Less a neighborhood, and more of a playground, the University District revolves around the University of Washington and its many dependents. The area’s main artery is University Way, which is lined with bars, restaurants, boutiques, bookstores, tattoo parlors, cafes, and a gargoyle statuary, all essential for the modern day student. Bordered by Lake Union on the south side and Ravenna-Cowen Park on the north, it is easy to find relief from college life, whether you’re living it, or yelling at it to be quiet. Go Dawgs!
University District, Seattle Data : Neighborhoods & Travel – Score out of 100
University District, Seattle Reviews
Finally, A Neighborhood for College Students
The U-District is a bunch of student housing packed around the University of Washington.
The heart of this autonomous college community is The Ave (or University Way). The Ave is a stretch of, well, establishments you’d expect to be the heart of a neighborhood devoted to college students. Walking the entire Ave will result in multiple opportunities to buy beefy burgers, authentic Pho, cheap pizza, every imaginable flavor of bubble tea, amazing Thai food, and coffee (lots and lots of coffee).
The downside? It’s hectic and sketchy. Which isn’t a downside for most college students.
Expensive versions of all these dishes as well as high end shopping are available in U-Village which is a reasonable walk away.
If F. Scott Fitzgerald wrote a novel about Seattle, it would probably be set in the juxtaposing spires and dives of the U-District.
It’s a neighborhood for college students.
It’s a neighborhood for college students.
Not Your Average University District…
I came to Seattle from Dallas to write my thesis and hopefully to find some inspiration while finishing my MA in anthropology. Naturally, reviews about the unique cultural nuances of the University District in north Seattle piqued my curiosity, so there I found myself in explore mode soon after.
The University District is quite diverse and distinct next to the other major neighborhoods of Seattle. Unlike the quirky neighborhood of Fremont, The U-district’s counter-culture is not necessarily cultivated and contrived, but rather a natural, rare gem. With the university just around the corner, you might expect to find sorority garb and sports references adorning he neighborhood, but not here. The university always seems miles away in the University District of Seattle.
Walking down “The Ave” (as the locals call it) you’ll find various ethnic foods, unique vintage shops, a store filled with gargoyle paraphernalia, a punk rock Irish pub, a few historic small theatres, cozy (non-elitist) coffee shops, and even an American Apparel. On top of the diverse attractions, you are likely to see a 21st century Beatnik, a bit of très chic, and a soccer mom within 10 feet of each other. You literally can’t escape the oddities! Also, if you are Lebanese (or simply a lover of the cuisine), you won’t find much in Seattle, but Samir’s is about as authentic and delicious as it gets.
If you drive in, then try to find parking OFF of University Way (unless your greatest virtue is patience), but bear in mind that the buses are abundant and can even provide a nice, easy, scenic journey from downtown.
So, those are a few of my favorite things, but there’s a chink in any armor. It can be quite dangerous at night and unfortunately, like other neighborhoods in Seattle, many of the people in the neighborhood do not have homes. The sights and sounds of soup kitchens and requests for change can be dismal. The upside to that situation is that of the cities I have dwelled, Seattle has the courage and the drive to solve the homeless problem. It’s quite remarkable how dedicated various organizations and the city itself are to the cause.
I finished my thesis and moved to Fremont, but the anthropologist in me still misses the area and regularly hops on a bus to get my feel of the cultural sundries that enrich the U-district.
The University District: A Giant Funhouse Mirror
It’s odd to name a neighborhood after its primary institution. The University of Washington already has a campus, a library, student housing, and various halls (with alumni pictures!), so why is an entire neighborhood additionally necessary? Because students, in the heyday of their life, need a carnival-like atmosphere to pretend they are adults. Imagine a hipster Disneyworld, where instead of tokens, they take your student card.
The University District has all the staples necessary to student life: bars, cafes, cheap terrible pizza, and a gargoyle statuary. At its center is University Way, which locals call “The Ave,” and which foreigners properly call University Way. It is a highly concentrated strip of various shops and restaurants, frequented mainly by three types of people: students, panhandlers, and those trying to recapture their youth. None of these demographics acknowledge the fourth demographic, the ubiquitous flyer/clipboard people, who solicit your attention with pity and eye contact.
Among the various cheap eats are teriyaki, Hawaiian barbeque, substances resembling pizza (I will not leave this issue alone), Mexican food, burgers, and a plethora of cafes. You can also get a
seven dollar hot dog at Po Dog. Once you have eaten, you will likely browse but not buy anything at the various used bookstores, vintage clothing shops, tattoo parlors, and music dispensaries. You can try to merely browse at the tanning salon, but it’s tough.
