So what is the best city in The Evergreen State? Sorry, Seattle, but it looks like Issaquah has you beat. According to our study, here are the 10 cities in Washington:
How did Issaquah manage to crest the top of this list? What is Seattle doing at the bottom? Why are there two communities in the No. 4 spot? No, it’s not a typo. Keep reading to find out how we came up with this ranking and where each city excelled.
Finding Washington’s Finest
It is clear that Washington is beautiful—practically the entire state looks like a postcard. We also know that the people in Washington are laid-back and welcoming. For our study, however, we needed some solid, measurable data to determine just which cities were the best. After all, we wanted to take something subjective and settle the score once and for all. So we selected the following 10 criteria:
- Distance from five-star hiking
- Number of coffee shops per capita
- Number of seafood restaurants per capita
- Total amenities
- High school diploma attainment rate
- Commute time to work
- Average home value
- Median household income
- Crime rate
- Cost of living (100 is the national average)
Just like our other Big Deal Lists, we started our study of Washington with a list of the state’s 50 most populous cities and towns, and then ranked each with a score from one to 50 in each criteria, based on our research—the lower the number, the better.
As far as amenities go, we chose distance to five-star hiking, coffee shops per capita, and seafood restaurants per capita, as these three things are pretty good representations of a happy life in the Evergreen State. Then we used the total number of such amenities as well, just to keep things balanced for those cities with larger populations.
After we rated each city, we averaged the criteria together and gave each city an overall score. The lower the overall score was, the better each city ranked. From a complete list of how each of the 50 cities ranked, hop down to the end of this post. Or, keep reading to take a tour of each of Washington’s finest cities—see where they excelled in our criteria, what else they have going on, and why they really are the 10 best cities in the state.
Coming in at No. 1 is Issaquah, not only for having one of the cooler names on our list, but also for scoring well in almost all of our criteria. Issaquah is one of the best cities in Washington when it comes to hiking—it’s just over two miles away from some of the best trails in the area. It also has a ton of seafood restaurants and coffee shops per capita, making its overall rank in amenities pretty good. Of course, quantity doesn’t always mean quality, but it looks like Issaquah enjoys a lot of both, if seafood places like Jak’s Grill are any indication.
Folks in Issaquah also win when it comes to education, with a high school diploma attainment rate of 96 percent. This stellar education must aid these kids in the workforce later on, because Issaquah has one of the better median household incomes—about $84,001 per year.
No. 2 on our list is Bellevue, which is French for “beautiful view.” If you’ve ever been there, you know this is fitting.
Bellevue scores well in many of our criteria, but where it really shines is in its high median home price of $556,500 and in the total number of amenities. We’re not the only ones to notice how awesome Bellevue is. Over the past few years, it has been named one of the best places to live and launch a business, and the fourth best place to live in the country by CNN.
Just on the other side of Lake Washington from Seattle lies Kirkland, our No. 3 city. Kirkland won major points when it came to real estate—its median home value is $496,100 and with a median household income of $84,955 it seems like residents can certainly afford it. Kirkland also has a high school diploma attainment rate of 95 percent, which we’re willing to bet has something to do with the 54 coffee shops in the area, keeping the kids alert and studious. Or at least alert.
4. Mercer Island
Our No. 4 city—or, rather, our first No. 4 city—is Mercer Island. Mercer Island is known throughout the country as one of its most affluent cities, with a median household income of over $151,000 and an average home value over $895,800—but that’s probably because the folks in Mercer Island are smart.
Mercer Island came in at No. 1 for education, with a high school diploma attainment rate of 98 percent. To put that into perspective for you, that’s 15 percent higher than Washington’s average.
Folks in the 98040 zip code are more than just wealthy and well-educated, though; they’re also surrounded by some of the most beautiful nature in the area. Parks like the Luther Burbank Park, the Aubrey David Park, Pioneer Park, and, best of all Deane’s Children Park (aka the “Dragon Park”), cover the island, with beautiful mansions (like Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen’s) are dotted throughout.
Tying for No. 4 is the Washington state capital of Olympia—a city that couldn’t be more different than our other No. 4. Where Mercer Island has expensive homes and high salaries, Olympia has an average median income of $49,461, but a cost of living even with the national average, rather than Mercer’s 59 points above it. Olympia also ranked much better when it came to total amenities.
Fun fact: Musicians like Macklemore and Kurt Cobain wrote much of their music while living in Olympia, while other artists like Death Cab for Cutie, Hole, Rancid, and Bright Eyes all make references to the capital city in their songs.
Coming in at No. 6 on our list is Redmond. Just east of Seattle, Redmond may be best known as the home of Microsoft—also the area’s top employer—but it is so much more than computer software. After all, Nintendo of America is based in Redmond, too.
Of course, Redmond had to score well in our criteria to make this list, and where it really excelled was in its median household income of $88,194, its high school diploma attainment rate of 94 percent, and a relatively low commute time of just 23 minutes on average. This may be because companies like Microsoft, Nintendo, and AT&T Mobility have offices here, so residents don’t have to go far. Of course if they do, there is always the option of biking to work—after all, Redmond is the Biking Capital of the Northwest.
No. 7 on our list is Mukilteo. With a population of just over 20,000, Mukilteo is certainly the smallest on our top 10, but it is by no means lacking in amenities—especially in seafood, where it ranked No. 1 for restaurants per capita. Mukilteo also scored major points in education, with a high school diploma degree attainment rate of 97 percent. That’s 13 percent better than the state’s average. Residents here are also amongst the best paid in the state, with a median income of $91,683.
What do they do with all of that money? Well, parents may be spending it on schools. The city is home to one of the most costly to build high schools in the country, Kamiak High School. It’s no wonder Mukilteo ranked so well in education.
Bellingham comes in at No. 8 on our list for scoring well on its short commute time of just 19 minutes, in its number of total amenities, as well as its amenities per capita.
It doesn’t just have a lot of coffee shops and restaurants to choose from; as residents know, it has some of Washington’s finest. Just step into the quaint Caffe Adagio for a cup of joe or the cozy Oyster Creek Inn for some of the best seafood in the area, and Bellingham may just charm you into sticking around.
Residents of our No. 9 city, Seattle, will not be surprised to find the Rainy City on our list, due to its high ranking in amenities; they just might be surprised to find it toward the bottom. After all, Seattleites are a proud bunch and they sure do love their city (I know many). When it comes to cost of living and crime rate, though, Seattle just doesn’t quite measure up to the others higher up on our list.
The city more than makes up for this when it comes to, you guessed it, lots of coffee shops—and plenty of seafood restaurants (when, really, you could get by with just Mashiko, Etta’s, and Lark). It’s also just about 10 miles away from some great hiking, making it No. 1 when it comes to amenities.
What Richland lacks in variety of coffee shops and seafood restaurants, it more than makes up for with its relatively short average commute time of 20 minutes and its lower than average cost of living (10 points below the national average).
Richland also scored well with a crime rate three percent below the state’s average, and a pretty solid median household income of over $65,500, to boot
Written By: Natalie Gringson