True to its reputation, Seattle is generally wet from October to June, but the rain comes in the form of a constant drizzle rather than major rainstorms. Ditch the umbrella and bring/buy a water-proof jacket (with a hood) and some boots. During the glorious summer months from July to September, however, there is near-constant sunshine with mild temperatures. Some years we get snow in the winter, some years we don’t, so extreme winter gear isn’t necessary (unless you plan on heading up to the mountains).
In general, rent for a studio is ~$1000 while 1-bedrooms go for ~$1400-1500. 2-bedrooms in apartment buildings are typically cheaper ($1600-1800) than duplex/single unit houses ($1800-2100). However, rentals may range in price significantly. Housing prices depend on many factors: square footage (typically ~ 600+ sqft for a 1 bedroom, 800+ sqft for a 2 bedroom), location (popular neighbourhoods are, e.g., Fremont and Capitol Hill), time of year that you rent, amenities (number of bathrooms, dishwasher, in unit W/D, parking, storage), if the unit has been remodeled. If you don’t mind having multiple roommates, the most economic housing option is probably sharing a 3+ bedroom house.
The best place to look for housing is probably Craigslist, either “Apts/Housing” or “Rooms/Shared” or “Sublets/Temporary” (often people are trying to sublet the rest of their lease and you can take over the next year’s lease). Other options include livelovely and padmapper (both of these websites pull posts from craigslist, postlets, etc; they allow for multiple filters and display results as drop-pins on a map, which is very helpful). Most leases start around the beginning or end of the month, and tenants must give 20-day notices for move-outs — this means inventory peaks around the 10th to the 15th of each month. However, there are always exceptions and gems might pop up at any time! If you see a housing situation you like, you should contact ASAP, as the turnover is very fast. This is especially true during the beginning of the school year (expect 20+ people with already filled out housing forms, checks for deposits, etc, in front of you during an open house).
Most grad students live outside the U-District: Wallingford/Fremont/Ballard (west of the university, along the Burke Gilman bike trail), and Eastlake/Capitol Hill/Central District (south of the university). A few other grads have enjoyed living in the Ravenna, Sand Point, and Queen Anne neighborhoods, where rents are often cheaper. Living along busy bus routes with frequent service (e.g. 43, 44, 48, 49, 72 buses) or the Burke Gilman bike trail makes commuting convenient, especially since Seattle is rather hilly for biking and parking on campus is expensive.
Food & Restaurants
Like most cities, Seattle has an overwhelming array of places to shop for groceries and dine out. Trader Joe’s, QFC, and Safeway are reasonably priced and usually close enough for a short bus trip or drive. High-end grocers include Metropolitan Market, PCC, and Whole Foods, and you can find neighborhood markets and/or co-ops if that’s your thing (Ballard Market, Central Co-op). Seattle farmers markets tend to be on the pricier side (think Whole Foods), but offer amazing and tasty local choices (and can be very reasonable if you shop “seasonally”). The Capitol Hill, Fremont, and Ballard markets are on Sunday; U-District on Saturday; Phinney and Madrona on Friday; Wallingford on Wednesday; Pike Place is open every day (but does tend to be touristy).
Seattle has an interesting fusion restaurant phenomenon taking place. There are lots of slightly overpriced, but incredibly delicious intercultural reimaginings of familiar cuisine. Brunch is popular in Seattle, and while places err on the side of standard breakfasts (Portage Bay Cafe, Louisa’s, The 5 Spot, Silence-Heart-Nest), others delve deep into the world of fusions (Monsoon, Burgundian, Joule). If you are interested in more authentic ethnic cuisine that is true to its roots (especially various Asian cuisine) check out the International District. Fortunately some of the most affordable hidden-gem restaurants in Seattle are located in the U-District just a few blocks from the Astronomy Department!
