The Evergreen State is unquestionably one of the US’s secret treasures. Full to the brim with outstanding natural beauty, quirky towns, a thriving economy, a booming property market, some of the highest incomes in the country, and a reputation for liberal, friendly residents, it’s got more perks than a lot of state’s combined. On the flip side, all these benefits don’t come for free: if you’ve set your sights on a move to Washington, be aware that the average property value in certain areas can be as much as several hundred thousand more than the national average. To help you weigh up the options, we’ve put together a list of the 20 best places to live in Washington.
20. Gig Harbor
If you’re looking for somewhere within commuting distance of Seattle, but far enough away from the city lights to afford a peaceful life, then look no further than Gig Harbor. Situated within an easy one-hour drive of the big city, Gig Harbor offers an affordable (and decidedly less hectic) alternative to Seattle’s busy urban center. Surrounded by stunning views of the encroaching mountains and with an idyllic harborside location, you’ll find few better places than this charming little coastal town for either amenities (expect lots of world-class waterside restaurants and a delightful range of independent boutiques) or a relaxed way of life.
Travel just 25 miles north of Seattle and you’ll find the delightful Everett. As the 7th largest city in the state, it manages to combine a small-town feel (friendly, close knit, and safe) with big city amenities (the cultural scene is especially noteworthy, with the Historic Everett Theater and Schack Art Center both being huge draws). As a bonus (unless you’re teetotal, in which case feel free to skip to straight to number 18), it’s home to the Port Gardner Bay Winery, one of the finest producers of local wine in the state.
Another area to offer easy access to Seattle but without the high cost of living is the charming community of Bothwell. As one of Livability’s most affordable places to live in Washington, Bothwell offers all the amenities of a big city with none of the hassle (and very little of the cost). Safe, quiet, and with a great school system and fabulous amenities, it’s a great place for anyone looking to raise their family in a city without breaking the bank in the process.
Less than 45 minutes from Seattle is Tacoma, a cheaper, less congested, and infinitely more relaxed alternative to the big city. Its proximity to Mt. Rainier National Park offers residents plenty of opportunities to get up close and personal with nature, while the 760-acre Point Defiance Park and the beautiful Owen Beach are both great places to while away a lazy Sunday afternoon. Unlike some of our other entries, Tacoma is highly affordable (its average cost of living is just 5% above the national average), giving its lucky residents the chance to enjoy easy access to the delights of Seattle for a fraction of the cost of actually living there.
Not to be confused with its Canadian namesake, the small town of Vancouver has a thriving cultural scene (helped no doubt by its close proximity to Portland, Oregon), affordable housing, a low crime rate, and a great range of leisure and recreational pursuits. If that wasn’t enough, it also has an official town folk song written by none other than the legendary folk singer, Woodie Guthrie.
Beautiful, quirky, and full of the kind of attractions you’d expect of a city with 650,000 residents, Seattle comes in at number 15. In terms of desirability, quality of life, and job-market health, Seattle scores A’s all the way, while its vibrant nightlife, host of outdoor activities, thriving cultural and arts scene, and superb shopping opportunities make it a huge draw to anyone who can afford the $537,800 average property price.
14. Mercer Island
Some key facts about Mercer Island: it’s a suburb of Bellevue with a population of 24,768; its median home value is an almighty $1,034,600; the average cost of rent is $1,908; it has next to no crime; 42% of its residents have a bachelor’s degree, while another 37% have a master’s degree or higher; it has an A+ school system according to Niche; its average household income is a mammoth $136,644; it’s the 14th most desirable place to live in the state of Washington.
If you want to live in Seattle but just can’t stomach the cost, try nearby Olympia for size. Ranked by Livability as one of the best places in the US to live, it combines easy access to the city with affordable housing (34% cheaper on average than Seattle), great amenities, a flourishing local arts scene, and access to some of the best outdoor activities in Washington, including the stunning Capital Lake Trails, Marathon Park, and (albeit at an hour’s drive away), the magnificent Mt Rainer.
The up and coming suburb of Kenmore is a town that is doing increasingly well for itself. It’s schools rank as some of the best performing in the state, while its eco-friendly credentials can be seen in its pedestrianized town square and numerous cycling routes. Single-family homes in Kenmore go for $474,500 on average, which, while high, are more than supported by the equally robust median household income of $96,277.
11. Maple Valley
For lovers of the great outdoors, there can be few places better to live than Washington’s Maple Valley. Bordered on all sides by some of the state’s most beautiful parkland (including the famous Lake Wilderness Park), Maple Valley is unquestionably one of the prettiest entries to our list. As a bonus, it’s also one of the most affordable, with the average cost of a single-family home standing at a very reasonable $290,100.
