Seattle is the largest city in Washington State and it contains many districts and neighborhoods. In fact, the former mayor of Seattle, Greg Nickels, called Seattle “a city of neighborhoods” because early European settlers created widely scattered settlements on the surrounding hills of Seattle, which grew into neighborhoods and sovereign towns.
A City of Neighborhoods
Seattle was established during an economic boom fueled by the timber industry and as a result, the city’s early years were characterized by quick expansion and lots of development. This approach to growth was solidified by the creation of locally initiated clubs, public libraries, schools and parks, which created a sense of community.
In the 1900s, Seattle’s community clubs became an important voice in the organization of public improvements and had a powerful effect upon the character of their neighborhoods that helped them to stay distinct from their surrounding areas.
Seattle is known for many things, one of which is its natural beauty. It’s actually one of the greenest cities in America. In addition to an abundance of trees, the city is also nestled between two mountain ranges and is surrounded by water in almost every direction.
This kind of environmental diversity also means that the areas of Seattle, despite being in the same city, can be quite distinct. In case you’re looking to move here or even visit for a while, here are the best 5 neighborhoods in Seattle:
- Queen Anne
- Capitol Hill
1. Queen Anne
I must admit I’m a little biased in this regard, but Queen Anne has been my home for the last 5 years for good reason. Previously I moved neighborhoods almost annually when I lived in Manhattan, but since landing in Queen Anne I haven’t been able to bring myself to leave.
Historically, Queen Anne was a popular location for the city’s early cultural elite to build their lavish homes. The name Queen Anne actually references the unique architectural style used in a majority of these mansions.
The area is now often split into two parts: Lower Queen Anne and Upper Queen Anne. Lower Queen Anne is a destination for the arts that is located among the busy streets of Roy and Mercer with blocks of apartment buildings, upscale condos, and lots of beautiful water views.
Lower Queen Anne’s recent zoning laws allow the construction of taller mixed-use buildings when compared to its surrounding areas and based on current construction, the neighborhood will soon be filled with new residences, which will make it an even more viable option for local yuppies.
Upper Queen Anne (or what most veteran Washingtonians think of as just “Queen Anne”) is an instantly identifiable Seattle neighborhood that is known for the big houses on the hill. Standing above the energy of Lower Queen Anne to the south, the hill’s summit is among the relative few places you’ll find big houses with front lawns and large backyards in the city proper.
Its elevation, and the size and beauty of the homes, provides Upper Queen Anne with a bit of an esteemed air. But past the iconic Kerry Park view and the historic townhouses, Queen Anne is actually a quaint neighborhood with a suburban vibe.
Best things about Queen Anne
The neighborhood sits on the highest named hill in the city, with a maximum elevation of 456 feet and covers 2.8 square miles while maintaining a population of about 28,000. Originally, the hill was a popular location for the city’s early elite to build mansions.
There are breathtaking views of the Cascade mountains to the east and the Olympic mountains to the west. On top of all of this natural beauty, Queen Anne is also very close to the heart of downtown. It takes about 30 minutes to walk into Pike Place Market and you can be there by bus in 10 minutes or less.
Queen Anne has the best of both worlds: natural beauty and a central location. It may seem like you’ve exited the city, but your commute will not reflect that perception. The neighborhood also provide an almost a small town quality. When you pass Queen Anne residents that are out walking their dog in the early morning expect to hear a cheerful “Good morning!” This isn’t what one might imagine a neighborhood at the center of a city would be.
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2. Capitol Hill
If you’re looking for the exact opposite of Queen Anne, Cap Hill (as the locals call it) is your place. When I moved to Seattle I was told that Cap Hill is the Manhattan of Seattle and I can confirm this is very true. Filled with late night eateries, raging bars and karaoke parlors that will let you belt your lungs out, Cap Hill is always filled with energy and life. If the quiet of Queen Anne isn’t for you, head over to Capitol Hill where there’s always something to do.
In addition to shopping, dining and nightlife, Capitol Hill is home to Volunteer Park, which has a conservatory and art museum, and the Lake View Cemetery, where many of Seattle’s first families were laid to rest.
Before 1900, Capitol Hill was known as ‘Broadway Hill’ after the neighborhood’s main road. However, the origin of the neighborhood’s current name is often disputed. James A. Moore, the real estate developer who mapped Capitol Hill, allegedly named it in the hope that the Washington government would move to Seattle from the capital of Olympia. Another rumor says that Moore named it after the Capitol Hill neighborhood of Denver, Colorado, which was his wife’s hometown.
