Visiting Portland OR in order to decide whether to move there
January 14, 2017 5:53 AM   Subscribe

My husband and I will have the chance to visit Portland OR in a couple of weeks for about 4 days (Saturday through Tuesday) as part of an in-person interview I have with a company up there. I am fairly confident of getting offered the job, but less confident on whether we want to move from the SF Bay Area to Portland or not. What should we do/see/experience in Portland over these four days to help us make this decision? What should we know about Portland before moving there?

I'll be interviewing most of the day on Tuesday, but the previous three days will be free for my husband and me to explore the city and/or surrounding area.

More about us:
Early 30s hetro nonreligious white professional couple with a 7-month-old baby and two large dogs. We currently live in the Bay Area (in South Berkeley), and like many aspects of it (weather, awesome food, relatively close to outdoor activities, good friend group, very walkable mixed-use neighborhood, politics aligned with ours, lots of like-minded people), but dislike other aspects (cost of living driven by tech money which we don't quite make, shitty commutes into SF, traffic in general, start-up scene seems to be pushing the culture more towards live-to-work than we like).

We are not super into "culture" activities (bars/live music/high-end restaurants/art/theater), we ARE super into outdoor activities (rock climbing, backpacking, camping, biking, skiing, etc.). When we're not outside, we introvert with books, video and board games, cooking good food, and chilling with friends. We go to Burning Man regularly. Our baby goes to a small Montessori daycare and we absolutely love & trust the level of care he's getting.

More about the potential move to Portland:
We started looking into jobs outside the Bay Area because we see a lot of stressed-out parents around us trying to manage two hectic jobs, bad commutes, rushing from thing to thing, and struggling to afford a comfortable life (unless one partner makes tech money), especially if they upgrade to two kids. We don't want that to be our lives.

If we moved to Portland, I'd make around $110k and my husband would start a job search (he's in data analytics), but is okay staying at home with our baby for awhile. Our concerns with Portland are whether the pace of life would be too slow, whether we'd be able to build as wonderful & supportive of a friend group as we have cultivated in the Bay Area (especially given that we have a baby now - do families live in Portland or is all 20-something hipsters?), whether my husband's job prospects would suck in the long run, whether OR would be as good a political/societal shelter from what's happening at the federal level as we expect CA to be, whether we'd find as good a daycare as we have now, and whether there are Portland/Oregon things we don't know about but really should before making the move.

Other things
- I have some extended family in the region, but they're culturally very different from us (although nice people), so I don't think the things they like/dislike about Portland would be good indicators for us.
- We both grew up in rainy/cloudy areas pretty far north, and aren't too worried about the Portland gloom. We'd probably be going over to Smith Rock to climb in the high desert regularly anyway, so we'd get sunshine there.
- We could probably swing buying a ~450K house, but wouldn't be comfortable going higher. We currently rent, but I understand the renting stock is very low in Portland.
- We've both visted Portland in the past, but before we were a couple and in our early twenties when our lives were completely different.
- Anon since my current job doesn't know I'm interviewing

In short: we've got a pretty good life in the Bay Area. We're worried about the future of raising a family here, though, and are wondering if Portland would be a better long term fit. What should we go/do/see in Portland, or hear about Portland before making this decision?
posted by anonymous to Home & Garden (15 answers total) 14 users marked this as a favorite
I haven't lived in Portland since I was a kid, but I visit frequently. Provided you pick the right neighborhood, I think you'll find your local dining, coffee, etc. experiences much improved & somewhat cheaper. Portland seems to have a profusion of small businesses and local-ish franchises that don't do as well in high-rent areas, like Peet's, McMenamin's, Powells, etc. also, Mt. Hood is literally an hour away. Your outdoors opportunities increase exponentially, other than the beach, which is a little further. The cascades are too full of things to see in one lifetime, & you can make the Olympic National Park on a long weekend.

If you're willing to look at suburban or semi-rural living & can tolerate a commute, look at Forest Grove & the other small towns in the Tualatin valley. In the opposite direction, Clackamas, Gresham & Troutdale seem nice. I would avoid Tigard, Hillsboro & Beaverton - crowded, rapidly growing, high-tech & full of type-a personalities who want to beat you to the red light that may remind you of the worst parts of living in the Bay Area.

