This area guide originally appeared on PCSgrades. Follow PCSgrades on Facebook.
Off Base Neighborhoods
Dupont, the closest city to the base, is accessible without getting on the highway and is rich with its own history, city council, and mayor. This quaint city, housing mostly active and retired military, is a neighborhood rich in community. Dupont loves showing off its pride with its tree-lined streets, American flags and alley garages. The “downtown” boasts a locally run general store, pharmacy, library and a small variety of restaurants. Like to golf? Dupont is home to the Home Course Golf Course. This active community is connected by hiking trails, some even leading straight to the Puget Sound. You will see people running, biking, running, and more, rain or shine.
To the south toward Olympia, is Lacey and Hawks Prairie, also a trendy place for many families to live, as it’s easily accessed in about 15-20 minutes from the base. Some families choose to live in Olympia for the city life and proximity to water.
To the north, is Tacoma, but plan on it taking anywhere from 25-30 minutes to get to base. Tacoma, “the city of destiny,” has its own slew of restaurants, nightlife and waterfront homes. It also offers the Tacoma Art Museum, History Museum, Museum of Glass and Children’s Museum, all within walking distance to each other.
Puyallup is to the east and hosts a large military population. The commute is around 25 minutes, but you will find a quaint downtown with historic restaurants, parks, quite a few shopping malls and more.
Another popular housing area is Yelm, offering a lot more space and land for what you will get with your money. However, it is a bit of a drive, from 30-45 minutes depending on traffic.
Get free, objective reviews from our community on-base housing to help make the decision to live on base or off.
On Base Housing
Joint Base Lewis McChord housing offers small duplexes and up to four-bedroom homes, based on rank and availability. With 21 neighborhoods managed by Lincoln Military Housing, libraries, parks, schools and proximity to American Lake make living on post charming.
Washington state is ranked 19th in the country for elementary schools, but 2nd in the country for higher education. Military families have a number of districts from which to choose, so you won’t find schools on every Pacific Northwest military base. Unlike some areas of the U.S., districts in Washington State do not necessarily coincide with local city, town, or county boundaries. JBLM has elementary schools on base, while middle and high school students attend off base. Residents on NB Kitsap can choose to attend Central Kitsap School District, North Kitsap School District, and some qualify for Bremerton School District. Military families at NS Everett have a wide selection of school districts to choose from, depending where they live. NAS Whidbey Island is part of the Oak Harbor School district, which includes 5 elementary schools, 2 middle schools, and 1 high school.
Cost of Living and BAH
Fort Lewis BAH is calculated for Tacoma, Washington. This area has a high cost of living, and the BAH rates match. Fort Lewis BAH rates range from $1,386-$2,283 for enlisted personnel and $1,977-$2,622 for officers.
With a median home cost of around $390,000, Washington State is one of the most expensive places in the United States to buy. With such a huge investment being made, you will for sure want to find a Real Estate Agent you can trust and that is experienced in working with VA loans and other mil-families just like yours.
Western Washington is characterized by plenty of rain, pocketed between the mountains and the Puget Sound, but as Washingtonians say, “there’s no bad weather, just bad clothing.” Seasons are mild, but the green landscape is consistent all year long. Springtime will bring an abundance of blooming flowers. Summer in Washington is the best around with sunshine, blue skies and temperatures rarely exceeding 85 degrees. Snow makes wintertime in Washington a blast. It may not stick around for long, but while it lasts, everyone enjoys snow sledding, building snowmen and skiing in the nearby passes. Colorful maple leaves blanket the trees and ground in the Autumn, making for picture-perfect leaf fights.
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.
Outdoor fun can be had right here on base! Rent a boat at Northwest Adventure Center and launch into American Lake. You could even make it a staycation by staying at one of the lakeside cabins.
Take the “Poor Man’s Cruise.” Hop the ferry for a day trip to Whidbey Island to visit the Pacific Northwest – home to the Coast Guard and Navy. While you’re there, pay a visit to two veteran-owned wineries, Holmes Harbor Cellars, and Comforts of Whidbey Winery.
Enjoy the history in Steilacoom, it’s the oldest incorporated city in Washington, established in 1854! If soaking up history doesn’t sound like fun to you, schedule some family (or solo) time at the beach or enjoy a 20-minute ferry ride to Anderson Island.
Tacoma: Take off on the light rail and visit the Museum of Glass, the Museum of Art, or the Museum of History located in downtown Tacoma or root for the home team at a Ranier baseball game at Rainer Stadium.
There is so much to see and do in Seattle and it’s only about an hour away. Spend your day exploring the birthplace of coffee culture and grunge and make sure to visit the famous Pikes Place Market or head to the waterfront to ride the Great Wheel or visit the Seattle Aquarium.
Mount Rainier is an active volcano that stands a whopping 14,410 feet above sea level. The Mountain and surrounding National Park makes for a perfect get-a-way with activities for everyone. Spend the day hiking, sledding, and snowboarding! Pay tribute at the Mount Rainier National Park Valor Memorial.
Canada! That’s right Canada. Visit our northern neighbors easily by taking an Amtrak train to downtown Vancouver or riding the Clipper ferry from Seattle to Victoria B.C.
JBLM is one of the most sought-after military installations to be stationed at, primarily due to the breathtaking, spectacular views of the Cascade Mountains, Olympia Mountains, and Mt. Rainier.
Food and Drink
With the Puget Sound around the base, fresh seafood can be found at most local restaurants around town. Clam chowder is the soup of choice. Asian cuisine like Thai Vietnamese is also located on every corner. If you’re feeling adventurous, put on your rain boots and head to the nearest beach to dig for clams.