Thinking of relocating to the Pacific NW but I've never been. Help me decide between Oregon and Washington.
September 25, 2012 3:43 PM   Subscribe

I'm thinking of relocating to the Pacific Northwest USA for the climate and scenery, though I've never been before. I have 4 days to visit next month, and am having trouble deciding between Portland and Seattle as a base of exploration.

I do not mean to start a debate over which city or state is best. Just need some help deciding which place I might enjoy more. I work from home, so the local job market is not an immediate concern. Cost of living is something of a concern.

I have spent some time in Austin and enjoyed the vibe there, and I've heard Portland shares some similarities with it. I'm less sure about Seattle. However, it's quite possible I'd want to live in a smaller town outside of these cities and just visit them occasionally.

I have also spent some time in California, particularly Big Sur and the Monterey Bay area and absolutely loved it for the beauty, scenery and proximity to the ocean. I'm all about scenery and easy access to natural beauty.

For those who have been to both Washington and Oregon, which area would you recommend for me and how would you compare the two?
posted by iamisaid to Travel & Transportation around Portland, OR (28 answers total) 13 users marked this as a favorite
My very opinionated opinion as a Seattleite.

Seattle is bigger, has more jobs, has more beautiful scenery, and is more expensive.
Portland is smaller, has fewer jobs, has more quaint/quirky/hipster stuff around town, is more driveable, busable, and bikeable, and is cheaper.

I prefer Seattle (mainly I like that it is bigger and the scenery), but if you don't need to find a job but you do want to control cost of living, Portland sounds like the best bet.

Also, why not spend a couple of days in each place to help you decide? You can take the Amtrak Cascades between the two easily.
posted by grouse at 3:50 PM on September 25, 2012 [6 favorites]

I have lived in both Portland and Seattle (I moved away because of the weather, but I'm sure you don't need to hear about that).

For my taste, if I didn't have to worry about employment, I'd live in Portland between the two. I lived in Seattle for much longer, because I do have to worry about employment :)

However, they are IMHO very different, and if you're considering moving there, I really think you'd do yourself a disservice to not check out both. One advantage of the Seattle area is that it's much larger, so there's a wider variety of neighborhoods and living situations available.
posted by primethyme at 3:51 PM on September 25, 2012 [1 favorite]

I have lived in both Seattle and in the Portland area.

The Portland area is definitely cheaper than the Seattle area, and the Urban Growth Boundary in Oregon means there's less sprawl, so if you want to live in a smaller town outside Portland there is likely to be less strip malls and freeways and suburbs than living in a smaller town outside Seattle. If you live west of Portland, you can get to the coast in an hour; the geography of Seattle means that it takes much longer to get to the coast (though there are places on the Puget Sound which are also nice, and closer, and the San Juans are a pretty nice getaway.

There are also a lot of other great scenic getaways in the Portland area: Mt. Hood, Multnomah Falls, etc.

So, generally, for scenery and access to beauty and lower cost of living, Portland is the clear winner.
posted by rabbitrabbit at 3:52 PM on September 25, 2012 [2 favorites]

Both places are great! In my opinion, Portland has a smaller and slower feel than Seattle. I've also been told it's less rainy. The people and culture are similar. I think it really depends on whether you want to be in a place that's a little smaller and more manageable but perhaps has a little less going on due to its smaller size, or a place that is bigger and a little more hectic but with more going on. Also depends if you like water because Seattle is right next to a lot of water. I think you can't go wrong with either place.
posted by Dansaman at 3:53 PM on September 25, 2012

(That said, if you're asking about the cities themselves, I think Seattle is way nicer than Portland.)
posted by rabbitrabbit at 3:53 PM on September 25, 2012

don't move to seattle! I don't need the competition. I'd think that Portland is a better base of operations just from a geographic perspective, if you want to explore as much as possible of the two states. Seattle would only be better if you were going to look way out on the peninsula.
posted by Chris4d at 3:53 PM on September 25, 2012 [1 favorite]

I recently relocated to the Portland area. It's great here as far as your easy access to natural beauty criterion. There are great hikes within city limits and I've never lived anywhere greener. I think the city is a great size and it has a lot of quirky neat things to do, plus it's very walkable and public transit is fantastic. I really appreciate having both a city and lots of "nature" stuff within easy distance.

