Article Overview: Best Places to Live in the Pacific Northwest
Looking for the best places to live in the Pacific Northwest? You’re in the right place.
I was born and raised in the Pacific Northwest but moved away for a while. It didn’t take long for me to miss the epic nature, breathtaking scenery and beautiful cities. Needless to say, I ended up moving back.
But before returning home to my beloved Pacific Northwest, I did a lot of research. I didn’t want to fall victim to habit and comfort, so I decided to settle in some place new.
I spent hours researching the best cities in the Pacific Northwest and didn’t want that effort to go to waste. So without further ado, let’s cover the best places to live in the PNW from a local’s perspective!
Best Places to Live in the Pacific Northwest
Table of Contents: Best Places to Live in the Pacific Northwest
Table of Contents: Best Places to Live in the Pacific Northwest
- Best Places to Live in the Pacific Northwest
- 5 Best Large Cities in the Pacific Northwest
- 5 Best Mid-Sized Cities in the Pacific Northwest
- 5 Best Small Cities in the Pacific Northwest
- List of the Best Places to Live in the Pacific Northwest
- Map of the Best Cities in the Pacific Northwest | Best PNW Cities
5 Best Large Cities in the Pacific Northwest
- Population: 733,919
- Median home price: $850,175
- Average age: 35.2
Known as Emerald City, Seattle is surrounded by majestic mountains and crystal-clear waters. Often considered one of the prettiest cities in the Pacific Northwest, this gem is ideal for enjoying nature nuts that want to be in the heart of the action.
The variety of residents span the gamut. From artists and tech moguls to nature lovers and coffee connoisseurs. Everyone flocks to Seattle for its vibrant culture and stunning scenery.
It’s also one of the best cities in the Pacific Northwest for families, due to top-rated public schools, some of the best hospitals in country, and breathtaking libraries.
Likewise, the booming job market makes it easy to settle down long-term. However, the great job market tags along a high cost of living that rivals other major cities in the US.
With median home prices averaging out to $850,175, most folks relocate to Seattle once they’ve found a job that can cover the cost of living. Because anyway you slice it, Seattle is one of the best cities in the PNW and living here won’t come cheap.
Some challenges in Seattle include the ever-increasing traffic, high level of gentrification, and the wildfires that are prominent in the summer months.
But these obstacles are balanced with a diverse culinary scene, iconic landmarks like the Space Needle, and a bustling nightlife scene.
Depending on which neighborhood you choose to call home, you could wake up to views of snow-capped mountains, sailboats drifting across Puget Sound, or towering skyscrapers paired with bustling street life. So there’s something for everyone in the Emerald City.
- Population: 641,162
- Median home price: $539,179
- Average age: 37.5
Portland offers a lower cost of living than many other major US cities, which catches some folks off guard. Pacific Northwest cities are known for being expensive, and while Portland’s cost of living is trending upwards, it’s still way more affordable than Seattle.
Even as housing costs increase and the median home price sits at $539,179, tax-free shopping as well as an interest in sustainable practices helps to curb the increasing costs of this metropolitan area.
Portland has been referred to as the “Silicon Forest” and has a thriving startup and tech scene, which makes this one of the best cities in the Pacific Northwest for job-seekers.
If you’re not looking for a traditional career, Portland may still be a great place to call home. The slogan “Keep Portland Weird” encourages residents to march to the beat of their own drum and makes it one of the best cities in the PNW for unconventional personalities and lifestyles.
The streets of Portland are lined with food carts, art galleries, and microbreweries. The city lacks the pretension that neighboring cities have, without compromising a strong sense of culture.
As far as getting around the city, it’s very walkable and has energy-renewable buses and light rails that can help to cut down on pollution and traffic. So if you want to align your move with a greener lifestyle, Portland will be perfect for you!
Vancouver, British Columbia
- Population: 675,218
- Median home price: $484,933
- Average age: 42.2
Vancouver is one of the best places to live in the Pacific Northwest for those who are seeking cultural diversity and an active outdoor lifestyle in a major urban area.
Just north of the U.S. border, Vancouver’s downtown is perched on a peninsula. Since there isn’t much room for the city to expand, construction is almost entirely vertical, so there are several high rises for residential and commercial use throughout the entire city.
Weather is mild with cooler summers and rainy winters, which lends itself to a lush and green environment that many of the cities in the Pacific Northwest are known for.
A typical day in this Canadian city may consist of a morning hike, a healthy breakfast at a local deli or cafe, and a quick commute to work using the city’s public transportation system, Translink and SkyTrain, respectively.
Nightlife is quite limited due to strict licensing when it comes to safety and health laws, so most residents settle into a calm evening at home or enjoy a meal at one of the many culinary options in town.
