Seattle Vs. San Francisco: Which Is the Best Place to Live?

Stacy Randall
by Stacy Randall

Are you looking for a new place to live? Or just a fun place to visit? Before you go searching, it’s good to know as much as you can about your options.

Seattle, WA, and San Francisco, CA may seem completely different, but they’re both liberal-leaning, nautical, west coast cities. It is much cheaper to live in Seattle than in San Francisco, and San Francisco has higher crime rates. However, both have higher living costs than the national average; Seattle’s is 72.3% higher, and San Francisco’s is 169% higher.

Only Oregon and a twelve-hour drive separate the two cities, and each place has different things to offer everyone. Therefore, it’s a good idea to learn more about each city before deciding where to move next.

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A Little More About Seattle, Washington

Seattle is a cornerstone of the Pacific Northwest. You can find a mix of all kinds of natural beauty here: mountains, bodies of water, and forests. You’ll also enjoy the luxuries and the hustle and bustle of the big city.

If you love sports, you’ll enjoy visiting the Mariners’ and Seahawks’ stadiums. Not to be forgotten, of course, is Seattle’s famous Space Needle. Seattle has a population of more than 750,000. Most of Seattle consists of individuals between 35 and 54, followed closely by individuals 25 to 34.

Seattle is a very ethnically diverse city made up of a majority of white and Asian residents. You’re also likely to encounter residents with German, Irish, Norwegian, and Italian ancestry. Most residents speak English, Spanish, or Chinese.

Less than half of the residents in Seattle consider themselves religious. Around 15% of religious residents are Catholic. About 62% of individuals in Seattle have a bachelor’s degree or more.

A Little More About San Francisco, California

San Francisco is known for being full of its own unique culture. You can enjoy much of the excitement California has to offer in this city, like the arts and natural beauty. Much of the city’s architecture is old, dating back to before World War II, which lets residents experience history every day.

San Francisco is the fourth largest city in all of California and is very densely-packed. However, its position on a peninsula can make living in San Francisco just a bit tricky. San Francisco has a population of over 880,000. The majority of its residents are between the ages of 25 and 54.

Much of San Francisco’s population is white, Asian, and Hispanic. Many residents are also of Italian, French, Irish, and German descent, making it very ethnically diverse. English, Chinese, and Spanish are the most popular languages spoken in the city.

Around 57% of the adult residents in San Francisco have bachelor’s degrees or more. Less than half of the population of San Francisco considers themselves religious. Of those who do, around 17% are Catholic, and approximately 5% are Methodist.

Seattle vs. San Francisco: Housing Costs

If you’re looking to move somewhere new, don’t do so without looking at local housing costs.

Cost of Homes in Seattle and San Francisco

Seattle is expensive to live in compared to the rest of the cities in Washington. Likewise, San Francisco is also costly compared to the rest of the cities in California. Both towns are expensive to live in compared to the rest of the United States.

If you plan to purchase a house in Seattle, prepare to spend somewhere in the $700,000 range. The average value of a home in Seattle is $789,023.

If you think a Seattle house is expensive, think again. The average value of a home in San Francisco is over one million dollars. You’ll spend somewhere around $1,173,000 on a San Franciscan home.

Both cities have over 300,000 homes and apartments within their limits. If you’re interested in moving to one or the other, there’ll be no shortage of places to live.

Cost to Rent in San Francisco and Seattle

If you’re looking to rent instead of buy, you’ll find that both Seattle and San Francisco have higher rent costs. In Seattle, the average cost of rent is $2,624, $800 higher than Washington’s average. San Francisco’s average rent cost is $3,216, which is higher than the average rent throughout California.

Winner: Seattle. If you’re looking to live in a place with cheaper rent, Seattle is the less expensive of the two. However, both cities are quite pricey when compared to national averages.

Seattle vs. San Francisco: Housing Types

Before moving somewhere new, you likely weigh whether to rent or buy. Both Seattle and San Francisco have homes a newcomer can rent or buy, though more rent in both cities.

