Originally published April 2019, updated 2022
Some of you are uprooting lives in other states, and even other countries, to plant yourselves in Seattle and seek roots at The Seattle School. Part of Seattle’s charm is that it is a city of neighborhoods, each with its own distinct character. It’s helpful to have a sense of which neighborhood might be a good fit for you. Below, we highlight some of the more common neighborhoods that our students inhabit, with brief descriptions that spell out some of what makes each area unique—including distance to The Seattle School!
You probably know by now that The Seattle School is in the Belltown neighborhood of Seattle. While some students choose to live within just a couple blocks of our building, others find themselves drawn to one of the other unique neighborhoods Seattle offers.
As always, it can be helpful to name the non-negotiables before you shop around for a place. For example, how important is it for you to have a washer and dryer in your space? What about roommates or commuting/parking? Would you rather live near a green space/park, or commute to get there? For now, let’s narrow down your home-sweet-home search with an introduction to Seattle neighborhoods.
City Center Neighborhoods
These are the neighborhoods that surround downtown, which is a very specific area in Seattle—what other cities might call the central business district. These neighborhoods are within walking distance of each other (sometimes up to a 30-minute walk). They all share a distinct lack of parking, so walking and public transport (buses, monorail, light rail, Lyft, etc.) are your best options. You won’t find many houses in these neighborhoods—primarily apartments and condos. And most of the apartments will not include parking with your rent, so you’ll need to factor in purchasing a parking permit for your vehicle. Car sharing services such as Zip Cars are also very easy to come by in these neighborhoods.
Downtown is roughly bounded by Pike and Pine Streets to the north, Yesler Way to the south, I-5 to the east, and Puget Sound to the west. There are some condos and apartments with a primarily commercial feel—which means a ton of shopping, financial businesses, and shops. There’s a fair amount of nightlife and restaurants Downtown, and you’d just be a short walk from Belltown, which has a lot more of that sort of thing. The overall vibe here is “businessy” and professional (or at least as businessy and professional as Seattleites get). Westlake Center Downtown and the surrounding streets are shopping central, and also the city’s biggest transit hub—the monorail and the ever-expanding Link Light Rail stop here, as well as almost all the major bus lines. As a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, many businesses began closing in Downtown. However, in 2022, Downtown businesses including shops and restaurants are slowly returning and recovering.
The Seattle School’s hometown! Directly north of Downtown, Belltown is bounded by Pike/Pine to the south, Denny Way to the north, 5th Avenue to the east, and Puget Sound to the west. It’s full of apartments and condos, restaurants, bars, and live music venues. The vibe is trendy, upscale, youthful, and at times, not a place to walk around alone after dark. It’s a bit more expensive than most, so the people who live here tend to be young and reasonably well-off, which is sometimes a stark contrast to underemployed or unhoused neighbors. Belltown is home to many Seattle “attractions,” such as Pike Place Market, the Seattle Art Museum, Olympic Sculpture Park, and more (in the summer, it’s tourism central). This area is very active on Friday and Saturday nights, but it is quieter and more relaxed during the week. Belltown centers around 1st and Bell, so if you want to be in the thick of things, look on 1st and 2nd Avenues; 3rd Avenue is a major bus route and can be a bit busy, while 4th and 5th Avenues tend to be quieter.
Lower Queen Anne (Uptown)
Just north of Belltown, Lower Queen Anne is a favorite of convenience and culture for many Seattle School students. Formerly known as Uptown, most of Lower Queen Anne is within walking distance of the school and boasts great places to eat and study. Its boundaries aren’t really well defined, but it’s approximately the areas directly north and to the west of Seattle Center, which is home to the Space Needle, Key Arena, Pacific Science Center, the Seattle Repertory Theatre, and even an ice skating rink in the winter. Climate Pledge Arena (formerly known as Key Arena) reopened in the Fall of 2021 and has already featured many headliners in its updated space: “the most progressive, responsible, and sustainable arena in the world.” Queen Anne is a very large hill, and Lower Queen Anne is the base of it on the south side. It’s about a 15-20 minute walk to downtown, or you can take the monorail from Seattle Center to Westlake Center. Lower Queen Anne is quieter than Belltown, with more parking (though not a ton) and a more family-friendly vibe, but there’s still an active nightlife scene. The rent tends to be cheaper than Belltown and Queen Anne, which is another part of its popularity with students. It’s also a great place for folks who are new to Seattle, because it’s really close to a lot of the iconic tourist stuff you might want to do when you first get to town.
