A student’s guide to living in Seattle
Seattle is one of the fastest growing cities in the US, a unique spot nestled between water and mountains, yet a thriving and busy city.
It’s an awesome place for students because of the balance between calm and focused days for getting work done and resting, and a world of opportunities to blow off steam and engage your creative, social, or active sides.
Deciding on the right suburb to live in
Even though Seattle is a relatively small city geographically, each of its neighbourhoods is a unique microcosms and it’s best to explore one area at a time.
When it comes to getting around, all of these suburbs are easily accessible by public transport and are extremely walker-friendly once you’re there. Be sure to get a reloadable Orca card which will make hopping on the bus, light rail, or streetcar a breeze.
Seattle’s Downtown is where you’ll feel the most like you’re in a big city, and you should consider having a plan before taking to the streets.
The city is right on the Puget Sound, and following the waterfront will take you from the ferry terminal and ferris wheel to the beautiful Olympic Sculpture Park.
This is where you’ll find the Seattle Center and the famous Space Needle as well as Pike’s Place Market.
It’s best to visit these places on mild days in the spring and fall, and on weekdays when there are less people out and about.
The Capitol Hill neighborhood is located just west of downtown. It’s home to Seattle University and Seattle Central Community College, so it’s equal parts college town and haven for local creatives.
Most of Capitol Hill’s shopping and cafes are located on Broadway, and what is called the Pike/Pine Corridor. You could easily spend all day browsing shops or walking through the parks, fueled by gourmet cupcakes, vegan ice cream, pizza by the slice and of course, coffee.
Seattle’s Fremont neighbourhood is located about three miles north of Downtown, across the Fremont Bridge.
When you arrive, you’re greeted by a troll that lives under the bridge, but it’s nothing to be afraid of, just an 18-foot sculpture that is a great photo-op and an indicator of the quirky culture that makes Fremont special.
The best thing about this area is their weekly Sunday market. Open rain or shine, the market features food trucks and an underground antique mall full of oddities and vintage treasures.
Ballard, just west of Fremont, is a neighborhood in Seattle where you can get outside on those rare sunny days, as well as find fun places to eat, drink, and play.
Visit Golden Gardens Park if you need a break from the city as it features a beautiful walking trail and a sand beach where you can catch some of the most stunning sunsets that are sure to put you in your happy place.
Seattle’s International District can be found just southwest of Downtown and is home to Chinatown, Japantown, and Little Saigon.
It’s the hub for some of the best food in Seattle and is where folks gather to celebrate the Lunar New Year. The Wing Luke museum is also not to be missed as it tells the complex story of life for Asian communities in Seattle and showcases exhibits dedicated to Asian art and history from creators and storytellers around the world.
Local coffee and study spots
Seattle is the birthplace of Starbucks and famous for its coffee culture, but there are also so many local independent roasters that offer high quality brews and espresso.
The following coffee shops are also some of the best study spots in the city and welcome students and professionals with free Wi-Fi and inspiring environments.
Caffe Vita has been a staple of the Seattle Coffee scene since 1995. There are six locations in the city and at each you will find a comfortable place to get homework done and enjoy fresh brewed coffee and cold brew.
The Capitol Hill location is unique because of its dark and moody lighting but many find it the ideal place to focus since it’s also open the latest (11:00 PM every day!)
Slate Coffee Roasters represents the more experimental and futuristic side of the Seattle coffee scene. They specialise in light roasts, as they believe that this technique best highlights the complex flavors that you will get from beans harvested in different areas of the world. If you have only ever tried drip coffee or lattes, trying a fresh pour-over or deconstructed espresso and milk flight will surely be an experience to remember.
There are several locations, but the one in the neighborhood next to the University of Washington is the best for studying as it has two floors of seating to settle down in.
This roaster’s cafes are heaven for espresso lovers. They specialise in the Northern Italian style and their shots have been praised for being some of the best in the country. If you’re not into espresso in its pure form, you’ll love their blended drinks which all feature professional latte art that will make you feel like you’re treating yourself to something special.
Both the Capitol Hill and South Lake Union locations are ideal for studying as they are both open until 11:00 PM.
This coffee shop is in Seattle’s International district and is one of the best places to study in the city. They brew coffee from Lighthouse Roasters and have delicious food options such as crepes, sandwiches and salads to help fuel marathon homework sessions.
Also, if you finish your to-do list early, you can reward yourself by checking out the pinball museum next-door featuring more than 50 games – the cost of admission includes unlimited play.