Beer & drinks (a necessary subsection for grad life in Seattle)
Due to Seattle’s laid-back atmosphere, beer is the common drink of choice, and there are many local microbreweries. IPA’s are often featured prominently, since Washington is the world’s largest producer of hops. Bars around UW popular with our graduate students include Big Time Brewery and Schultzy’s. Around Seattle, other recommended bars include Fremont Brewing Company (with outdoor seating and a surplus of golden retrievers), Stone Way Cafe (awesome to work at and grab coffee and/or a beer, with live music many nights.), Brouwer’s (great pub food and beer selection), Sixgill, Bad Jimmy’s (where we go for Astronomy on Tap), Peddler Brewing, and the Elysian. You could spend an entire day brewery-hopping in Ballard (there are at least 6 breweries within walking distance of each other, if not more). If beer isn’t your thing, there are cider-houses (Capitol Cider), plenty of wineries(especially in Woodinville), and several local distilleries (OOLA, Captive Spirits, Sun Liquor, etc.)
Near Woodinville (15 miles away from campus, about 30 minutes drive or a 1-1.5 hr long bike ride along the Burke-Gilman trail), there’s the Redhook Brewery & Forecaster’s Pub, as well as a number of wineries (DeLille Cellars, Chateau Ste. Michelle Winery, Columbia Winery, etc.).
The bus system (effectively free for us) goes through most of the surrounding suburbs. It can be slow during rush hour and in inclement weather though, especially downtown.
The light rail currently extends from just south of Sea-Tac airport, through downtown Seattle to the University of Washington, with additional stops currently being constructed on both ends of the line. More information can be found here.
In 2014, Seattle was rated the 10th most bike-friendly city in the US by Bicycling.com, so bring your bike and ride through the city as you please. A map of trails and bike-friendly streets can be found here. Several grad students and faculty routinely bike into the department on a daily basis (there is an indoor bike lot in the building’s loading dock, basement bathrooms with lockers and a shower). Worth noting is the Burke-Gilman trail that extends from beyond the northern border of Seattle proper down past (through) the U-district, and westward toward the Golden Gardens park and beach. In total it spans 20 miles, and is generally pretty flat. Bike shares in Seattle are operated by Pronto, with stations all across the city and the UW campus.
Sea-Tac airport is about 45 minutes from campus by light rail. By car, the ride is ~30 minutes depending on traffic.
If your budget can handle the extra expense, Car2Go vehicles can be found all throughout Seattle and are an easy way to get from point A to point B, provided you don’t need to carry many things or people. They use 2-seater Smart Cars, so there’s not much trunk space or leg room. Still, cheap, easy to find, and easy to use. No paid subscription or insurance necessary; you pay as you use.
For a more substantial (and consequently more expensive) temporary vehicle, there are Zipcar stations all around the U-District, Capitol Hill, and downtown (last I checked).
While having a car certainly isn’t necessary in Seattle, it can be useful (especially for getting out of the city for hiking/camping/etc.). If you do have a car, it shouldn’t be too difficult to find free street parking if you live in a more residential neighborhood, but will be tricky if you live somewhere densely populated (like Capitol Hill or Downtown). If you really want to live downtown *and* have a car, be aware that some apartment buildings charge insane monthly parking fees (think $300/month!).
Outdoors & Adventuring
Being surrounded by mountains on both the east and west, Seattle offers a myriad of hiking, camping, backpacking, and mountaineering opportunities between late Spring and early Fall. Hikes range from simple 2-mile round trip day-hikes to pro-level summit treks, and all things in between. The Washington Trail Association is a great resource for finding, researching, and planning your outdoorsy trips — you can sort hikes by location, length, rating, or difficulty and see photos and recent trip reviews.
There’s also plenty of outdoor rock climbing if that’s your speed. If you want something a little more controlled, there’s plenty of indoor rock climbing at the Seattle Bouldering Project, and even in the on-campus IMA (a great deal at $45/quarter!).
In the winter, those same mountains host ski/snowboarding slopes, lodges, and snow-shoeing opportunities.
We’ve also got plenty of water to be explored by sail boat, canoe, raft, and even paddleboard. The restaurant mexican Agua Verde, located about 2 blocks from the department, routinely rents out this equipment. The UW Waterfront Activities Center rents out canoes, and the UW Yacht Club offers cheap membership dues, which include free sailing lessons and free rentals of their large fleet of various sail boats. Green Lake also offers affordable boat rentals.