In Seattle, you’ll find that more people rent than own their homes. 44.6% of Seattle homes have owners as compared to the 55.4% that people rent. The majority of the homes in Seattle are apartment complexes at 46.4%, followed closely by single-family homes. You’re also most likely to find one and two-bedroom houses among those available in Seattle.

In San Francisco, renters also outweigh owners. Over 60% of all the homes in San Francisco are rented, and over 47% of homes are apartment complexes. You’ll find more two-bedrooms than one-bedroom homes, but these are the most common types there.

Winner: Tied. Both Seattle and San Francisco have a higher proportion of renters to owners. Both cities also have more apartment complexes than homes. The most popular layout of houses in both cities is a one or two-bedroom.

Note: When choosing a destination, it will be more beneficial to weigh cost rather than home type. Tour some homes in both places before making a decision.

Seattle vs. San Francisco: Job Market

If you need a change of scenery and a change of job, Seattle and San Francisco can offer both. However, both cities have different job markets to which they cater.

Type of Workforce in Seattle and San Francisco

If you’re looking for a city with a majority white-collar workforce, these are the two cities for you. Seattle employs 91% of its workers in white-collar jobs. Similarly, San Francisco employs 90% of its workers in white-collar jobs.

If you work in tech, Seattle is a great place to be. Many more individuals in Seattle work with computers and math than the rest of the country. You can find a whopping 95% more individuals employed in these fields than the rest of the United States.

Even if you’re not tech-savvy, Seattle may still be the place for you. This city has a thriving community of artists, designers, and those employed in media. Like Seattle’s tech community, this artistic community employs more people than 90% of other places in the country.

San Francisco boasts the same numbers of those working in technology as Seattle compared to the rest of the country. It has the same numbers as far as artists go as well.

Most Popular Jobs in Seattle and San Francisco

Both Seattle and San Francisco have high numbers of individuals employed as managers and sales and office workers. San Francisco has slightly more employed in management, business, and finance than Seattle.

Seattle boasts high numbers of individuals employed in computer science and math. San Francisco has high numbers of individuals employed in sales jobs.

Around 7% of the workforce in Seattle works from home. This gives employees a bit more flexibility with their schedules.

Winner: It depends on which field you want to work in. San Francisco edges out Seattle in jobs in management, business, and finance. Seattle has more science and math jobs, whereas San Francisco has more sales jobs. Both have decent arts communities.

Both cities are great for career-starters and young professionals. Search job listings in your field in each area for more specific opportunities.

Seattle vs. San Francisco: Transit and Commute

When looking to move, it’s good to know what your options are to commute to work. If you don’t have a car, it can be essential to live in an area with a public transit system.

Both Seattle and San Francisco have public transit systems. Seattle has a bus system, light rail, and commuter rail. In contrast, San Francisco has trolleys, cable cars, ferries, buses, and trains.

Both Seattle and San Francisco are pedestrian-friendly, making a walkable commute possible. Seattle has a walkability score of 73.1 and ranks eighth in the country. San Francisco ranks fifth for walkability in the country.

Commuting in Seattle and San Francisco

The national average one-way commute time is around 26 minutes. Both Seattle and San Francisco exceed this commute time. Seattle’s average time is 27.5 minutes, whereas San Francisco’s is 33.92 minutes.

Nearly half of all individuals who commute in Seattle use their cars, with only about 21% using public transit. Roughly the same amount of people drive as use public transit in San Francisco: 34%.

Winner: San Francisco, especially if you like walking and using public transit. If you plan on driving to work, Seattle can offer you a shorter commute time in your car.

Seattle vs. San Francisco: Unemployment and Poverty

Both Seattle and San Francisco have relatively low unemployment rates. In Seattle, the unemployment rate is 2.9%, around 4% less than the national average. San Francisco features an unemployment rate of 2.4%.

In Seattle, around 11.8% of the population is living below the poverty line. In San Francisco, about 10.9% of the population is living below the poverty line.

Winner: San Francisco. It has a lower percentage of residents living below the poverty line and a lower unemployment rate.

Seattle vs. San Francisco: Crime Rates

Before moving to a new city, it’s essential to know the crime rates in that city. Different parts of different cities will provide different levels of safety compared to others.

