Testing out Portland and Seattle - what neighborhood to stay in.
October 9, 2014 6:18 PM   Subscribe

My wife and I are planning a visit to Portland and Seattle to see if they are cities we would want to move to. What part of town should we stay in? And what parts of town should we visit?

This is our first visit to the Northwest - we've never been to either city. We're planning about 2 1/2 days in Portland and the same in Seattle.

If we were just visiting for a fun weekend, we'd stay downtown... but our primary reason for visiting is to see if the cities are a good fit for us. We want to get a feel for the cities themselves but also visit and drive through neighborhoods to get an idea of what it would be like to live there.

We're having our first child soon, so we probably wouldn't live downtown. We'd want to be close enough to the city to be able to easily get downtown, find independent restaurants, local coffeeshops, etc, and far enough out that we can afford a nice house. Not so far out that we're eating at Applebees. (I have the assumption that the cool stuff to see and do in these cities are downtown, and the suburbs are not nearby. Is that correct?)


Are there cool neighborhoods outside the downtown areas where people can afford houses? What are they?
Should we stay downtown or in one of these cool neighborhoods?
What neighborhoods should we visit in each city?

posted by kdern to Travel & Transportation around Seattle, WA (17 answers total) 11 users marked this as a favorite
What do you consider "affordable"?
Buying or renting?
posted by jimmereeno at 6:22 PM on October 9, 2014

"Where people can afford houses" is hard to judge. What is your nominal budget?
posted by janell at 6:23 PM on October 9, 2014

Response by poster: Good question - probably somewhere in the $200-500k range. We're interested in condos in newer buildings too.
posted by kdern at 6:26 PM on October 9, 2014

Portland is sometimes called a city of neighborhoods. It's not like all the good stuff is downtown and everything else is the burbs. There are many great, walkable neighborhoods with good restaurants all over town.

Your price range will let you move to many, if not most, Portland neighborhoods.

There are so many options it's hard to know where to suggest. You might browse this list of Portland neighborhoods as a start, and maybe give more thoughts on your ideal neighborhood.
posted by bluedaisy at 6:58 PM on October 9, 2014 [1 favorite]

My kids live in the Ballard neighborhood in Seattle and they love it. It's my favorite od the neighborhoods they've lived in, although West Seattle comes in a close second.
posted by OkTwigs at 7:16 PM on October 9, 2014 [2 favorites]

Seattle definitely has what you're looking for in terms of nice homey neighborhoods near downtown, with good coffee shops, local restaurants, etc. Below I've given you the most obvious neighborhoods to check out - there are definitely others, but this would be a great starting point. You can definitely buy a house in Seattle in the 500K range. You can definitely not buy a house in Seattle in the 200K range.

Day 1:
Visit Ballard, Queen Anne and Phinney Ridge. Queen Anne is a bit more bougie, Phinney is very liberal-family-friendly. Stay overnight in Ballard, check out their restaurant/coffee/brewery scene (and the Farmer's Market, if you're there on a Sunday morning).

Day 2:
Visit West Seattle, Columbia City and the Central District. These three are really different - West Seattle feels almost suburban (but with independent coffee shops), Columbia City is fully gentrified but is adjacent to cheaper neighborhoods, and the Central District is still mid-gentrification (but would be a good bet if you end up needing to spend considerably less than 500K). It's also next to Capitol Hill, which is a fun neighborhood to go out in.
posted by leitmotif at 7:46 PM on October 9, 2014 [1 favorite]

Just wanted to note that downtown is decidedly NOT the nice part of either Seattle or Portland. Portland is going to have many more neighborhoods in your price range. In Seattle, the Central District, Columbia City, and Georgetown are most likely to be in your price range. West Seattle too, but that's more of a hike into the city.
posted by rabbitrabbit at 7:52 PM on October 9, 2014

I live on the edge of Phinney Ridge and Greenwood and our street is full of families with elementary aged kids. Most houses on our block go for $400k for 2 bedroom, 1 bath. Our public elementary school is okay, but not great. And it is important to know that both Portland and Seattle public schools have pretty bad reputations. If you're planning to buy with the intention of little one going to school in that neighborhood, you need to think a lot about schools. We do private Catholic and live in a cheaper neighborhood. We could have moved to a more expensive neighborhood and had a decent public school.
I can drive to downtown in 10-20 minutes, ~25-40 minutes on the bus. Most people in my neighborhood commute to downtown.
We have a ton of cool funky good places to eat and drink. We have grocery stores. We have public transit.

As a side, as a former non-parent, I find that what I want in a house with a kid differs from what I wanted without one and what I wanted when I had a baby. If I were in your shoes, I'd try to rent first.
posted by k8t at 8:05 PM on October 9, 2014 [1 favorite]

Oh, here's a place on our block. Went for 415k for 1660 square feet. And the place looked nice, but had a huge sewer issue.
posted by k8t at 8:19 PM on October 9, 2014

It's hard to stay in a neighborhood, unless you're doing an Air BnB - because hotels are clustered near tourist areas / airports / downtown. But one option in Portland that would put you in a neighborhood is the McMenamin's Kennedy School. That will put you smack dab into NE Portland, ensconsed in a neighborhood (it was originally a neighborhood school, hence the location). You can walk to some places at 30th & Killingsworth. You can walk a bit further, and check out the Alberta area (NE Alberta between 33rd & 15th-ish. You're also close to the Beaumont neighborhood and NE Fremont (42nd through 55th-ish). You're within a quick drive of Hollywood and Laurelhurst, too. To me, this is the heart of NE Portland.