Approximately a third of Vancouver’s population consists of Asian immigrants, and this cultural richness is reflected in the food and culture of the city.
You’ll notice a sushi restaurant on almost every single block, as well as other popular Asian cuisines, such as Thai, Korean, and Chinese. So if you’re into Asian cuisine, you may consider this one of the best places to live in the Pacific Northwest.
With some of the highest diversity rates, one of the lowest obesity rates, quick access to nature, and an affordable Median home price of $484,933, this gem of a city is great for families, health-conscious individuals, and retirees.
- Population: 237,466
- Median home price: $466,541
- Average age: 37.5
If you’re looking for a city that’s affordable as well as surrounded by stately mountains, it’d be a mistake to overlook Boise, Idaho. With a median home price of $466,541, this charming city is much more affordable than most of the Pacific Northwest cities mentioned on this list.
Reasonable cost of living aside, Boise is one of the best cities in the Pacific Northwest for those that want to fill their days with fun family activities centered around nature.
The city contains over 3,400 acres of parks and plenty of family-friendly attractions including the Zoo Farm, Boise Aquarium, and Idaho Botanical Garden.
Boise is also (noticeably) less dense than many of the other cities in the Pacific Northwest, which means you won’t feel beholden to the claustrophobic feeling of a city.
Locals love the 25-mile Boise River Greenbelt trail system, perfect for biking, jogging, or enjoying a family picnic.
Downtown Boise, also known as BoDo, is a great place to enjoy local events as well as check out up-and-coming restaurants. Artists exhibit their work on the first Thursday of each month, adding a splash of creativity to this growing city.
If you’re interested in Spanish culture, you’ll enjoy the several cooking classes, tapas restaurants, and handmade goods that can be found in town. This is largely due to the fact that about 15% of the population is Basque, hailing from the Northern region of Spain.
- Population: 229,071
- Median home price: $375,360
- Average age: 36.3
Spokane has seen an influx of newcomers relocating from the other cities in the Pacific Northwest. Most of these folks make the decision to move to the area for unparalleled access to nature (at an affordable cost).
This charming Pacific Northwest city can be found in the Eastern corner of Washington State. Once known as the smallest town to host the World’s fair, Spokane had a competitive edge back in the day that resulted in tons of development over the past several decades.
Most homes in this area are bungalows and cottages (many more than a century old!). If modern living is more your speed, you’ll be happy to learn that there’s plenty of townhouses, condos, and apartments available as well.
Parents who want an exceptional school system for their children will be happy to hear that Spokane has one of the best school districts, with an intimate ratio of 19 students to 1 teacher per classroom. Making this one of the best places to live in the Pacific Northwest for families with children.
There are plenty of outdoor activities that residents enjoy on a daily basis, including Manito Park, Riverfront Park, and the Nishinomiya Tsutakawa Japanese Garden.
You’ll probably need a car to get around the area, but the Spokane Transit Authority offers over 1,700 bus stops, making it easy to get around if you live in the downtown core.
5 Best Mid-Sized Cities in the Pacific Northwest
- Population: 219,205
- Median home price: $466,494
- Average age: 36
Tacoma, also known as Grit City, is a beautiful city that offers coastal living in the Pacific Northwest at a fraction of the price of nearby Seattle. Plenty of major corporations and industries have kept this mid-sized city thriving, even though it has a calm and residential atmosphere.
It’s easy to get around town by pairing the convenient Pierce Transit buses with the Link Light Rail. Those commuting into Seattle can use the Seattle Sounder commuter train as well.
Owning a car is helpful for longer distances or taking trips into the neighboring natural wonders. And speaking of nature, locals have access to the Dune Peninsula, Owen Beach, and Point Defiance Park. There are year-round nature-based programs that little ones and adults will love, making this location perfect for families.
There’s a large glass-blowing scene in Tacoma, and the city has a sizable budget for public art projects, so it’s one of the best cities in the Pacific Northwest for artists eager to grow their craft.
The median home price for Tacoma is $466,494 and has seen slight decreases in recent years, so it’s a great time to invest in the location.
- Population: 175,096
- Median home price: $464,521
- Average age: 35
Eugene is the 3rd largest city in Oregon and is 2 hours away from Portland. The city’s prime location to the Oregon Coast (one hour away) makes this one of the best places to live in the Pacific Northwest.
It’s one of the more prominent college towns and is home to the University of Oregon. The college population breathes fresh air into this dynamic region and the area is known for its liberal ideals, diverse population, and a love for the arts.
Eugene is well-known for Hayward Field, a venue that has been honored as the greatest outdoor running track in the U.S. Running is such a popular pastime in this town that Eugene is also known for being the birthplace of Nike.