Seattle has a relatively high crime rate with almost 4,500 annual violent crimes and nearly 35,000 property crimes. Your chances of becoming a victim of violent crime in Seattle are 1/168. The chances you will become a victim of property crime in Seattle are 1/22.

San Francisco has higher crime rates than Seattle, with around 6,000 annual violent crimes and about 50,000 property crimes. There is a 1/145 chance you’ll become a victim of a violent crime. Additionally, there is a 1/18 chance you’ll become a victim of a property crime in San Francisco.

Winner: Seattle is safer, but not by a wide margin.

Seattle vs. San Francisco: Schools

If you have children, it is important to consider school districts before you move somewhere new.

Seattle has 208 schools within its city limits, 133 of which are public. You can find one teacher for every 18 students in Seattle. The average school in Seattle spends $12,436 per student, which is higher than the national average.

There are 114 schools in San Francisco and 21 students per teacher. On average, San Francisco schools spend nearly $13,000 per student, which is almost $700 more than the national average.

Winner: If you’re looking for more options and a lower student: teacher ratio, Seattle is your winner. If you want a district that spends more money on student resources, San Francisco beats Seattle by several hundred dollars.

Seattle vs. San Francisco: Weather

Don’t move somewhere before you know exactly what kind of weather you’re getting yourself into. Make sure you know what kind of temperatures you’re willing to endure before going anywhere new.

Seattle is a wet place to live, with an average of 38 inches of rain and 5 inches of snow per year. You’ll experience precipitation of some kind around 155 days a year, and it will be wettest in spring. The temperature varies between the mid-70s and mid-30s, not getting too hot or too cold.

San Francisco sees a significantly lower level of precipitation, only about 25 inches per year. You’ll experience around 260 sunny days per year and no snow. Temperatures in San Francisco rarely reach above 70 and below 40.

Winner: If you prefer less extreme climates, San Francisco is the place to be. If you want a chance to experience snow, try Seattle.

Seattle vs. San Francisco: Tax Rates

Tax rates are a factor that contributes to the cost of living in cities. In San Francisco, both the sales tax and income tax rates are higher than the U.S. average. Its sales tax is 8.5%, and its income tax is 9.3%.

Seattle actually has no income tax, as Washington does not have an income tax in the state. However, Seattle’s sales tax is about 3% higher than the national average.

Winner: Seattle, for the simple fact, there’s no income tax. However, both have very high sales taxes.

Related Questions

How expensive is healthcare in each city?

Seattle’s healthcare is cheaper than the national average by nearly 20%. San Francisco has slightly less expensive healthcare than the national average. It is around 7% less expensive than the national average.If you’re looking for cheaper healthcare, go with Seattle. 

What is entertainment like in Seattle and San Francisco?

If you’re looking for a fun night out, Seattle has something to offer everyone. You can enjoy a Mariners or Seahawks game, go to the opera, or enjoy music at The Crocodile. There are several concert halls, movie theaters, and places to see plays and musicals.There’s no shortage of arts to enjoy in San Francisco. Check out the SF Jazz Center, the Castro Theatre, or Alamo Drafthouse Cinema for an evening of the arts. If you’re lucky, you might even catch the San Francisco Mime Troupe performing in Dolores Park. 

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Our Final Take

You’re going to find different things in both cities. If you love the cold climate of the North, Seattle is the place for you. But, if you want to live in a city with better public transit, San Francisco should be your go-to.

If low rent costs are the most important thing to you, Seattle will have more options in the $2,600 range. San Francisco will cost you almost $600 more than that per month.

You’ll find that Seattle has no income tax and is slightly safer than San Francisco. But, San Francisco spends a bit more money on resources for students.

If you’re looking to move somewhere new, weigh everything you now know about each place. Each city is wonderfully diverse and culturally rich, so no choice is the wrong choice.

Stacy Randall
Stacy Randall

Stacy Randall is a wife, mother, and freelance writer from NOLA that has always had a love for DIY projects, home organization, and making spaces beautiful. Together with her husband, she has been spending the last several years lovingly renovating her grandparent's former home, making it their own and learning a lot about life along the way.

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