South Lake Union
Just to the east of Lower Queen Anne and north of Belltown, South Lake Union (SLU) is very central. For years this was primarily an industrial center, but more recently, after the arrival of Amazon and a bunch of biotech companies, it’s become quite the technology hub, with a growing nightlife and great restaurants at its center. There are new apartment and condo buildings here, as well as some that are still being built. There’s also the “South Lake Union Trolley” to get you around the neighborhood. Major plus: SLU is right on Lake Union, with its long, beautiful jogging paths and plenty of options for renting kayaks and paddle boards.
Pioneer Square is where Seattle was first founded. Even though it’s just south of Downtown, the two neighborhoods have very different vibes and aesthetics. Pioneer Square has a lot of beautiful old buildings that attract architecture firms, art and design studios, and other creative endeavors. Many have been converted into lofts and apartments, and some of Seattle’s best restaurateurs are opening new spots here to draw in more people. Lumen Field (home to Seahawks football and Sounders soccer, formerly known as Century Link Field) and T-Mobile Park (home to Mariners baseball, formerly Safeco Field) are down here as well, so if you’re a sports fan you’ll find a great game-day atmosphere in Pioneer Square. There’s also an Underground Seattle Tour here—you may want to put that on your “new to Seattle” to-do list.
Just to the east of Downtown, First Hill is a small area that has quite a few apartments and condo buildings. It’s close to Downtown, but not as convenient as you might think since I-5 (Washington’s main north-south interstate) divides the two neighborhoods. It’s a good bit cheaper to live here than Downtown, Belltown, or Lower Queen Anne, but it doesn’t offer as much in terms of dining and nightlife. From here, if you want to go out, you’ll probably be looking at calling a Lyft or giving your legs a workout on some of the area’s formidable hills.
The International District neighborhood (ID), with a history rooted in Asian and Asian-American culture, is a densely populated area with fantastic restaurants, groceries, and cultural events. There’s a bit of everything as far as real estate goes, with lower-income housing in the center, surrounded by newer condos and townhouses. With many businesses and transportation options, including bus, light rail, and Amtrak, the ID has location, history, and opportunities.
These neighborhoods surround the ones we mentioned above. They’re all a bit cheaper than the city center neighborhoods, but are about a 10-15 minute drive from Downtown (or about $10 for a Lyft). Parking is a bit better in these neighborhoods, but not significantly so. You’re also able to find houses, rather than just apartments and condos, in most of these neighborhoods. These are really great areas if you’re the sort of person who wants to feel close to the city but not right in the middle of everything all the time.
Capitol Hill, east of downtown, is a large and very densely populated neighborhood that is the center of art, music, and LGBTQ+ culture in Seattle. This was the center of the whole grunge thing and is still a primary part of Seattle’s live music scene (although it now includes many genres, including great electronica and hip-hop venues, among others). The prestigious Cornish College of the Arts is also here, along with a thriving theater community. Capitol Hill has a thriving nightlife, with plenty of options for live music, bars, clubs, and restaurants, and some decent shopping. There are great apartments, condos, and some houses for rent. Capitol Hill is also closer to the city center than most of the other neighborhoods in this category. Depending on where in Capitol Hill you live, taking the light rail or walking downtown might be easily accessible for you.
