When you come to a fork in the road, take it: Seattle or San Francisco?
August 26, 2012 9:51 AM   Subscribe

You've been offered the same position with the same company in your choice of two offices: Seattle or San Francisco. The salary is the same in both positions but, due to a cost of living adjustment, the pay is higher in SF. What are some of the factors you'd consider in deciding where to go? Which would you choose and why?

I'll tell you a little bit about my soon-to-be-spouse and myself. He's the one with the job offer, I'm just along for the ride.

We currently live on the East Coast, most of our family is on the East Coast, so this is a "big move" for us. My fiance moved around quite a bit growing up, I've never moved other than going away to college and coming back after. We had no particular reason to seek out a big move, but we're up for taking a big plunge, shaking things up a little bit, having an adventure.

We like the outdoors, we like bike riding and water sports, swimming at pools, beaches or lakes, short hikes. No kids, no rush to have any, for a few years at least. We hope to get a dog, so we'd like to live somewhere dog-friendly. We like to eat out and try different cuisines, we would consider ourselves adventurous eaters. We don't drink a lot, but we'll grab a beer while we watch a game somewhere. We're not really into a music/club/live music scene at all. We look forward to exploring a new city, I think we'd have fun checking out different neighborhoods together on the weekends. We're very liberal and, while he enjoys some political debate, I'm happiest surrounded by like-minded individuals.

We know no one in Seattle, we have a few acquaintances/distant friends in SF. We have a few friends in Portland, so maybe we'd make the drive a few times, but we're up for making friends wherever we live. We're both pretty outgoing. I imagine my fiance might also make some friends, or at least acquaintances, through work.

Hobbies: My fiance is very into sports as a spectator, he watches a lot of sports on TV and attends live games - baseball, football, college football, MLS, basketball, etc. He's a fan of the 49ers, but I think he'd be happy to see any team anywhere. I'm into crafts, knitting and photography. In the past I've made friends this way, by joining knitting circles for instance.

We have a car that we would bring with us. We'd like to avoid buying a second car, but we could live with that if it was necessary. Or, conceivably, we could sell our car if we find having one to be unnecessary but I do think it'd be nice to have for weekend trips, I think for the first year or more we might save on vacations by doing trips around our area and exploring locally.

We'd be open to living either in the city proper or perhaps in a closeby suburb. In Seattle, his office would be downtown, in SF, his office would be in the Financial District, so we think both offices are in areas that are very commutable. We'd likely rent at least for a little while, while we get our bearings on our city and the neighborhoods. We agree that if we're unhappy where we end up, we can try for a transfer in a few years (either to the city we didn't pick, or to some other city, or possibly back "home" here) but we'd like to go into it with the mindset of this being a permanent move.

Other things we've been considering so far:
* weather - is Seattle as bad and as rainy as its reputation? Is SF really as lovely as its reputation?
* quality of life for the cost of living. Meaning, even with the salary adjustment in SF, I think maybe we could get a bigger/nicer home in Seattle. Right now we live in a teeny tiny apartment, and I really like the sound of being able to afford a bigger place.
* People coming to visit - I could be wrong, but I feel like maybe we're more likely to get our friends to come visit San Fran, so we'd see more of our old friends that way?
* accessibility to international flights. Right now we live near the 3 NYC airports which means direct flights to most places and we like to take an international vacation every year or two. I'd like to avoid living somewhere that requires multiple flights or is not near a hub. I think San Fran/Oakland covers flights to most destinations, does Seattle?
* Washington State doesn't have income tax, which means more disposable income. On the other hand, he's required to pay more into health insurance in Seattle, so it might be a wash.
* I've asked my fiance whether he had a preference of either office - he felt, based on the interview, he would like the SF office better. It's a smaller office and they seemed friendlier and team-oriented. This is important since we're moving for the job, and that's the only known factor in the move, he might as well like the office he's going to.
* This is perhaps the most snowflake-y aspect- I'm a lawyer admitted in NY. I believe I can waive into the Washington bar (not take another bar exam). I don't believe I can waive into the Cal bar, and their bar exam is notoriously difficult. That means either I wouldn't work right away in California, or at least not as a lawyer. We'll be married and I'll have health insurance, but money would obviously be tighter.
* Long term thinking - Would SF be a good forever city, or is it more of a "it was a good experience to live there for a few years" city? For some reason, I think of Seattle more as somewhere we could settle down forever, and SF less so.

Am I missing anything? Are there other factors you'd consider? Where would you choose and why? Bonus points if you can point us in the direction of neighborhoods to check out, examples of things to do, etc. I'm knowledge-hungry, and we only have a few days to decide! Thanks!
posted by IdRatherNotSay to Society & Culture (49 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
I would never describe SF weather as lovely, but I don't like being cold.

I think SF is prettier, but I would take the chance to move to Seattle in a heartbeat, rain and all.
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 9:55 AM on August 26, 2012

Given the factors you've listed I would absolutely jump at the Seattle offer, as a bay area resident.
posted by Nimmie Amee at 10:01 AM on August 26, 2012

I've lived in both and loved both, currently Seattle area (Tacoma, though I've lived in the city proper for years, too.)

One thing ('THE' thing) I miss here that SF has is the public transportation. I grew up with Bart/Muni and having getting places be just that easy. In Seattle, options for that are limited. (But some day... always someday.)

I was looking at a job a few years ago in Berkeley. What I found is, on the comparable salary with a COLA, I was NOT looking at the same housing options, like you said. I was having to choose from living way far away and commuting or living in a modest apartment.

Also, from what I gather in a not-really-paying-attention way, the state of California is constantly on the edge of bankrupt failed-state status.

