While California’s population has been on the decline, Washington state continues to grow. The state has posted population growth of more than 1% every year since 2013, which adds up to about 100,000 residents moving to the state per year.
Why live in Washington? The state is filled with natural beauty, it has zero percent income tax, has a robust job market, and has absolutely beautiful summers. If you’re thinking about making the move we’ve compiled 14 of the best cities (or neighborhoods) in the state to move to. So, let’s get started on the best place to live in Washington state!
The Best Places to Live in Washington State
Here’s a list of places we’ll explore in more detail below:
- Gig Harbor
- Green Lake (Seattle)
- Camano Island
- North End (Tacoma)
- Queen Anne (Seattle)
- Walla Walla
1. Gig Harbor
- Move here because: Small waterfront town across the bridge from Tacoma with good schools and beautiful views
- Population: 12,029
- High School Ranking: 61st in Washington State (Gig Harbor High School)
The first thing to know about Gig Harbor is that it’s beautiful. That’s true of many towns on this list, but Gig Harbor certainly stands out. Views of Mount Rainier abound, while the city’s waterfront is full of marinas that surround the city’s harbor.
The city’s downtown sits on the waterfront and provides many options. As of summer 2023, there are about 24 restaurants plus several breweries and coffee shops. There are also shops for renting boats or kayaks, art boutiques, shops, spas, and museums to visit. If you’re looking to just visit Gig Harbor, there are also four hotels in town.
Gig Harbor has a remote feel with many neighborhoods that are surrounded by evergreen trees, but it also has many conveniences. It’s just a short drive across the bridge to Tacoma, but you can generally get to downtown Seattle in less than an hour as well. (It’s about a 44-mile drive, but traffic can get bad)
In addition, the town has many of the staples you may be used to like a Costco and several plazas with grocery stores and other “big box” retailers. You’ll find plenty of million-dollar houses here, but there are also many single-family homes below that level.
2. Green Lake (Seattle)
- Move here because: Easy access to downtown with a neighborhood that’s extremely walkable
- Population: 17,416 (Based on ~2.3 square miles around lake)
- High School Ranking: 13th in Washington State (Roosevelt High School)
Green Lake is just 10 minutes north of downtown Seattle, but feels far less “crowded.” One reason for its more “laid back” nature is all the park space and walking lanes around the lake. In total, the lake covers 259 miles and is surrounded by a 2.8-mile-long path that encircles it and is extremely popular with walkers, especially during the summer.
The area is well-connected transit-wise to downtown. There is a light rail station nearby Roosevelt, and there are also several bus lines that connect the area to Seattle’s urban core. Other nearby neighborhoods include the University District, Wallingford, and Northgate.
There are some shops and restaurants along the east side of the lake. In addition, you’re close to dining in areas like TangleTown, Wallingford’s commercial strip on 45th Avenue, and Roosevelt.
- Move here because: Much more affordable than Seattle with mountains, lakes, and natural beauty a short drive away
- Population: 230,160
- High School Ranking: 64th in Washington State (Ferris High School)
Spokane is the commercial center of Eastern Washington and sits about 280 miles (by car) away from Seattle.
Home prices in Spokane saw a sharp rise following the Covid pandemic in 2020, but as of mid-2023 median listing prices for homes are still well below the Seattle area. The median home price in Spokane is $459,000 versus $820,000 for Seattle.
Spokane sits at the southern end of the Selkirk Mountains and has a river that runs through its downtown. While much of Eastern Washington is flat land, Spokane’s geography has more in common with northern Idaho and Montana, two areas renowned for their natural beauty.
- Move here because: Wenatchee is renowned for its natural beauty and doesn’t suffer from the Seattle gray with more than 300 days of sunshine per year
- Population: 35,508
- High School Ranking: 195th in Washington State (Wenatchee High School)
Wenatchee sits on the east side of the Cascade Mountains, which gives it a dramatically different climate than Seattle. The city receives less than 10 inches of rain per year and more than 300 days of sunshine.
The area around Wenatchee is popular with outdoor enthusiasts. There are plenty of trails to hike in addition to rivers, and the city is just a short drive to Lake Chelan. Whether you’re into biking, fishing, or boating, you’ll find ample opportunities for your hobbies nearby.
Wenatchee is also cheaper than options like Seattle, but the gap is closing. The median listing price for homes is $625,000, which has risen dramatically in recent years. Many Seattle area residents have begun buying homes in Wenatchee and nearby towns like Leavenworth as second homes.
5. Camano Island
- Move here because: Camano Island is full of natural beauty and can be accessed without a ferry ride
- Population: 17,356
- High School Ranking: 144th in Washington State (Stanwood High School)
Washington state is home to many beautiful islands. There’s Bainbridge across the water from downtown, Whidbey Island, and the San Juan’s are famed for their largely unspoiled wilderness. However, all these other islands require ferries or long drives to get to.