Capitol Hill is known as the spot for Seattle’s most promising nightlife and is the center of the city’s LGBT and counterculture communities. The large-scale growth of gay residents in Capitol Hill began in the early 1960s. This district is home to a sizable number of gay and lesbian couples making Capitol Hill Seattle’s self-named “gayborhood”.
Capitol Hill Entertainment & Nightlife
Capitol Hill also has a reputation as a center of Seattle’s music culture and is closely associated with the grunge music scene of the early 1990s despite the fact that most of the well-known music venues of that era were actually outside the neighborhood.
In addition to the music scene, the neighborhood is also a hub of nightlife and entertainment and contains many bars with live music as well as many fringe theatres. Most of Cap Hill’s main thoroughfares are dotted with coffeehouses and taverns while the featured residences cover the gamut from modest apartment buildings to some of the city’s most historic mansions – and at times the two are direct neighbors. For a good time, head to Cap Hill.
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When visiting Ballard you might often spot “Free Ballard!” stickers. That’s because after its founding in 1889 Ballard was its own city until residents voted to join Seattle in 1907. The area now called Ballard was originally settled by the Duwamish Tribe after the last glacial period. They lived off of the plentiful salmon and clams found in the region. The first European resident moved there in 1853. It was also home to many people from Scandinavia who were fishermen, mill workers and boat builders.
The neighborhood thrived as its commercial district grew and by 1900 it was the second largest city in King County (Seattle’s major county), with 17,000 residents. The neighborhood feels like a small town in a big city. Ballard has been growing in recent years with an influx of new buildings that are filled with shopping, restaurants and apartments that are juxtaposed against the historic buildings.
Things to do in Ballard
One of Ballard’s most visited locations is the Hiram M. Chittenden Locks. They were built in 1917 and those interested in engineering will enjoy the well-orchestrated mechanics of porting large boats and yachts from one body of water to the other while the less mechanically inclined can enjoy catching some sun on the hills surrounding the locks before visiting the underwater observatory that exists for visitors to watch the salmon swimming up the fish ladder on their way to Lake Washington and beyond. Right by the Locks is a great cafe, Portage Bay, which serves brunch food.
Golden Gardens Park is also a major destination for Ballard locals. It’s one of the few sandy beaches that exist in Seattle and also provides volleyball courts, spots for bonfires and barbecue pits. If you’re looking for some entertainment after enjoying the beach, Downtown Ballard is also home to the Majestic Bay Theater, which was the oldest operating movie theater on the West Coast prior to its closure in 1997. The sunsets at Golden Gardens are the best!
If you’re looking for local eats, the Ballard Farmers Market is open for business every Sunday year-round. Each week, Ballard Avenue closes to make room for local farmers and vendors as well as a variety of artists that sell a wide range of wares, from jewelry to poetry. This is one of the few year-round markets in Seattle.
Fremont is an arty and eclectic neighborhood that is home to the iconic Fremont Troll, an 8 foot tall concrete sculpture of a troll crushing a Volkswagen Beetle in its hand that was created in 1990 and lives under the north end of the Aurora Bridge. The street that runs under the bridge that ends at the Troll was renamed Troll Avenue N in its honor in 2005.
Fremont is also the location of Gas Works Park, which sits at the northern end of Lake Union and offers perfect views of downtown Seattle against the pristine water. It is also flanked by the Burke-Gilman Trail, which is a frequent spot for runners, walkers and bicycle riders. Uphill from the water, there is plenty of shopping and dining in this busy neighborhood.
Signs throughout Fremont provide helpful advice, such as “set your watch back five minutes,” “set your watch forward five minutes” and “throw your watch away.” Since the 1970s some Fremont residents have been referring to their neighborhood as “The Center of the Universe” and the unofficial motto is “De Libertas Quirkas”, which is “Freedom to be Peculiar” in mock Latin.
If you’re looking for the most suburban urban neighborhood, Magnolia is your best bet. Lush forests of trees reach up the hillside with the treetops hiding multi-unit residences and quaint streets full of gorgeous homes that overlook the water.
Magnolia includes the beautiful Magnolia Park to the south with tree-lined bluffs with 180 degree views to the west and southwest. However, if you want a true city wilderness experience head to Discovery Park, which is the largest park in Seattle and is almost the size of its own neighborhood. It includes beaches, a historic lighthouse and forested trails along with large lawns for picnic or football.
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Conclusion – Seattle Neighborhoods are the best
Every neighborhood in Seattle has its own unique charm along with its own pros and cons whether you’re looking for peace and quiet or a happening neighborhood. However, no matter what you’re looking for the wide range of options ensure you’ll find what you’re looking. I hope this helps you find the right fit for you to live or visit.
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