Sometimes Seattle weather can be a drag, though. Which makes the nice days in the summer that much more glorious.
posted by ctmf at 10:10 AM on August 26, 2012 [1 favorite]

Seattle weather is kind of dreary at times, but while it drizzles for months at a time in the winter, the summers are brilliantly wonderful.

More than the weather, though, is the amount of dark. If either of you is prone to seasonal affective disorder, consider that Seattle gets something like an hour more dark in the winter.
posted by rmd1023 at 10:18 AM on August 26, 2012

Visit both cities. SF weather isn't lovely (well it is to me) but I suspect you'd live in the East Bay near-ish a BART station (like North Berkeley, Ashby, Rockridge, or El Cerrito). You would be a short but steep ride or drive to the lovely Tilden and Sibley Parks for long trail walks through stands of Eucalyptus trees.

You would also most likely choose from OAK and SFO for flights (there's a third airport in San Jose, but it's too far a trip from the East Bay given the closer options).
posted by zippy at 10:20 AM on August 26, 2012 [1 favorite]

Disclaimer: I found I disliked living in the Bay Area and moved to Seattle. I am biased.

First thought - you should propose to move to Seattle, but with the salary that is 50% of the difference between Seattle and San Francisco. The company has already indicated that they are willing to pay the San Francisco rate, so the cost is not an object. It is silly for a company to consider cost of living in your salary, as your salary should be determined by the work you do, not where you live.

Second (more topical) thought - with the exception of weather and international transit, everything you've said indicates to go to Seattle. Nature is important to you - I can drive 20 miles and be in the middle of nowhere, something that isn't possible in the Bay Area. Commute time is important to you - I can walk to downtown Seattle and I pay something like 40% of what I'd have to pay to get a similar place near the Financial District (unlike San Francisco, there are less-desirable places to live near downtown Seattle). Money is important to you - I can't imagine that your increase in health insurance cost will cost you 10% of your compensation as would income tax in California. I could go on, but I don't read what you post as indicating that San Francisco works well for you.

The weather in Seattle does suck - but not nearly as much as people think. More importantly, the summers are the most beautiful I've seen any place in the world. I find I can take care of the winter weather by taking a vacation to California once or twice every winter. Conveniently, that happens to be the cheapest time of the year to visit. Seattle also is not as easy to get to/from than San Francisco. That said, it's only a $75-$150 flight to SFO/SJC most of the year, so I don't think that should drive your decision. Similarly, any visitors that are willing to go to the Bay Area but not Seattle are, to be honest, a bit odd. Seattle is, by no means, a small city. We're not talking about Spokane, WA here, we're talking about the second biggest city on the West Coast.
posted by saeculorum at 10:23 AM on August 26, 2012 [3 favorites]

Best answer: San Francisco: destruction by earthquake
Seattle: destruction by volcano or earthquake. But the volcano is really pretty and makes a good day trip.
posted by ctmf at 10:25 AM on August 26, 2012 [23 favorites]

How important is your career? For me, I'd hate to be unemployed and to have to study for the bar again. That would make Seattle 100x more attractive.
posted by quodlibet at 10:33 AM on August 26, 2012 [6 favorites]

The government of the State of California is on a fast-track to total financial collapse. When it finally falls apart, things are going to get a lot nastier all over the state as public services are seriously cut back and taxes are massively raised. Several cities in California are already in bankrupcy and it ain't gonna stop with them.

The State of Washington is not facing an equivalent apocalypse.
posted by Chocolate Pickle at 10:37 AM on August 26, 2012 [11 favorites]

Given what you said is (and is not) important to you, I think Seattle is the better choice. SF is going to be a lot more stressful. I really can't imagine doing well in SF on just one income for any length of time.
posted by SMPA at 10:39 AM on August 26, 2012 [1 favorite]

I have allergies and respiratory problems. The constant dampness with no serious freeze that you find in Seattle is really hard on people like me. I have lived in Washington state and in the SFBA, but not in Seattle or San Fransisco proper. SF is incredibly beautiful. At one time, I wanted to live there.

I ended up leaving Cali during my divorce and returned earlier this year. In spite of all the issues here (high taxes, the state perpetually in crisis, etc), this state works better for me than other places. I tried to arrange to return to Washington and interviewed for an internship up there, but it did not work out. The lack of state income tax has its appeal. But the reality is that I finally got back to college after moving here the first time, something which I had been trying to arrange for many years and just could not pull off. Similarly, upon my return, certain logistical issues I could not work out elsewhere came together here relatively quickly.

At one time, I made a long list of criteria for where to go next and did my research and chose a place which met my criteria. Then, I ended up not going there. I came back to Cali instead. I have not found that objective, intellectual criteria really work for me, no matter how thorough I have been. I am tempted to look up an astrological chart for Cali to try to get insight into why my life seems to work better here than elsewhere because I find it somewhat baffling and counterintuitive. I don't imagine astrology is your cup of tea, so let me Nth the suggestion to physically visit both. There are always things that are nigh impossible to quantify which turn out to be significant. There is no real substitute for getting a firsthand look for yourself.
posted by Michele in California at 10:42 AM on August 26, 2012

If I were in your shoes, I'd figure out how much I was willing to pay in rent or monthly mortgage payments and then look at the sorts of housing that much money would buy me in either city using the photos in listings cross referenced to a map. I don't know anything about Seattle but can tell you the cost of housing in and near SF is very expensive and scarce.

we're talking about the second biggest city on the West Coast.

