Trying to decide between living in Seattle vs. Portland?
I sat down with my close friend Esther to discuss the differences (and similarities) between living in Seattle vs. Portland. She’s lived in Seattle the past 10 years, and I’m a Portland native.
In my opinion, it’s hard to find someone that loves both cities equally — there’s usually a clear winner depending on the person.
And that’s important to keep in mind as you read through this list. The right city for you is dependent entirely on you.
I’m not one for small talk, so let’s get to the good stuff.
Living in Seattle Vs. Portland
Living in Portland Vs. Seattle (Similarities)
Access to nature
Ah, the biggest reason folks yearn to call the glorious Pacific Northwest home, the incredible nature.
Both cities are a stone’s throw from green spaces and jaw-dropping landscapes.
Seattle is graced by three breathtaking national parks, less than a 3-hour drive from the city. Plus, the iconic view of Mt. Rainier looming over the city is hard to beat.
As if Seattle’s access to incredible nature wasn’t enough, there’s 485 parks within city limits. There’s no reason not to explore the greenery that makes living in Seattle so enjoyable.
Portland is within a two hour drive from the desert, world-renowned Oregon coast, Mt. Hood and too many forests to count.
Plus, similar to Seattle, there’s 279 parks within city limits. Portland’s park system is so well regarded, it consistently ranks as one of the best park systems in America.
It’s obvious that both Seattle and Portland prioritize green spaces, the the access to phenomenal nature is irresistible.
Further Reading: 15 EPIC hikes at Mt. Rainier National Park
Does it rain more in Seattle or Portland?
Everyone knows that gray skies and rainy days are inevitable while living in Seattle or Portland.
Yet few folks know that it actually rains more in Portland than Seattle — Seattle averages 38″ of rainfall annually compared to Portland’s 43″.
But honestly, the rain isn’t the issue. The challenge is the gray and dark winter months that shroud both cities in darkness from November to April.
Whatever you do, don’t move to either city without getting this first (it’s a life-saver for both Portlanders and Seattleites alike, we all swear by it).
The winter months may be a bear, but at least we have the summer months, which are pure bliss in both cities.
Portland summers are more pleasant than Seattle’s and feel longer. Seattle’s summers are slightly cooler, but the winters are milder.
Food, coffee and beer culture
When it comes to coffee – both cities will satisfy and exceed expectations, although it’s impossible to beat Seattle which is often considered the best coffee city in America.
Portland has a robust craft-brew scene and you will never go thirsty. And Seattle? Well, there’s more than 170 breweries to choose from!
Now when it comes to food – both cities have are worth writing home about, but the culinary scene is different.
In Portland, you’ll be hard-pressed to find white tablecloths because mismatched cutlery is considered charming. The food speaks for itself, no pretentiousness needed. *Chef’s kiss
Seattle’s culinary scene is just as incredible but it’s presented with more flare.
Which means if you’re celebrating a big event, Seattle is the place to celebrate. The city pulls out all the stops – plus, there’s always the rotating restaurant atop the Space Needle — impossible to top that. 😉
Oh my, where to begin? If you choose to live in Portland or Seattle, you’ll have your fair share of big names to work for.
Tech-related job opportunities are ample in both cities, which is why millennials flock with eagerness (and student debt) to the Pacific Northwest.
- Seattle’s big employers: Microsoft, Boeing, Amazon, Nintendo, Starbucks.
- Portland’s big employers: Nike, Intel, Adidas, Columbia. If you’re interested in Portland’s largest employers, read: Metro Portland’s Largest Employers.
Did you know? Portland’s tech-industry boom has earned it the nickname Silicon Forest.
Both Seattle and Portland are liberal cities. Like, very liberal. Conversations around free health care? Not crazy in this part of the world.
Perhaps these left-leaning views are made most evident by the recent protests over the murder of George Floyd and racial injustice.
- Portland was made famous for their ability and resolve to protest for longer than a year — seriously.
- Seattle made headlines for setting up an autonomous zone.
Housing prices (¡Ay, caramba!)
Although Seattle’s home prices are higher than those in Portland, the housing market in both places is out of control.
West coast home prices in general are off the charts and most millennials have accepted the fact that home buying isn’t on the table until early 40s for most of us.
Portland: The median price of homes in Portland is currently around $450,000.
Seattle: The median price of homes in Seattle is currently $750,000. Only 29% of millennials living in Seattle own homes — the lowest rate in the country.
This goes hand-in-hand with high housing costs, in my opinion. If you move to Portland or Seattle, you will be exposed to homelessness on a daily basis.
Seattle has the third highest homeless population of any US city and I would be remiss to exclude this fact because it impacts my perception of living in Seattle.