I actually live in a smaller Portland suburb because of my job location, so if you have specific questions about that, you can MeMail me. Cost of living is incredibly cheap in the suburbs. If it were practical to live in town, I definitely would. I don't have a car and it's hard to get downtown on a whim, which makes living in my fairly anonymous suburb a little bit lame sometimes.

Portland might be less rainy than Seattle, but it's still really friggin' rainy. I was warned about this before moving here, but yeah. Buy some waterproof footwear.

I think Portland is weirder than Austin, but it's sort of similar in that it's kind of an oasis of weird surrounded by a bunch of normal. Oregon outside of Portland is surprisingly conservative, I've found. Before moving here, I thought otherwise.

(Not sure where you're located now, but all of my Midwestern friends compare Portland to a cooler Minneapolis.)
posted by easy, lucky, free at 4:02 PM on September 25, 2012

I've lived in Portland for seven years and have spent a fair amount of time in Seattle. Seattle definitely feels like more of a "city" city to me. Portland feels like Seattle's scrappy little sister (and I say this in the most loving of ways.)

I moved out here from Philadelphia, so I was used to a certain level of activity and Portland felt really sleepy to me. At least, at first. It's changed quite a bit in the time I've lived here, i.e. actually has nightlife going on in different pockets of the city, not just downtown.

Not sure what types of living situations you'd be looking for, but you can get more for your dollar in Portland than Seattle. I was able to buy a house on a single person's moderate income here, not sure if that would have been possible in Seattle.

You'll have easy access to nature wherever you go.
posted by medeine at 4:05 PM on September 25, 2012

Cost of living is something of a concern.

Seattle is an expensive place to live. Washington State in general is expensive, but Seattle more so.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 4:17 PM on September 25, 2012

If i read your question correctly, you are not trying to decide which place to live just yet, just which place to use as a base of operation for your 4 days to explore, right?
Understand that the dry season here is set to end any day now. We have had a marvelous run of dry weather, and the forest fires to the east of the cascades in washington are making for outstanding sunsets, but the rains are due, and this will dramatically alter your sense of the scenic beauty of the northwest as you can easily be here for 4 days without any hint of sun or mountains and leave wondering what all the hype is about.
Both cities have retained a strong sense of neighborhood, so if you are serious about exploring a place to live in terms of practical livability, you should spend all 4 days in one or the other, but if you just want to get a sense of the northwestness of it all, then, frankly, either city will do.
Natural beauty -- check
Liberal Politics -- check
Craft beer -- check and check again
Portland has, as others have said, a more hipster sensibility, a better public transportation plan and is more bike friendly.
Seattle is more metropolitan (it's relative), and due to its size has a wider variety of most things, more water, more traffic, less NBA teams, more NFL teams etc.
posted by OHenryPacey at 4:19 PM on September 25, 2012 [2 favorites]

have you considered olympia? smaller, better cost of living, good community of arts and music and what have you, not a terrible drive to either seattle or portland.
posted by nadawi at 4:42 PM on September 25, 2012 [1 favorite]

Awesome things about Portland:

- The state mandates that you must be given full service at the gas station.
- There is no sales tax whatsoever. (I think Seattle is sitting at 9.5%, on top of the already inflated cost of living)
- MOUNT HOOD, oh gosh I get choked up thinking about it. Yeah, I know, Rainier, but Hood is prettier.
- Microbrew all over the place
- The world-class Japanese Garden, and generally more parks than you can shake a stick at (including Forest Park, the largest wooded city park in the US)

I've been around Seattle a bit, and it's nice, but it can't touch Portland on these things.
posted by mullingitover at 4:45 PM on September 25, 2012

I think grouse nailed it.

However, it's quite possible I'd want to live in a smaller town outside of these cities and just visit them occasionally.

Portland is already the kind of smaller town you'd live in.

