Why Is Seattle Called the Emerald City?

Downtown Seattle

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Often called the Emerald City, Seattle's nickname might seem a little off, maybe even misplaced. After all, Seattle isn't known for emeralds. Or maybe your imagination goes toward The Wizard of Oz, but Seattle doesn't have a whole lot to do with Oz either (although, some might argue that Bill Gates is a bit of a wizard).

Many cities come with their very own nicknames that may seem kind of random, but often have roots in what the city is all about or tell you a bit about the city's history. Seattle is no exception.

Seattle is called the Emerald City because the city and surrounding areas are filled with greenery all year round, even in the winter due to all the evergreen trees in the area. The nickname comes directly from this greenery. Emerald City also echoes Washington State’s nickname as The Evergreen State (even though the eastern half of Washington is more desert than greenery and evergreen trees).

Map of nicknames for cities in the Pacific Northwest

ThoughtCo / Theresa Chiechi 

What Makes Seattle so Green?

Drive into Seattle from the south and you’ll see plenty of evergreens and other greenery lining I-5. Drive in from the north, you’ll see some more. Even right in the heart of the city, there’s no shortage of greenery, even full forests—Discovery Park, the Washington Park Arboretum, and other parks are shining examples of green spaces within the city limits. Seattle is green almost all year round due to these ubiquitous evergreens, but also due to the many other trees, shrubs, ferns, moss (so much moss!) on just about every surface, and even the wildflowers that are prolific in the Northwest and thrive in all seasons.

However, visitors may be surprised that summer is usually the least green time of year. Seattle's famous rain mostly shows up from September through the fall and winter. During the summers, there isn't generally as much rain. In fact, some years get surprisingly little moisture and it's not uncommon to see lawns dried up and brown for months at a time since the Northwest is generally filled with environmentally conscious folks who choose brown lawns over watering.

Has It Always Been Called the Emerald City?

Nope, Seattle wasn’t always called the Emerald City. According to HistoryLink.org, the origins of the term come from a contest held by the Convention and Visitors Bureau in 1981. In 1982, the name Emerald City was selected from contest entries as the new nickname for Seattle. Previous to this, Seattle had a few other common nicknames, including the Queen City of the Pacific Northwest and the Gateway to Alaska—neither of which works quite as well on a marketing brochure!

The Emerald City is also frequently called Rain City (guess why!), the Coffee Capital of the World, and Jet City, since Boeing is based in the area. It's not uncommon to see these names around town on businesses or used casually here and there.

Downtown Bellevue, WA
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Other Northwest City Nicknames

Seattle isn't the only Northwest city with a nickname. It's a fact—most cities love to have a nickname and most of Seattle's neighbors have them too.

  • Bellevue is sometimes called City in a Park due to its park-like nature. Although, this depends on where you're at in Bellevue. Downtown Bellevue can feel like the big city, and yet Downtown Park is right in the heart of the action. The city is filled with other amazing parks and park-like spaces, too, including Bellevue Botanical Garden.
  • Tacoma to the south is called the City of Destiny to this day because it was chosen to be the western terminus of the Northern Pacific Railroad in the late 1800s. While you'll still see the City of Destiny around, these days Tacoma is more commonly called T-Town (T is short for Tacoma) or Grit City (a reference to the city's industrial past and present) as a nickname.
  • Gig Harbor is called the Maritime City since it grew up around the harbor there, and still has a major maritime presence with ample marinas and its downtown focused on the harbor.
  • Olympia is called Oly, which is simply short for Olympia.
  • Portland, Oregon, is called the City of Roses or Rose City and, in fact, the nickname drove the boom of roses around the city. There's a fabulous rose garden at Washington Park and a Rose Festival. Portland is also commonly called Bridge City or PDX, after its airport.
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Kendle, Kristin. "Why Is Seattle Called the Emerald City?" ThoughtCo, Oct. 14, 2021, thoughtco.com/why-is-seattle-the-emerald-city-2964993. Kendle, Kristin. (2021, October 14). Why Is Seattle Called the Emerald City? Retrieved from https://www.thoughtco.com/why-is-seattle-the-emerald-city-2964993 Kendle, Kristin. "Why Is Seattle Called the Emerald City?" ThoughtCo. https://www.thoughtco.com/why-is-seattle-the-emerald-city-2964993 (accessed March 22, 2023).