Likewise, homelessness is a contentious issue in Portland and has a very high rate of homelessness that seems to be rising. It’s not uncommon to see Nextdoor forums filled with numerous posts about encounters with homeless folks.
Homelessness is a tough humanitarian issue to solve and both cities are working on it, but I personally have no idea what the solution is and doubt it will get addressed anytime soon.
Living in Seattle Vs. Portland (Differences)
Seattle is a much bigger city than Portland – both in terms of the city’s size and population. Seattle’s population is 745,000, compared to Portland’s 654,000.
Seattle’s downtown core is filled with skyscrapers and cranes (in fact, Seattle has more cranes than any city in America year after year).
Portland has a more manageable feel because there’s no real skyscrapers to speak of.
Oftentimes Portland is known as a “little big town.” The city has resisted the urban sprawl and there’s no intention to make downtown look like a big city anytime soon – if ever.
While neither city will be mistaken for formal, Portland is much more laid back. The residents are modest and move at a slower pace than their northern neighbors.
Simply put, Portlanders are seldom in a rush.
Seattle has some fierce competition in terms of job opportunities and obviously attracts more ambitious folks. This makes Seattle a great city for those looking to make connections and advance their careers.
Another thing about Portland is that the city is indeed laid-back but there’s definitely a fair share of pretentious “hipsters.”
I was chatting to a man preparing to move out of Portland after one year and I asked him why he didn’t enjoy the city.
Portland vegans eat oreos (you can’t make this up).
Perplexed, I asked him to elaborate. He told me that he chose to go vegan for the health benefits and felt that Portland vegans were “fake.”
He decided Texas was a better fit for him; I’ve yet to get confirmation that Texas vegans are more “real” than Portland vegans, but will keep you posted.
Oh, lest I forget. If you aren’t familiar with the term “Seattle Freeze” – I suggest doing some research.
Essentially, it puts into words what many newcomers feel: It’s nearly impossible to befriend locals in Seattle. You have a better chance of befriending other new comers.
But hey, if I’m being honest, Portland locals are reserved as well. However, they’re known to be friendlier than Seattleites.
Cost of living
I won’t lie to you, the cost of living in Portland has skyrocketed in the last decade. It’s not even in the same time zone as affordable anymore.
However, living in Portland is still cheaper than living in Seattle.
The average cost to rent a one-bedroom apartment in Portland is $1,800, compared to $2,500 in Seattle.
Esther shares a home with four roommates in the Ballard neighborhood, and they all pay $1,200 per month.
Oregon has a state income tax of 10% and Washington doesn’t have a state income tax at all.
Why does it matter? Because you’ll bring 10% more of your salary home if you live in Washington.
But I’m all for transparency, what Washington lacks in state income tax it makes up for in sales tax (6.5%) and Seattle has an additional sales tax of 3.75%.
Essentially this means you will be paying a hefty 10.25% in sales taxes on anything you buy in Seattle. Which is one of the top 5 highest sales taxes in the country.
Hence, some Washingtonians head south to Oregon for large purchases like electronics and jewelry. Funny how that works!
Traffic is bad in Portland, but Seattle traffic is something else. Seattle is built around Puget Sound and leaving or entering the city during rush hour is a nightmare.
Time and time again, Seattle clocks in as one of the worst cities for traffic in the country. Rush hour lasts about 5 hours a day (yes, really) and the city is in complete gridlock during that hour.
Portland’s nightmare traffic has officially clocked in as the 6th worst in the country, with an estimated 89 hours a year spent in traffic for the average commuter.
So regardless if you choose to live in Portland or Seattle, expect traffic to become a normal part of your daily life.
Final thoughts on living in Seattle vs. Portland
And there you have it. This is a quick list of the similarities and differences of living in Portland and Seattle.
I’m happy in Portland, I love it here. The only reason I’m open to living somewhere else is because I grew up here. I want to leave and try something new, but can easily see myself returning here and settling down for good.
As for Esther? She can’t imagine leaving Seattle. She’s very career-focused and loves all the city has to offer. She spends most weekends brunching and attending museums and events.
At the end of the day, we’re both happy where we are. We feel lucky to live close to each other (3 hour drive away) and to live in such a green part of the country.
Living in Portland Vs. Seattle (Post Summary)
In sum, here’s a roundup of the things you should know about living in Portland vs. Seattle:
- Hiking and nature scene
- Housing prices
- Career opportunities
- Weather in Portland vs. Seattle
- Beer, coffee and food scene
- City vibe
- Cost of living
More posts you may find interesting
If any questions come to mind as you read through, drop a comment below and either Esther or I will get back to you.
Until next time,