Last year, when I told my friends I’m heading to Seattle for a few months starting in October, their first reaction was ‘Why?! Winter is worst time of the year to be in Seattle!’ I’ve heard winters can be melancholy here, but despite everyone’s warnings, I booked my Airbnb and drove up from sunny California shortly after. Fast forward to present day, it’s been over four months here and I wanted to share how winter in Seattle has been like.
I did not intentionally plan to be in Seattle during the winter months. When I left San Francisco in June 2020 and started my nomadic journey across So Cal, I was so sure I’d be back in SF and going back into the office by the end of the year. Sadly, my hopeful optimism was quickly shattered by the surge of COVID in the summer. I also started to feel stagnant in So Cal after being in San Diego and LA for nearly three months, so I decided to give the PNW a try! I left the always sunny California weather for the vitamin D deficient Seattle gloom.
To be honest, I was a bit wary of the weather because I know I need sunshine and the outdoors to thrive. With winter fast approaching and the dreaded rainy season beginning, there were fewer opportunities for outdoor activities as snow began to blanket the mountains.
The rain was actually bearable and not nearly as terrible as I had thought it would be. Yes, it’s overcast most of the time, but it’s not like Seattle rains for months on end in the winter. The weather changes so quickly and it’s usually scattered showers followed by periods of dryness or sometimes direct sunshine. It made me appreciate sunny weather even more, which made me shift my schedule to optimize for sun. For example, I started to go on runs mid-day, or whenever the sun peeks out, instead of after work.
The more difficult things to get used to were the late sunrises and early sunsets. In December, the sun would rise at 8 am and set by 4:15 pm! That’s roughly 40 minutes shorter on both ends when compared to sunrise and sunset times in SF. Seeing sun in the winter in Seattle is already a rare sighting, and even more so with the few daylight hours we get. Thanks to my flexible work schedule, I made conscious efforts to take breaks during the day and go on extended walks, grab coffee, or run errands when it was still light out.
I was surprised by Seattle’s mild winters. Even though it’s the northernmost major city in the US, it almost never snows and the temperature rarely reaches the freezing point. Compared to New York City, Seattle’s winter is very comfortable and I never needed anything thicker than a light down jacket. I was even able to run outdoors all winter! In February, however, Seattle did experience a winter snowstorm that dropped over a foot of snow. The city’s infrastructure is definitely not built for snow, but nevertheless I enjoyed it!
With COVID restrictions across the city, I limited my activities to things that can be done outdoors or safely. I explored neighborhoods by foot, went to outdoor beer gardens, or window shopped to find inspiration. Some places I frequent are the REI store, Ballard downtown, Gas Works, or nearby local neighborhoods. Occasionally I’d venture across the bridge to Bellevue or Kirkland, but I never found them more exciting than Seattle.
One of the main reasons to visit Seattle is for the outdoors and national parks, but in the winter the mountains are covered in snow and hikes become difficult or even impossible. I regularly check the weather for lower elevation hikes and always have my bag ready for spontaneous weekend hikes. Some of my favorites so far are Mt Pilchuck Lookout Tower, Gold Creek Pond, and Franklin Falls. I’m looking forward to spring when the trails become more accessible!
I’ve also taken several day trips or overnight trips to towns outside of Seattle to experience the true PNW vibes. In December, I drove through snowy mountain passes to experience holiday spirits at the Bavarian town of Leavenworth. I also found several unique Airbnb stays on the Olympic Peninsula near Grapeview. One was a cozy tiny house loft with modern amenities and another one was an A-frame cabin in the woods with lakefront views and access to the host’s kayaks. I love how I was able to explore the PNW outside of Seattle.
It’s been over four months in the PNW and I’m really enjoying it! Despite everyone’s cautions and my wariness against winter in Seattle, I found the weather to be much better than I had expected and there to be plenty of activities to do. I’m quite proud of how much I’ve done in four months: gone on 4 hikes, visited North Cascades National Park, stayed at 5 Airbnbs including a tiny house and a cabin, and have thoroughly explored Seattle’s neighborhoods!
I extended my current Airbnb in Ballard until early April, at which time I’ll be venturing almost halfway across the country to Denver, Colorado. The plan is to explore the Colorado Rockies and national parks before returning to Seattle in June for the summer months. I’m stoked for Denver and can’t wait to enjoy summer in Seattle.