Located just across Lake Washington from the busy hub of Seattle is the area locals refer to as “The Eastside.” A collection of rapidly growing suburbs, the Eastside is full of family friendly neighborhoods, major employers, outdoor escapes, dining options and more, that make it an incredibly appealing place to live. In our opinion, the hardest part about choosing where to live on the Eastside, is having to choose at all! Each city offers it’s own unique flavor and feel, and our hope is that our three part “Eastside Cities Comparison” series will offer a comprehensive resource to assist potential new residents in learning more about the Eastside as a whole, and feel confident in selecting a city best suited for them to call home.
As part one in the series, this article is meant to provide a high level overview of the most common considerations one might make when considering an area for relocation. In it, we’ll provide a snapshot on everything from area climate, major employers, local school districts, and more. Please note that in addition to facts collected, we also offer our own unique opinions in this write-up, and any information presented as such should be taken as that.
Part two in the series, serves as a helpful “at-a-glance” guide to the fact-based data that those looking to relocate to the Eastside may be interested in. The third and final installation takes a deeper dive into the pros, cons, major attractions, and more, of each major Eastside city.
Combined, we have lived in Bellevue, Sammamish, Carnation and Issaquah, and have spent over 30 years as residents on the Eastside. We hope that sharing our experience with you, will help you make a more confident decision to relocate! If you notice information missing from the article that would be helpful for someone new to the area, drop us a line and let us know, and we’ll work on adding it in.
Table of Contents
Use the following links to jump to a section of interest, or scroll on to check out the entire article!
- Employers & Income
- Getting Around (Transportation)
- Outdoor Recreation
- Arts & Culture
- Shopping, Dining & Nightlife
- Family Life
Where is the Eastside?
The suburbs directly East of Seattle and Lake Washington, collectively known to locals as “the Eastside,” have varying definitions in regards to which cities comprise the region. Five cities make up the central hub – Bellevue, Kirkland, Redmond, Sammamish, and Issaquah. Surrounding areas including Mercer Island, Newcastle, Woodinville, Bothell, and the greater Snoqualmie Valley, would be considered by many to be extensions of the Eastside region as well. For purposes of this series, we focus on information primarily about the five central hub cities and Woodinville.
An Overview of Seattle’s Eastside
Over the past several decades, the Eastside has undergone a tremendous transformation. As new major employers have taken root and grown in each of the cities that make up the Eastside, so have the housing, amenities, and services offered in and by each of the cities. Originally logging and mining towns that expanded into farming centers, then slowly transformed into a collection of “bedroom communities” for those working in Seattle, the Eastside is now a major technology center and home to the fifth largest city in Washington.
As a result of the growth is a rapidly expanding dining scene, growing line-up of community events, expansion of services and recreational activities, and more. In contrast to the positive outsomes of the Eastside’s growth are the challenges one would expect of a collection of cities in what might be called their “adolescent years” – high traffic due to outdated transportation plans and lack of affordable housing to name a couple. The growing pains associated with these issues seem to be top of mind for the local city governments and partners who are actively working towards solutions.
The Eastside is also an incredibly affluent area. As a whole, it offers some of the lowest crime rates, best school districts, and most well kept neighborhoods, roads, and downtown city centers in our state. Along with this affluence however comes a very high, and rising, cost of living. Like other coastal areas with tech-heavy employment, these costs can create a challenge, particularly for those that may value home ownership over renting.
In parts two and three of our series, we’ll go more in-depth into the individual descriptions and data behind each of the major Eastside cities, but below is a short summary of what each of the six cities focused on in this article are known for:
- Woodinville: Located in the heart of the Sammamish River Valley, Woodinville is known for being a monumental part of Washington’s wine country with over 100 wineries and tasting rooms. Scenic farmland, breweries, and bike trails are also abundant in Woodinville.
- Kirkland: This gorgeous town situated on the East shore of Lake Washington stakes claim as the Eastside’s “waterfront destination.” It’s lakeside downtown core offers boutiques, galleries, dining and more.
- Bellevue: The largest of the Eastside cities, Bellevue offers the most significant downtown skyline, high-end shopping and dining, as well as Lake Washington access and the third largest institution of higher education in the state.
- Redmond: Known worldwide as the home of Microsoft, Redmond is a budding tech town with an evolving downtown core and plenty of options for outdoor recreation. King County’s local Marymoor Park is a main attraction, serving as home to an incredible line-up of outdoor summer concerts, sports tournaments, and basecamp for many running and cycling events.
- Sammamish: A city of trees, Sammamish serves primarily as a residential area for those that work on the Eastside and in Seattle. Being that it is on a plateau without direct freeway access, most visits to Sammamish are by those that live there or are exploring the city’s gorgeous parks and trails.