Camano Island is a little different. The island is connected to the mainland by a bridge that’s about 60 miles north (by car) from downtown Seattle. That makes Camano a very attractive option for visiting some of the best beaches in the Pacific Northwest.
In total, there are 32 beaches spread across Camano, many of which have public access. The island is largely rural, with just a smattering of restaurants and other businesses across it. Yet, while Camano Island is rural it’s also large enough that it’s home to more than 17,000 residents. Camano Island is particularly popular as a retirement destination.
- Move here because: Bellingham is a mid-size city that has a vibrant arts scene thanks to the presence of nearby Western Washington University
- Population: 93,896
- High School Ranking: 30th in Washington State (Sehome High School)
Bellingham is about 90 miles north of Seattle. That leaves the city far enough away it has its own identity, but close enough that you can still get to events like Seahawks games. It’s also just 55 miles south of Vancouver, BC. The city has a growing downtown with several great restaurants and a thriving art scene that’s fueled by Western Washington University graduates.
And while Bellingham is a college town, it’s a great option to raise a family. Sehome High School is ranked the 30th best high school in the state, and the median home price still remains 20% cheaper than Seattle even after rapid gains in the post-Covid years.
- Move here because: Kirkland has a beautiful waterfront on the eastern shore of Lake Washington
- Population: 92,175
- High School Ranking: 20th in Washington State (Lake Washington High School)
Kirkland is located on the east side of Lake Washington, with its southern borders touching State Route 520. Most of the city is a short ride to either Microsoft’s campus or downtown Bellevue. In addition, Google has set up a major campus in Kirkland.
As you can imagine, all these high-paying jobs come with a trade-off: Kirkland has become very expensive. The median listing price for a home in the city sits at $1.4 million, which is 70% more expensive than Seattle.
However, even at those prices, Kirkland remains popular because its downtown waterfront is very walkable with dozens of great restaurants and shops. In addition, other neighborhoods in the city like Bridle Trails and West of Market are extremely desirable.
8. North End (Tacoma)
- Move here because: Tacoma is just 34 miles south of Seattle and offers an urban lifestyle that’s far more affordable
- Population: 27,109 (North End Neighborhood)
- High School Ranking: 84th in Washington State (Stadium High School)
Tacoma’s North End is just a short drive away from our first entry, Gig Harbor. However, it’s a far more urban option that features walkable neighborhoods with close proximity to great shops, dining, and services. We’ve written extensively about Tacoma’s booming restaurant scene on Seattle Travel, and the North End features some of the best seafood restaurants and is just a short distance from downtown.
The median listing price for homes in the North End is $650,000, which is comparable to Bellingham, and about 20% cheaper than Seattle. If you’re looking for a place to live that maintains a more urban character but don’t want to spend the prices you’ll find in many Seattle neighborhoods, North End is a very attractive option.
- Move here because: Leavenworth has a charming Bavarian look that’s wonderful for a trip, but nearby recreational opportunities in the mountains are attracting new full-time residents.
- Population: 2,263
- High School Ranking: 175th in Washington State (Cascade High School)
If you live in Washington state, odds are at some point you’ll take a trip to Leavenworth. Starting in the 1960s, the town remodeled itself around a Bavarian asthetic. While that design sounds like it could be cheesy, it works well and has made Leavenworth a tourism hub. The city has festivals throughout the year, but the two most notable are Oktoberfest and the city’s Christmas lights.
Leavenworth and the surrounding area is an increasingly popular area to live as well. The city offers easy access to outdoor activities during all four seasons. During the summer, it’s close to beautiful hikes and multiple lakes and rivers. In winter, Leavenworth provides easy access to ski resorts like Steven’s Pass and cross-country skiing. Throw in the fact the city has a burgeoning restaurant scene and plenty of theater shows and festivals, and you can see why people are choosing to live in Leanenworth in addition to visiting.
- Move here because: Snoqualmie is just a short drive from Seattle and the Eastside suburbs, but its location in the Cascade foothills makes it a great place for nature enthusiasts to live in.
- Population: 13,810
- High School Ranking: 21st in Washington State (Mount Si High School)
Snoqualmie is famous for nearby Snoqualmie Falls (pictured above). However, in recent decades the town has been booming. In 2000, just 1,631 people lived in Snoqualmie. Today, that number has grown to 13,810.
And while Snoqualmie has grown by leaps and bounds, it still feels very rural in nature. A large mountain named Mount Si towers above the town and even from its city center you’re just a few miles from world-class hiking. In addition, the city maintains a historical district that gives it some charm and community that’s often lacking in booming suburbs.
