Seattle neighborhoods
June 28, 2014 9:05 AM   Subscribe

Another where in Seattle should we live question. We are a family of three, one person working downtown, the other working likely in SLU or at the UW + a baby with daycare downtown, but who long term will be going into the Seattle school system. Where do we want to live?

We need a 2br + 1ba, one parking spot, $2300 max per month. Apartment, duplex, house, condo, whatever are all acceptable.

The most important things we want in a neighborhood:
- Short commute downtown *on public transit* Less than 20 min ideally.
- Walkable. No no-sidewalk neighborhoods. Nothing overly steep or weirdly cut off by roads or water either.
- Walkable access to grocery stores, coffee, and parks is important.
- Not too awful parking/driving access (prefer no giant steep hills - we don't have an AWD car or anything (thinking of winter ice/snow disasters), and prefer to avoid really congested areas like Capitol Hill).
- Eventually our kid will be going to school - are there areas we should favor or avoid for the Seattle schools?

I'm pretty familiar with Seattle and have lived here before, but my info is more than a decade out of date. I am mostly familiar with North Seattle. We do want to live in the city proper. I don't think we want to live south of downtown and are not interested in Capitol Hill or Belltown. I'm gravitating towards Ballard/Fremont/Wallingford (the southern ends of these), or possibly Queen Anne? I'm interested in living actually in Downtown, but am unsure how to find rentals, since they don't really seem to be on Craigslist, but I can see lots of residential towers are out there.

What neighborhoods should we be looking at?
posted by annie o to Home & Garden (9 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
I live just off the Fremont bridge on QA (off Nickerson) and it is PERFECT and hits all of your wish list except the bit about water. 5 min walk to Fremont, about 4 bus lines straight to SLU and downtown, stores, restaurants, could not be better for my fam of 3.
posted by tristeza at 9:15 AM on June 28, 2014

I don't know Seattle super well, but one major difference in the last 10 years is that there's a light rail line with 7-15 minute headways going to downtown from the south, and it'll reach UW within 2 years as well.

Apparently the Columbia City neighborhood south of downtown is well situated to take advantage, and is very cheap for Seattle-- the mortgage on a modest house is well under your budget. Google quotes a train ride of 12 minutes to downtown, plus whatever walks you need on each end.
posted by akgerber at 9:23 AM on June 28, 2014

Word of advice: research the best schools in Seattle, then locate within the attendance zone of your top candidates. In a few short years, the quality of your child's school will become the centerpoint of your lives. Do not choose a location based solely on your pre-kid qualifications. Two sets of parents we know were enamored by Seattle neighborhoods (inc. Ballard) without considering the schools, and both have regretted the decisions; sharing many horror stories (huge class sizes, wildly-inconsistent teaching quality/curriculum, underfunded programs, bullying issues with lackadaisical admins, etc). Make note of the best-rated schools on sites like School Digger, OSPI, Great Schools (ignore the inaccurate number-based ratings--look at reviews and data points) and City-Data forums; and ask colleagues and friends. Sorry I can't tell you which neighborhood to choose, but if you make a decision based on your child's educational needs, you'll feel at home!
posted by prinado at 10:43 AM on June 28, 2014 [3 favorites]

$2300 is going to get you something nice anywhere in the city. Beacon Hill, Columbia City... great areas for kids. Great feel for safety. Easy transport to downtown and back.

Those are also the two most integrated neighborhoods in King County and that might be desirable to you.

I'm on the north end of Beacon Hill and I can walk to downtown in 15 minutes. Groceries, bars, restaurants, also 10 to 15 minutes. And both neighborhoods are ridiculously green. They're probably the last two affordable areas in the city unless you really go south. But then you don't have good public transport options any longer.
posted by artof.mulata at 6:51 PM on June 28, 2014

I live in Interbay (fairly near the Whole Foods on 15th Ave, just before the Ballard Bridge still in Queen Anne, on the west side so our building is technically Queen Anne). We're within walking distance to dog parks, cafe, Whole Foods (obviously), a doggy day care, a wood fired pizza place, but otherwise pretty care dependent. The better news is that we have a 1k square feet 2 bedroom flat in a small midcentury building - the unit above us just sold for $225k and a unit similar to ours rents for $1600/mo. Interbay is transitioning and it's smack dab in the middle of Belltown/SLU + Wallingford + Freelard (abutting Magnolia and Queen Anne for added swank).

We're actually moving because we prefer the relative density of Market Street in Ballard - we want to be able to chuck at least one car (currently: one parking spot right under the building). But we don't have kids - I think we might like the peace and quiet a bit more if we did. Memail me if you'd like to discuss this area - I've been here a couple years.
posted by sweltering at 6:51 AM on June 29, 2014

First, the commute times in Seattle have gotten worse since you lived here - considerably worse. And they're only going to increase further with the coming Metro cuts. If you are going to commute on transit during rush hour, this means that there are very, very few places you can live where you'd be able to commute downtown in 20 minutes. I live in south Wallingford (very close to Lake Union) and it takes my husband 30-35 minutes to get downtown via bus. I think that 30ish minutes is a more realistic commute time frame. If you really want to stick to 20 minutes, you would have to live in Belltown, downtown or lower Queen Anne, and I wouldn't recommend those areas given your other considerations. The one exception would be areas south of downtown (Beacon Hill, for example) which have operable lightrail.

