Are you trying to figure out the similarities and differences between Portland, Oregon and Austin, Texas? I think I can help.
I grew up in Portland (spent 30 years there!) before moving to Austin for a career change. So many folks compare Austin, Texas to Portland, Oregon and I though it would be fun to compare the two based on firsthand experience and actual stats.
I’m not one for small talk, so let’s get to it!
Is Portland or Austin bigger?
Population-wise, Austin, Texas is twice as big as Portland, Oregon. As of 2020, the population of Portland is 650,000 while the population of Austin is 966,000.
In terms of landmass, Austin is almost double the size of Portland largely due to urban sprawl (which I’ll cover shortly).
Which city is more liberal, Portland or Austin?
Both Portland and Austin are strongly liberal cities. In the last presidential election 71.4% of Travis County residents (Austin’s County) voted Democrat. Likewise in Multnomah County (Portland’s County), 79.2% of residents voted Democrat.
There’s no denying that both Austin and Portland are liberal cities, but Portland is marginally more so based on voting patterns.
One of the biggest political differences between Austin, Texas and Portland, Oregon (in my opinion) is that Austin serves as a bastion in a sea of red, whereas Portland aligns with the status quo of its west coast neighbors (Seattle and San Francisco).
Portland, Oregon Vs. Austin, Texas
First, let’s talk about the similarities between Austin, Texas and Portland, Oregon
#1. The easy-going and weird vibe
One of the most glaring similarities between Portland and Austin is the easy-going vibe of both cities. It’s easy to feel relaxed and light-hearted in both places, but there are (Very slight) variations in the overall vibe. For starters, Austin attracts more professional (read: “normal”) folks than Portland due to industry and location – lest you forget, Texas is part of the Bible Belt.
As such, PDX has slightly weirder folks by virtue and a more homogeneous liberal culture supported by local and state politics. Almost everyone moving to Portland vs. Austin is liberal first, employed second. As mentioned earlier, Portland is in a liberal bubble, all of the neighboring cities are politically aligned so being liberal is the norm.
Whereas in Austin a lot of folks move for employment assuming the entire city is liberal, only to realize there’s a constant battle between the liberal city and Republican-heavy state government.
P.S. Some folks don’t realize that the “Keep Portland Weird” motto came from Austin, but it’s true.
#2. Neither are affordable
Hate to take it down a notch, but let’s acknowledge the elephant in the room — Portland and Austin are alike in that neither city is affordable.
The running joke with Portland in the 90’s was that this was the place 30-year-olds came to retire. The City of Roses attracted artists and burnt-out city dwellers looking for an easier (and more enjoyable) life.
But word spread fast and over time the Portland’s reputation grew (and with it the population). Daily life became less and less affordable and new transplants started finding themselves sticker-shocked upon arrival. The glory days were over but they didn’t get the memo.
The same thing happened with Austin, albeit the massive spike in newcomers happened more recently. In fact, Austin, Texas was the fastest growing city in the country between 2011 – 2016.
In any case, home prices are astronomical which means people aren’t moving here for the “easy button” lifestyle anymore. To call either Austin or Portland affordable is nothing short of laughable.
Here’s a helpful breakdown:
- Median home price | Portland: $570k | Austin: $660k
- Cost of living compared to national average: Austin: 12% higher | Portland: 29% higher
#3. Both cities are (extremely) environmentally friendly
Now that I’ve brought you down (my apologies!) let’s talk about something that both Austin and Portland can proudly boast: they are some of the most environmentally-conscious cities in the country.
The cities often grace lists applauding cities producing the least waste, providing access to green spaces, offering public transportation and passing initiatives that lessen their impact on the planet.
Both cities operate with the environment in mind and other cities have taken notice.
Also worth mention — supporting the local community is huge in Portland and Austin. You’ll be spoiled for choice when it comes to farmers markets, small businesses and awesome art. The connection to community is yet another draw which is why there seems to be a non-stop influx of people moving to Austin and Portland.
#4. Booming tech industry
Something a lot of folks don’t realize is that Portland has earned a new nickname in recent years: Silicon Forest. The reason for the moniker is the large cluster of tech companies in the larger metro area, which includes Beaverton and Hillsboro.
Home to heavy hitters like Intel, Tektronix, Pixelworks, Nvidia and Xerox, among many (many) others.
And then there’s Austin, Texas. Ever since Musk moved Tesla to Austin it seems like all eyes have been on Bat City. The list of top tech employers in the area are quite impressive: Sony, Apple, Dell Technologies, IBM Corp. and Oracle Corp.