Once a tiny little backwater, these days Woodinville has a booming business center and an exploding population. Despite that, it still manages to retain its small-town charm, offering it’s 11,400 residents a safe, peaceful environment in picture-perfect surrounds. If you want to experience this little portion of wine country, expect to part with around $454,000-mark for a single-family home: property is at a premium, and the residents aren’t afraid to reflect it in their asking price.
If you’re familiar with French, you’ll know the literal translation of Bellevue is “beautiful view”- an apt name for this stunning King County city and certainly one its residents would agree with. Sandwiched between Lake Sammamish to the east and Lake Washington to the west, Bellevue offers easy access to some of the most stunning scenery in the state, as well as plenty of opportunities for its 135,000 inhabitants to enjoy the outdoor lifestyle. Couple the surrounds with a thriving business center, an abundance of cultural and recreational activities, and an A+ school system, and you’re looking at one of the most desirable cities in Washington.
Kirkland’s population of 85,000 enjoy superb access to one of the state’s most popular tourist destinations, the stunning Lake Washington. With a host of world-class beaches, fantastic outdoor activities and a plethora of art exhibits, shops, bars and restaurants, the area has enough to entertain even the most demanding of local residents. Other highlights of the area include a fully pedestrianized city center, a high median income (the current average is around $92,127 per household) and the opportunity to enjoy the delights of Little League baseball with the famous Kirkland National Little League team.
You may have to hand over $514,100 if you want to buy a property in the exclusive town of Snoqualmie, but if you do, you’ll join the ranks of the 12,944 strong population enjoying access to some of the best schools in the state of Washington (Chief Kanim Middle School, Snoqualmie Elementary School, Timber Ridge Elementary School, and Fall City Elementary School all come highly recommended), a superb range of civic and recreational amenities, a low crime rate, and an average median household income of $136,508.
6. Bainbridge Island
An example of the Pacific Northwest at its best, Bainbridge Island in Kitsap County is so desirable, it once secured the title of CNN’s second-best place to live in the United States. Admittedly, the honor was awarded all the way back in 2005, but age has not withered this charming little enclave’s appeal one iota. Its highly regarded school system and almost non-existent crime rate make it a hugely appealing proposition to families… or at least, to those families that can afford its astronomically high cost of living. The community has kept a tight control over commercial and residential development over the years, to the effect that real estate is at a premium. As an average, expect to fork out $548,100 for a single-family home.
Known throughout the world as a technology hub, the job prospects in Richland are some of the best in the state, making it a huge draw to up and coming young professionals. That said, there’s more than enough on offer to make it an equally attractive proposition to families and seniors, including an affordable cost of living (at $200,800, the median home price is barely a fraction of what it is in larger cities like Seattle), a multitude of outdoor pursuits on its doorstep (including great hiking and biking possibilities on its huge trail network, and excellent golfing and water sports on the Columbia and Yakima rivers), and a vibrant cultural scene that includes an annual renaissance fair, a family-friendly classic car and street rod event and frequent music and arts festivals.
If you like hiking, you’re going to love Issaquah. This peaceful little superb of Seattle (which has earned the affectionate nickname of “Trailhead City”) has a huge network of mountains and lakes on its doorstep, giving local residents plenty of opportunities to break in their walking boots. Despite its outdoorsy, relaxed vibe, Issaquah has a booming job market, with several large corporations (including Costco) calling the town home.
Located in Whitman County on the southeast side of Washington, Pullman is a great choice for anyone looking to combine big-city attractions with a small-town vibe and affordable cost of living. As home to Washington State University, the town has a buzzing nightlife and plenty of amenities to keep its hordes of students entertained. Families, meanwhile, relish the low crime rate, excellent school system, and the opportunity to rent a home in one of the most beautiful areas of Washington for just $222,900.
Move to Sammamish and you’ll experience some of the most stunning scenery in Washington, if not in the entire US. Sandwiched between a majestic mountain range, densely forested outcrops, and wildflower-strewn glades, Sammamish offers its residents the kind of scenic vistas dreams are made of. On a more practical level, it also provides them with a first-class school system, excellent recreational and civic amenities, a good transportation network, and one of the highest median incomes in the state (a mammoth $157,271). Just a small word of warning before you get to swept away: beauty rarely comes cheap, and in the case of Sammamish, this equates to a median home value of a jaw-dropping $679,900.
At number one we have the home of computer software giant Microsoft and the world-famous video gaming systems company Nintendo. Redmond is undoubtedly THE place to be if you have any aspirations for a career in tech (or, strangely enough, any interest in craft beer. It’s also just a supremely good place to live in general, with a healthy median household value of $462,200, a robust median household income of $99,586, a low crime rate, an excellent school system, and believe it not, the prestigious title of “Bicycle Capital of the Northwest.”