- Issaquah: The perfect basecamp to outdoor adventure, Issaquah sits right at the base of the Issaquah Alps and Cascade Mountains, and is home to Lake Sammamish State Park, a regional haven for water activities and beachfront access.
Now that you are familiarized with the location and some general information about the Eastside, read on to find out what makes the Eastside an amazing place to live, and some things you may want to be aware of before potentially making your move.
Even as a resident of over 30 years, it is still impossible to take for granted the amazing landscape that surrounds the Eastside. Each of our Eastside cities offer easy access to lakes, mountains, parks and trails. Overall, while the communities have seen rapid development that has outpaced the road and school infrastructure, our observation is that there has been a priority placed on maintaining a large amount of tree density, nature preserves, and open spaces throughout the region.
Along the shore of Lake Sammamish and throughout the Sammamish River Valley and Snoqualmie Valley you will find flat terrain and farmlands. Outside of that, rolling hills, plateaus and higher peaks offer a variety of views and elevation.
Climate of the Eastside
Despite the Seattle area’s reputation for being one of the rainiest parts of the country, people are flocking to the area like never before. So what is the data behind the reputation, and why do people continue to rave about the area regardless? Let’s take a look. According to Sperling’s Best Places, the US average annual rainfall is 38 inches, while Bellevue’s is 42 inches, so not a huge difference. Average days of precipitation for the US is 106 days per year, while Bellevue’s is 160 (yikes). So while the amount of rain is not a monumental difference, being spread out over so many more days, and accompanied by frequent overcast clouds, does admittedly make it feel like a huge difference. For additional comparison however, days of rain is actually less than other large US cities including Buffallo, Portland, Cleveland and Pittsburgh (based on averages between 1981-2010), making Seattle’s rainy reputation somewhat of just that, a “reputation.” Despite the rainfall that gives Western Washington it’s lush green environment, there is a lot to love about the weather here, as you’ll see.
In our opinion, one of the most appealing parts of living on the Eastside is the experience of all four seasons, without any of which being too extreme. In Western Washington, summer heat rarely hits much above 80 and winter nights don’t often get below freezing. Let’s talk through what to expect out of each of the four seasons. Across the Eastside you’ll see generally the same weather patterns. Variations exist in the higher elevation areas that may see a bit more snow during a winter storm, but other than that variation will be minimal.
Summer: While the adage is that true summer weather doesn’t start in the Pacific Northwest until after the 4th of July, you’ll see weather start transitioning to summer sun and highs in the 70’s around June. Even in July and August heat is tolerable and rarely reaches over 80. As such, most homes are not equipped with air-conditioning units, if that is any indicator of the moderate nature of our summers. Humidity is also a non-issue. It wasn’t until traveling to the East Coast during summer for the first time that I realized I had never ACTUALLY experienced humidity. Bugs are *almost* a non-issue as well. In wetter areas (lakeside, marshes) and in early summer you are bound to encounter the occasional mosquitoes if you spend any time outdoors, but for the most part they are not abundant. During the summer we get a pretty decent dry streak, but expect a couple random rainy summer days. Come September, the slightly cooler weather starts to roll in as things transition to Fall.
Fall: Arguably the most beautiful time of year in the Pacific Northwest, as September turns to October the colors of nature change. Cool foggy mornings lead to warmer sweater-weather afternoons. The mix of deciduous and evergreen trees make for a beautiful backdrop to you commute or outdoor adventure.
As November rolls around we start to see the transition to the wetter months ahead, but you can still get some beautiful crisp Autumn days sprinkled in throughout the month. While there have been years where a small storm or flurry of snow arrived for Thanksgiving, for the most part, the colder winter weather really sets in come December.
Winter: With December comes winter, and with winter comes the wettest and darkest months of the year in Western Washington. The marine layer created off the pacific ocean is most apparent in the winter and spring months when overcast rules the sky. January and February tend to be the most challenging months where residents become a bit stir-crazy for some sun and heat. Our advice: embrace winter outdoor recreation, find yourself some indoor hobbies, and if able, book a warm weather vacation during this time and you’ll be just fine. Though the winters can be wet, one silver lining is that relative to areas that receive constant and heavy winter snow, the winter weather rarely impacts the ability to get outdoors, drive safely, etc.
Over the course of winter expect to get one, maybe two, small snow storms. Seattle receives much criticism to it’s “overreaction” to snow, but given that it is not normal for the area to get large snowfalls and especially not frequently throughout the season, our observation would be that infrastructure, and city operations and supplies, are far less equipped than places such as the mid-west where large amounts of snow are normal all winter long. As such, with even a few inches of snow the news goes wild and traffic, schools, and more may be affected.