Seattle is smaller than Los Angeles, San Diego, San Jose, and San Francisco [source]. That's a feature.
posted by jamaro at 10:45 AM on August 26, 2012 [1 favorite]

I lived in Seattle for ten years and loved it, I went down to SF a lot and enjoyed it as a place to vacation. I felt like it was easier to go out hiking/walking close to nature in Seattle for me personally though both places are pretty terrific for that. SF was more striking, Seattle was more laid back and closer to Canada and Portland which were both places I liked going. Seattle was a place where it was possible to park most places. SF was not. Seattle was cloudy for a good chunk of the wintertime but amazing the rest of the time. People with SAD troubles needed to manage them. There are a lot of good neighborhoods around Seattle that are neat in their own right but where you can also commute to downtown easily on public transportation. Columbia City and Georgetown and parts of Capitol Hill would all be neat places to live with different vubes than the downtown area. Both are good choices. If it were up to me, I'd go with Seattle.
posted by jessamyn at 10:48 AM on August 26, 2012 [2 favorites]

The East Bay over the hills (Moraga, Dublin, Walnut Creek, etc.) has far nicer weather and cheaper housing than SF and if home and office are both close to BART are an easy commute. You are 45 minutes (or far more) of driving time closer to the Sierras and very close to local mountains, parks, etc. All lovely.

I am a native Californian and would hesitate to buy a house -- California's fiscal mess is severe and the government dependents who dominate politics intend to solve it with other people's money, namely that of people who own nice homes and work in the private sector -- the Detroit solution, if you will. Preserve your option to say "no thanks."
posted by MattD at 10:58 AM on August 26, 2012 [1 favorite]

I'm a lawyer admitted in both CA and NY, so let me speak to the bar exam issue.

The California bar is considered notoriously difficult due to the low pass rate. A major factor in the low pass rate is that California allows graduates of non-ABA-accredited schools to sit the bar. Many states do not. This means that there are a bunch of poorly educated wannabe lawyers failing the bar exam in CA.

CA tests mostly on general common law, testing for California-specific law only in a few areas: Evidence, Wills, Civ Pro, Community Property, and Professional Responsibility. Corporations and Real Property don't get state-specific. In my experience on the two exams, the content of New York was harder. California is more of a marathon due to the length, and CA was certainly much more security-minded/cheating preventive than NY. But if you have passed NY, don't be intimidated by CA.

Also keep in mind that if you work in-house, you can be "registered in-house counsel" without admission to the CA bar.

(I live in California. I have family in Seattle, and Seattle is one of the very few places outside of CA I would ever consider moving to. You have a tough choice, but both options are great, so that is a fortunate quandary to have. )
posted by ambrosia at 11:07 AM on August 26, 2012 [4 favorites]

If you're looking to buy a house or flat and you'd like it to be in or reasonably close to the city, pick Seattle. Housing prices in San Francisco proper are crazy (I live here); a friend in Seattle recently went through the processing of buying a house there, and every time she dropped a link to a place she and her family were considering (nice house, decent yard, etc.), I always though Christ, you couldn't buy a garage for that in San Francisco. And the rental market here is also extremely tight. Things are a little less scary in the East Bay, but even there, from what I hear, things are getting worse, cost-wise.

Seattle is darker and gloomier for longer in the winter. Here in San Francisco, though, it's currently Fogust (and 62 degrees in the city). And if you want to do any swimming in the ocean (here or in Seattle), you will need a wetsuit.

In terms of easy access to the great outdoors, both cities have that in spades.

Run the numbers (one salary at least for a while in CA, housing costs in both places, etc.) and then weigh those against his feelings about each office, which can't of course be quantified but is a thing to keep well in mind.
posted by rtha at 11:09 AM on August 26, 2012

Nice problem to have!

What jumps out at me is that you might not be able to work in your field--or at least not right away--in SF. Are you OK with that?
posted by LarryC at 11:18 AM on August 26, 2012 [1 favorite]

For what it's worth, the state income tax in California is not that much. I make around $20,000 a year and pay, max, $64. I assume higher brackets pay more...the thing is, I would not pick my state based on income tax rate when there are so many other factors to consider.

If you drive and want to have a car, go to Seattle. I live in SF and don't drive, so the public transportation is perfect for me. However, everyone I know with cars pays around $400 a year or more in parking fees or tickets. The ticket for parking too long or incorrectly downtown is $400 or so. Meters in the Outer Richmond, a far-away bedroom-community neighborhood, are 8 minutes/quarter. Finding a space is impossible, getting a ticket is inevitable. Cars are a hassle in SF, so if you're planning to keep your car, go to Seattle.

There are a ton of pools available indoors and out in SF. I like rain-- SF is too sunny for me-- and I swim in the ocean with no wetsuit in the summer. The ocean temperature was around 50F in May, and it's now breaking 60F. So it's up to you. If you go a little south, there are warmer beaches. Can't speak to Seattle's swimming opportunities.
posted by blnkfrnk at 11:31 AM on August 26, 2012

San Francisco public transit is better when you consider the system as a whole, but I'd much rather commute to downtown Seattle via public transit than to the San Francisco financial district. I imagine the trip in Seattle will be quicker and more comfortable.

More than the weather, though, is the amount of dark.

Yes, exactly. The light drizzly rain really isn't that bad unless you are trying to bike everywhere. Invest in a sunrise alarm clock to help with seasonal affective disorder. As others have said, SF weather isn't really "lovely." It is better than Seattle, though.

you should propose to move to Seattle, but with the salary that is 50% of the difference between Seattle and San Francisco

If that works, go for it! If not, one thing I haven't seen mentioned is that your cost of living adjustment might also affect retirement savings, so if it truly gives you the same purchasing power in both places, you'll have that plus additional retirement savings in San Francisco. But unless the San Francisco adjustment is pretty substantial, I bet you would have more purchasing power in Seattle anyway (due to much higher housing costs in the bay area and the income tax there) and it would therefore be easier to save regardless.

Given all the above, I would go for Seattle. You'll have more purchasing power, you'll be able to get a job more easily, the commute will be easier and quicker, you'll probably have a bigger house.

