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Seattle is a lively and cosmopolitan city beautifully set in a dramatic backdrop of water, forests and mountains. The main downtown area sits on a narrow, hilly strip of land between Puget Sound to the west and Lake Washington to the east. Modern skyscrapers rise on high hills in the city center, with residential units lining the lower areas along the water and north of downtown.
To the south is the Pioneer Square Historic District, recalling 19th-century commerce, and beyond are the attractive, new stadiums of the Seattle Mariners baseball team and the Seahawks of the NFL. To the immediate north of downtown is the Seattle Center, site of the 1962 World’s Fair punctuated by the landmark Space Needle and the recently completed Experience Music Project (music history museum and performance complex). Seattle has one of the more culturally rich and fun downtowns, for work or play, found anywhere.
Most suburbs, some among the most attractive in the country, spread to the east across Lake Washington in such places as Bellevue, Redmond and Issaquah. The University of Washington, nicknamed “U-Dub,” has a large campus to the north of downtown and active sports and nightlife. Everett is a large suburban town to the north and site of an extensive Boeing manufacturing and test facility. To the south lie industrial areas and the less appealing suburbs of Renton, Kent and Auburn. The Seattle area goes on for miles in all directions and has a full complement of cultural, recreational, and transportation amenities. Local geography and policy have restrained growth to a degree, but have also aggravated the traffic and congestion problems at Lake Washington crossings towards the east and along most north-south corridors.
From its origins as a center of the forest products industry and as a gateway to Alaska and the Yukon to the north, Seattle has become an important regional center with banking, high-tech companies, and consumer products. It retains its original character as a bustling seaport while also exuding an intelligence and sophistication commensurate with its prominent role in the knowledge economy. Some of the largest employers include Microsoft (in Redmond to the northeast), Amazon.com (downtown), Starbucks (in a redeveloped industrial zone south of downtown), and Boeing’s labs and manufacturing facilities in Everett and also south of downtown near the airport. The economy is robust although the aerospace and technology sectors make it more cyclical than that of other large cities.
Cost of living and particularly housing have risen substantially in recent years. And the long stretches of cloudy days and rainy periods can be a significant downside. In general, the area represents the usual big-city tradeoffs—excellent cultural and educational resources, plenty to do and plenty of variety in exchange for high costs and crowding—but with the additional elements of natural beauty and climate to consider.
Along the edge of Puget Sound, the area is hilly and heavily forested where not completely built up. The Cascade Range rises to the east (with 14,000-foot Mount Rainier to the southeast) and the Olympic Mountains rise across the Sound to the west. The climate is mild and moist, the result of prevailing westerly winds off the Pacific and the shielding effect of the Cascade Range. Steady marine air keeps winters comparatively warm and summers cool. Temperature extremes are moderate and usually of short duration.
Normal summers have fewer than 3 days above 90 degrees. Summer nights are invariably cool. Daily winter highs are almost always above freezing. Winters are wet but as Seattle lies on the leeward side of the Olympic Mountains, the annual total of 36 inches makes it drier than many cities in the East and Midwest. Long stretches of cloudy days and rainy periods tend to occur in all seasons except summer. Only 20% of rainfall occurs during the April to September dry season. Seattle is far enough north to get winter snow, about 9 inches per year, but it seldom remains more than 2 days. Thunderstorms and severe weather are rare.