Spring: As March arrives the weather forecaster might as well just flip a coin. March and April for that matter can be a months of mixed emotion. One day you may receive weather previewing that of summer, while the next be back-stepping to down coats and more rain.
As you can expect, Spring is when local plant life starts to grow and again appear new. March brings flurries of cherry blossoms, leaves start to return to the trees, and local wildlife starts to emerge. The spring weather may be unpredictable, but dress in layers and you’ll be prepared to head outside and enjoy plenty to go see and do.
If living in a diverse, progressive area is a priority for you, you’ll find yourself right at home on the Eastside. Vibes of the area tend to be relatively liberal and laid back, but with the hustle and bustle of a very corporate town and culture. There is a vibrant atmosphere around large and small community gatherings, as you’ll read about in our events section below
The high volume of new residents means there are constantly plenty of people starting from scratch looking to make new social connections in the area. As such, there are very active local meetup and facebook groups dedicated to connecting those living in the same city or with the same hobbies. Despite the running reputation of the greater Seattle area as being home to the “Seattle Freeze” (a community that gives the cold shoulder, or does not feel the most welcoming), we have found making relationships here to be a non-issue.
For us, as we’ve evolved through various phases of life, so have our friendship circles and the people we spend the most time with. As adults living in the area, many of our social connections have been formed with coworkers. We have also formed community through faith groups, our hobbies, and life as parents. All this to say, if you’re looking for community, and willing to put even a small amount of effort in to find it, you will find what you seek. Even as long-time residents, many of our closest friendships are with those that have recently moved here, and that we have made in the past five years, so don’t let “the freeze” be a fear factor that deters you from moving to the Eastside.
Housing on the Eastside
Of all the things that may discourage someone from moving to Western Washington, housing costs are sure to be one of the most significant. While Seattle and surrounding areas have some of the highest minimum wages and full-time salaries in the country at time of publishing, they also have a high cost of living to accompany the high pay.
Average home and rent prices have recently seen rates at 2.5x plus that of the national averages and still trending upwards, though we have yet to see what effects the coronavirus crisis may have on housing in the area. If you’re willing to spend some time looking, and are flexible in what area or size of housing you are looking for, there are definitely ways to live on the Eastside for less. At the end of the day, housing cost is high for a variety of reasons (growing population, low housing inventory, desirable communities, high paying employers) BUT it is an absolutely awesome place to live, it is just a matter of determining if that cost is worthwhile and sustainable for you. Affordable housing is definitely a constant conversation of leadership of the Eastside cities, and hopefully will be proactively addressed in coming years.
Eastside Employers and Income Levels
A vast amount of large employers have Eastside headquarters or office buildings, a few being Amazon, Facebook, Microsoft, T-Mobile, Costco Corporate, and SanMar. Other large employers are the City governments, local medical providers (three major hospitals), school districts, and service/hospitality industries. In general, pay in the Greater Seattle area is higher than nationwide averages, but as mentioned, so is cost of living. Before accepting a new position, we do recommend doing a bit of housing research, and negotiating relocation support when able.
Getting Around the Eastside
As previously mentioned, transportation is one of the pain points of the local area. That being said, it doesn’t HAVE to be for you, and there are some major “pros” to the transportation set-up of the Eastside as well.
A significant amount of the transportation around the area is done so via two main Interstates and a State Route. Running West to East and vice versa is Interstate 90 (I-90) and State Route 520 (SR-520). I-90 begins in South Downtown Seattle, and heads East through Mercer Island and Bellevue, then on to Issaquah, Snoqualmie Pass and beyond. It actually runs all the way across the US! SR-520 begins in North Seattle near the University of Washington, and heads East through Bellevue and on to Redmond. Running North to South and vice versa is Interstate 405 (I-405). I-405 begins in the South end in Tukwilla, and ends in the North in Lynwood. Along the way it connects the Eastside cities of Bellevue, Kirkland, and Bothell. Both I-90 and SR-520 intersect I-405 as they pass through Bellevue. These three main roads have become increasingly congested, particularly due to the volume of commuters traveling about the Eastside and Greater Seattle on a daily basis. Both I-405 and SR-520 have instituted tolls/fee based lanes in recent years.
Helping alleviate some of the traffic congestion in the area are the two main public transportation agencies that serve the region: King County Metro and Sound Transit. Offering mass transportation via bus lines, vanpools and more, these agencies are highly utilized by Eastside locals, especially commuters and students.