In terms of landing a job in Portland, Oregon vs. Austin, Texas, it seems that Austin takes the cake. Austin currently leads the nation in terms of fastest job growth in the nation, whereas in Portland there’s an 80% your bartender has a master’s degree.
#5. A cheeky distaste for Californians
One of the most surprising things about living in Austin or Portland is the common distaste for Californians. I’d argue that 95% of the time it comes off as a harmless joke to build camaraderie, but honestly? I hear it on a daily basis from locals in both cities.
Personally, I don’t get it because I know the housing market isn’t the fault of people from a particular zip code. Hell, the poor folks in California have been priced out long before it was cool to bash them.
They’re merely chasing the American Dream the best they can, and that often involves leaving your comfort zone, friend group, etc. That sucks for everybody.
It’s obvious that the infrastructure and housing markets in Portland and Austin can’t handle a mass influx of new comers, but Californians aren’t the reason homes aren’t affordable in Oregon or Texas.
Put the focus where it matters — millennials can’t afford homes because of the corporate greed that guides the hand of the housing market. Fighting words, but c’mon now — it’s not the avocado toast that keeps me from buying a home.
It’s always going to be an uphill battle but if you’re going to dislike your California neighbor for anything make sure it’s on level playing ground — their (often glorious) tan is a great place to start.
#6. LGBTQ Friendliness
Another way that Portland, Oregon and Austin are similar is that they’re both very LGBTQ friendly cities. In fact, Portland was the first city to appoint an openly-gay mayor (Sam Adams in 2008).
Expect to find LGBTQ-owned businesses, festivals and fun events in both cities because there’s (more than enough) love to go around.
#7. Great food scene
This might be the most obvious statement you hear all year, but here goes: both Austin and Portland’s food scenes are off the charts. In Portland the cuisine spans the gamut, but farm to table reigns supreme. To no one’s surprise, Austin excels in Tex-Mex cuisine and will ruin other tacos for you for the rest of your life (speaking from personal experience).
#8. Top notch craft brew scene
As a millennial it’s hard to imagine living in a city where micro-breweries aren’t within spitting distance. Call it abnormal priorities if you’d like, but if I’m priced out of the housing market at least I’m in a position to enjoy a cold one.
The innovation and creativity of Portland’s craft brew scene makes headlines year after year. Home to an impressive 85 breweries, Portland has the highest breweries per capita of any US city. You’ll be able to quench your thirst regardless of your swill of choice — sours, hazy IPAs and blondes so smooth they’d make your short-shorts blush.
But overlooking Austin in this department would be nothing short of a mistake. Specializing in Belgian ales and sour beers, the city is home to 40 craft breweries but if you don’t know where to start, I suggest this helpful article.
#9. The absurd real estate market
I lightly touched on cost of living earlier, but the real estate market deserves its own section because it’s a real sucker punch for those that are unprepared. And I’m not going to let that happen to you.
There seems to be an odd thing going around lately where every single city in the country is no longer affordable. A while ago, folks from more expensive areas (mainly the west coast) became priced out (because the Pacific Ocean has a monopoly on un-affordable zip codes), and found themselves “discovering” up-and-coming cities.
They started calling their new hometown “affordable” because to them it (really) was, but the tide slowly shifted and as more people moved in, housing began to match most other places in the country.
Now that I’m off my soapbox, let’s talk about the housing market in both Portland and Austin, based on my research (if helpful, I’m linking to info sources).
Austin, Texas 2012 vs. 2022
Median Home Price (2012): $234,000
Average Salary (2012): $66,300
Income-to-Home Price Ratio (2012): 1:3.5
In sum: In 2012, the price of housing was roughly 3.5 times higher than the average income. By 2022, the price of housing was 9 times higher than the average income.
Portland, Oregon 2012 vs. 2022
Median Home Price (2012): $268,000
Average Salary (2012): $63,562
Income-to-Home Price Ratio (2012): 1:4
Median Home Price (2022): $604,050
Average Salary (2022): $73,000
Income-to-Home Price Ratio (2022): 1:8
In sum: In 2012, the price of housing was roughly 4 times higher than the average income. By 2022, the price of housing was 8 times higher than the average income.
The (long) point I’m trying to make is this: neither Portland nor Austin are affordable places to buy a home or live. The price of housing (relative to income) has doubled in the last 10 years alone. It’s the wild west out here!
Anyways, this seems like a good time to transition to the differences between Austin and Portland, Oregon.
#10. Neither city is particularly racially diverse
Here’s a hard truth — Portland is one of the whitest cities in America (75% white, to be exact). There’s no ifs, ands or buts about it. I don’t like it. It’s always refreshing to visit other cities and be reminded of the beauty of diversity.