This study oasis is hidden inside the Elliot Bay Bookstore located in the heart of Capitol Hill. It is the sister-cafe to Oddfellows, a popular restaurant next door. They brew coffee from Caffe Vita but if you are not a coffee person, you can treat yourself to house made sodas, tea, and a variety of fresh bake pastries and desserts.
It’s a one stop shop to pick up a book you may need for one of your classes and to get work done. They also offer late night study hall happy hour deals.
How to deal with Seattle’s rainy days
Rain may be one of the more clichéd features of Seattle but it’s a reality for three of the four seasons.
In order to keep yourself from getting cabin fever it’s a good idea to have a few go-to indoor activities on your radar, especially for the rainy days that you do not have class or hours of homework to do.
Luckily there are plenty of options no matter what your interests are, and many are affordable enough to become a part of your weekly routine.
There are several amazing art museums in Seattle that can be the ideal places to distract yourself and find peace from any stresses that you’re experiencing.
The Seattle Art Museum (SAM) is Downtown and features temporary exhibits that travel around the world, as well as an impressive permanent collection. Entry to the museum is free on every first Thursday of the month but they also offer discounted rates for students every other day.
The Frye Museum is located in the First Hill neighborhood and is special because admission is always free.
One of the best ways to escape a rainy day in Seattle is to check out what is playing at one of the many unique theatres in the city.
If you are looking to see the newest blockbuster, the Cinerama delivers the most epic movie experience.
Central Cinema, located in the Central District neighborhood is unique as it’s Seattle’s only dine-in theater. They show mostly cult classics and also have trivia and sing-along nights. Their $1.99 nights are budget-friendly and a great excuse to get out of the dorm and enjoy movies how they should be - on the big screen.
The MoPop is the shortened name for the Museum of Pop Culture located in the Seattle Center near the Space Needle. Here you can visit a variety of interactive exhibits that highlight Seattle’s music history, as well as exhibits on horror movies, science fiction and indie gaming.
It’s a great place to unleash your inner child (and your inner nerd), especially on rainy days. You can also save $2 on top of the student admission fare by purchasing tickets online.
Mox boarding house
For the rainy days where you just want to hang out with new friends, you can always count on Mox Boarding House in Ballard. They have an extensive library of board games that you can check out and play while enjoying snacks and drinks at Cafe Mox.
You’ll be surprised how nice it feels to take a break from the computer and challenge your friends to good old-fashioned board and card games.
If you are 21 or older, Optimism Brewery in Capitol Hill is a great spot to spend time when the weather is getting you down.
The brewery features wide open spaces with long tables and delicious beers brewed on site. They also offer tours of the facility for only $10 which includes a complimentary flight so that you can try a variety of different kinds and maybe find a new favorite.
Be sure to book tours online in advance to secure your spot (and have something special to look forward to).
If English isn’t your first language, finding opportunities to practice is an important part of gaining confidence to engage in your classes and make new friends. It can also be a whole lot of fun!
Seattle is a hub for many international students and travelers and a lot of them find the Seattle Public Library to be one of the best resources.
They hold free Talk Time conversation groups at the Central Library located Downtown, as well as at their Fremont, Broadview and Beacon Hill locations. Days and times vary by location and change every couple of months, so it’s best to check the library website when you arrive for the most up to date schedule.
The Seattle Public Library is also a great resource for finding books and media in a variety of different languages.
In addition to the library, the internet and social media may be helpful in finding other students and English learners to practice with.
Seattle Language Cafe is an online group with almost 1,000 members that hosts frequent events for both practicing English and finding people to connect with that share your native language. You can request to join the group by visiting MeetUp.com and be in the loop for all upcoming language events during your stay.
Most colleges and universities in the area also have Facebook groups for student to connect and share events. These groups can be useful in finding others at your school who are also interested in practicing English or studying together and exploring the city.
Navigating the Seattle Freeze
The ‘Seattle Freeze’ is a phenomenon described by locals as a tendency for Seattlites to keep to themselves or not engage in friendly conversation.
The Seattle Freeze can be very common, but it can also be melted. Doing so may just require a little more effort and putting yourself out there more than you’re used to in order to make friends.
So, when it comes to practicing English and meeting new people, don’t be afraid to make the first move and initiate conversation, most locals will appreciate the effort and be more than happy to show you around and give you even more insider tips about the city.