Moving to the Pacific Northwest? What Military & Veteran Families Need to Know


By Rebecca Alwine, Army Spouse

The Pacific Northwest is more than just rainy weather and clouds. Promise. While the summers are gorgeous, green, and temperate… they are often too short. Most residents have invested in quality rain boots, rain jackets, and stock up on windshield wipers. Depending on where in the region you are, the weather will be influenced by the coast or the mountains. Both of which are beautiful and neither of which are predictable.

Due to the diversity of the region, almost everything is available here. Mountains, hot springs, microbreweries, music, big cities and college towns. One of the favorites is Mt. Rainier, the famous snow-capped summit that you can sometimes see through the clouds. Additionally, the Emerald City of Seattle is a progressive and artsy city, home to a 7-ton bronze statue of Lenin and a giant troll under a bridge.

Housing

Housing is available on each of the installations in the area, but the Air Force installations all report very limited housing and long waits. The rentals in those areas are also hard to come by, as the mid-price range housing market is also limited. The closer the installation is to a city, the more options are available. And, like most densely populated military regions, rentals are generally priced right at BAH rates for mid-career NCOs and Officers. These are the bases in the area:

Fairchild Air Force Base Spokane, Washington
NAS Whidbey Island
near Oak Harbor, on Whidbey Island
Naval Base Kitsap & Naval Station Everett
Puget Sound area
Joint Base Lewis-McChord
in between Tacoma and Olympia

Climate

It’s absolutely beautiful in the PNW and it’s entirely due to rain. That being said, summers are too short and best spent outside, exploring the local area and events. While not the wettest place in the US, western Washington is the only area in the lower 48 that has over 100 inches of rain a year.

Like most of the country, the coldest months are December through February, with temperatures hovering just above freezing overnight and reaching into the mid-40s during the day. During the summer, temperatures get into the 70s during the day, and the precipitation reduces. June through September are green, relatively dry and warm.

Installation Attractions

The best attraction on Fairchild AFB is the FunSpot, which hosts a bowling alley, food, indoor play area for kids and sometimes bounce houses. Clear Lake is the local lake and it has camping, kayaking, biking and a small beach.  There is a pool (with very limited hours) and a newer fitness center with an indoor pool and 1/8th mile running track.

The Convergence Zone on NAS Whidbey Island is the place to be for everyone. It has a toddler play area, bowling alley, indoor playground and gaming systems for kids of all ages. It also has a resource center with fax, copy, and printing services, computers, and Wi-Fi. Billiards, air hockey, and foosball are also available as well as Kegler’s Bar & Grill for a night out. There is also a movie theater, running trail and a campground/beach on base. NASWI is an outdoor-lover’s dream. Fishing, boating, hiking and hunting are all available in the area.

One very popular place to visit on NS Everett is the Tsunami Pool. It uses a salt-water purification system and programs include swim instruction for all ages, water aerobics and lap swim. The fitness center is another popular place, as are intramural sports. There are several things to do in this area including movie theaters, a bowling alley and a skate park. Camp McKean Recreation Area is located along the Kitsap Lake shoreline and Elwood Point has walking paths, a playground and picnic areas on the waterfront. A big draw would be the Gallery Golf Course (with 18 holes and amazing views of the Olympic Mountains), the Strait of Juan de Fuca and Vancouver Island.

There are lots of fun things to do on JB Lewis-McChord, including a skate park, splash pad and dog park. There is also a Pet Brigade doggie day care and grooming, and American Lake Beach with paddle-boards, yoga on the beach and canoes.

Food!

For foodies and those who love a new dish, the PNW is the place. Herbfarm in Woodinville supports local farmers, cheesemakers and wineries, and offers a once-in-a-lifetime nine course dinner. Another great option is the Walrus and the Carpenter in Seattle, an oyster loving gastro-pub. Also in downtown Seattle, The Owl and Thistle is a favorite for live music and drinks. The Harmon Brewing Company has $3 steaks on Monday night in Tacoma. Another favorite is Tacos El Fuente, which is a taco bus featuring the best Mexican food in the area (located off Exit 114). For a treat near Spokane, check out Sala Thai and for those who are willing to drive a little farther, the European Breakfast House.

Things to Do 

Some great events in the Spokane area are the Bloomsday 12k race that takes place the 1st weekend of May and attracts over 40,000 people, and Hoopfest, a June 3-on-3 basketball tournament that takes over the city. Other places to visit include:

Deception Pass State Park – The most-visited park in Washington was originally part of a military reserve. There is a stretch of beach, three campgrounds, and several hiking trails. There are ten islands included in the park and boat rentals and guided tours are offered.

Mount Rainer – No trip to the PNW is complete without a glimpse of Mount Rainer. It reaches over 14,000 feet above sea level and is an active volcano. The tip is almost always covered by clouds but this iconic landmark peaks its head out every so often.

DuPoint – DuPont has a series of trails, one of which is where the Wear Blue Run to Remember was founded. Included in this group is the Sequalichew Trail, which leads to Puget Sound.

Venture Out

Crater Lake – Take a trip to southern Oregon to see the Crater Lake National Park, the fifth oldest part in the US.  The lake is almost 2,000 feet deep at the deepest and the caldera rim ranges in elevation from 7,000 to 8,000 feet.

Victoria, British Columbia – Take a jaunt to Canada and check out the Inner Harbour of Victoria as well as Beacon Hill Park or Craigdarroch Castle. While there, try the Blue Water Café & Raw Bar, with a menu that is locally sourced and full of sustainable seafood.

Additional places to explore include: Mt. St. Helens, Olympic National Park and Puget Sound. There are so many things to do in the Pacific Northwest, you’ll easily fill up every summer weekend!

If you are currently stationed at any of the military installations mentioned in the Area Guide, please help your fellow military families and go to PCSgrades.com and leave a review of your housing, neighborhood, or favorite REALTOR®!

Author: Rebecca Alwine is a PCSgrades’ Blogger Affiliate, freelance writer, army wife, and mother of three. Over the past 10 years, she’s discovered she enjoys coffee, running, lifting weights, and most of the menial tasks of motherhood. Her writing experience includes military family topics, research pieces, guest blogging, and much more. She’s a contributing writer for ARMY Magazine, a regular contributor for several publications including to Homefront United Network, PCSgrades, ESME, and has also been published in Ms. Magazine and The Atlantic. You can follow her online at www.whatrebeccathinks.com or on Twitter (@rebecca_alwine) and Instagram (@rebecca_alwine).

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