The running scene is huge here, and there are mid- and long-distance races going on year-round in the city’s parks and throughout the city’s streets. Information about those races (and others) can be found here: http://www.promotionevents.com/.
For less-active adventuring there’s plenty of city tours, as well as a number of ferries to the surrounding islands in Puget Sound and British Columbia, and even cruises to Alaska.
Bicycle Sundays: in late spring and summer, Lake Washington Boulevard is closed to motorized traffic every other Sunday, so you can bike or walk without worrying about cars along Lake Washington (final destination: Seward Park) with a gorgeous view of Mt. Rainier.
Arts & Culture
Seattle offers all the cultural amenities you would expect in any major city, plus other fun (and sometimes quirky) things to do:
- Always free: Frye Art Museum, Olympic Sculpture Park, Henry Art Gallery (for students)
- List of free days and other always free museums: http://freemuseumday.org/sea.html
- Offer Student Discounts: SAM, Asian Art Museum, Burke Museum, EMP Museum, Museum of History and Industry
- Chihuly Museum is amazing! Grandmas and families really dig it; right near the Space Needle.
Music and Theatre
- Seattle Symphony (student tickets: http://www.seattlesymphony.org/concerttickets/special-offers/campus_club)
- Seattle Opera (student tickets: http://www.seattleopera.org/tickets/ways-to-save/)
- UW Music and Drama schools put on various types of performances on campus (event and ticketing info: http://artsuw.org/)
- Musicals, plays, ballets, stand up comedy, and other performances happen frequently at various venues around Seattle. Check out this website for more info.
- Seattle Chamber Music Society: offers free events in the summer in Volunteer Park (Capitol Hill) as a part of their “Music Under the Stars” series.
- Every night of the week you can find bands and artists playing at music venues of all sizes and types. Nationally known and local bands tour at the Showbox in downtown, Neumos in Capitol Hill, the historic Neptune Theatre in the UDistrict, and any number of bars/venues around the city (Highline, The Crocodile, Tractor Tavern, Triple Door, Sunset Tavern, High Dive, Sub-Station, Black Lodge, El Corazon, The Funhouse (revived! …sorta), The Kraken, The Rendezvous, The Comet (kinda), Cafe Racer, Studio Seven, The Showbox, The Blue Moon, The Vera Project …). You can find much more information for music venues here.
The Pike Place Market is obviously great and open every day, but there are neighborhood markets all over Seattle; the U District, Ballard, and Capitol Hill markets are every weekend year round (lists and schedules: http://seattlefarmersmarkets.org, http://www.sfmamarkets.com). The Fremont Sunday Market is more for trinket shopping than produce, but super fun.
There are lots of green spaces all around Seattle. Some favorites include the Arboretum, Green Lake, Gasworks Park, Volunteer Park, Interlaken Park, Carkeek Park, the Ballard Locks, and Golden Gardens. We also have the Woodland Zoo and Seattle Aquarium.
The Sounders, Mariners, and Seahawks all have very enthusiastic followings, as does the UW football team. There’s also the Rat City Rollergirls if you’re into a more unconventional sport.
There are regular pick-up soccer, ultimate frisbee, etc games in various places around Seattle (e.g., Cal Anderson, UW IMA fields, Magnuson Park, Seward Park). At Cal Anderson there’s often weird sports such as bike polo, bubble soccer, and quidditch.
Solstice Parade (naked, painted people on bikes), Fremont Oktoberfest, Pride Parade, U-District Street Fair, SEAFAIR, Seattle Street Food Festival, Bite of Seattle, Shakespeare in the Park, Umojafest, Ballard Seafood Festival, etc. See here for an exhaustive list of festivals.
Plenty of places to get your nerd on — cafes/bars with board games like Cafe Mox (and connected Card Kingdom) and The Ray Gun Lounge, Ada’s Technical Books and Cafe, comic book stores, trivia nights.