In terms of diversity, it’s not like Austin is doing too much better in this department. Austin is 69% white and is considered the 6th most gentrified cities in the country. Moving to Austin from New York City was a hard transition because of the lack of diversity.
Differences between Portland vs. Austin
#1. Southern hospitality vs. PNW reservation
In my opinion, this is one of the most obvious differences between living in Portland, Oregon vs. Austin, Texas. The Pacific Northwest is home to some notoriously reserved locals (no judgment, I consider myself one) and Portland is no exception.
People in Portland are nice, even helpful, but when push comes to shove, don’t expect folks to follow through on an invite. Even as a lifelong local, the best way I know to describe other locals is polite but distant. I don’t know why it’s this way, but it is.
Austinites, on the other hand, treat southern hospitality like a full time job they don’t want to lose. These people are so nice and outgoing. In my experience it’s so much easier to approach and start conversations with strangers in Austin than in Portland (and I’m from Portland). It seems like locals aren’t weary of strangers and are much more open to newcomers without judgement.
The judgement thing is key because if I’m being honest, I constantly felt like I might slip up while conversing with someone from Portland. I’d get in my head too much during conversations just trying to ensure I didn’t accidnetly make an offensive or passive-aggressive remark, or used the wrong term for whatever we were talking about. It was draining.
In my experience people in Austin are more direct, which makes everyday conversations and gatherings a lot easier. Texans let you know when you slip up and it’s rather refreshing.
Verdict on Austin, Texas vs. Portland, Oregon: It’s easier to make friends in Austin, Texas.
#2. Taxes, baby
Thinking about moving to Portland, Oregon vs. Austin with the hopes of buying a home? Well, let’s talk taxes.
If you’d like to buy a home in Austin then you should know Texas has some of the highest property taxes in the country. However, it’s one of nine states that doesn’t charge a state income tax, which means your take-home pay is higher.
By contract, if you’re living in Portland vs Austin, you’ll be subject to the 4th highest state income tax in the country, but no sales tax.
Since I don’t own a home (yet, ever?), living in Austin is an easy win in this category. I get to keep almost 10% more of my paycheck simply by living in Austin vs. Portland.
We’ll see how the match changes when I look to purchase a home because the steep property taxes in Texas definitely give me second thoughts.
Verdict on Portland, Oregon vs. Austin, Texas: Toss-up. Texas doesn’t have state income tax, but crazy high property taxes. Oregon has one of the highest income taxes in the country, but no sales tax.
#3. Access to epic nature
When it comes to epic nature, Oregon is a heart breaker. The state is achingly beautiful and getting to see Mt. Hood on a daily basis is one of the biggest reasons the debate between Austin and Portland, Oregon doesn’t make sense. Nothing compares to the access to nature and overall beauty of living in Portland.
Not a mountain person? How about the Oregon Coast? Hell, give yourself a proper tour of the 7 Wonder of Oregon to see what all the fuss is about.
If you’re not planning on hopping in the car to find nature, fret not. Portland’s park system is often considered the best in the nation. Nearly 99% of residents are within a 10-minute walk of a park. Hard not to love that.
I can transition into talking about the beauty of Austin to keep things fair (for the record, Austin is a beautiful city), but in my opinion this one goes to Portland, Oregon by a landslide.
Verdict on Austin, Texas vs. Portland, Oregon: Portland all the way.
#4. Walkability & public transportation
Alright cool kids, you know you’ve made it to the big league when public transportation becomes a consideration. Here’s the short of it — Portland, Oregon punches above its weight in the public transportation department. It’s also considered one of the best biking cities in the country and walking around is a breeze.
Portland is very neighborhood-centric and you don’t need a car for daily errands, but I still had a car because I wanted access to the Oregon Coast, Hood River and Columbia Gorge.
Based on my experience living in both Austin and Portland, I can confidently tell you that Portland is better planned (or maybe I should say “intentionally” planned?). Austin, on the other hand, sprawls into oblivion and doesn’t show signs of stopping any time soon.
Verdict on Austin, Texas vs. Portland, Oregon: Portland takes the cake (and can walk it home safely).
#5. Music and film festivals
Austin is known as the Live Music Capital of the World and boasts more live music venues than any other city (per capita) in the country.
In fact, Austin is home to one of the most highly-regarded music festivals in the country, the SXSW (South by Southwest) festival, which offers a plethora of film, art and music to the community over the span of a week.
You can bet that there’s no shortage of great music venues to explore and that’s one of my favorite things about living in Austin — there’s always a good time to be had! Not to mention the epic music festival that is Austin City Limits!