This will give you a good neighborhood feel. It's not 100% walkable, but most neighborhoods aren't.

As for other Portland neighborhoods, you might be interested in Sellwood (inner SE) or Multnomah Village (SW Portland), but neither really has hotels to stay in. But they have splendid downtown areas.
posted by hydra77 at 10:03 PM on October 9, 2014

In Portland I'd go to the near parts of SE, specifically between the river and 39th (Cesar Chavez), and between Burnside and Powell. There are not any suitable hotels there, but a lot of airbnb and vrbo.

I encourage you to time your visit with winter weather, beginning about now, so that you experience the more typical stretches of rain and darkness. A lot of people find they can't handle six months of that.
posted by Nelson at 1:26 AM on October 10, 2014 [1 favorite]

Here's a recent AskMe about Seattle and the area.

Since you're having a child: let's talk about schools.

Washington is terrible when it comes to funding education, and our class sizes are among the largest in the country. The Seattle school district is chaotic -- a lot of turnover, wasted money, and a special ed department that's falling apart. If I were moving to a new city and had a kid on the way, I would priortize looking at schools. In Seattle I have friends in Wedgwood and Phinney Ridge who are satisfied with their kids' schools, and there are coffee shops and no Applebees.
posted by The corpse in the library at 10:40 AM on October 10, 2014 [3 favorites]

In Portland, look for airbnb's in Kenton/Denver or St. John's - those are all North Portland areas, with a good slice of Portland life. Fairly walkable, close to schools/restaurants/bars/farmers markets and all that sort of big city neighborhoody thing, but NoPo is slightly more affordable than the rest of the city.
posted by pdb at 3:15 PM on October 10, 2014

The Inn at Northrup Station is a good not-too-expensive place (with kitchenettes!) for exploring NW Portland, if you can find anywhere up there in your price range.

I'd recommend checking out the Mississippi and Alberta neighborhoods if you like funkiness and don't have a problem with being part of the gentrification process. In the Southeast, check out the streets around Clinton (in the teens) and Division in the 20s and 30s, which has been completely transformed by new development in the last year or so. Whether it's for the better, who knows, but it is different. The new bridge that will open next year, the pretty white suspension one, will probably change these "Inner Southeast" neighborhoods even more.

We live in the SE, in the 30s between Belmont and Hawthorne, and couldn't love our neighborhood more. Walking distance to almost everything, plus you can be downtown in ten minutes on a bike. (Ok, it's downhill.) If the weather is decent and you're in shape, I'd recommend renting bikes and see what the city is like that way for a day.

And [ahem] I can recommend a good (if somewhat outdated) guidebook and foodie travel articles.
posted by gottabefunky at 4:55 PM on October 10, 2014

We're having our first child soon, so we probably wouldn't live downtown. We'd want to be close enough to the city to be able to easily get downtown, find independent restaurants, local coffeeshops, etc, and far enough out that we can afford a nice house.

Also check out the east-side of the Greater Seattle Area. Kirkland has a small waterfront downtown with independent restaurants, parks, etc, Bellevue's is larger with more upmarket shopping, they're adjacent so both are at hand, but the east side has a more suburban vibe (parking is free and plentiful, low crime, more visible wealth, almost no beggars, etc) which might be a plus or a minus depending on your preferences, and they have areas where housing isn't crazy either (as well as areas where it is - such as around the Microsoft campus where people working there pay premium to have no commute, or areas that are just ultra-wealthy enclaves like the lakefront Gates estates). The east side is also close enough to downtown Seattle that's it's fairly quick to get there, (except in rush hour, but nowhere in the Seattle area moves fast during rush hours) while they're that much closer to the great outdoors, hikes, etc.

East-side and Seattle residents often talk down the other side, so check things out for yourself rather than taking the local's word for it :)
posted by anonymisc at 5:41 PM on October 10, 2014

I second looking around inner SE & NE Portland. Your price range might be a bit restrictive for those areas, but houses cheaper than $500k do exist there, they're just more uncommon. My favorite neighborhoods that have nice neighborhood-y feels but are still within walking distance of shops and easy access to downtown are Irvington and Grant Park in NE and Buckman, Sunnyside, and Laurelhurst in SE. (Map for reference). I personally live in Hosford-Abernethy which is nice but the houses tend to be quite expensive. gottabefunky's recommendations of Mississippi, Alberta, and Division are considered to be the fun and funky areas but they are super overrun by hipsters and it's easy to get sick of that pretty fast (speaking from experience...) - so the neighborhoods I mentioned are adjacent to those. Easy access but have a more family-friendly feel.

While pdb is right in that Kenton/Denver and St. John's are much more affordable, they are relatively far from downtown (nothing here is too far, hence the relatively part) and they can be a bit...iffy. Kenton is nice but is surrounded by less-desirable areas, and St. John's is filled with college students and has never struck me as a particularly appealing area.

I'm not sure where you're coming from but one thing to note is that it doesn't take too long to get to downtown Portland from anywhere, really. And like someone else mentioned, events take place all over town. I sometimes go ages without going downtown and still do tons of cool stuff.

Sorry if this was a bit rambly...hopefully it helps a bit!
posted by majesty_snowbird at 6:18 PM on October 11, 2014

I'm with pdb and hydra77 on the recommendations to look in North (Kenton, St. Johns, Dekum Triangle) and Northeast (Alberta, Hollywood), where the real estate is more affordable and the population has noticeable economic and ethnic diversity. Staying at Kennedy School would be a good way to stay someplace convincingly residential but still be walkable.
posted by janell at 3:01 PM on October 15, 2014

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