If everything about Snoqualmie sounds wonderful, there are a couple of notable downsides. First, home prices have skyrocketed in recent years. The median listing price in the city stands at an eye-watering $1.2 million. Second, being in the foothills means more rain. Snoqualmie sees an average of 63 inches of rain per year (Seattle sees about 39 inches). Yet, even with these downsides, Snoqualmie is booming for a reason. If you love nature but want a quick commute into Seattle and the Eastside, Snoqualmie is an excellent option.
11. Queen Anne (Seattle)
- Move here because: Offering incredible views of downtown Seattle, Queen Anne is a quick commute to downtown and an inviting community that feels “small” for being so close to Seattle’s core
- Population: 28,000
- High School Ranking: 12th in Washington State (Ranking for Garfield High School as Lincoln High School is currently unranked)
Seattle’s Queen Anne neighborhood sits atop a 520-foot high hill north of downtown. While Queen Anne is one of the closest neighborhoods to downtown, it also feels much quieter than other nearby areas like Ballard or Capitol Hill.
Queen Anne is one of Seattle’s oldest residential neighborhoods and features hundreds of homes built in the revival and craftsman architectural styles popular in the early 20th century. It’s easy to walk around and features several large parks and greenspaces.
The commercial center of Queen Anne is Queen Anne Ave, which has coffee shops, stores, gyms, spas, and more. It runs across the neighborhood and features some of the best restaurants in the entire city. The median listing price of homes in Queen Anne is high at $895,000, but that is lower than some other nearby neighborhoods in Seattle.
12. Walla Walla
- Move here because: Walla Walla is the capital of Washington wine country and features more modest cost of living to complement a booming economy
- Population: 34,060
- High School Ranking: 124th in Washington State (Walla Walla High School)
Walla Walla is another Eastern Washington entry to our list. The city is the de facto capital of Washington wine country with more than 120 wineries located in the greater Walla Walla area. Many of these wineries keep tasting rooms in Walla Walla’s historic downtown, which creates thousands of jobs related to the industry.
If you look at the picture above, it probably doesn’t remind you of other mountains in Washington state. The Blue Mountains surround Walla Walla, and while they’re more rolling than the Cascades or Selkirk Mountains, they’re also breathtaking and create a stunning natural backdrop.
Walla Walla’s median single-family home lists for $595,000, which is about 30% cheaper than Seattle. The city offers a haven both for retirees looking for lower cost of living and access to wonderful arts, restaurants, and wineries and those looking for a town with plentiful job opportunities and a lower cost of living.
- Move here because: A planned community that showcases the best Washington’s ocean coast line has to offer
- Population: Less than 1,000
- High School Ranking: 232nd in Washington State (North Beach High School)
Let’s get this out the way, a lot of cities along Washington’s coast aren’t the best places to live. Oregon has long been ahead of Washington in communities on the beach with favorites like Cannon Beach, Manzanita, and Newport.
This lack of destination towns along Washington’s coast spurred the creation of Seabrook in 2004. After more than two decades of construction, the town is often compared to a “Hallmark town.” If you were to picture the town in the movie “The Truman Show,” it’s probably not far from the aesthetic around Seabrook.
(The city “The Truman Show” was filmed in — Seaside, Florida — inspired the developers behind Seabrook)
Yet, while critics can gripe at the “manufactured” nature of Seabrook, there’s no questioning its popularity. Vacation rentals boomed by more than 66% in the years following Covid as residents from across the Puget Sound began changing beach trips from Oregon beaches to Seabrook. Perhaps Seabrook isn’t your ideal place to move to, but a vacation to check out the best of Washington’s coastline there couldn’t hurt either.
- Move here because: The largest community on the Eastside with great schools and diverse culture, dining, and a collection of unique neighborhoods.
- Population: 149,440
- High School Ranking: 6th in Washington State Bellevue High School)
Let’s start with the positives around Bellevue:
- Its neighborhoods are surprisingly unique. Bridle Trails has a rural feel with trails for horse-riding, Crossroads is a cultural melting pot, while the Lake Hills features peaceful lakes connected by trails.
- Bellevue is a tech hub but features some of the best job prospects in the region across multiple industries. Truck-maker PACCAR is located downtown, T-Mobile is headquartered in Factoria, and Amazon has made a major push into downtown Bellevue.
- The schools in Bellevue are fantastic. Four of the top six rated high schools in Washington state are located in Bellevue.
- Light rail is opening stations across Bellevue that will further connect it to Seattle and make commuting across the region more reliable.
The downsides? It shouldn’t shock you that cost of living is the main negative associated with the city. The median home price in Bellevue stands at about $1.4 million, which is significantly higher than most neighborhoods in Seattle. The city is approving much more housing in areas like Overlake and the Spring District that are in walkable areas, but these are mostly apartments that may not be suitable if you’re looking to move a family to an area with top-tier schools.