The downsides of Seattle given your criteria are the weather, and the people coming to visit (probably less than the bay area) and airport options (SFO is a world-class airport in a way SEA is not). But surely the latter two things only matter a few times a year. If you are planning to take an international vacation "every year or two" it doesn't seem to make much sense to make this a primary criterion in deciding where to live over your housing and commute which will affect you every day.
posted by grouse at 11:33 AM on August 26, 2012

I have lived in both places, and as you mentioned, it just really matters what matters to you most.

Also, are you comparing Seattle to SF head-to-head (city proper) or metro areas?

For example,it is very expensive to live in SF, and the weather is on the chilly side much of the time, but it is much more affordable and Mediterranean in climate in Berkeley, for example. And commuting to the FiDi is sometimes easier by BART from the East Bay than parts of SF, because BART doesn't run throughout the residential areas.

When I lived in Seattle, I lived in the Belltown neighborhood (downtown, near the Space Needle) and the public transportation was fantastic. Not so much if you live in Federal Way. If you lived there, you'd definitely need two cars.

It is more racially diverse in the Bay Area, if this matters to you. What follows from that is the restaurant selection is off-the-hook in comparison to Seattle.

Some people can't handle the gloom of Seattle....it's that, not the rain (it's mostly mist, not drops per se), that is the challenge. There are many months of overcast days, but the payoff is gorgeous, humidity-free summers.

Good luck! Memail me if you need more info.
posted by Pocahontas at 11:38 AM on August 26, 2012

There are a lot of reasons to pick Seattle over San Francisco. I live in the Silicon Valley, which is a little ways to the south, but I've seen lots of my friends and colleagues move to the Puget Sound area over the past few years. Seattle's cost of living is lower and quality of life higher.

On a humorous note, Cracked calls San Francisco the worst awesome city in America. It's really a quagmire of entitlement and self-loathing.

You'll like Seattle better.
posted by phoebus at 11:49 AM on August 26, 2012 [1 favorite]

I don't think the bar admission thing is really a substantial issue. As you know, you can work in at least some capacity while waiting to be admitted, and you're a practicing attorney who passed the NY bar -- you can pass the CA bar, too.
posted by J. Wilson at 11:56 AM on August 26, 2012

I grew up a little North of San Francisco, and I lived a little West of Seattle for a while. If I had to chose between the two, my gut will always go with Seattle. I love my home state of California, and I always will, but I will probably never live there again. Plus, while the weather in Seattle isn't as bad as advertised, it is on the wet side. However, that weather creates a beautiful place to live. And at least death by volcano is quick.
posted by patheral at 11:58 AM on August 26, 2012 [2 favorites]

We went through this back in 2005. It was a tie as far as I was concerned. We picked SF over Seattle, and I think it was the right move. I don't think you mentioned what your fiancee's job is, and that's something to consider as far as his future goes.

* weather - is Seattle as bad and as rainy as its reputation? Is SF really as lovely as its reputation?

SF's weather is pretty good in the Mission, Castro, and Noe Valley, and perhaps a few other parts. It is an absolute shitshow in other parts of the city, like the Sunset. The effect is that you're actually never comfortable because of the huge temperature swings as you go through the day. Also, businesses leave their doors wide open when it's in the 50s. Residences usually lack insulation and heating is an afterthought unless it's new construction, which is rare. So, ironically, the weather is nicer than most places on the East Coast but you'll be less comfortable.

* quality of life for the cost of living. Meaning, even with the salary adjustment in SF, I think maybe we could get a bigger/nicer home in Seattle. Right now we live in a teeny tiny apartment, and I really like the sound of being able to afford a bigger place.

You won't have a big place in SF unless you're pretty wealthy or willing to sacrifice on location. Seattle is a clear winner on $/sq ft.

* People coming to visit - I could be wrong, but I feel like maybe we're more likely to get our friends to come visit San Fran, so we'd see more of our old friends that way?

When we first moved here we had a steady stream of friends come to visit. That tapered off, but now we have our own lives and visit them at vacation destinations. I wouldn't put much weight on this factor.

* accessibility to international flights. Right now we live near the 3 NYC airports which means direct flights to most places and we like to take an international vacation every year or two. I'd like to avoid living somewhere that requires multiple flights or is not near a hub. I think San Fran/Oakland covers flights to most destinations, does Seattle?

Between SFO, OAK, and SJC you have good choices, though I rarely get direct flights because my family doesn't have the good taste to live in a big city.

* Washington State doesn't have income tax, which means more disposable income. On the other hand, he's required to pay more into health insurance in Seattle, so it might be a wash.

If you want to buy a house some day, it's going to be easier in Seattle. It'll be expensive in either place, but SF is really breathtakingly expensive. I have a friend who's trying to buy a 2 br loft in the mission and expects the price to go over $1M. It actually sounds like a pretty good price. You don't know if WA's tax law will change some day, so I'd be reluctant to count on it long term.

* This is perhaps the most snowflake-y aspect- I'm a lawyer admitted in NY. I believe I can waive into the Washington bar (not take another bar exam). I don't believe I can waive into the Cal bar, and their bar exam is notoriously difficult. That means either I wouldn't work right away in California, or at least not as a lawyer. We'll be married and I'll have health insurance, but money would obviously be tighter.

My now-wife went through something similar when we moved. It was not easy, but she passed. I don't envy having to redo BarBri (on tape) while having a full time job. I will have her paged to comment in this thread. Paging bananafish!

* Long term thinking - Would SF be a good forever city, or is it more of a "it was a good experience to live there for a few years" city? For some reason, I think of Seattle more as somewhere we could settle down forever, and SF less so.