As you make your way north on the street, the activity and bustle seem to peter out, almost as a metaphor for aging. The shops become less concentrated, and the foot traffic negligible, and this, if anything, seems to be the slight problem with the area. That beyond the prime real estate, the University District is a fairly uneven neighborhood, sometimes rundown, occasionally unsafe, and often not quite fulfilling greater needs.
That is not to say it lacks highlights. On Roosevelt, a few blocks off the main strip, is Scarecrow video, which with its great selection, cute little staff picks, and proximity to a takeout wing place, is a bastion of procrastination. A little south of 45th is Northlake Tavern, whose deep dish pizza is a marvel of density and physics. If you have legs or a car, you may head to Ravenna Park, which feels like a miniature forest, and if you want to see what adulthood is like, you may head to University Village, a shopping complex which has absolutely no connection to villages.
One of the first questions people often ask about a neighborhood is how easy it is to get out of it (at least this is what I ask). Here there is no worry, as there are various buses leaving for every major part of the city, not to mention the adjacent highway 5, which echoes throughout the neighborhood like a giant on a treadmill.
Among the various neighborhoods to live in, this is hardly the worst of them (though it is the cheapest). The question is this: are you a student? No, no, I realize we are all students of the world, but I am asking if you are enrolled at an accredited institution. If this is the case I would recommend it, as you will not inherently notice what is lacking. When you are older you can move somewhere else, and overly romanticize the years spent here. Until then, get your hand stamped at the door, and ignore the world beyond the fence.
By the title, I mean that the U District is less a neighborhood and more a vibrant and extensive ecosystem of the University of Washington and the countless restaurants, bookstores, and gargoyle shops (yes, seriously) that support it. The U District is a neighborhood with a very distinct demographic: the vast majority of the population attends, graduated from, or works for the university. The hipster collegiate scene runs deep here. This common ground makes the district a very communal place, but it’s also tough to fit in as an outsider.
The Ave (really University Way NE, but don’t let anyone catch you calling it that) is the main North-South thoroughfare here, and 45th its East-West opposite. The intersection of the two marks the heart of the district, and the northwest corner of UW’s campus. It’s also home to some of the more iconic establishments of the area, including some truly remarkable coffee and a secondhand bookstore to lose yourself in, complete with a cadre of cats slinking along the shelves. Of course, a trip down the hill on 45th also leads to the bastion of high-end retail, University Village. This outdoor mall caters to as many young urban couples and families as it does students, so there is a more mixed demographic here, albeit with a steep price tag.
Housing in the district is primarily apartments and shared rental houses that cater to the impoverished student aesthetic. Most living space is in the area north of 45th Street or to the west of the Ave. Beware, directly above 45th lies Greek Row. However, traveling a bit further north leads into the more relaxed suburban bungalows of Ravenna. West of the Ave is a more urban feel, with large apartment blocks extending all the way to the fringes of I-5. The buildings closer to campus are convenient for students, and thus are both more expensive and better maintained.
Parking in the district is more a joke than a viable method of transit, but the bus system works well enough, with most other parts of the city within a 20 minute ride. And don’t forget, the Rainier Vista light rail station is coming in 2014 to alleviate the commuting traffic once and for all!
The U-District: Young, Unique, and Vibrant
I lived in the U-District when I was nineteen, but due to the rain-infested clouds that constantly gloom over the entire state, I was driven to follow the sun and build my habitat elsewhere. Although the somewhat depressive weather is bothersome, the youthful and cultured feel of the University District kept most of my negative feelings about it at bay. The people who inhabit the U-District are mostly students at the University of Washington; they are young, have the world at their feet, and bring a sense of hopefulness to the community.
It is not surprising, given the name of the neighborhood, that the U-District is full of students. What makes it entirely unique from other college neighborhoods, and gives it a sense of culture that is often lacking even in the most populated cities in the country, is the fact that many of the students are from diverse backgrounds. About thirty percent of the students are of Asian descent, and this greatly contributes to the unique feeling that is obtained from living in or visiting the neighborhood.
While it is full of diverse and young college students, it is also infamously known to hold a few homeless teens who, although usually harmless, aren’t afraid to ask passer-by’s for spare change. University Way, otherwise known as “the Ave,” is often the street of choice for the homeless and helpless to beg or deal drugs during the late hours of the night.
Despite the sketchy activities that occur on the Ave late at night, it manages to be a very frequented street due to the abundant amount of restaurants, cafe’s, and bars that are lined up and down it. It is quite easy to find a comfortable and cozy cafe to sit at, enjoy coffee, and meet with friends. One of my favorite cafe’s, Cafe on the Ave, has plenty of seating, although it is often filled up during certain times of the week and during exams. They have delicious sandwiches, free wi-fi, and great coffee. On rainy days when I need to feel enveloped with love and comfort, The Ugly Mug on the corner of 43rd and Brooklyn is my cafe of choice as it is small, warm, and quiet.