Downside - I live in Austin where traffic is generally horrible & I don't find Portland to be much better. The I-84/I-5/405/26 west maze around downtown is frustrating & stress-inducing. I would absolutely try to factor that out of your commute if at all possible.

It had been on our shortlist, but ultimately we just wanted to end up somewhere smaller since we're going to retire after our next move, so different scenario, there.
posted by Devils Rancher at 7:49 AM on January 14, 2017 [2 favorites]

Cool things to do & see: Lan Su Chinese Garden, Washington park, esp. The rose garden, Mt. Tabor, historic Columbia River highway, esp. Vista House & the falls east of there, other than Multnomah, which is nice, but has become the Disneyland of waterfalls. If you have time to range further afield, Hood River is a great little town & Silver Falls state park is an unknown gem.

On the coast, turn south at Lincoln City -- Depoe Bay, Newport & Yachats (Cape Perpetua) are all strictly amazing.

Also, you should be able to find a decent house in your price range, & politically, you'll be comfortable, absent the loggers. There is a lot of polarization there, but it's generally pretty liberal throughout the state.
posted by Devils Rancher at 8:11 AM on January 14, 2017 [2 favorites]

You can find a house for $450 and that's a good price to have in mind if you want to live somewhat close in. Rental market is very tight and even tighter if you have dogs. You have a lot of worries and assumptions that seem all over the map. I'll bullet a few things and feel free to message me if you have other questions.

- plenty of young kids and families. Hipsters, yes. Young people, yes. Hipsters with kids also! Also, every other kind of family.
- there's plenty of things to do but the pace and breadth of activities is much smaller. We are a smaller city but much more navigable and cheaper.
- outdoorsy homebodies? You might already be a Portlander!
- do a search for Montessori schools and care facilities, there are a number. Plus Waldorf, nature based play, outdoor schools, Reggio schools, blah, blah. Plenty of options.
- your salary puts you in a fine starter spot to make a real inroad into Portland. I think housing will be your biggest challenge. If you are frugal, you could probably even have your husband not work for a few months while you get your footing. Could that happen in SF? I feel like no.
- Oregon is a melange of political influences and Portland is the most left leaning. We vote consistently Democratic but we don't have as much clout as California. It's also very white. If you or your family is not white, it can be alienating, I understand. And if you are white, it can be strange when you're used to a more diverse urban environment. It can be a bit bland.

If you need a realtor or want to talk specific locations for visiting while you are here, send me a message!
posted by amanda at 8:26 AM on January 14, 2017 [3 favorites]

We started looking into jobs outside the Bay Area because we see a lot of stressed-out parents around us trying to manage two hectic jobs, bad commutes, rushing from thing to thing, and struggling to afford a comfortable life[...]

Portland still has all those things and stressors, maybe not to the same degree, but it's becoming more and more like that here. Our traffic is getting worse all the time (with no real solutions being approached), and getting around the city on a weekend is actually getting kind of difficult. I've gone so far as to actually mail order something from across town, because it would've taken 2 hours r/t just to do the damn errand. Trying to rush from thing to thing (and not being able to) is increasingly becoming the norm, especially if you have kids. I don't know what SF traffic is like, but PDX traffic has been getting pretty bad in the last few years, and unless you live really close to where you work, it can get a bit daunting.

If you were going to buy a home, your salary would probably put you in an okay hood. Renting is a fools errand here, especially with dogs. Keep in mind that most of the 'livable' hoods are either super expensive, or pretty isolated. I would most certainly try renting for a while, if you can, just to get a feel for where in the city you guys need to be. Where you live, based on where you work can really change alot of the calculus of what makes a neighborhood livable here. Without knowing where the company is located, I wouldn't even start to make neighborhood recommendations.

There are lots of people with kids here, but our experience is that they're pretty marginalized (YMMV, of course). We find having a kid in the city actually pretty difficult (but better than the burbs, so here we are). If this wasn't my hometown and my wife and I had an extensive support network here, we probably would not be raising a family here.

