Having been back to living in Seattle again for 8 months now (after being away 5 years), I’ve noticed that there have been both a lot of big changes in the city and there are things that still remain the same. It’s definitely not the same place it was even 5 years ago, and as much as I love being back here again, there are also a few things I love to complain about (because that’s what Seattleites do best). Here are some of the best and worst things I’ve found about living here:
1. The Weather
Let’s get the obvious one out of the way first, although it really goes two ways. Seattle has a reputation of being “the rainy city”. We do get a good amount of gray, overcast days that gives the city a moody, dreary vibe for several months of the year, but in terms of actual rainfall we don’t get all that much (New York and Miami actually get more rainfall). That being said, the lack of sunshine throughout the winter and spring can get quite depressing. Seasonal affection disorder (SAD) is a thing here, which is a type of depression that is influenced by the changing of seasons. There is even a special type of lamp or “happy light” that some Seattleites use for therapeutic remedy. Personally, during those long spells without sunshine, I find myself thinking, “why on earth did I choose to move back here?”
But then comes the silver lining. Summers here are absolutely stunning–when the rest of the country is suffering with intense heat and humidity, we enjoy beautifully warm, long days (the sun goes down around 9:30 at night on June 21st). In the warmer months, typically May-September, the entire mood of the city changes with the changing of the seasons. People become so much more friendlier, and like furry woodland critters emerging from their long winter hibernation, everyone in the city is suddenly out and about, staying active and indulging in a vast array of outdoor activities. This is the time of year when I find myself thinking, “there isn’t any where else I’d rather be.”
2. The Neverending Construction
Since the arrival of Amazon’s headquarters in South Lake Union and the massive tech boom that is still well underway here, Seattle has become one of the fastest growing cities in North America. With it has come a tremendous amount of new high-rise condos and office buildings popping up around the city, with many more on the way. With this “Manhattanization”, the city is now littered with construction cranes reshaping the skyline (58 as of summer of 2016). Going up isn’t the only direction the city is going in–on the ground, there are endless construction projects on the roadways that make getting around the city like an enormous obstacle course.
3. The “Big Town” Feel
Despite being among the largest cities in the United States, Seattle’s relaxed and laid-back vibe makes it stand out from most other major cities with a distinct “big town” feeling. The city is divided into several distinct urban neighborhoods that all have their own flair and personality, making this big city feel like a smaller place than it really is. Even the downtown area is quite small, taking only 20 minutes or so to walk across. Despite all this, Seattle still offers what every great major city does–a robust bar and restaurant scene, lots of green space, and a plethora of major music and cultural events that take place year-around.
4. Asian Food Here Is Amazing
Although seafood and coffee are the classic and most well-known fares here, Seattle also has a diverse international food scene here, particularly from Asia. With a large Vietnamese population, pho (beef noodle soup) is to Seattle as Turkish döner kebabs are to Germany, and Indian curry is to London. There are also a healthy amount of great Korean, Japanese, and Thai restaurants all around. I can personally vouch that the Thai food in Seattle competes pretty closely with the food I tried in Thailand–it’s good stuff. Best of all, they’re usually great places to go if you want to eat cheaply. A lot of the good Asian restaurants and eateries are found in the International District (Chinatown) or U-District neighborhoods, although you can find them scattered about around the city. Some of my favorites include Jai Tai (Thai – Fremont), Pho Than Brothers (Vietnamese – U-District), and Musashi’s (Japanese – Wallingford).
5. The Terrible Drivers & Traffic
I suppose everyone would suggest that their city would boast the worst drivers, but Seattle’s motorists are by far the worst I’ve ever seen. It’s not so much that people are reckless or aggressive like they are in other parts of the country, but just the opposite. Seattle drivers are super passive aggressive, oblivious, and clearly must have bribed their driving instructors in passing their driver’s test. The number of people on the roads here who fail to use their indicators before switching lanes or drive slowly in the left-hand passing lane (and then suddenly match your speed when you try to pass them–super frustrating) is astounding.