Up the hill from Lower Queen Anne, this is a mostly residential neighborhood that also has a small but nice central area with apartments, shops, restaurants, and bars (locals usually just call this area “top of the hill”). It’s pretty quiet and has mostly old but very well-kept houses, a lot of which are rentals with higher price tags than other areas. It’s quite close to Lower Queen Anne, Belltown, and Downtown, but the fact that it is up a very large hill makes it somewhat less walkable. If you’re at the top of the hill, you’re not likely to want to walk down very often; the walk back up is rough. Queen Anne is really popular with young families and young professionals who want to be close to the city but just outside the hustle and bustle. Queen Anne—especially Kerry Park—is also known for remarkable views of the city, the mountains, and the water.
This is a small area west of Lower Queen Anne and south of Ballard. There’s mostly apartments here, and you’ll probably wind up going to Lower Queen Anne or elsewhere if you’re hitting the town. But there is a Whole Foods and a Starbucks that stays open into the evening. If you want the perks of Lower Queen Anne but need something a little cheaper, Interbay might be a great option since housing tends to be more affordable. It’s also very easy to bike from Interbay to The Seattle School—just a straight shot along the beautiful Elliot Bay Trail.
To the west of Queen Anne, Magnolia is on another big hill, with great views all around. There are some affordable apartments, condos, and houses, though parts of Magnolia—especially toward the water—are very upscale. There are a few grocery stores nearby, a quaint shopping center in Magnolia Village, and Red Mill burgers (which you’ll find out about pretty quickly—so good!), so you could survive without going too far, but your options are a bit more limited than areas like Queen Anne, Ballard, or Fremont. The best part of Magnolia might be Discovery Park, the largest city park in Seattle–534 acres of wooded trails, seaside bluffs, and a beach.
Just north of Lake Union, Fremont is about a 10-15 minute drive from downtown. It’s a charmingly unusual and eclectic sort of place, full of strange and quirky sculptures (like a 10-foot Vladimir Lenin, an enormous troll eating a real-life Volkswagen Beetle, and hedges trimmed to look like faces)—not to mention the annual Summer Solstice parade of naked cyclists. It’s got some of the artistic cultural vibe of Capitol Hill, but more relaxed. The core of Fremont is smaller than that of Capitol Hill or Belltown, though it does have a selection of good restaurants, bars, and boutique shopping. This area has gentrified a lot in recent years and is now home to the Seattle offices of some big technology companies, including Adobe and Google. The houses, apartments, and condos are a combination of older ‘60s-style, craftsman, and ultramodern, with many of them being less expensive than what you’ll find downtown. From Fremont it’s easy to get downtown by bus or biking along the dedicated bike lane along Dexter Avenue.
Ballard, just west of Fremont and about a 15-minute drive from downtown, has been one of Seattle’s trendiest neighborhoods for the last few years. Old Ballard is right in the middle, with brick streets, boutiques, wine bars, artisan pubs, coffee shops, and loft apartments with a vintage/modern feel, and the western edge features incredible views of the Olympic Mountains and Puget Sound, including one of Seattle’s most popular beaches, Golden Gardens. Historically a fisherman’s town, now with a nightlife somewhere between the frenzied Capitol Hill and the laid back Fremont, Ballard’s popularity means that there are lots of housing options, but they can get pretty pricey. A commuting caveat: It’s not very close to the highways, so traffic can be rough if you’re going to the Eastside suburbs (like Bellevue, Redmond, or Kirkland). It’s pretty easy to get to the city center neighborhoods, though, and you can reach The Seattle School via bus from the main thoroughfare on 15th Avenue.
This community is located just north of Ballard, and is referred to by Ballard old-timers as North Ballard. Crown Hill has a small-town feel, and there are some good housing options around here.
To the west of Fremont is Wallingford. It’s very laid back—think Ballard meets Mayberry (as in, sit on your porch and drink iced tea, do yard work, play in the sprinkler). There are a few casual bars, some good dining, a cat cafe, and a great independent movie theater. Besides some apartments and condos, Wallingford also has a good selection of houses. Reasonably priced and about a 15-minute drive downtown, it’s a fabulous neighborhood for families and is very walkable and bike-friendly. The well-known Gasworks Park and Kite Hill are in Wallingford, as well as the Burke-Gilman running/biking trail (with prime blackberry picking in season). I-5 borders Wallingford, which makes getting around via car convenient, and there are also several bus lines running directly downtown.