Portland has a making-friends-culture very similar to the Seattle Freeze. It's hard to make friends here, and building a network can take quite a bit longer than other cities. Warranted or not, the trope of Oregonians railing on Californians for "changing" things is very real. If you move here, and you have a car, get your plates changed quick, and I would probably find a tactful way of avoiding saying where you moved from, especially if you live in a neighborhood that is gentrifying hard. I've been witness to some really awkward conversations between fresh off the boat SF folks and people who've lived here for a long time. It's dumb, but it is a thing.

We are also a very white, fairly racist city. So there's that. We've had to have many conversations with our 4 year old about race already, because we've seen some crazy shit go down that's racially charged. We also live in kind of a sketchy neighborhood.
posted by furnace.heart at 9:13 AM on January 14, 2017 [3 favorites]

Hi! My spouse and I (and our friends) sound very similar to you -- 30something couple with two small kids; homebodies who love the outdoors. Families DEFINITELY live in Portland. I love raising my kids here. We walk and bus and bike places; there are tons of kid-friendly restaurants with actually good food; it's relatively cheap to do stuff. I think Portland is about as close to outdoorsy stuff as Berkeley is, time-wise, but outdoors stuff is somewhat seasonal. We tend to spend practically all spring-summer-early fall outside, and then move indoors for the dark time of year, which is when we turn into book-reading, game-playing, tea-drinking homebodies.

My kids don't go to school or daycare, so I can't speak to that stuff very well. I know from friends that there are a ton of options, although the public school situation is mixed. (It's been historically pretty bad, but in gentrifying neighborhoods, more parents are getting involved and things are changing. Gentrification is complicated.)

We get by on one income similar to what you'll be making. We own our home, but we also bought it in 2008. Traffic is getting bad here, but it's still not as bad as the Bay. I've found the pace of things generally to be slower here than in California and less focused on careers and power and prestige. I like that a lot.

I've struggled to find friends since becoming a parent (I have a solid community from before I had kids), but I'm not sure I can generalize that to a Portland thing vs. a me thing.
posted by linettasky at 10:04 AM on January 14, 2017

I moved to Portland from New York about two years ago.

Traffic is a joke compared to places with actual traffic. Yeah, there's some traffic, and the traffic to go back and forth to Vancouver is legit bad, but for the most part, avoid I-5 and you'll be fine. Portland drivers also get over as soon as possible, leaving through lanes clear, which I actually appreciate a lot--no blocking all three lanes and then trying to merge over at the last second here, for the most part. A lot of big employers are out in the west suburbs though (Beaverton) and if you live on the east side you'll probably hate your life. Unless you take the Max, which is okay but slow.

The rental market here is... fine? Like, coming from the Bay Area, you'll be fine. I pay $1175 (includes water/sewer/heat/garbage) for a decent-sized 1 bedroom downtown. A friend rents a big three-bedroom house in NE for $2000/month. It's not that bad here.

Agreed that you should change your plates ASAP--California hate is a real thing here.

Things that I've found hard about Portland:

Making friends. I've been here almost 2 years and still don't really have any good friends. Mostly friendly acquaintances that I meet for coffee or a drink sometimes, or go to the movies with. Might be less of an issue for you since you're married with a baby.

The culture. Portland is very classically passive-aggressive. People won't just tell you they don't want to do something, they'll just not answer you. Stuff like that. Again, might be less of an issue for you since you're already on the West Coast.

People do really hibernate in the winter. Don't discount the effect the weather has on people--it's real. It's been sunny for a few days and it's amazing how much better I feel, even with the foot of snow on the ground (not typical!) that no one has shoveled.

Portland is... isolated. The nearest big city is 3-4 hours away. The next nearest big city is 8-10 hours away. Things get real desolate real fast once you leave the Portland metro area, which doesn't take long--Oregon has this thing called an Urban Growth Boundary, which basically means there's no sprawl. You can drive out of Portland and be in fields in like a half hour.

Overall, I would characterize Portland as a big town more than a small city. It doesn't have a critical mass to have really good public transportation. There's no major university here, museums are lacking, stuff like that. I also find the government to be laughably ineffective--Portland has a weak mayor system which mostly seems to result in a lot of hand-wringing and very little action--it's hard to get things done here.

It is also insanely white.