There’s a huge music scene in Austin that rivals the one in Portland, Oregon. Don’t get me wrong, both cities can keep you entertained for years on end, but Austin in the gold standard in film festivals.
Verdict on Portland, Oregon vs. Austin, Texas : Austin wins in this arena!
#6. Austin has better nightlife
One of the things I hear most from newcomers is how vibrant the nightlife is in Austin vs. Portland. I can’t say I disagree! Portland is definitely more of a sleepy city after 10pm, while Austin is just warming up.
But don’t just take my word for it. Austin is considered one of the best cities in the US for nightlife.
Verdict on Austin, Texas vs. Portland, Oregon: Austin has better nightlife.
#7. Prone to allergies? Consider Portland vs. Austin
Did you know that Portland is one of the best places in the country for allergy sufferers? It’s true. And while Austin didn’t make it to the “worst” list, Texas is notorious for allergens, especially during rag weed season (mid-August through November).
Verdict on Portland, Oregon vs. Austin, Texas : Portland is a better place to live for allergy sufferers.
#8. Polar opposite weather
This is another obvious difference between Portland and Austin. Portland is gray and rainy most of the year (but the summers are downright sublime) while Austin is sunny year-round (but the summers are unbearable).
If you can get used to the rain (a quality rain jacket helps immensely) you may come to find the weather in Portland somewhat enjoyable, even cozy. Even if it’s drizzling, the weather is pretty mild and the show goes on.
Living in Austin is a joy because the constant sunshine is an instant mood-booster, but damn — those summers hit different. You can’t leave the house and your AC bill will make you teary-eyed. Oh, that’s another perk of Portland, it’s one of the least ACd cities in the country — you won’t see Austin on that list. 😉
Verdict on Portland, Oregon vs. Austin, Texas : Toss-up, depends on the person.
#9. The urban sprawl
I mentioned this earlier in the walkable/bikable section, but it warrants mention because it’s a real drag. The urban sprawl in Austin seems to get worse every year as subdivisions crop up all over. This isn’t necessarily a gripe because I know we need more housing, I just wish the growth was managed better.
The charm of the city goes to the wayside when urban sprawl isn’t properly managed. Feels like it’s ruining a gem of a city, but I (clearly) don’t know the solution to this, I’m merely stating my experience.
Verdict on Austin, Texas vs. Portland, Oregon: Portland has less urban sprawl, which gives it a huge advantage over Austin.
Would you be surprised if I told you that Austin has a worse homeless population than Portland? If so, good. Because that’s simply not true.
Homeless is hard to track but easy to feel (through experiences and daily walks). For reasons unbeknownst to me, the west coast takes the cake in terms of homelessness rates and Portland definitely loses out in this department.
Much like the urban sprawl, I don’t know the solution so I don’t feel right complaining about something I’m not contributing to fix. Most of my coworkers in Portland are understanding of homelessness (myself included), but other argue that the city goes too far to be accommodating.
But mind you, Austin is not immune to homelessness. It’s just that Portland’s homeless crises is so much more apparent. Again, I don’t have a solution to this problem, but want to make sure you’re informed.
Verdict on Portland, Oregon vs. Austin, Texas : Austin wins this round.
Austin, Texas vs. Portland, Oregon
Similarities of living in Austin and Portland, Oregon
- Easy-going locals
- Leading environmentally-friendly cities
- LGBTQ friendly
- Booming tech industry
- Top notch craft brew scene
- Great food scene
- Absurd real estate market
- Lack of diversity
Perks of living in Portland vs. Austin
- Access to epic nature
- Better climate (summers aren’t unbearably hot)
- More walkable and bikable
- Better public transportation
- Great city for allergy sufferers
Perks of living in Austin vs. Portland
- Southern hospitality
- Better nightlife
- Daily sunshine
- Music and film festivals
- No state income tax
Is it cheaper to live in Portland or Austin
The cost of living in Portland or Austin is comparable. Housing is equal between the two cities, but the cost of living in Portland is 29% higher than the national average while Austin’s cost of living is only 12% higher than the national average.
Whew, that’s a long list! Don’t hesitate to let me know if you have questions or thoughts in the comments below (that’s half the fun!). But remember — keep it constructive. I open to learning so be kind.
russell e travis says
Hey there, Antonina! Many thanks for the Austin/Portland comparison!! All of your observations appear to be sociologically on target (doctorate in Sociology from UT), and experientially true at the gut-level (living in Silicon Forest for the last 15 years). Sorry to hear about the continuous creep of sprawl in my beloved Austin. – Russell