Do you plan to have kids? Most people move to the suburbs when their kids reach school age. Noe Valley, where we lived, was overrun with kids under the age of 4. After that age they just...disappeared. I'm told the SF schools are a thing to be reckoned with.

I agonized over this decision for a long time and second-guessed myself for years. My original plan was to live in SF and commute to my job wherever it might be. It turned out that the commute to San Jose was soul-killing. We now live near San Jose in suburban hell. I like suburban hell, but it's not something I'd planned for. So all the agonizing turned out to be over the wrong questions!

I recently concluded that I made the right choice because:
- Career-wise, SF was a much better choice than Seattle for me as a software engineer. YMMV depending on your careers.

- Seattle's shitty weather is an unsolvable problem. SF's problems can all be mitigated by making tradeoffs in other areas of life. For example, you can fine-tune your weather and living accommodations by having a longer commute or spending more money.

A bunch of our friends are now considering moving to Seattle to save money. So I think the doubt may stay with you for a long time, no matter which city you pick.

Good luck!
posted by jewzilla at 12:46 PM on August 26, 2012 [1 favorite]

Just a note on the weather: I think the weather sucks in San Francisco, but if you end up living in the East Bay (Oakland or Berkeley: easy BART commute to the financial district, slightly cheaper rent, better food, just as many cultural opportunities), the weather will be beautiful most of the year. I've lived in various places around the world, not to mention on the East Coast and in the Midwest, and I think nowhere but NOWHERE beats the East Bay for gorgeous weather: short sleeves during the day and a light sweater at night, pretty much all year round.
posted by artemisia at 1:01 PM on August 26, 2012

I've lived in both, and would choose Seattle over SF in a heartbeat.

SF feels more like a big city, Seattle feels like a little chunk of city tucked in the middle of a large community.

Public transit is different, but good in both places. However, for a comperable house, you will likely have to live further away in SF than you will in Seattle. It's easy to find a nice and affordable place to live which is less than 15 minutes from downtown in Seattle, you can't say the same thing about SF (at least in my experience).

The weather in Seattle is wet, although when it rains here, it's usually more of a drizzle. Despite the amount of rain, we rarely actually use an umbrella.

Seattle feels like it has more nature in the nearby area. In SF you have to go looking for it (not that it's hard to find, but right now in Seattle I can go for a wooded hilly hike 10 minutes away from the mall).

The only downsides I can see to Seattle are these:
-The weather is drizzly a lot, and the days during the winter are short (although the days during the summer are extra long and wonderful)
-If you like living in a big city, Seattle doesn't have that feel (although there is plenty of city and plenty to do, there is just a relatively small area that has skyscrapers and feels like a big city.
-Traffic, although Bay Area traffic can also suck. Seattle tends to have backups on the freeway for no reason at all at any time of day or night
posted by markblasco at 1:06 PM on August 26, 2012

Many people here are pushing for Seattle over San Francisco, and who knows maybe that is the best choice, but not many are mentioning your fiance's probable preference for the San Francisco office because the office seemed smaller and friendlier and more of a team. I would at least probe underneath this to see if there are reservations about the Seattle job. I would feel bad if I convinced my husband to move somewhere for my convenience and it turned out that reservations he had about it all came true; I would worry he would unconsciously resent me. At the same time, it is a very real PITA for you to have to take the bar again to make SF work for you, so it's not easy either way.

Also someone mentioned your fiancé should ask for a higher salary in Seattle. I think they are assuming there is only one job opening and your guy can choose which city to work from. But there may be two job openings, and he may be asking for the max available at either place (not accounting for the cost of living adjustment). So ask or not, but I certainly wouldn't go into it with a feeling of entitlement, especially in this economy. (Not that he would!) Anyway, good luck!
posted by onlyconnect at 1:09 PM on August 26, 2012 [1 favorite]

I'm an East Coast transplant who's lived in Seattle for 3 years. But my organization is based in SF, I've been there several times for work, and actually briefly considered moving there before deciding to stay in Seattle.

A lot of what I was going to say has already been covered, so just a few thoughts:

- You mention the lack of income tax. This makes a big difference in take-home pay, even given the difference in cost of health insurance, it's something to take into account. If you haven't, use a paycheck calculator to figure out what the take-home pay will be in both states. I was really surprised when I realized how much more I'd need to make in California just to have the same take-home pay, and that' not even getting into COL differences.

- Weather: Honestly, I love the weather in Seattle. None (well, very, very few) of those awful sticky nights where you have to lie right in front of the AC to get any sleep, and no trudging through slush puddles in the winter. For me, the problem with winter isn't the greyness (which is usually punctuated with sunshine) but the darkness, being so far north. Of course, the tradeoff is that it stays light very late in the summers, which are sunny and dry.

- Outdoors: Both Seattle and SF are great for this, but it does seem to be more accessible in Seattle (30 minutes and you're in the mountains, which means that people actually go for legit hikes after work in the summertime, a fact that boggled my East Coast mind). Seattle also has the Olympic Peninsula nearby, which is pretty incomparable.

One thing to be aware of is that Seattle has much less of the dense urban feel that I was used to as an East Coaster. The downtown area and surrounding neighborhoods are pretty dense and walkable, but it gets less so when you leave that area.

Oh and I don't think you need to worry about people coming to visit you. I've had a pretty steady stream of visitors since I moved here! Just only in the summer. :)
posted by lunasol at 1:10 PM on August 26, 2012

One more thing: SF is WAY better for food than Seattle. It's not even a contest. Seattle is getting better, but its still lacking when it comes to food, exceptions being sushi and Vietnamese food, both of which are great here. You CAN find good restaurants for any cuisine, it just takes a bit more effort, whereas the Bay Area is lousy with good food.
posted by lunasol at 1:13 PM on August 26, 2012

Seattle is great but I prefer the variety of food, weather and culture in SF.
And when it's cold & foggy in the City, sunshine is typically just a short drive over the bridge(s).
posted by artdrectr at 1:29 PM on August 26, 2012

Are flights significantly more affordable from the home city where your family lives to either place? That would make a difference to me.
posted by Nickel Pickle at 2:41 PM on August 26, 2012

I am so happy to be FROM San Francisco. I left after the Loma Prieta earthquake.