I sound down on Portland--but I guess I'm down on Portland!
posted by Automocar at 10:15 AM on January 14, 2017 [9 favorites]

Howdy - my husband and I moved to Portland a couple years ago now so I'll chime in. First, as furnace.heart mentions, it's also been my experience that people here HATE Californians. So, yes, if you do move here, change your plates ASAP and I wouldn't volunteer information that you are from California. If you are wanting to buy a house, this might play a role - I've seen in numerous parts of the city, on the "for sale" signs, stickers that explicitly say "no Californians". The native Oregonians dislike the perception that wealthy Californians are packing up their things and coming to Portland and buying up all the housing stock and making houses unaffordable for them. I don't know how true this is but yeah, you might bump up into people who feel this way.

Renting has been relatively easy for us - we follow the rental market on Craigslist, Zillow, Padmapper, etc. and there always seems to be stuff in our price range. But, depending on the neighborhood, you might find the good places go fast, or you end up competing with 5 other families or whatever. It is harder to rent with dogs, based on what some of my friends here have said.

Automocar is right in that Portlanders are passive aggressive. I've seen this at work and it can be obnoxious. I'm originally from the east coast, and I tend to prefer in your face belligerence if someone dislikes me but it's not like that here.

Homebody outdoorsy folks? You will fit in here in that regard.

As for what you should do when you are here - if I were in your shoes I'd investigate the neighborhoods closest to where your job is, and see how you like them. Traffic here can be really annoying in different ways than from the east coast so living closer to your job is preferable. I-5/I-84/I-205/Route 26 can be fucking terrible in the mornings and evenings and on weekends have started to be more clogged as well. People here don't seem to just drive. They like to stop, slow down, and look at random nonsense on the side of the road. I really don't get it. If people would just step on it a bit, we'd all get there, but, hey what do I know. They are also timid mergers onto the highway, which also slows things down.

There are definitely families here, but I hear the public school system sucks in a lot of districts, so you'll have to do some research there.

Feel free to message me, I'm sure I can think of other things about this city to discuss haha. Enjoy your visit!
posted by FireFountain at 10:22 AM on January 14, 2017

Also, I should have mentioned that despite all the negative things I said above, we really do love it here. It has a ton of cool outdoorsy shit to offer, and the food scene is fabulous! Mass transit is more convenient here than in any other city I've ever been to or lived in, and its easy to use. And, people here are not crazy workaholics in my experience. Things here are way more laid back than what I'm used to, in a good way. People care about their families and make time to spend with them here.
posted by FireFountain at 10:26 AM on January 14, 2017

Pay attention to foundations when house shopping -- you can't seismic a 1907 foundation. The concrete just isn't good enough. And the CSZ quake is gonna happen someday.

Place to check out: Everett Housing Healing Center, a spa where you can soak in an outdoor hot tub under pretty trees. They've got saunas, too.
posted by cnidaria at 12:00 PM on January 14, 2017 [2 favorites]

The traffic does stink here, especially if there is any sort of weather, and especially if you have to cross the Willamette. Since you know where you'd be working, spend time in that area because I'd recommend that you live near work.

Portland is a great casual town. We love our food and drink. We love our quirkiness, though you'll find more of that on the east side. The Mcmenamins chain is a good intro to portland culture (though a lot of locals love to hate Mcmenamins). Check out Kennedy School if you're anywhere near it.

For other things to do, check out Powells downtown and get a slice of pizza from Sizzle Pie. Or walk a few blocks over to Kenny and Zukes for a Jewish deli, or go to Lardo for an amazing sandwich.

I do think Portland is enough of a bubble from national politics, as is California. However, its hard to say whether portland is too slow paced for you. I've never lived in SF, but I'd guess it's a little slower here, and people are a lot less flashy here, less impressed by wealth.
posted by hydra77 at 12:29 PM on January 14, 2017

Wow, I have to say that I think those complaining about the rental/housing market and traffic maybe don't realize how bad those things are elsewhere, particularly in the Bay Area and even in Seattle? For someone with the household income you're describing, it's not going to be that much of a struggle to find a house in good shape in a good neighborhood. I rent an amazing house in an good neighborhood, with a Great Dane and a cat and pay significant deal less than I did most recently renting in Seattle for a place half as big and rife with crime.