West of Wallingford is the U-District, the neighborhood surrounding the University of Washington. There are a lot of college bars, good restaurants, and some live music options. Even though the U-District is right in the middle of a big city, it can feel very much like any college town in America. (You can decide for yourself whether that’s appealing or not.) It’s pretty affordable and a lot of fun, with all the pageantry Division I college athletics have to offer. The U-District also has a new light rail station that runs from the stadium through Capitol Hill to the Downtown Westlake Center (and beyond).
On the south side of the University of Washington is Eastlake. With a large neighborhood of floating homes, as well as older, more expensive houses, the area can be a bit pricey. It’s also right under I-5, so traffic noise tends to be high in some parts. If you find a good deal on a place in Eastlake, you’d only be a short commute from Downtown, the U-District, or Wallingford.
Greenlake, north of Fremont and Wallingford, is the neighborhood surrounding its namesake body of water. It’s a friendly and relatively affordable neighborhood, with more houses than apartments or condos, and the commute downtown will take 10-20 minutes by car or bus. There’s a small but good selection of restaurants and bars (parking can be quite tricky if you live near here), and the lake is circled by an incredible, three-mile walking/running/biking path that is always packed when the sun comes out.
A bit farther, but still Seattle neighborhoods
These neighborhoods are a bit farther out (10-30 minutes to The Seattle School, depending on traffic). They have become popular with students in recent years, as they tend to be more affordable and provide easier access to large supermarkets, more accessible shopping, and even cheaper gas than what you might find in the city center neighborhoods. They also tend to have ample parking (which can cost $150-250 per month if you live somewhere like Downtown). Look along the 15th Street, Highway 99/Aurora Avenue, and I-5 corridors for easy bus access.
Greenwood, northeast of Ballard and northwest of Greenlake, has risen from the bog of its past (literally!) to become a busy, family-friendly, affordable neighborhood. With a good selection of restaurants, bars, gelato stops, and coffee shops along Greenwood Avenue, this is one of Seattle’s up-and-coming walkable neighborhoods that still offers pretty affordable rent. The Interurban Bike Trail runs north from Greenwood, and there are plenty of bike-friendly streets here. Buses run along the 99 corridor and Greenwood Avenue, making for an easy 20-minute commute downtown.
Ravenna/Wedgwood/Maple Leaf/Northeast Seattle
As most of the neighborhoods closer to the city center have become more expensive due to Seattle’s tech boom, some Seattle School students have found neighborhoods to the north of the University District to be an affordable option. Situated east of I-5, this area is primarily single-family homes, with some condos and townhouses. While restaurant and nightlife options are limited, parking is convenient, the U-District and Northgate shopping complex are quite close, and buses are accessible—not to mention how easy the commute downtown is with the newest light rail stations.
Another up-and-coming area of Seattle, these neighborhoods include two designated “urban villages”—areas that are walkable with restaurants and nightlife options, as well as convenient transportation (new light rail station!). This part of town includes a combination of single-family homes, apartments, and townhouses with plenty of free parking. Driving or busing downtown can take 30-50 minutes depending on traffic—not a bad option if you like to read on the bus. These neighborhoods are also fairly close to Lake Washington and the Burke Gilman trail, a popular bike trail that runs along Lake Washington and joins up with the Sammamish River trail farther north.
Located across Elliot Bay from Downtown, West Seattle is home to Seattle’s most popular beach, Alki, and it definitely feels like a beach town. It’s really laid back and chill, even a bit reminiscent of California, and is mostly residential, with affordable houses, apartments, and condos. There’s also a cool central area with some solid restaurants, a great little movie theater, and a fantastic record store. The trouble with West Seattle is it’s kind of a pain to get downtown from there—probably a 30-minute drive, through an area where traffic is often quite congested. In 2020, the West Seattle Bridge, the primary commute route in and out of the neighborhood, was closed due to structural concerns. Good news though – the bridge is scheduled to re-open in the fall of 2022! During the nicer months, there’s a water taxi that, even if it doesn’t save you much time, offers one of the most beautiful commutes in town.