If one is growing tired of Seattle, it is easy to immerse oneself into another culture due to the plethora of ethnic restaurants that cover the neighborhood. These restaurants are not the cliche, franchised Mexican restaurants that are seen everywhere; they are owned by local and diverse people from Greece, India, China, Japan, Thailand, and Italy. On a breezy day, it is not uncommon to smell the delectable aromas emanating from these places. The ave becomes not only a street, but a place that contains many small windows into different cultures and countries.
Compared to the rest of Seattle, the U-District’s cost of living is reasonable. It is easy to find a room to rent in a large house for less than six hundred dollars, and it is also easy to find a studio or one-bedroom apartment for under a thousand. Of course, the further away from the University, the cheaper.
Attending the University is definitely a good reason to live here, and if I went to the school, I wouldn’t want to live anywhere else. But I would not suggest to raise a family or retire in this neighborhood, as it certainly lacks the “family appeal” due to the abundance of young college students. Despite this downfall, it is certainly a place that can offer an enjoyable visit to anyone, and it is easily accessible via bus. Getting to the U-District from downtown Seattle and vice-versa is simple, cheap, and fast. In 2016, a Link Light Rail connection will serve the area and offer stops at Capitol Hill,Downtown, Rainer Valley, and the airport. Since parking is limited in the entire city of Seattle, the buses are a frequent and favored way of travel, and offer an environmentally friendly and stress reducing option to commuting by car.
Must Love Dawgs
The University District, or “U-District” as locals call it, is the perfect neighborhood to call home for a few years if you’re 1) a student, preferably of the UW 2) Homeless youth named “The Ave Rats”, pan-handlers and other riff-raff—disappointingly enough, some of the student variety as well. If you don’t identify with either of these groups, than this neighborhood probably isn’t for you. (If you fall more in the category of retiree or family, look at neighboring Montlake, Wedgewood or Ravenna.) It’s a shame that the U-District is plagued with petty crime, because aside from this and over-priced student housing, it really is a gem offering stylish boutiques, delicious, cheap eats and the beautiful University of Washington campus delightfully situated in the center.
The heart of this neighborhood is University Avenue, lovingly named “The Ave”—a few blocks stretch of coffee shops, affordable ethnic cuisine, and shopping by day, and a rowdy, fun-filled parade of bar-hopping, inebriated students by night. The beauty of The Ave is the access it provides to sampling a wide variety of food. Highly recommended is The Continental, owned by the lovely Lagos Greek family, who treat you like their own. Other popular spots are Thai Tom’s and further North, Pizza Ragazzi, opened late with the student in mind. The nightlife here is the quintessential college scene of bars blaring Top 40 and frat boys downing jello-shots, but when you’re college-aged, there’s really not a more fun and lively place to live.
If you’re a student looking to move here, look no further. Be wary of expensive apartments and opt for a room in one of the many houses in the area instead. Though they’ve been run-down by years of student inhabitation, many of them are beautiful classic homes in close proximity to campus offering affordable rent. The farther North you get from 45th, the nicer the area becomes are you are met with neighboring family-friendly Ravenna.
Situated farther down 45th Avenue is University Village, a haven for fashionistas, students and soccer moms alike boasting Trophy Cupcakes, Barnes and Noble, Anthropologie, Lulu Lemon Athletica as well as a decent array of restaurants. Weekends are best spent here grabbing a Starbucks (there are 2 here) and people-watching outside.
The U-District is well connected by bus to all parts of the city, though most in the area walk/bike since residents find most everything they need close by.
The University District has its distinct feel depending on where you are. If you’re around the dorms on the University of Washington campus, you feel like a little freshman or sophomore because most people move out by their junior year (imagine over-priced, acceptable dining hall food and that’s incentive enough to vacate). If you are west of UW, you are closer to the highway and nothing else, which makes you feel less safe and less at peace. When you walk around the Greek row area north of UW, you feel like you’re in a TV show like Greek, except less swanky. When you walk on or near the Ave (University Way), it feels fun because of all the restaurants and local clothing stores but you wouldn’t want to walk there by yourself at night.
The great thing about the UD is that anywhere is just a bus ride away. Downtown is about 15 minutes from the Ave. Greenlake is about 20 minutes from 15th Avenue. University Village is about 10 minutes from the UW campus. Everything in the area is within walking distance, and most people find themselves walking to most of their destinations.