Regarding cost of living, Portland is cheaper, but it's still expensive if you live alone. I pay $800 for a nice apartment ("nice" meaning, "has a dishwasher") on the light rail line on the outskirts of town. Living closer in is more expensive, but the way many people here do it is by renting a room in a house. (Check craigslist for current rates.)

(Full disclosure: I live in Portland but prefer Seattle.)
posted by homodachi at 4:56 PM on September 25, 2012

One more point: it's hard to get by in Seattle without a car. In Portland, a car is completely optional.
posted by homodachi at 4:57 PM on September 25, 2012 [1 favorite]

I lived in a house in pdx with a small legion of roommates, but with the split I ended up paying $150 a month for three years. It was $1500 total for a five bedroom house with a fully built bar/lounge in the basement, and it was within walking distance of downtown. God, those were the days.
posted by mullingitover at 5:02 PM on September 25, 2012

However, it's quite possible I'd want to live in a smaller town outside of these cities and just visit them occasionally.

This makes a huge difference. If that's what you want to do, you want completely different advice than if you want to live in the city.

I live in Seattle. I love it, but if it weren't for the job market and all kinds of friendship inertia, I'd rather live in Portland. Transportation, funkiness, personal preference.

But as for living in a smaller town near one of those cities, that's a completely different story. The greater Seattle area has a lot to offer: Edmonds, Redmond, Bellevue, Bainbridge and Vashon (Island! Ferry!), and in particular West Seattle.

I'm a city person and wouldn't want to leave, but if I were going to live in a smaller town near a city (and thereby miss out on all the awesomeness of transportation, living in a fun urban neighborhood, etc.), I'd want to live near the bigger of the two cities. Plus, the scenery around Seattle is a lot more varied than around Portland (though the areas around both cities are gorgeous).
posted by gurple at 5:20 PM on September 25, 2012 [1 favorite]

As part of your climate criteria, people are correct in assessing that both are not actually on the ocean but I would argue Seattle and Puget Sound give you much more of a saltwater, coastal feel and for me that's a big bonus (oysters! tides! etc!) You can easily take a little jaunt to a variety of islands and travel via ferry. You do have all the pretty rivers for kayaking down in Oregon. Both cities have lovely hills, forests and mountains for hiking close at hand. Seattle offers you closer proximity to the Olympic peninsula and rainforest though just barely.

I don't know much about the towns surrounding Portland, but smaller places near Seattle you might consider are: Port Townsend, Bellingham and Olympia (disclosure: I lived in Olympia and hated it but some people love it) and there are many others depending on your personal tastes.
posted by dahliachewswell at 6:30 PM on September 25, 2012

Unless you want to take advantage of Seattle's texh jobs the answer is going to be Portland. That said, Seattle is nice and worth a visit.

FWiW I get by in Seattle without a car, though it would probably be easier in Portland.
posted by Artw at 7:56 PM on September 25, 2012

One more point: it's hard to get by in Seattle without a car.

I actually disagree with this. I lived completely car-free in Seattle for three years and didn't consider it hard. The key is to make sure you live near some good bus lines. It's easier to get around in Portland without a car, but it's also easier to get around in Portland with a car.
posted by grouse at 7:58 PM on September 25, 2012

Good buslines can mean pricier areas though, so there's that.
posted by Artw at 8:06 PM on September 25, 2012

For your trip, spend two days in each city. If you're asking which airport to use, PDX is more relaxed but SEA has more flights (hence usually has the cheaper flight).

As to all of this grar in the thread- They're both fantastic! Portland is appropriately more "Portlandia" in attitude (watch the show if you haven't seen it), but Seattle has pockets of that vibe too. Both cities offer day trips with great scenery and hiking. Seattle is more scenic, what with the lakes and the Sound and the two mountain ranges, but they're both green and pleasant places to be. You might also think about Vancouver, BC.
posted by qxntpqbbbqxl at 8:29 PM on September 25, 2012

PDX is more relaxed but SEA has more flights (hence usually has the cheaper flight).

