’re likely to find. Artisan cheese is also a big deal, which is perfect to sample alongside the wine which makes its way in from the Columbia Valley, Ancient Lakes, and Walla Walla. The Bite of Seattle annual food festival is a great way to try new things, and Pike Place Market offers a veritable smorgasbord of local and international foods year-round – although you may have to elbow your way between tourists to get a taste.
If you’re not in the mood to cook for yourself, there are a huge variety of restaurants and eateries to be found throughout the city. The proximity to the Pacific and vibrant immigrant culture means that the Vietnamese, Chinese, Japanese and Korean cuisines are very authentic and very popular; check the International District out for the best of these dishes. If you’re in the mood for something more continental, the Madison Valley district is still known as Little France for all of its restaurants.
The city itself is easy to travel around (as long as you don’t have a car – the traffic is no treat, and parking is worse), so it is well worth exploring beyond downtown. Of course, if you’re moving here, you won’t be situated full-time amongst the office buildings, department stores, and tourist crowds of the classic center. Fortunately, public transport is a breeze, with regular buses and a light railway running directly from the airport to downtown Seattle, and each neighborhood is easily walkable, making it easy to explore what the outer districts have to offer.
is where most of the big-ticket items are, from Pike Place Market to the Space Needle. Belltown, just above it, carries much of the same vibe but with fewer skyscrapers. If you want a more toned-down center experience, go here. You can also visit the Olympic Sculpture Park, which stretches along Elliot Bay.
is considered one of the most vibrant and urban neighborhoods in the city. Once intended as the capital of the state, the grand houses intended for politicians still lend it an upscale aesthetic while the vibrant shopping, dining and nightlife scene are more true to its historic character as a hub of LGBT culture.
Just south of Downtown, is one of the oldest neighborhoods: Pioneer Square. Here is the historic center of Seattle; from turn-of-the-century street lamps to underground tours of the Seattle Streets built over after the great fire of 1889, there’s plenty to explore.
South Lake Union however, has a more recently exciting history. Whereas twenty years ago the area was a bit of a no-go zone (if you’ve ever seen Sleepless in Seattle, it was set here), today it is the Northwest’s Silicon Forest, home to big tech companies like Amazon and Facebook. The park alongside Lake Union is a lovely spot to walk, look at art, or sit in the sun, and there are a few museums, like the Museum of History and Industry and the Center for Wooden Boats, to occupy your time indoors if the weather demands.
sits just southeast of Pioneer Square. The area is made up of Chinatown, Japantown and Little Saigon, with a rich history going back to the 1880’s from many Asian immigrants who settled in Seattle. The district is filled with shops and restaurants catering authentic cuisine, and is also home to the Wing Luke Museum of the Asian Pacific American Experience with exhibits and guided tours of the neighborhood.
boasts some of the best views of the city and surrounding landscape (it’s worth seeing the skyline with the Space Needle in it) up the oldest public staircase in the city. Divided into upper and lower areas, lower Queen Anne sits at the base of the hill and bleeds into the downtown area with the Space Needle and Pike Place, while upper Queen Anne is along the top of the hill and has a quieter more industrial character with spectacular views from around the old High School which used to serve the community.
are more suburban, with smaller neighborhoods and mom-and-pop shops. Residents of Ballard voted for annexation by Seattle in 1907, and they’ve been happy ever since. Obviously. Bordered by three bays, with vestiges of Scandinavian heritage about the neighborhood, Ballard feels like a small town in a big city.
The self-proclaimed “Center of the Universe” is an arty, eclectic neighborhood that is nevertheless quiet and family friendly. Offering sweeping views of downtown from its Gas Works Park at the northern end of Lake Union, and thanks to the Burke-Gilman Trail which runs alongside the district, Fremont is a busy spot for runners, cyclists and walkers.
Home to the University of Washington, the University District shows classic signs of a college town. Small, independent stores and restaurants have grown in the area around the campus, and the University Village, an outdoor shopping and dining complex, rests just north of the University.
Green Lake is more of an outdoorsy place; it has a lake; parks; golfing; The Green Lake Small Craft Center where you can rent kayaks and paddleboards; and at the southern end, there are multiple sports fields, walking paths and a small track.
is the newly artistic and historically industrial area of town, home to vintage stores, art galleries, and more. This neighborhood has the Georgetown Art Attack, a parade at the second Saturday of every month, as well as the famous Hat and Boots gas station turned artwork and the Museum of Flight.
is more sedate and quiet. It has been referred to as Little France due to its number of French restaurants, although nowadays there’s more culinary diversity.
is the largest neighborhood of the city. Alki Beach here has the prettiest views of the city; for a classic experience, you can take the King County Water Taxi to get there. It also has a large commercial district along California Avenue; together, these make West Seattle the epic collision between small beach town and lively urban center.
Those who move to Seattle find themselves in love with the place - the community, the landscape, the culture, the beer. There’s so much to do, and so long as you don’t mind a little mist, endless opportunity to do it. So, what are you waiting for? If you find yourself with the irresistible itch to pack up and give it a go, but you haven’t made any arrangements yet, don’t worry, we’ve got you – check out our Seattle Apartments. Seattle waits for you!