People not familiar with Gig Harbor may not know how close to Seattle Gig Harbor is or how it relates to the other large cities in the area. I’ve lived in Gig Harbor for a few decades and I’m also a realtor, so I will help bring some clarity to the question of whether Gig Harbor is a suburb of Seattle.
Though Gig Harbor is only about 40 minutes away from Seattle, it is technically a suburb of Tacoma, which is located right next door. That being said, Seattle is still a perfectly suitable commuting destination. It would be totally feasible if one wanted to enjoy the beauty of the Harbor while maintaining a career in the big city. Furthermore, Gig Harbor was founded long before World War 2, which means it retains some of the charm of older, walkable towns, which newer suburbs usually lack.
Why Gig Harbor is a suburb of Tacoma
It turns out we need to be clear what we mean by “suburb” before we talk about specifics of whether a town qualifies as one or not. When most people use the word “suburb,” they probably have in mind a small town near a larger urban center. If that’s what we mean when discussing Gig Harbor, then Tacoma would be its closest urban center. This is also the opinion you are most likely to encounter on the street in either Tacoma or Gig Harbor, in my experience.
Tacoma is smaller than Seattle’s bustling population of 737,000, but it is still a mid-sized urban center of its own with a population of 219,000, according to the 2020 census data. Tacoma also serves as the ground-base for major employers like Almond Roca and the Port of Tacoma, which is the main port for major brands like Toyota (hence the famous truck named after the city).
Even the major airport for the area is called the SeaTac airport, because it just so happens to sit between these two large metropolitan areas. The cities themselves are right down the freeway from each other. In many ways, it is a nice perk of living in Gig Harbor to be able to access both of these cities in a reasonable commute time.
Seattle is still a commuting option, though!
This brings us to what seems to me is another, looser definition of “suburb,” and that is the idea that a town is a suburb of a particular city if it’s close enough to commute between the two. As stated above, Seattle is still a viable commuting option from Gig Harbor. Though, to call Gig Harbor a suburb of Seattle while also calling it a suburb of Tacoma, you’d have to enter the territory where the word starts to lose its meaning. Therefore, I prefer to stick to the more technical definition and refer to Gig Harbor as a suburb of Tacoma.
Yet, what’s practically important for most people here is that one could reach Seattle in a reasonable time, if need be. There is even a park-and-ride in Gig Harbor with buses running to and from Seattle. Additionally, there are even more commuting options in Tacoma, right across the Narrows Bridge. And of course, you can also just drive the commute, like many people do.
Check out our Ultimate Guide for Commuting from Gig Harbor for everything you need to know about the commuting options available.
It’s a suburb but it’s walkable
There is one last definition of the word “suburb” that’s worth addressing. When some people think of “the suburbs,” they are thinking of built environments that consist entirely of siloed, car-centric housing and shopping centers. This is what city planners call “single-use zoning,” because each area, or “zone,” of a city has one use (i.e. residential housing, shopping, etc.).
This is worth noting because, for many people, there is a charm that comes with some of the older style of towns, where one can walk down the main street and window shop. As one Harvard study puts it:
Areas built prior to 1950, whether inside or outside the principal city, are defined as “urban.” [These ares tend to] correlate with walkable, traditional neighborhoods (pre-1950)…
In fact, a key giveaway of determining the era when many towns were built is whether the town has a walkable downtown area or not. Towns built before World War 2 tend to have this feature, whereas towns built later, when cars became dominant, tend to not.
While Gig Harbor also has many single-use zoning areas with nice subdivisions and large lots, there are also some hints of walkability that have come in through later development.
As the article cited above continues:
There was a time, not long ago, when planners and developers were busy tearing down historic neighborhoods to build parking lots and wider roads, making them more like conventional suburbs. Now the reverse is happening in many suburbs.
It seems to me that Uptown, one of Gig Harbor’s newest shopping areas, has taken cues from this trend and even includes a small, but nice stretch of a walkable area that weaves between shops. Though it is close to the convenient parking lot, the area is largely shielded from it, which creates a tranquil little oasis in the middle of this shopping center.
So if window shopping or going on nice strolls through town is your thing, you do have a few different options in Gig Harbor. Just another of the many things that makes Gig Harbor the hidden gem that it is.
Best way to find a home to commute to Seattle from
Speaking of that, as a realtor, I’ve helped many people find their oasis here in our great town. That’s actually why I created this site as a resource for people who are interested in moving here. If that describes you, consider this site your free resource for getting all your questions answered by the people who live here.
Start with our Neighborhood Guides, and get to know the city, its neighborhoods, and sub-neighborhoods. Then explore the blog to find in-depth guides on important topics people moving here are asking about. The blog also has lots of other content on various aspects of this beautiful town.
Lastly, reach out to me if you have any questions at all or are just looking for a local realtor (who also happens to be one of the top Re/Max agents in the country… What can I say? I LOVE to serve my clients 😊). Let me know how I can help!
While Gig Harbor is a suburb of Tacoma, not Seattle, it carries many of the perks that suburbs of Seattle do by being within driving distance of the famous city. It’s also far from being cookie-cutter with its beautiful downtown and natural landscape. All-in-all, being near both Seattle and Tacoma while also having access to the incredible natural beauty that surrounds it helps make Gig Harbor a truly unique town-one that I’m grateful to live in!