Visiting the UD is much more enjoyable than living here. Visitors are always star-struck by the very-university feel of the UW campus. They love going to restaurants and stores on the Ave. They take pictures every three seconds of absolutely nothing in particular. When you live here and go to school in the area, UW is just school, the Ave is just a busy street, and the surroundings are pretty much invisible in front of the usual grey skies or drizzle.
Living in the UD is somewhat inevitable for UW students who want a short commute and similar surroundings. After a while, things become routine, and the neighborhood loses its novelty. Only when a friend from out-of-town or from the Seattle suburbs come to visit do we realize how cool and exciting everything was when we first arrived for college.
Business 101: Living On The Cheap.
Welcome to the University District, the unofficial backyard/playground of the massive University of Washington campus located nearby. This place is the home to an eclectic mix of people: from frat dudes to scientists, to poetry professors and punk rockers, to performance artists to college Republicans and a whole lot more. Spend just a little bit of time here and you’ll quickly see that the University District is a vibrant place powered by a creative spirit and youthful energy (and maybe a Red Bull chaser or two). Having lived and worked here as student for four years, I feel I have a pretty keen insight on the ins and outs of this college neighborhood (and also a few great stories, but that is for another time).
The heart of the U-District can be found on University Way, a mile long stretch of road affectionately (though not accurately) known as “The Ave.” Here you’ll find everything a college-aged kid could possibly need: affordable restaurants representing nearly every type of global cuisine, trendy thrift stores, dive bars, movie theaters, hip boutiques, smoke shops, tattoo parlors, new and used bookstores, and convenience stores for late night beer runs (I like to visit them all in that order). During the day there is a mix of people walking up and down this corridor, but after the sun goes down it is strictly the domain of students, most in search of pizza or booze, or some delightful combination of the two. Undergrads looking to get hammered go to Earl’s (just order a Long Island Iced Tea) while grad students looking to get hammered at a more intellectual level go to the College Inn (try the Hot Toddy).
The U-District is a hub for metro bus lines, and after learning the routes it’s pretty easy to get anywhere in the city. Downtown is just a 10-minute ride away or you can head west down 45th Street and you’ll run into the Wallingford, Fremont, Ballardneighborhoods. For those looking for a more upscale experience in the University District (read: the parents paying the tuition), head east down the 45th Street trestle and into the University Village. Here the charm of The Ave is replaced with unique retailers such Pottery Barn, The Gap, William’s and Sonoma, and Eddie Bauer. But don’t worry, what the U-Village lacks in originality it more than makes up for with parking.
In the end, the University District is a city within a city. Students can find pretty much any amenity they need within a few blocks of the their dorm, frat, apartment, co-op, or whatever couch they may be living on at the moment. Sure, the houses may not always be exactly 100% up to code and the streets might not always be quiet, but at least life here is cheap – and as we all know from Business 101, cheap is good.
I frequent the University District, though cannot say I am a student of the University of Washington, nor do I work there. My parents, when I was living with them, warned me against the U District, regaling me with tales of the drunken college kids, drug-addled bums, and decidedly sketchy nightlife. But after visiting nearly every day, I must respectfully discredit their description. I’ve found myself in the U District during many late-night shenanigans around the city, and while it’s true there tend to be many somewhat inebriated college kids, you can’t overlook their entertainment value and relative harmlessness. On the corner of Roosevelt and 47th sits what appears to be something akin to an abandoned sofa dealership. If you peer in during the daytime, you’ll see nothing in this all-glass, sign-less building except big cushy couches all throughout the place. But at night, from 8 o’clock onward, the place becomes a hip and trendy hookah bar. This thousand-year-old smoking device has had a renaissance, giving way to a sub-culture of smokers who sit around this mysterious, water-filled device, inhaling flavored smoke from long hoses. The Night Owl Lounge has become a weekly tradition among my friends, and is a gathering place of sorts for college students from every imaginable clique, from the hipsters to the jocks. All throughout the U District are cafes and diners catering to the tight budgets of college students. Go to University Village, however, and you can find upscale dining and shopping for the label-conscious young urban professional or fashionable mom from the surrounding Maple Leaf and Wedgwoodneighborhoods. Finally on University Avenue, familiarly called “The Ave”, you can find buses to nearly every destination in Seattle, along with smoke shops, tattoo parlors, bubble tea, bars, and even American Apparels and Urban Outfitters for the ubiquitous hipster. The University District is truly one of the funkiest and trendiest areas of Seattle, and everywhere you go there is a new coffee shop to try, a new flavor of shisha (it’s the tobacco you smoke out of hookahs) to sample, and a new person to meet. I highly recommend forgoing any preconceived notions you had about the U District and giving it a shot. And if you happen to stop by the Night Owl Lounge, tell them Caitlin sent you. And don’t forget to try Seattle Rain, the best house blend. They’ll know what you mean. 😉