In terms of schools (I'm a teacher, for reference), I think you'd be better off exploring that upon moving, assuming that your child isn't heading into school within the next year. You can always move neighborhoods in a couple of years. There are endless variables in terms of schools, SPS is incredibly complex, and I really think you'll want to tour schools rather than simply reading stats and reviews online. (I also tend to think parents worry too much about what school their kids go to when they're usually deciding between basically working schools - I've written more about this here.)

So, let's assume you're open to expanding your commute time to 30-35 minutes.

Here would be my first-tier choices for you:
1. Upper Fremont - Homier and more family-friendly than lower Fremont, it also has nicer houses. Bonuses include excellent restaurants and coffee shops and easy access to the zoo for your kiddo.
2. Montlake - Not a bad commute to downtown, very family-friendly, and also a good commute to UW. Limited coffee shops, lots of nice parks.
3. Wallingford - Extremely central, lots of parks, plenty of coffee, parks, restaurants, etc. Decently easy to get anywhere in the north half of the city.

Second-tier choices:
1. Core Ballard - Tons of kids, shops, coffee, etc. You'll need to be in very south Ballard to make it a 30-minute commute, and the commute to SLU could be a bit nasty (it's been dubbed the Mercer Mess it's been going on so long).
2. Top of Queen Anne - Lots of shops and parks, pretty bougie, but (and?) decent commute times.
3. North Beacon Hill - Great commute times, definitely gentrifying rapidly and more diverse than the other neighborhoods listed here. Nice neighborhood feel and good ethnic restaurants.
4. Phinney Ridge - Very popular choice for families with kids, beautiful houses and views, great parks, coffee and restaurants. Slightly longer commute, depending on how far north you live.

Wild cards to consider:
1. Columbia City - Very cool neighborhood near lightrail, with lots of young families. But if you're working at UW, that commute would not be great.
2. Eastlake - Really close to downtown and SLU, the commute would be stellar. But there isn't a real grocery store here (or drugstore) so it wouldn't be my first choice. That said, if you're willing to commute to a grocery store instead of commuting further to get downtown every day, it might be a good trade-off.
posted by leitmotif at 8:14 PM on June 29, 2014

The short commute downtown on public transit is kind of a tough one: 20 minutes is really short. You might want to play around with the King County Metro Trip Planner. Oh, and when you do move here, download the One Bus Away App if you have a smartphone.

I'm guessing you mean "20 minutes riding time on the bus," not "20 minutes door to door," because the latter is almost impossible. The former is definitely possible.

Here are some neighborhoods that leitmotif didn't mention that you might want to consider:

Roosevelt/Ravenna/U-District: extremely walkable: a 20 minute walk puts you in range of just about anything you could possibly want to do or buy, and it very close to I-5, which saves a lot of time driving around in Seattle. Driving east-west across north Seattle is a complete drag and takes forever.

Greenwood: Will be more affordable than many of the other neighborhoods, still within very decent commuting distance of downtown, UW, and SLU, and very walkable. Plenty of cafes, a big new Fred Meyer, a number of parks, good access to the major N/S thoroughfare of Aurora.

Green Lake: Good elementary schools, obvious access to Green Lake park and Woodridge Park and Zoo; easy access to I-5 and Aurora; can be spendy; it's walkable and pleasant although depending on where you live you might be walking further to get to cafes and the library or the supermarket.

Magnolia: I don't spend a lot of time hanging out here so maybe other people could extol its virtues but if it's within your acceptable commute range you'd think it would hit most of your other buttons. Stuff might be a little far to walk to sometimes depending on where in Magnolia you live, but it would definitely rate for me as a place you could be very happy walking around in; Discovery Park is there. Good access to Queen Anne and Ballard although 15th Ave has become a real slog over the last decade.

North Seattle is still probably your best bet as far as a shorter commute to SLU/UW in addition to downtown. The rental market is pretty tight right now.

Anything north of Northgate will put you at risk of not getting the walkability feel you desire plus lengthening the commute. If you're not keen on Capitol Hill because of the congestion issue you might want to consider how desirable Ballard and Fremont are for similar reasons, which are unfortunately getting quite crowded and expensive.

Other neighborhoods which might meet your criteria, depending: Wedgwood, Crown Hill, Lake City. You could also look at the Mount Baker area, Madison Park, and then into some parts of the Central District. As others have mentioned, the light rail has changed the Columbia City/Beacon Hill area a lot in recent memory.
posted by MoonOrb at 10:23 AM on June 30, 2014

We have pretty similar requirements to yours and Phiney Ridge has worked out perfetly for us - the 5 gets you downtown in no time, a good park, access to the zoo which turns out to be a great thing with younger kids. Not as much commercial activity as Ballard but it's getting there.
posted by Artw at 3:37 PM on July 1, 2014

Thank you all, very helpful. I think most of your assessments have aligned with what we found on the ground, and we found a cute place in walkable Ballard. I (painfully) hear all of you on the commute times, but jeez, I lived in LA of al places and could get to work in like, 10 minutes. I feel like I'm in a parallel universe. Fortunately other aspects of the city make up for it.
posted by annie o at 10:15 PM on July 14, 2014 [1 favorite]

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