I worked in the city, commuting in from Oakland. I lived and worked in San Jose.

The commutes were miserable. I have a friend with a rent controlled apartment in Noe Valley. Subletting from him is about the only way I'd consider living in SF again.

Also, I'd sell my car and subscribe to Zipcar or rent cars for weekend trips because parking is non-existent, and insurance is outrageous.

San Francisco is a wonderful place to live and work at your age, but if you want a house and kids, you'll move to the suburbs. And you will be sad, because it will suck.

California schools used to be good, but Prop 13 ruined them. No arts, music, etc.

I'd recommend SF for about five years. Rent, don't buy, then think about what you want for permanent settlement after that.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 5:16 PM on August 26, 2012

Housing/rental prices in SF are outrageous. Back in the early 2000s in SF I met a Starbucks manager who couldn't afford a basic apartment and lived in a youth hostel. There are many such stories. Your spouse's job will seem to cover that, but just know that if you want to buy a house the prices there are pretty nuts.

Seattle housing is also pretty pricey, but I think there's a high vacancy for rentals, so you might get a good deal there.

Seattle gets cloudy around September sometime and it stays cloudy and rainy every day until May or June. The rain is usually not so harsh (though it can be windy, and in winter even a little rain in the wind is miserable) and the weatherman talks of "sunbreaks", when the sun pokes out of the clouds; said to happen at least once a day. But yeah, nine months of more or less constant clouds/rain is a chore. There is a reason all those coffee chains come from Seattle--people need the pick-me-up.

On the flip side, Seattle summers are awesome: warm but not hot and humid, sunny and dry most days.
posted by zardoz at 5:43 PM on August 26, 2012

How funny! As my husband said above, we went through this in 2005 (right down to the question of having to take the bar again. lol!)

I agree with my husband's comments above so I won't comment further except to add two things:

1) About taking the bar again as an attorney: It wasn't fun for sure. Only 30% of the people taking the attorney's exam in 2005 summer passed and I was thankfully one of them. You actually don't have to take the attorney's exam (you can register for the general candidates exam), and I would recommend the general candidate's exam because it has a higher pass rate. The partners at my old firm thought I was insane for taking the attorney exam and in retrospect they were right. You don't take the multistate with the attorney's exam (it's just essays) and that's what makes it harder. The way I did it -- (a) first I didn't move until I knew I had passed. (b) I got the BarBri study by tape and I followed their schedule as best I could while working full-time. This meant listening to the tapes on the way to work, in the car etc. I couldn't quite keep up with the schedule so I took two weeks off just to study (mostly because a partner told me that if I didn't take some time off I would likely fail. I hadn't planned on taking any off until he told me that). The CA pass rate actually isn't that bad when you look at candidates who graduated from accredited law schools. It's something like 70%. It's all the non-accredited schools that really drag the pass rate down.

(B) you don't say if you want kids, but if you do and would like to stay home even part-time, then I'd vote for Seattle. It's just so god awful expensive here, it's very hard for people to afford a house on one income. I think that would be more manageable in Seattle.

Please feel free to me mail me or my husband if you have further questions.
posted by bananafish at 7:37 PM on August 26, 2012 [1 favorite]

I lived in Seattle for 7 years and SF for 2. I now live in NYC.

I'd pick Seattle. The crime in San Francisco is bad and getting worse. The city has a serious homeless problem that is not getting solved, and the rental market is IN SANE (and I say that as someone who lives in Manhattan). You can get large, beautiful apartments in Seattle in great neighborhoods for reasonable prices. The weather in both is lousy, but SF wins because it's sunnier-- but the summer in Seattle, as everyone has said, is amazing, whereas the summer in SF is freezing cold and damp. You don't absolutely need a car in either, but they are both much, much easier to deal with with a car. Both have OK public transit; the SF buses are full of lunatics (my roommate called them "rolling asylums") but BART is great and Seattle's bus system isn't as good as it used to be. From what I understand the Seattle schools are decent, and they're fantastic in the suburbs. SF has the smallest percentage of kids (proportionately) of any American city.

I'm biased because I got thoroughly sick of SF when I lived there whereas I left Seattle still loving the city. Both cities have fantastic culture with tons of stuff to do, amazing produce and food (I think Seattle's food is getting a bad rap in this thread, but it's true that SF is an unbelievable food city), and lots of really nice, cool, people. My partner always says the harder a choice is to make the more evenly balanced it is, and that's certainly true in these cases. In either city there will be things you love and things you hate. I'd pick Seattle because of the cost of living and your job opportunities.
posted by alicetiara at 9:14 PM on August 26, 2012 [1 favorite]

I'm from Seattle, and I agree with everyone above that you should come here, but something not mentioned is that it is really difficult to make lasting friends in the Seattle area. This is something I've heard from just about every "transplant" I've ever met/heard of, which, to be honest, is not that many (though supported by this old blog article and this old PI article). Most people I know who move here know people already here to help them break into the social scene.

I've also heard (tangentently, mostly through tls.com) that the Seattle legal market is tough. Though of course everyone commenting on tls is a law student so it's not like they know much.