Those who enjoy sporting events, a good beer, and small to midsize music and theater festivals will find a lot of entertainment in this city.
As with most college towns, it has a laid-back vibe and isn’t as built up as the other cities mentioned on this list of the best places to live in the Pacific Northwest.
The average cost of a home in the area is $464,521, and there’s plenty of affordable college-style lodging nearby as well.
- Population: 149,440
- Median home price: $1,335,698
- Average age: 37.6
Bellevue is located off of Lake Washington in the east side of king county. With a median home price of $1,335,698, this is one of the most expensive places to live in the Pacific Northwest.
But not without reason! With its booming job market, it’s possible for professionals and their families to find a well-paying gig in order to sustainably live in the area. (Very) slightly justifying the absurdly high home prices.
Retirees also find a lot to do in the city, with plenty of outdoor activities and attractions. Some popular nature spots include the Bellevue Downtown Park, Marymoor Park, Bellevue Botanical Garden, and Meydenbauer Bay Park.
Most people drive in Belleview, but there are ample transit options around town. Since the city shifts between an urban and suburban feel, only some areas are truly walkable, while others require a ride.
Parents love that this location has a higher safety rating than neighboring cities, making it one of the best cities in the Pacific Northwest for raising a family. Violent crimes are 70% lower than the rest of the U.S., helping residents sleep well in this affluent metropolis.
- Population: 102,059
- Median home price: $674,471
- Average age: 39.5
Bend is one of the fastest growing cities in the U.S. which is why it has a place on our list of the best cities in the Pacific Northwest.
It’s a dream come true for those who love to spend time outdoors, with a multitude of options for hiking, biking, and skiing through the natural areas. The Deschutes National Forest and the Cascade Mountain Range are a few of Bend’s surrounding attractions, and the Deschutes River is perfect for rafting, fishing, and kayaking.
Even when you’re in the city center, it’s easy to hop onto the river trail and enjoy a bit of serenity right in the middle of an urban area.
Bend previously had an older population of late-career couples, singles, and retirees. But with the recent flux of families and young adults looking to enjoy the brewery culture, nature, and burgeoning culinary scene, the demographics are beginning to shift.
The median home price is $674,471, which can be quite a bit for many people considering the size of the town. But those who can afford it or find a great job in town will enjoy access to nature, a friendly community, and numerous amenities year-round.
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- Population: 92,289
- Median home price: $621,528
- Average age: 32.9
The small but mighty city of Bellingham is the perfect location for remote workers who want to enjoy life while living in a picturesque city. There’s no corporate or personal income tax, which means entrepreneurs can focus on growing their businesses without worrying about looming tax bills.
The city is also near several major universities, including Bellingham Technical College and Western Washington University. This means that there are plenty of local cafes and bars that are easy to work from or meet up with friends.
Homes cost an average of $621,528 in this area, and the housing market is extremely competitive. On the positive side, there’s plenty of desirable neighborhoods in this city, so you can be flexible with your location and still find a great place to live.
Bellingham is near iconic nature locations such as the San Juan Islands, the North Cascades Mountains, and Mount Baker, so there’s plenty of activities for nature lovers just an hour or two away. Making this one of the best places to live in the Pacific Northwest for access to nature.
5 Best Small Cities in the Pacific Northwest
- Population: 74,822
- Median home price: $509,523
- Average age: 33.1
Most folks don’t realize that Montana is part of the Pacific Northwest, but it’s true. As such, we’re including one of the state’s great cities on this list of the best places to live in the Pacific Northwest.
Three rivers run through Missoula, creating the perfect atmosphere for outdoor lovers. The surrounding landscape is filled with national forests and parks that offer endless opportunities for camping, fishing, and other nature activities.
The verdant rolling mountains offer a peaceful view from almost anywhere in the city, and aren’t too far to access for even a quick getaway.
Farmers’ market fanatics will love Missoula’s mission to empower and support local agricultural communities. Markets are common and most residents grow at least a bit of their own food or spices at home.
Just north of the city, you can find the Helena, Clearwater, and Lolo National forests for a deeper dive into Montana’s vast beauty.
The community of Missoula has blue-collar underpinnings, which has led to a friendly, hardworking, and interdependent community. It’s a great place for roots if you want to know your neighbors and local business owners, or to build a close-knit community.
The cost of living is reasonable (for the Pacific Northwest, that is), with home prices average $509,523. However, due to the strong job market and a slow but steady flow of people relocating to the area, home prices are expected to rise.
- Population: 55,919
- Median home price: $500,595
- Average age: 37.7 years
The small and diverse city of Olympia is home to many local, family-run businesses. The town is family-friendly and a great place to consider for families looking to settle down in the PNW.
