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 for the past 10 years and I’m a born-and-bred Portlander (and have the rain jacket collection to prove it!).
A mere three hours apart, these are the two largest cities in the Pacific Northwest and while there’s many similarities between them, there’s an equal amount of differences too.
In my opinion, it’s hard to find someone that loves both cities equally — there’s usually a clear winner depending on the person. I’m not sure why that is, but time and time again, I find folks that ardently love one of the cities and not the other. Go figure.
As such, those contemplating moving to Seattle or Portland will have a few things to strongly consider. Chief among them is the cost of living (bet you can guess which one is more expensive already).
If you feel that way too, you’re definitely not alone. Keep that in mind as you read through this list of the difference between living in Seattle, Washington and Portland, Oregon. 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
Moving to Portland Vs. Seattle (Similarities)
Access to Nature
Ah, the biggest reason folks yearn to call the glorious Pacific Northwest home: the incredible nature. Thankfully, both cities are a stone’s throw from green spaces and jaw-dropping landscapes.
Seattle is graced by three breathtaking national parks (all less than a 3-hour drive from the city). And let’s be honest, that iconic view of Mt. Rainier looming over Seattle is a hard sight to beat.
As if Seattle’s access to incredible nature wasn’t enough, there’s 485 parks within city limits alone. Locals are spoiled for choice when it comes to nature, which is why living an active lifestyle requires little effort in Seattle.
Portland is no stranger to spry locals either!
Sitting a mere two hour drive from the desert, the Columbia Gorge, Oregon coast, Mt. Hood and too many forests to count — like Seattle, Portland’s nature is a breath of fresh air.
And even though Portland doesn’t have 485 parks (Portland has 279 parks within city limits), the city’s park system consistently ranks as one of the best park systems in America.
It’s obvious that both Seattle and Portland prioritize green spaces, so access to nature is available to residents of both cities even without leaving city limits. Hard not to love that.
Further Reading: 15 EPIC hikes at Mt. Rainier National Park
Q: 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 realize that it actually rains more in Portland than Seattle. Yep, Seattle averages 38 inches of rainfall annually compared to Portland’s 43 inches.
But honestly, rain itself isn’t an issue while living in Portland vs. Seattle. No, the biggest challenge in both cities in are the dark gray clouds that take permanent residence above the cities during the long winter months. Ugh, I swear both places are shrouded in darkness from November to April.
Whatever you do, don’t end up moving to Portland or Seattle without getting this bad boy first. I discovered it on my therapists recommendation and swear by it. It’s a life-saver for both Portlanders and Seattleites alike, can’t imagine winter without 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 Seattle and Portland exceed expectations. But if we’re being honest, Seattle isn’t considered the best coffee city in America for nothing (you have to give credit where credit is due!).
On the flip side of the coin, Portland has a robust craft-brew scene that attracts serious beer enthusiasts from all over the country. In fact, Portland has the 8th highest breweries per capita in the nation. Seattle doesn’t even make the list. If interested, here’s a roundup of the best breweries in Portland.
But it’d be a mistake to think you’d go thirsty while living in either Seattle or Portland. Far from it. Seattle has more than 170 breweries within city limits, compared to Portland’s 84. Still, both cities offer thirst-quenching beers, which seems to be the drink of choice for most locals.
Food scene differences between Portland and Seattle
In terms of food culture, moving to either Portland or Seattle is a safe bet. Both cities are firmly rooted on the culinary map but the culinary scene gives off different vibes.
Portland’s food scene needs no introduction. Hell, the City of Roses recently outranked NYC as the best pizza city in the US. (If interested, here’s a quick roundup of the 15 best pizza joints in Portland). Much like Seattle, Portland is all about seasonal quality produce from local farmers.
Unlike Seattle though, Portland doesn’t care about the white tablecloths and finds mismatched cutlery charming. Granted, there’s a few upscale restaruatns in Portland, but they’re the exception rather than the rule.
In Portland 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 (and sometimes a complimentary side of pretension). But truth be told, if you have cause for celebration, Seattle is the place to be because the city pulls out all the stops in a way Portland doesn’t.
Plus, there’s always the rotating restaurant atop the Space Needle — impossible to top that (some pun intended).
Ample Career Opportunities
If you’re contemplating moving to Portland or Seattle to advance your career, you’ll be spoiled for choice. Both cities offer a fair share of big names to work for, but tech-related jobs is where the Pacific Northwest shines brightest.
To break it down a step further, Portland’s top industries are healthcare, government, tech and retail. Seattle’s top industries are science and tech, healthcare and retail. Both cities are tourist hots-pots, so there’s a decent amount of gig in the tourism industry as well.
In terms of job growth, both cities offer a promising outlook. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, both Portland and Seattle saw some of the best job growth in the country in 2021.
Seattle’s job market has shown 5.8% growth in 2021 and was on pace to continue growing. However, 2023 started with a round of heartbreaking layoffs at massive tech firms around the country (and Settle was not immune). We’ll see how the job market levels out, but all things considered — landing a job in Seattle is a pretty safe bet.