Book an open-jaw flight, into one, out the other, train between.
posted by grouse at 9:10 PM on September 25, 2012

People are generally right that the two places each have their own distinctive vibe, and you need to check out both. They are not the same. There are some pretty wide variations on the theme that is Pacific Northwest. Both are great places, with loads of character, natural beauty to spare and phenomenally great people.

I was born and raised in SEA, but my wife is from PDX. When we visit, I find myself more drawn to PDX, but there are challenges to moving back, such as finding work. The market is probably tougher there than SEA since SEA has a definite size advantage. SEA also has the size-related disadvantages, including traffic that is worse than L.A. But if you can make either work, spend a few days checking out each.

Oh, and here's the other thing. The official party line of those of us from the PNW (including people who temporarily left for ten+ years like I have) is that we're supposed to discourage you. If anyone asks what you've been told by locals, please deny having heard anything from any of us and just tell them that we all said "Both places suck. You will hate it there. It is gray and rains all the time. The people are mean, the food is almost as terrible as the air quality, and there is no fun to be had. Job market? LOL! You will probably suffer severe depression and suicidal ideation the whole time. Best not to even think about it. There's nothing to see here. Move along."
posted by Hylas at 10:50 PM on September 25, 2012 [1 favorite]

it's hard to get by in Seattle without a car.

I have to disagree with this.
posted by victory_laser at 1:30 AM on September 26, 2012

I live in Olympia. If you come from a city, you probably wouldn't like it. And it is just far enough from anywhere else to be annoying. I've lived in Seattle. In 1997 the traffic was terrible and public transportation was not great. The traffic is now worse, and the public transportation isn't much better. It is expensive to live there in every way. And if you don't live in Seattle you must have a car. These days, if an event is happening in both Seattle and Portland (for example: author book tour), I will happily drive twice as far down to Portland. Especially since it doesn't take twice as long. I'd live in Portland, if I could. To me, if just feels nicer than Seattle.
posted by monopas at 1:36 AM on September 26, 2012

Seattle has jobs and Portland doesn't.
posted by bardic at 3:11 AM on September 26, 2012

I love Seattle, it is Home, and even though I kind of regret leaving England after only a year, I am *thrilled* to be moving back in December. However, it does sound from your criteria like Portland might be better for you. My husband is from Portland, and we visit his family a fair bit. I quite like it, and it's definitely one of the more attractive cities in the world to me. It really depends on what you're looking for, as others have said, and you really do have to check both of them out yourself to know.

I'm looking at your posting history, and you seem to be into techy and possibly gamer stuff. Seattle has more of both of those things, I think. I can't get a good feel of what else you might be interested in, and unless it's reptiles I may not be the most qualified person to assist. (But oh, if it is, I can hook you up! ;) ) They're both great cities. Seriously, visit both.

And thank you for bringing the joy I feel at the fact that I'm moving home back to the front of my mind!

But oh yeah, weather is terrible, everyone's really mean in Seattle and all hipster-spacey in Portland, you'll totally hate it. Of course. (There, obligation discharged!)
posted by Because at 5:23 AM on September 26, 2012 [1 favorite]

I agree that you can live IN SEATTLE without a car, I lived without a car for years in Seattle, but if you want to live in a smaller city outside of either Seattle or Portland you will need a car, full stop.

I live in a small town a half hour from downtown Portland -- I actually live in the country, on six acres of dense forestland, and I bought the property for $75K last year. Granted, the house is a POS, but there is NO WAY you could live in a small town or in the country, within easy driving distance of Seattle for even twice that. Or even three times that. You could maybe do it for four times that. The Portland area is definitely cheaper, and there are more small towns that aren't just suburban sprawl.

About the darkness/rain/seasonal depression: if you have any inclination to not tolerate the darkness, Portland is, again, your better bet. For an entire year after I moved from Seattle to Portland, I tracked the sunrise and sunset times in both places, and gloated about the extra half hour of daylight we have here at winter solstice. It really is not as dark, and that can be important to some people. As far as the rain, both places seem about equally rainy to me. The summers in Portland are definitely warmer and more summery.
posted by rabbitrabbit at 9:29 AM on September 26, 2012 [1 favorite]

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