Published Thursday, July 9, 2015 Updated on Monday, April 11, 2016


Living in South Sound Washington

There is a place nestled just an hour south of Seattle where residents have it all: views of a towering volcano, waters of the deepest blue, and towns so eclectic there is something to explore every weekend. It’s a region where true work-life balance is possible, where strong industry supports an even stronger community. Welcome to the benefits of urban living without the traffic and the hassles; welcome to the South Sound.

The many communities that comprise the South Sound are best seen from the air. From this vantage point, they are dots of civilization and jagged waterfront that curve southeast along Puget Sound. At the top of the curve is cozy Gig Harbor, followed by cultural hot-bed Tacoma. Continuing down, the landscape is dotted with a series of small towns and wild land, and finally, the political capital of the state, Olympia. Although each of these towns is very different, they all have several things in common. They feature incredible mountain and water views, affordable waterfront properties, and some of the strongest economies in the state. Let’s explore each in turn.

Gig Harbor: Although this town is one of the smallest in the region, it has more character than most cities twice its size. This is because life in Gig Harbor revolves around the marina and the local waters, where many residents spend their days kayaking, fishing, and leading boat tours. Most community events spotlight the area’s maritime history, as do local attractions such as the Harbor History Museum. But boating isn’t the only reason residents love Gig Harbor; from its incredible views of Mount Rainier, to its charming downtown and plethora of local businesses, the city is an incredible place to live.

Tacoma: Only minutes away from tiny Gig Harbor is the 3rd largest city in Washington. With nearly 200,000 residents, Tacoma could seem overwhelmingly large, but its division into 8 distinct neighborhoods makes it approachable and even homey. Each neighborhood has its own look and feel, and is well-connected to the busy downtown where business and art thrive. Indeed, Tacoma is both the business hub and the cultural center of the South Sound. From an international port, to broadway musicals, Tacoma has it all.

Olympia: For those wishing for big-city cultural attractions combined with the pleasures of small-town living, Olympia is a dream. During the legislative session, the area swells with government officials and lobbyists, as well as a corresponding diversity of new ideas, a variety of lectures and debates, and a catchy can-do attitude for making the world a better place. During these sessions, Olympia is teeming with life, and its quaint downtown comes alive with music, farmer’s markets, and community events. But don’t let the activity fool you; even with the extra residents, Olympia is the kind of place where people know their neighbors and greet everyone by name. Those lucky enough to live in Olympia year around get the best of big-city living in a little-city package.

Although the South Sound is filled with charming towns to explore and call home, it is also an excellent stepping-off point for adventures all around the Pacific Northwest. Washington’s largest city, Seattle, is only an hour’s drive north. Oregon is a short, 2-hour drive south. And to the east is Mount Rainier, home to some of the best hiking and camping in the region.

There are several ways to enjoy the arts in the South Sound. One of the best ways is to explore Tacoma’s Museum District, where 6 world-class museums wow patrons with exhibits, hands-on learning, and educational tours. One of the best things about the museum district is that it’s walkable. A full day of wandering can take you through the Tacoma Art Museum, Museum of Glass, Washington State History Museum, LeMay’s - American’s Car Museum, Foss Waterway Seaport, and the Children’s Museum of Tacoma. Extend your exploration into the evening to take advantage of the equally wonderful theater district.

South Sound residents also have access to a wide variety of outdoor activities. This is especially true in Gig Harbor, where boating is one of the most popular ways to explore the natural world. There’s no better way to spend a sunny day than bobbing on pristine water in a kayak, canoe, or fishing boat. Pack a picnic for a full-day adventure that is sure to become a tradition.

The South Sound has more to offer its residents than just excellent year around events and entertainment; the region also boats a great public school system. Gig Harbor is well-known for its exemplary district-wide Chinese language program. It was recently accepted into the Asia Society Confucius Classrooms Network, which is comprised of 100 prestigious programs across the nation. Several of Tacoma’s schools are also highly distinguished. In fact, in 2012 State Superintendent Randy Dorn named Tacoma Public Schools as the state’s first-ever and only district-wide Innovation Zone for education. This honor was in part due to the great influence of the district’s 2 specialty schools, the School of the Arts and the Science and Math Institute, as well as its 2 Montessori schools and a vigorous International Baccalaureate program. Schools in Olympia have been recognized for being “Green District Leaders” for their achievements in reducing environmental impact, increasing energy efficiency and providing a healthy school environment.

There are plenty of after-school learning opportunities for kids and their families in the South Sound, also. Two local favorites are the Children’s Museum of Tacoma and the Point Defiance Zoo & Aquarium. The museum does regular parents’ nights out and offers classes and camps for even the smallest learners. The zoo is well-known for its outdoor theater and daily animal presentations.

There are plenty of opportunities in Gig Harbor for learning outside of school, too. One of the best local attractions for kids is the Harbor History Museum, which offers a great array of hands-on children’s activities. At the museum, kids can row a boat around the bay via an interactive screen, hoist the sails of a kid-sized sailboat, and learn to tie knots. Locals love the family backpack check-out program, which supplies visitors with a variety of fun games and activities meant to enhance the museum experience. If the kids still have energy left after the Harbor History Museum, be sure to take them to Discovery Village, which is part cafe and part children’s museum. With food and fun play exhibits such as a market, train station, and pizza parlor, there is something for everyone in the family.