At 6.2%, Portland’s job growth exceeded Seattle’s in 2021. Safe to say, job opportunities are ample for those living in Seattle or Portland, which is why millennials flock with eagerness (and student debt) to the Pacific Northwest.
- Seattle’s largest employers: Microsoft, Boeing, Amazon, Nintendo, Starbucks.
- Portland’s largest 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.
Left Leaning Politics
If you’re liberal then moving to Seattle vs Portland won’t be too different for you. Both cities are very liberal and take great pride in passing progressive legislation. Conversations around free health care? Not off the table 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.
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. I would be remiss to exclude this fact because it impacts daily life in Seattle.
Likewise, homelessness is a contentious issue in Portland. The City of Roses has a very high rate of homelessness that seems to be rising year by year. 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)
Cost of Living in Seattle vs. Portland
Which city is more expensive? Seattle, WA or Portland, OR? Both cities are on the high end of the cost index and neither city is in the same timezone as affordable. But let’s turn to the stats to compare the cost of living in Portland vs Seattle.
Home Prices in Portland vs. Seattle
The main culprit for the cost of living differences between Portland and Seattle boils down to housing. Everyday expenses like groceries, healthcare, utilities, etc. are pretty similar between the two cities. The biggest difference is housing (whether you own or rent).
Clocking in at an impressive $800,000, Seattle’s median housing prices are almost laughable. We’re talking starter homes here, people!
But since Ashton Kutcher won’t be popping out of the (well manicured) bushes, there isn’t much to laugh about — turns out you’re not “getting punked” this is just life in Seattle.
Now it’s Portland’s time to shine. While Portland’s median homes prices are some of the highest in the country, at $525,000, they’re nowhere near Seattle’s astronomical costs. All told, Seattle’s home prices are a staggering 52% higher than Portland’s.
Renting in Seattle vs Portland
Most millennials have come to terms with the fact that they won’t own homes in this lifetime. Blame it on the epic housing prices or overpriced avocado toast, but the fact stands.
- Average cost of a one-bedroom apartment in Seattle: $2,300
- Average cost of one-bedroom apartment in Portland: $1,800
The cost of living in Seattle is higher than the cost of living in Portland. And while neither city will come cheap, Seattle’s cost of living in 54% higher than the national average while Portland’s is 27% higher.
Seattle is a much bigger city than Portland, both in terms of size and population. According the US Census Bureau, as of July 2021, Seattle’s population is 734k. Whereas Portland’s population in 2021 clocked in at 641k.
But the latest census numbers show that Oregon is starting to see a decline in population for the first time in decades, which is cause for concern. In fact, of all US states, Oregon is losing residents at the sixth fastest rate. Know which state didn’t make the top 10 list? Washington.
As someone that loves Oregon, stats like this are disheartening to see, but you can’t just dig your head in the sand and hope for the best. Oregon is clearly going through growing pains, especially as it recovers from COVID and the George Floyd protests.
On the contrary, Seattle’s growth is so renowned, the city often gets acknowledged for having the most cranes in the country. But that also highlights a big difference between moving to Seattle vs. Portland — Seattle feels like a “real” city whereas Portland feels like a “little big town.”
Portland’s skyline isn’t marred by skyscraper intentionally. The biggest change we’ve seen to our skyline recently is the new Ritz slated to open this year (2023), which will be the first 5-star hotel in Portland.
Home to a population of 734,000 Seattle is more populous than Portland, Oregon (population 641,000). Additionally, Washington’s population growth is on the rise while Oregon’s saw a decline in 2021.
City Vibe & Lifestyle in Seattle vs. Portland
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. Portlanders are seldom in a rush, unless beer is involved.
Seattle has some fierce competition in terms of job opportunities and obviously attracts more ambitious folks. This makes Seattle a great city for anyone looking to make connections and strides in 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.
His answer? “Portland vegans eat oreos.” (You can’t make this up). According to him, Portland vegans are fake because some of them are not vegan for the health benefits. His solution? He moved to Texas. Fingers crossed Texas has moral vegans!
Note to Self: Learn about the Seattle Freeze before moving to Seattle vs. Portland
But, for every one fake Portland vegan, there’s a cold Seattle local to thaw out. If you’re unfamiliar with the term “Seattle Freeze” allow me to share some insight. By and large (isn’t this how most generalizations start?), Seattleites are serious people.
These folks are the movers and shakers responsible for the likes of Microsoft and Amazon, they get stuff done. As such, people that are attracted to living in Seattle vs living in Portland tend to be more business-minded. They
want to need to change the world.
And you know what you don’t have time for when you’re changing the world? Friends!
Which is why Seattle locals get a bad rap for being unfriendly. A lot of people that end up moving to Seattle complain about the difficulty around befriending locals.
But hey, if I’m being honest, Portland locals are very reserved as well. However, they’re known to be friendlier than Seattleites and exude a more laid-back vibe.
My cousin grew up in Portland but went to college in Seattle and ended up living there for 10 years. I’m still waiting for the man to thaw out and stop treating social interactions like a calculation. But he studied physics, so maybe it’s not a Seattle thing in his case. Eh, who the heck?
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 is considered 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.
Deciding Between Living in Seattle or Portland (Final Thoughts)
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.