Tips for Living in Seattle

When one moves to a new city, they can be a bit overwhelmed. New sights, new streets, new customs, new everything. Finding a place to live and work isn’t even then half of it, although it’s a start. What about the little things that the locals take for granted? How do they get around town, where to they go around town, what do they lug around with them when they do go around town? Well, when it comes to Seattle, here is how it goes:

Ditch Your Car

When I first moved to Seattle almost 20 years ago, the best thing I ever could have done, and that I did, was to let my car go. Doing so enabled me to really get to know my neighborhood, my city, and the people that live in it. There is no way that I could have learned the things I did, in as short a time as I did, if I had been stuck behind the wheel of my then-beloved Honda.

If you are going to want really to take advantage of living “in the City”, knowing where all the little shops and niches are that really make Seattle distinct, then you are really going to want to live in the city coreif at all possible…Capitol Hill, Belltown, First Hill, Uptown/Queen Anne, the International District, Pioneer Squareor at the very least, slightly outside the core, such as Fremont, Wallingford or Ballard. All of these neighborhoods vary in price, and most have limited parking available. If you plan to keep your car and live in one of the neighborhoods I’ve mentioned, you will need a parking permit/sticker for each vehicle you plan to park on the neighborhoods streets. This is because space is at a premium and if your place of residence does not office off-street parking , those vehicles not approved and prominently displaying its parking permit in its rear window will be ticketed and/or towed. Pain in the you-know-what? Yes, maybe, but necessary. So, if you can by any means both live and work in the city core, then please doand you will be able to get rid of your car and still get just about anywhere you need to via King County Metro (the bus) or by foot.

Look at the greatest cities of the world such as New York and Paris. Most citizens of such cities do not personally own cars, and they walk a great deal. It is healthy, it is easy and it is how they prefer it. Who wants to be stuck in traffic, yelling to other drivers from behind a closed window, fuming and causing your blood pressure to escalate, while it helps nothing and you’re still stuck in the same traffic? Not I! And without a car, I don’t. I walk to my bus, I open my book, I turn on my iPod…and I look out the windows at the shops and trees, I watch the different people on the bus with me and wonder about their lives. Sometimes I even meet people this way and so learn even more about my city and those that live in it.

Do yourself a favor. Kill the car. Get a transit pass. You’ll thank yourself!

Learn the Downtown Core Streets

There’s a little ditty about remembering the order of the streets in downtown Seattle and it goes like this: Jesus Christ Made Seattle Under Pressure. I cannot begin to tell you how helpful this has been to me and countless others! Once you have that phrase memorized, you will always be able to tell which street is coming up next downtown. The first letter of each word in the phrase corresponds to the street names, from the south to the north, and they always come in pairs: J for Jefferson & James; C for Cherry & Columbia; M for Marion & Madison; S for Spring & Seneca; U for University & Union; P for Pike & Pine.

Also, please know that there are numerous one-way streets downtown, so if you have disregarded my advice to ditch your car, then you should make sure you learn them. Get out a map, look online…whatever. The one-way streets usually alternate every other street as to which way the traffic can travel. Although they aren’t hard to learn, if you don’t learn them, driving downtown will end up being very frustrating. For example, starting from the south: Cherry goes east, Columbia goes west; Marion goes east, Madison goes west (that is, west of I-5. Once on First Hill, it’s a 2-way); Spring goes east, Seneca goes west; University goes east, Union goes west; Pike goes east, Pine goes west. Additionally, the north-south streets (actually Avenues) that intersect the aforementioned streets also have their particular 1-way/2-way idiosyncrasies. So, like I said: Get a map. Use it. Learn it.

The Umbrella Myth

I’ve read a great many articles that advise you to make sure you have/get an umbrella when you visit or live in Seattle. Bah! Although it may rain a great deal in the months from October through April, the actual necessity of using an umbrella is greatly overrated. The heaviness of the precipitation rarely calls for the use of one, as most of our so-called rainy days are comprised of more of a mist than actual raindrops. Additionally, much of the downtown core has covered sidewalks, and most of the bus stops have shelters, so darting from store to curb you really won’t have the opportunity to open your bumbershoot (aka umbrella).

And another thing: you can almost always tell the tourist from a local by whether or not they have an umbrella…and, if they do, how they use the thing. Locals don’t like to use an umbrella if they can help it. They’re either too large to be practical to use, too small to be of any use whatsoever, and either way end up wet and annoyingly awkward to store after you’ve used them. On top of that, the umbrella is very much like a weapon…you shouldn’t try to use one unless you are extremely familiar with one and how to manipulate it. It’s also very like a weapon in that on a blustery day, you can put someone’s or your own eye out with it! Take my advice: ditch the umbrella, as well as the car. Get a good trench-coat and start a hat collection. Much more stylish, distinctive, and they will not damage you or the person next to you on the sidewalk!

Get Out and DO the “Touristy” Things

This does not mean I’m giving you carte blanche to act like a tourist. This means, get out there and learn about the places that are popular with the tourists and find out why. Get behind them, learn some history about them. You’ll find that they are actually deeper than the “tourist trap” you may have taken them for initially. And you’ll find that the locals that live and work around them are real…very real…and that the attraction itself is therefore very real and vibrant.

Go to the Space Needle, though I recommend just going to the Observation Deck (The restaurant is overpriced and under quality usually). Take the Underground Tour in Pioneer Square and listen to the goofy “historians” tell their storiesmost based in factual Seattle history. Brave the Waterfront some afternoon (including The Seattle Aquarium if you can afford it). And definitely…very most definitely…experience the Pike Place Market.

Now, I don’t just mean go to Pike Place Market on a Saturday when it’s busy and you can’t see half of the craft-table items. Try going in the morning, around 9:00 am, when the vendors are picking their spots for the day via a roll-call/lottery. Get your morning latte at the very first Starbucks ever (or take your pick from any other espresso-selling business) and hang back across the street. Watch them bring their goods out from their night storage and set up their wares, calling out to other vendors and friends as they do. Get the sense of community that abounds in this little microcosm of society and human interest. Then, once they’re all set up, stroll through and see what they’ve gotand buy something from them, if you can. Which brings me to another tip

Always Support Your Local Businesses and Artists

Seattle is very community-minded and that stretches to include how and what we buy. We try to buy local producewhether from the Pike Place Market or in the specialty section at Whole Foods or PCC. We like to find the cute little shop just off the beaten path that carries handmade items from the Pacific Northwest. I much rather would get a gift made by a local artist, or a book bought from a small local bookstore than get something from a big department store or Barnes and Noble! Yes, we have all those big stores, and they have their placebut as much as possible, we try to buy local. It’s more personal, it’s more special, and it’s more beneficial to all of us. At least, that’s the way us Pacific Northwesterners think.

Bear in mind that this is just a startI haven’t covered everything you need to know, not by a long shot! The nature of a city is that it is always changing, always morphing into something else. We as citizens of that city help to form its futureand believe it or not, we owe it to ourselves and those that relocate from other places to know our city and pass on any hints we can in the process. Get out there and participate: be a part of the vastly diverse thing that is the City of Seattle. That is the best tip I can give anyone.