Georgetown, south of SODO and east of South Park, is a fascinating combo of an industrial zone and a trendy neighborhood that offers some vintage shopping, good restaurants, and great breweries. With its quirky culture and fun hangout spots, Georgetown reflects some of the charm that first made Seattle so unique.
The Central District is on the east side of Capitol Hill and is one of the oldest surviving residential neighborhoods in the city. Throughout its history it has seen many changes in demographics and politics, and it has recently been the center of a lot of new construction and community improvement projects.
Everyone’s been buzzing about Columbia City the last few years, and it’s easy to see why: Here you’ll find a cozy residential area, a vibrant business district, great restaurants, easy access to buses and the light rail, and just a short walk to Lake Washington and the stunning Seward Park.
South of downtown between I-5 and Rainier Valley, Beacon Hill is a sprawling neighborhood that’s easy to find because of the old veteran’s hospital at its peak. You can usually find some good housing options here, plus close proximity to downtown and First Hill, and an eclectic vibe all its own.
Beyond Seattle neighborhoods
These areas lie outside of the Seattle city limits. Some students find these areas to be more inviting, either because of the cost of living, the quieter neighborhoods, or the chance to be part of the communities that live here. Although with these areas, it’s important to remember that the highways are often congested. A commute that takes about 30 minutes during non-peak times can easily turn into an hour or two during rush hour.
If you head north out of Seattle along the I-5 corridor, you’ll come to Greater Seattle’s northern suburbs (Shoreline, Edmonds, Kenmore, Mountlake Terrace, Lynnwood, Mukilteo, Bothell, Woodinville, and eventually Everett). Several of our students live in these neighborhoods, which offer more affordable housing and great schools if you have kids. Keep an eye on the upcoming light rail expansions which will make living in Shoreline and places north even more attractive. In 2024, the first light rail station in Shoreline is scheduled to open–and the commute to downtown will be 17 minutes. The most affordable grocery stores are also located outside of Seattle proper—including H Mart, WinCo, and Costco. And if you’re looking for more Korean food options, be sure to check out Lynnwood!
Head south on the I-5 corridor and you’ll find the southern suburbs of Seattle (Burien, SeaTac, Renton, Federal Way, Puyallup, Tacoma, and eventually Olympia). These neighborhoods offer much of the same appeal as the northern suburbs, though you might also find a busier, more industrial vibe in this direction.
Beyond Lake Washington is what is locally called “the Eastside,” including the suburb cities of Bellevue, Redmond, Kirkland, and Issaquah. A lot of Seattle’s big tech companies have offices in this area (Microsoft, Nintendo, Adobe, T-Mobile, HTC, and others), and a lot of people commute to the Eastside for work. The floating bridges between Seattle and the Eastside make up what is probably Seattle’s biggest traffic issue. So if you’re living in the city but working on the Eastside, or vice versa, it’s worth trying to find a spot that’s easily accessible to one of the two bridges, WA-520 (a toll bridge) and I-90.
The “West Side” or West Sound
Would you enjoy commuting by ferry? Check out the cities in the Kitsap Peninsula, west of Seattle, across the body of water known as the Salish Sea. It’s a 35-minute ride from Bainbridge Island to the ferry terminal in downtown Seattle, and then one mile along the waterfront to The Seattle School. Bremerton has two ferry options: the 30-minute Kitsap passenger-only-ferry (foot or bike) and the 60-minute state-run ferry (foot, bike or car). Biking is the most efficient way to commute with the ferry: faster than walking and priority boarding. Commuting from Kitsap can require patience at times, but the lifestyle and options can be worth the travel time.
Wherever you end up, remember that you are moving to one of the most beautiful cities in the country and joining the PNW outdoor culture! We will be holding each of you in mind as you find a place to grow new roots.