Just on the horizon is the most significant improvement to transportation on the Eastside in recent history: the Sound Transit East Link Light Rail. The two Eastside lines that will make up “East Link” are a part of a greater 112 mile network of light rails around the greater Seattle area that will offer traffic-free mass transit commutes. The East Link will connect Downtown Seattle to Mercer Island, Bellevue and Redmond, and is slated to be operational in 2023.
Aside from motor vehicle transportation, a pretty comprehensive paved bicycle trail system exists connecting Issaquah to Bellevue via the I-90 Trail (Mountains to Sound Greenway). This route is a combination of paved bike-only trails and bike lanes. East of Issaquah the trail is a mix of surfaces eventually turning to only gravel once you make it out to the Snoqualmie/North Bend area.
You will also find the Eastlake Sammamish Trail that starts in Issaquah and takes you to Redmond. This trail follows and old rail grade along the shore of Lake Sammamish. There is still a few miles of gravel at time of publishing, but there are plans to pave the entire trail currently in the works. This trail flows right into the Sammamish River Trail which will take you from Redmond to the North where it passes through Woodinville and Bothell, turns into the Burke-Gilman Trail, and finally takes you around Lake Washington and into Seattle. These trails provide great routes for alternative transportation for many in the area.
In regards to air travel, one major “pro” of living on the Eastside is access to the Seattle-Tacoma (or “Sea-Tac”) International Airport that is a short distance away, and being an international airport offers a plethora of flight options.
Another one of the top reasons many families specifically choose the Eastside to reside, are the undeniable education options and quality.
Some of the top rated school districts not just in the state, but the entire country are located on the Eastside. The award-winning Lake Washington School District serves Sammamish, Redmond, Kirkland, Bellevue and Woodinville. Consistently top-rated Mercer Island, Issaquah, and Bellevue School Districts serve their respective communities.
In addition to the top ranked Public Schools in the area, there is also a plethora of Private School options – from faith based institutions, to tech-focused STEM schools. Charter and alternative schools abound, as well as lively homeschooling communities and co-ops.
Higher Education options on the Eastside include Bellevue College, Lake Washington Technical College, Digipen Institute of Technology, Northwest University, University of Washington Bothell Campus and more. The Eastside also offers easy bus access to Seattle’s University of Washington campus, as well as Seattle University and Seattle Pacific University.
In summary, if quality and options for education of all ages are a priority, the Eastside makes for a smart choice.
One of the biggest draws for visitors, that residents get to enjoy year-round, is the amazing access to and abundance of local outdoor recreation. With opportunities to get outside year-round there is no shortage of ways to get or stay active no matter the month.
In summer you’ll find that Lake Washington and Lake Sammamish offer an abundance of motorized and non-motorized water sport activities, and our smaller lakes such as Beaver or Pine Lake in Sammamish are the perfect spot for an open water swim or a stand-up paddle boarding session. The Snoqualmie, Tolt, and other Rivers offer places to float, fish and explore.
Come Fall you’ll experience peak hiking season in the Cascades and surrounding foothills, and beautiful Fall colors to accompany an on or off-road bike ride. In the winter months, Snoqualmie Pass (about 30 minutes East of Issaquah) offers snowboarding, skiing, snow-tubing and other winter sport opportunities.
With Spring starts the unpredictable but often gorgeous weather and spring blooms, as well as a comprehensive schedule of outdoor endurance events such as running races, organized bike tours, and more.
So, if you enjoy any or all of the following, : hiking, running, biking, swimming, kayaking, paddle boarding, fishing, golfing, (lazing on the beach?), then be sure to add the Eastside to your list of places for potential new residence.
From festivals to food trucks, parades to wine walks, the annual line-up of events big and small are a highlight of life on the Eastside. While there is no large indoor venue that will bring “headliner bands” or stadium that National sports teams call home, those things can be found just a short bus ride away in Downtown Seattle. What the Eastside does offer however, is a plethora of options for those that love a classic summer festival, outdoor concerts, year-round athletic endurance events, Holiday festivities and more.
Just a few of the seasonal highlights include:
Winter: During Winter, Downtown Bellevue is a holiday themed hub with a magical display of lights presented at the Bellevue Botanical Gardens and Snowflake Lane, a nightly holiday parade complete with fake “snow” that shuts down part of Bellevue Way each evening at 7PM. In Redmond, the annual Redmond Lights event takes attendees on a luminary walk to experience lights, live music and activities in downtown Redmond, and local shopping center Redmond Town Center hosts a carousel, train rides and other winter fun.