I still think you should come out here, but know that it might be a couple friendless-and-jobless months :(. As for pools, I swam here all my life and played water polo. There are plenty of beaches (though they aren't that warm), public pools (nearly all are indoors though), and beach clubs (long waiting lists though).
posted by obviousresistance at 10:08 PM on August 26, 2012

I live in Seattle and DC + NYC and also visited SF a few times and considered job offers there. A few points:
- Seattle is extremely dog friendly (if not a little dog obsessed)
- It can get pretty gray and dark in the winter. I think there's less rain here than when I lived in DC but the gray can get a bit gloomy
- On the plus side the summer and winter are very mild compared to the east coast (I hate the freezing winters of the east coast. Makes me want to hibernate under my covers with novel + hot chocolate.) Seattle is extremely dry. Low humidity makes winter feel less cold, summer feel less icky
- Seattle is cleaner than SF
- Seattle feels less citi-ish than SF, NYC and DC. Things seem to close a little earlier. Let's just say it is not the city that never sleeps
- SF is ludicrously expensive. I hate long commutes. I walk 10 minutes to my job in downtown Seattle and it is awesome.
- There is no income tax in Seattle but the sales tax is 10%. Might not seem so bad compared to NYC but still. Also, Washington state charges sales tax on amazon.com. (If this is where his job offer is, it was not my favorite place to work.)
- I've actually been enjoying the food in Seattle, but the food in SF is also good.

I would take it into account that he had a better impression of the SF job team. Would be less fun living with a miserable SO.

Also, if you move down here, feel free to email me, we can meet up for coffee or something.
posted by uncreative at 12:20 AM on August 27, 2012 [1 favorite]

Seattle is wonderful in almost every way but one: the weather. Seriously, the best place I've ever lived (and I live in Hawaii now) except for the fucking weather. I would be happily living there now except that I literally could not stand it.

Forget about rain--NYC actually gets more rain (inches/year) than Seattle--the issue is cloud cover. There are times when a gray, wet blanket settles over the area and you don't see the sun for days or weeks at a time. Most area residents, to their credit, don't let this even slow them down. It's dim, it's cold, it's damp, but they're still out there doing what they want to do: hiking, kayaking, running, whatever. If you're one of those people, great. If you have any hint of SAD (seasonal affective disorder) or if the thought of not seeing the sun for literally weeks at a time gives you pause, well, pick SF.
posted by zanni at 2:30 AM on August 27, 2012

If you want to have kids in the future, pick Seattle.
posted by rabbitrabbit at 9:48 AM on August 27, 2012

Best answer: I moved to Seattle from a sunny place with a high cost of living. I have only visited SF (and it's one of my favourite places), not lived there. I can't provide feedback on each of your bullets, but here's what I can say.

I miss the sun's cheery face but I've never enjoyed a summer more than the one we are experiencing right now. This place is phenomenal in the summer. I do not want to make light of the grey and dreary thing; it's a very real thing and it has been a real struggle for me. Plan to combat it if it becomes an issue (e.g. SAD lamps and short trips and seeking out a winter hobby/activity). Someone upthread mentioned that the suckiness of seattle's weather was oversold and despite what i've just written, I kinda agree with that. I was surprised that we had sunnier (but still cold) days way earlier than I'd been led to believe. The reprieve of just a few sunny days was fantastic for me.

I agree with grouse's analysis of the international travel thing. The proximity to international hubs shouldn't have too much bearing on the decision given the frequency of international travel you're suggesting. I think I'd probably prefer doing my domestic travel out of SEA compared to SFO's debacle of an airport.

I get the impression there's a pretty active craft culture here, which might appeal. I can think of several stores in short distance from where I live which is certainly way more than where I used to live. There's tons of sports here and a simply outrageously close and attractive 'outdoors' for hiking and whatnot. I am yet to find an Olympic size swimming pool here that will not make me go over budget on membership. Seems to be a ton of smaller pools.

There is great coffee here; you will not be hostage to starbucks.

I live close-ish to downtown and do pretty much everything on public transport or on foot, which is great. We have one car we take for faffing around driving or day trips etc. We planned where we would live based on i) work location ii) well serviced bus routes and there were a bunch of places to look at. I compared briefly to SF at one point and was more impressed with what the rent could get in SEA to that of SF for sure.

I'm not sure what field of work your SO is in, but I'd also suggest the consideration of SF vs SEA should take into account how dynamic their field is in SEA vs SF, and whether there are opportunities to move around within the industry easily in either city. A further thing to consider is whether the smaller team is hindered by being in SF if the company is HQ'd in SEA. Sometimes the satellite offices are awesome for the team camaraderie etc but can have issues for getting stuff done and/or properly prioritised with HQ and - to a lesser extent - career progression and opportunities. This is highly dependent on the company and the role, so I'm throwing that in as something that might warrant a bit more exploration for you guys as you discuss both of your work opportunities.

I wish you luck! The decision making on a big move can be really draining. If you end up in Seattle make sure you let us know!
posted by pymsical at 11:14 AM on August 27, 2012 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: Thank you everyone for your thoughts so far - keep them coming!

I think we'll be making a decision by the end of the week, I will certainly keep you all posted - and be hitting up those who live where ever we move to for some kind of meetup!

As for Seattle, I am mainly afraid of the SAD issue, but if it comes down to light boxes and maybe even meds, it sounds like it should be ok.

The move would probably take place at the end of October/early November, which means that if we move to Seattle, we'd really be moving in for the worst part - the winter. I'll have to reread your responses to remind me that this glorious summer is coming.

Right now, we're leaning Seattle. But, please, if more people have thoughts or those of you think of additional points, please lay 'em on me!

Thanks again!
posted by IdRatherNotSay at 12:57 PM on August 27, 2012

I grew up on the East Coast and have lived in SF for almost 25 years; it's turned into my forever city. I've only visited Seattle.