On another positive note, people here are very friendly—authentically, strike up a conversation and make a connection friendly—compared to anywhere else I've lived (Southwest/Midwest/elsewhere in Pacific Northwest.) I have heard my girlfriend's friends say that it is easier to make friends as parents, so that's in your favor; even as a childless person with hermit-tendencies, Portland has blown me away with how easy it is to find things to do with friendly people. (I haven't taken advantage of it yet, but there appear to be plenty of mefites here, BTW.) I would not describe people as overly passive aggressive. I moved here because I hated that culture in Seattle and haven't encountered that toxic fake nice but really not shit EXCEPT at four way stops (the key is to accept that people won't go when it's their turn out of 'politeness' and to appreciate that it's basically sanctioned line cutting).

Downsides: weather, for sure. Pretty mild winters but extremely dark in a way that makes hibernating far too easy. (Also, the city is currently crippled because of a snowstorm that we lack the infrastructure to deal with, made worse by a melt/freeze cycle turning everything to ice, but my ladyfriend, a native, assures me is not typical though does happen every few years.) For me, the proximity to the outdoors is a huge draw and so much is accessible during longer days in the summer or the weekends that it's easy to make it part of a routine. Also, you won't lack for cultural activities, for a fairly small city, Portland has a lot going on. (Hamilton will be coming here on tour 2017/18 :)

I do agree that you need to consider the near certainty of an earthquake happening sometime in the next 50 years. I'm planning on buying a house this year and not seeing a lot of places that wouldn't pass the expense of necessary earthquake retrofitting to the buyer (but my rental house has been, which I have never been able to find in similarly seismically challenged Seattle.) It's worth thinking about challenges you might face if we got The Big One or even a little one in terms of which bridges are guaranteed to fail (sadly, many of them) and whether you live in a zone where liquefication will occur or whether you want to take the risk at all.
posted by the thorn bushes have roses at 1:40 PM on January 14, 2017 [1 favorite]

What should we do/see/experience in Portland over these four days to help us make this decision?

It seems like a lot of people are suggesting that you go see some of the great things Portland has, but your day to day life isn't going to involve those things much.

Try a sample commute from an area you might live to where you would work, during the time you would actually be doing it. Go to a grocery store during your usual shopping time. Try a restaurant of the sort you'd usually eat at (not a "special occasion" one).

we ARE super into outdoor activities (rock climbing, backpacking, camping, biking, skiing, etc.). When we're not outside, we introvert with books, video and board games, cooking good food, and chilling with friends. We go to Burning Man regularly. Our baby goes to a small Montessori daycare and we absolutely love & trust the level of care he's getting
Our concerns with Portland are whether the pace of life would be too slow

I'm a little confused about why you are concerned that the pace of life in Portland would be too slow for your introvert time with books and cooking.

we see a lot of stressed-out parents around us trying to manage two hectic jobs, bad commutes, rushing from thing to thing, and struggling to afford a comfortable life

It sounds like you don't want to have a fast paced life?

You should think about what exactly your concerns about the pace of life are and what this "pace of life" phrase means to you.

Portland (and many other places) have their own Burning Man local communities, and there are certainly people who live in Portland and go. And there are lots of outdoor activities in Oregon. But presumably you aren't attending Burning Man or going skiing within the SF Bay Area... you'll have to leave the city for these things in Portland too.

It takes time and work to build a friend group, and that's going to be true anywhere you go.

Oregon, at the state government level, is rather on the liberal/progressive side. The state government is in a better position than California's as far as funding.
posted by yohko at 3:50 PM on January 14, 2017 [3 favorites]

Someone touched on the weather thing further up and it really is a thing. It usually rains 8 months out of the year, sometimes lots, sometimes not.
posted by fiercekitten at 9:33 AM on January 15, 2017

I think you should consider that Portland and Oregon overall are in a rapid transition right now. The Portland you see in a couple weeks is not the same Portland you will be living in for the next 20 years. One might say that this is the case with cities everywhere but I believe due to its size and due to economic and population dynamics the change here will be much more profound.
posted by Pembquist at 11:04 AM on January 16, 2017

If you do decide you want to move to PDX, memail me and I can put you in touch with a very down to earth realtor, who is also a recent (-5 years) Bay Area transplant.
posted by elsietheeel at 4:26 PM on January 17, 2017

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