While Washington’s capital city is undoubtedly small, it sees an influx of foot traffic in the summer months when the weather is ideal and the town is in bloom with Cherry Blossoms.
The area is perfect for quickly getting away to the Cascades and Olympic mountains, with plenty of urban trails and parks in the city center as well for those wanting a breath of fresh air in town.
Water activities are popular and accessible in Olympia, including activities such as kayaking, swimming, and seal watching. Making this one of the best places to live in the PNW for water enthusiasts.
There are plenty of urban draws to this city as well, including mini-golfing, karaoke bars, skating rinks, theaters, and several indoor community events that families appreciate during long stints of rain.
It’s one of the best cities in the Pacific Northwest for enjoying the outdoors while still having plenty of options for entertainment within a walkable radius.
The average price of ownership in Olympia is $500,595, with reasonable rental rates for those who want to give this growing vibrant city a try.
- Population: 21,607
- Median home price: $542,481
- Average age: 45.2
For those who like urban areas with a suburban vibe, Ashland may be one of the best places to live in the Pacific Northwest. Families and older couples enjoy having plenty of space to enjoy in this small laid back city.
With an above-average livability score, this city has a good infrastructure and a low crime level, making residents feel safe. The average cost of a home in Ashland is $542,481 with variable and accessible rental rates available.
As with most other cities in the Pacific Northwest, there’s plenty of nature to enjoy. You can check out Crater Lake, Mt. Shasta, and the Redwoods easily from this location.
Locally, you can enjoy the Ashland Park System, which was designed by the architect of Golden Gate Park. Families, couples, and joggers can enjoy visiting over 20 parks that are interconnected by urban trails.
Southern Oregon University is located in Ashland, which provides the city with a “college town” energy and plenty of cultural amenities.
This includes the Oregon Shakespeare Festival, Ashland Independent Film Festival, and several farmers and artisan markets for residents to choose from throughout the year.
Port Townsend, Washington
- Population: 10,306
- Median home price: $592,888
- Average age: 55.9
Port Townsend is a charming coastal town in Washington State known for stately Victorian architecture and vast views of Puget Sound.
The location is well known for its artist community as well, so creatives will feel at home in Port Townsend.
Most residents in the city own their homes, which lends itself to the overall suburban energy. However, the homes are densely packed together, maintaining an urban feel as well.
Water Street is the primary strip in the downtown area, which is situated between the Port Townsend ferry terminal and Point Hudson. In this stretch, you’ll find boutiques, high-quality restaurants boasting fresh seafood, and cages.
There are plenty of public parks such as Pope Marine Park that are great for community gatherings and impromptu work breaks or picnics. This makes Port Townsend one of the best cities to live in the Pacific Northwest for social butterflies.
History buffs will love living in the area and the Jefferson County Historical Society can provide residents and visitors alike with plenty of educational excursions in the area.
The Saturday Farmers Market is a great way to meet locals, support the neighborhood’s economy, and enjoy weekend events.
Port Townsend is one of the best places to live in the Pacific Northwest for those who want to enjoy a local and close-knit economy of businesses and producers.
- Population: 9,003
- Median home price: $538,098
- Average age: 43.2
Nestled in the breathtaking Selkirk Mountains, there’s no denying that Sandpoint is one of the prettiest places to live in the Pacific Northwest.
The dreamy town runs along Lake Pend Oreille and has a quaint downtown that has a resort-like feel to it.
Despite its smaller size, it has a well-equipped and upscale economy that has led to the development of plenty of cute shops and notable restaurants.
Sandpoint’s median home price is $538,098, which sits just 2.8% above the national average.
The small city is quickly expanding and has seen home appreciation rise 8.9% in the past year.
The locals are overall very kind, with a few exceptions, as many residents are raising eyebrows watching the influx of transplants heading into town from California and other western locations.
However, it’s a generally friendly place that’s perfect for those who want a change of pace while still having several urban amenities.
It’s one of the best cities in the Pacific Northwest to watch, as I’m sure there will be a big amount of development paralleling the population rising in the upcoming years.
List of the Best Places to Live in the Pacific Northwest
In sum, here’s a list of the best places to live in the Pacific Northwest.
- Seattle, Washington
- Portland, Oregon
- Vancouver, British Columbia
- Boise, Idaho
- Spokane, Washington
- Tacoma, Washington
- Eugene, Oregon
- Bellevue, Washington
- Bend, Oregon
- Bellingham, Washington
- Missoula, Montana
- Olympia, Washington
- Ashland, Oregon
- Port Townsend, Washington
- Sandpoint, Idaho
Map of the Best Cities in the Pacific Northwest | Best PNW Cities
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