A few thoughts:

The Bay Area has over twice as many sports teams as Seattle: 2 MLB teams, 2 NFL teams, more colleges (2 PAC10 schools), NHL, NBA, etc. Depending on how serious your husband's interest in attending games is, that could be a factor.

San Franciscans notoriously have more dogs than children. It can still be hard to rent an apartment that allows dogs. And the rental market really sucks here right now.

It's almost impossible to know what the important factors are. You can have good and bad experiences in either place; make good friends in either place; feel at home in either city. I love San Francisco and can't imagine wanting to live anywhere else, but I'm sure that if I lived in Seattle I'd feel the same way.

Good luck with your decision.
posted by gingerbeer at 8:42 PM on August 27, 2012

I moved to Seattle in '95, where I only spent a few days in San Fran in my entire life, so I can't really comment on which is better.

But I'll say a few things no one else has said:

You will know by April whether Seattle is right for you. That first winter is what shakes everyone out. It really is the dark AND the dreary -- London has shorter days than Seattle, and yet Seattle can be more depressing. Everyone here has SAD at some level, though for most it's just winter blues more than that sunken feeling.

Oh, and the worst of it is May and June, when the rest of the country is getting sun and 80s while you're mired in the 50s and 60s. But then Seattle summer starts (July 5 on the dot) and you laugh at your sweltering friends back east.

It rarely ever snows in SFO. It snows 0-2 times a year in Seattle, and no one knows how to drive in it, and even the East Coasters who laugh at the Seattleites usually end up pinballing down a hill and their insurance company makes them eat crow.

Seattle is a long way from anything not Portland or Vancouver. I guess it's the same with the Bay Area, but in flying to and from over the years I've been acutely aware of the feeling that you should be home by now but there's another 90 minutes in the air.

Sea-Tac is getting a bit of a bum rap in this thread -- it's not the mega-hub that SFO is, yes, but it handles international flights just fine. It is expensive domestically just because there's no OAK or SJC to compete with it.

Food, too. Cuisine in Seattle has made a huge leap in the last ten years. Heck, the last five were their own leap. If Michelin cared to come up this way Seattle would have some starred places already. No, it's not San Francisco, but then, San Francisco is up with NYC, Paris, and Tokyo. Seattle I think can hold its own with Chicago.

Schools here... well, it's weird. The best public schools are on the Eastside, but Seattle Schools are good if you find the right ones. About 1/4 of Seattle kids go to private schools, one of the highest rates in the US, and yet Seattle itself has few failing schools. It's an odd quirk. We've had a mostly positive experience with public schools here.

Getting away with one car depends on where you live. We live five blocks from a transit center and a 10 minute walk from a mall and a supermarket -- and I would not say this is known as a "transit-friendly" area of town. You could do it in Capitol Hill or even downtown Bellevue. Wedgwood, not so much.

Sports teams, well, Seattle has a miserable lot. OTOH, the Sounders draw on the level of mid-size London clubs (even if they play more like Sheffield United). And the Mariners are coming back. Seattle is an odd town for sports -- a lot of anti-sports or "I'd rather play them myself" sentiment, and yet the Seahawks sell every game out, as do the Sounders.

On the whole, I think the Bay Area is a great place, but I couldn't afford it. Seattle can be expensive (especially if you're coming from the Midwest), but it's not atrocious for a big city.

But if I really had the options I might move to Portland instead. Portland is Seattle without the gobs of Microsoft and Amazon money that have transformed this place in the 17 years I've lived here.
posted by dw at 7:20 AM on August 28, 2012

If you go to Seattle and you need a mental break from the damp, dreary weather, you are not terribly far from a rain forest and, nearby, in the rain shadow of the same mountain is the driest spot north of San Francisco. On the dry side, there is a little town there called Sequim. They were fairly big on the internet relatively early in the game.

There is a branch of the National Lab there. The main head quarters are in Richland but they have an office in Sequim which I think mostly does marine biology and similar. The confluence of ocean meeting bay in that area makes it a richly interesting spot with multiple underwater ecosystems. I have no idea if, like a similar facility in Port Aransas, they have anything open to the public but it would be worth a look. I believe the ferry to Victoria Canada leaves from there or somewhere nearby. Not visiting Canada when I lived in Washington state is one of my few minor regrets in life. You can also just drive across the mountains. Richland and much of the Eastern side of Washington are much drier and sunnier than Seattle.

Best of luck.
posted by Michele in California at 7:36 AM on August 28, 2012

I actually disagree with dw's sentiment that You will know by April whether Seattle is right for you. That first winter is what shakes everyone out.

I think it's the third winter that lets you know whether you can handle it or not. At least, that was my experience. The first winter was hard, but I didn't even realize it until the second winter, when I was asking my doctor for an antidepressant in October because I couldn't stand the thought of another dark winter. That somehow broke the SAD for me and the third winter I managed on my own, though I think it was a year or two more before I was getting sick of sun by the end of summer and craving the return to damp, gray weather.

Exercise, good diet, and Vitamin D help, as does making sure you get outside during mid-day.
posted by rabbitrabbit at 8:23 AM on August 28, 2012

Response by poster: I figured I'd come back (if anyone is still reading this) to say we've committed to Seattle and we'll be there this winter! Stay tuned for many more Seattle-filter questions, I'm sure!
Thank you everyone for all your input, it was invaluable!
posted by IdRatherNotSay at 4:55 PM on September 16, 2012 [2 favorites]

Woohoo! Hope you enjoy living there.
posted by rmd1023 at 6:36 PM on September 16, 2012 [1 favorite]

It's a pretty great bunch of mefites up there, so go to meetups!
posted by rtha at 6:58 PM on September 16, 2012 [1 favorite]

See you in the winter! I hope you guys have a smooth relocation.
posted by pymsical at 5:37 PM on September 18, 2012 [1 favorite]

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