Or the “you go, no you go” game that’s played at 4-way intersections everywhere. Although I think people are generally trying to be polite and have good intentions, it becomes awkward and confusing forfeiting your right of way when it’s your turn to go. All of this, in addition to the horrendous traffic (listed as the #4 city with the worst traffic in the US), makes driving here a major headache. And forget snow days–the whole city shuts down since no one can handle driving in it. (see link for video)
6. Lack of Train System
Unlike our neighboring cities, Vancouver, B.C, and Portland, Oregon, Seattle is way behind in having a good rail network. We only received our single-line light rail in 2009, which stretches from the airport in the south to the University of Washington in the north. For the most part the public transportation system here is mostly made up of bus routes. Don’t get me wrong, I’m so thankful for the light rail (especially now that I can get from the university to downtown in a matter of minutes) and the bus network is quite extensive (you can get to pretty much anywhere you need to by bus). The only thing is 1. getting around primarily on a bus system is painfully slow (especially when there are a few connections involved) and 2. less trains means more traffic on the road (buses make up part of the traffic as well) and as mentioned before, the traffic in Seattle is already bad enough and will only get worse as more people move here. Fortunately, as of November 2016, Seattleites voted to expand our rail system with a new network of both underground and overground light rail routes. The only catch is it’s not projected to be finished until 2041–25 years from now. So I guess I’ll just have to be content with the bus network for the time being.
7. Dogs Are Everywhere
As a lover of dogs, this is something I absolutely love about Seattle. It’s a very dog-friendly city, several designated off leash parks and beaches throughout. There are lots of dog-friendly hotels and shops around, and they’re allowed to ride on the bus with you! Many restaurants even now allowing dogs to dine with you on their outdoor terraces and patios. It’s also quite common seeing dogs out on the lake with their owners riding in kayaks and stand-up paddle boards during the summer. In fact, there are actually more dogs within the city limits then there are children. This craze for dogs here is huge and is one of the funnily odd things that make Seattle a great place to live (for dog lovers).
8. Clean and Green
When it comes to good air and water quality, Seattle ranks high on the list among US cities. Thanks to fresh snow that falls every year in the surrounding mountain ranges, we’re lucky enough to have clean, great tasting water that you can drink right from the tap. People here tend to be quite mindful of the environment, where many people choose to bike to work, plastic bags are banned in retail shops, and people vote for eco-friendly initiatives. Recycling is taken seriously here–our recycling and compost bins are larger than our regular garbage containers.
Even the city’s nickname as the Emerald City reflects the vast amount of forests that are found throughout the region. There are several large green spaces scattered about throughout the city limits, including Gasworks Park, Discovery Park, and Warren G. Magnuson Park–all of which were either former gas plants or military installations. The Cascade mountains are just a 30 minute drive from the city center, where there are endless opportunities for hiking and climbing. Getting close to nature is incredibly easy here.
9. Seattle Freeze
One of the most annoying realities of living in Seattle is dealing with a phenomena known as Seattle Freeze. This term was coined in an article of the Seattle Times back in 2005, which describes the belief that it’s difficult for newcomers and transplants from elsewhere to make new friends. Although very polite and easy to talk to, people from Seattle aren’t particularly friendly and are sometimes described as cold, standoffish, snobby, flaky, superficial, introverted, and passive aggressive. For example–I can sit alone at a bar anywhere else in America and eventually someone will come over and spark off a friendly conversation. That’s never happened to me here. There are exceptions of course, but these were people who had moved here or were visiting from somewhere else and had made similar observations. To contrast to a direct nature of communicating, as New Yorkers are so famous for, Seattle is the exact opposite–people here are quite indirect. Seattleites are also notorious for not following up on plans. If I had a dollar for every time someone said “let’s hang out sometime” and got bailed on at the last minute, I’d be rich enough to have a house on Lake Washington next to Bill Gates. There are a number of theories on why Seattleites seem to be more indifferent socially than your average American, but I can only hope that things will get better there as more people move into the city and bring better attitudes from elsewhere. The exception is during the summer when it’s warm and sunny and suddenly everyone becomes super happy and friendly (another reason why Seattle is so great in summer!)
10. Spectacular Scenery
Probably one of the best things about living here is the fact that Seattle is surrounded by water and mountains. There aren’t many places in the world where you can ski in the morning and hang out on the beach in the afternoon, nor are there many places where a massive snow-capped volcano graces the city skyline. To the east of the city lies several lakes. To the west, you can watch the ferries sail out into the hundreds of inlets and waterways of Puget Sound. Winter or summer, Seattle is green year around with lush forests. The hiking, cycling, paddling, climbing, and the opportunities for pretty much any outdoor activity you can think of is endless.
The truth is that we’re all actually really spoiled and lucky to live in such a gorgeous corner of the world.