Spring: The unpredictable weather of spring can bring both gorgeous sunny skies, but also surprise rain showers, that makes hosting outdoor events quite unpredictable, and hence brings the slowest season for events on the eastside. Early on in the Spring Redmond’s Festival of Color brings a vibrant cultural celebration to downtown Redmond, and heading into May Cascade Bike Club hosts the Flying Wheel – a variety of bike tour distances that explore the gorgeous Snoqualmie Valley, and start and end at Redmond’s Marymoor Park. Rounding out the end of Spring, every Father’s Day weekend the Washington Brewers Festival brings an all-ages outdoor brew fest to Redmond’s Marymoor Park to experience over 100 microbreweries (for those 21+) and food trucks, live music, and a kids’ inflatable play zone.
Summer: Summer is by far the most active time for events on the Eastside. Each city has their own local versions of small outdoor offerings such as movies or concerts in the park. Some of the larger events include: Bellevue Arts Fair, Redmond Derby Days, and Kirkland SummerFest. Woodinville’s Chateau St. Michelle Winery hosts big-name outdoor concerts as does Redmond’s Marymoor Park. Those looking for low key music, food trucks and activities on a smaller scale enjoy attending one of the Eastside’s many local Farmers Markets, while the athletically inclined gravitate towards the many half marathons and bike events or the Eastside Triathlon held at Lake Sammamish State Park.
Fall: Issaquah’s Salmon Days, one of the largest festivals on the Eastside, ushers in Fall with nostalgic fun such as a carnival, parade, fair food, along with beer gardens and live music for the 21+ crowd. For the Fashion Forward, Bellevue’s Fashion Week brings the best of fall fashion to life on the runways of the Bellevue Collection.
Arts and Culture
Those looking to experience the arts and cultural activities on the Eastside will find a welcoming, growing community of organizations that encourage and support these efforts.
Across the Eastside cities you’ll find a wonderful variety of outdoor public art, commissioned installations, and government funded support for programs including artistic grant opportunities and public calls for art. A handful of non-profit organizations like VALA Eastside, whose mission is to create non-traditional venues for artists, and Centro Cultural Mexicano and Vedic Cultural Center do amazing work to advance the artistic and cultural representation in our communities as well.
Many of the opportunities to experience art in the community are tied to the various events (see above section) however, in addition to the outdoor concerts, plays and performances that take place during summer, performing arts thrive year-round indoors at the Kirkland Performing Arts Center, Bellevue’s Meydenbauer Center, and Village Theater in Issaquah.
For those that prefer a low-key art viewing experience, numerous galleries are scattered throughout Kirkland, Issaquah, and Bellevue, and the Bellevue Arts Museum offers a variety of rotating exhibitions.
Shopping, Dining, and Nightlife
The Eastside dining scene has, and is, expanding rapidly. Downtown Bellevue offers a fine-dining hub, while the surrounding Eastside cities have gone from fairly “vanilla” offerings to include far more cultural cuisine, unique pop-ups, food truck venues, and foodie destinations. Check out our Eat + Drink section of our website for some great ideas for Eastside dining choices.
While each Eastside city has it own respective collections of boutique shops, for those looking for larger central shopping centers the Eastside mecca of the Bellevue Collection, encompassing Bellevue Square, Bellevue Place, and Lincoln Center, has over 200 shops and 50 restaurants all within a few block radius in Downtown Bellevue. Those looking for unique outdoor shopping experiences will love the boutique shops at Issaquah’s historic Gilman Village, or Redmond Town Center.
Perhaps where some might say the Eastside falls short, is for those looking for a vast array of nightlife options. Those looking for a big-city club scene would be best served by hopping an Uber to Seattle. However, if couture cocktails, comedy clubs, or a swanky bowling experience is your thing check out Downtown Bellevue in the evening. The Kirkland waterfront also appeals to a younger crowd with a handful of live music and DJ dance floor options. If dancing and cocktails is not your vibe, and a simple brew will do, there’s enough breweries to keep you busy for quite sometime (over 20 to be exact). Wine lovers will find that the Woodinville Wine Country offers low-key evening activities and plenty of opportunities for imbibing entertainment.
As one would surmise based on the incredible education system, outdoor recreation opportunities, and lively events line-up, the Eastside makes an incredible location to raise a family.
Aside from what has already been mentioned, some of the other things that make family life wonderful on the Eastside include an incredible local library system, great network of community centers, YMCAs, and sports organizations, and plenty of opportunities for art, music, STEM, and other enrichment activities if desired.
Top of the line healthcare options and providers and a multitude of religious organizations provide important support systems to serve local families as well.
So, what do you think? We’re a bit biased but, we think you’ll love it here on the Eastside! We’re always happy to answer questions and help direct you to resources we’ve found helpful over the years. Just drop us a line and let us know how we can help! See you on the Eastside.