Portland vs. Seattle: Which City is Best for You?

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view of Portland skyline

If you’re moving or thinking about moving to the Pacific Northwest, the two primary cities that may be vying for your consideration are likely Portland, Oregon, and Seattle, Washington. Both locations share a love of coffee, a populace with a passion for the outdoors, and significant amounts of rain. Still, despite these similarities, the two metropolises have many differences. Here’s your guide to the similarities and differences between Portland versus Seattle.

Vibe and culture: Portland vs Seattle

Both Portland and Seattle have a unique charm that draws new residents each year. Portland is known for its laid-back and quirky culture, with a thriving arts and music scene. Seattle on the other hand, has a bustling tech industry and coffee culture. Both Portland and Seattle have world-class museums and art galleries that showcase local and international artists. Portland is home to the Portland Art Museum, which houses an impressive collection of Native American art, and the Oregon Museum of Science and Industry, a popular attraction for families. Seattle has several museums, including the Seattle Art Museum and the Museum of Pop Culture, which showcases music, science fiction, and popular culture.

Transportation: Portland vs Seattle

Both Seattle and Portland have robust public transportation systems. In Seattle, there are extensive bus options, streetcars, a light rail, a monorail, ferries, and water taxis. Portland also has a public bus, a light rail and commuter rail, streetcars, and an aerial tram.

Additionally, these cities are among the most bike-friendly metro areas in the country. Seattle and Portland have embraced bicycling, creating extensive networks of biking trails to promote it as a means of transportation for all ages and abilities.

Despite these numerous transportation options, it’s worth noting traveling via car in either city will come with its challenges. According to auto insurance provider Jerry, Portland has the 11th worst traffic congestion among all cities in the United States. Similarly, Seattle is also one of the worst cities for traffic in the nation. In 2020, Seattle drivers lost approximately 30 hours due to traffic congestion.

Cost of living: Portland vs Seattle

Each of these Pacific Northwest cities has a higher cost of living than the national average. Seattle’s total cost of living is approximately 53% higher than the national average. Housing is the most significant cost, rating 103% higher than the average of other cities, but utilities and groceries are also 8% and 30% higher than the national average, respectively.

Portland’s total cost of living is approximately 27% greater than the national average. Like Seattle, housing is one of the highest cost-of-living categories in Portland, ranking 66% greater than it is in other areas. However, utilities in Portland are 9% cheaper than the national average.

Portland rent is significantly cheaper than Seattle. The median 1-bedroom apartment rent in Portland is $1,507. In Seattle, you can expect a median 1-bedroom rent of $2,011.

Here are a look at some of the median costs you can expect in both Portland and Seattle. All median prices are from Payscale. Median rent prices are from Zumper.

For Seattle, these prices are:

  • Median home price: $834,235
  • Median 1-bedroom rent: $2,011 a month
  • Average energy bill: $184 per month
  • Average phone bill: $203 a month
  • Gas: $5.88 per gallon

For Portland, these prices are:

  • Median home price: $662,219
  • Median 1-bedroom rent: $1,507 a month
  • Average energy bill: $155 per month
  • Average phone bill: $171 a month
  • Gas: $5.40 per gallon

Weather: Portland vs Seattle

Both cities receive significant precipitation each year. Seattle averages 38 inches of rain and 5 inches of snow a year. On average, Settle has some precipitation on 155 days per year. Seattle’s wettest month is December, which averages 5.34 inches of precipitation. Conversely, there is an average of 152 sunny days a year in Seattle, well below the U.S. average of 205 sunny days per year.

Portland averages 43 inches of rain and 3 inches of snow per year. So, on average, Portland gets precipitation on 156 days a year. Like Seattle, Portland’s wettest month is December, which brings an average of 6.1 inches of precipitation. However, Portland has 144 sunny days per year, significantly below the national average.

Entertainment: Portland vs Seattle

Seattle and Portland offer many entertainment options. Both cities have a plethora of restaurants, bars, and coffee shops. Similarly, each city has plenty of opportunities for shopping, live music, and professional sports teams.

One of the biggest draws of Portland and Seattle is their countless outdoor experiences. Portland’s proximity to the coast and hiking trails are particularly inviting, whereas Seattle provides opportunities to explore national parks. From pristine coastlines and nearby mountains to beautiful rivers, the diversity of geography in both cities provides fantastic outdoor adventures for every type of person. Whether you want to relax on the beach, ski down immaculate slopes, or hike trails with some of the most stunning views, Seattle and Portland have you covered.

Portland and Seattle are also known for their lively festivals and events throughout the year. Portland hosts the Portland Rose Festival, a popular event that includes a parade, carnival, and fireworks display. The city also hosts the Portland International Film Festival and the Waterfront Blues Festival. Seattle has several festivals as well, including the Seattle International Film Festival and the Bumbershoot Festival, a music and arts festival that takes place over Labor Day weekend.

Job market: Portland vs Seattle

To compensate for their higher living costs, Portland and Seattle have fairly robust job markets. Large tech corporations like Intel, Airbnb, Coinbase, and Hewlett Packard Enterprise have a tech presence in Oregon. Other large, non-tech companies that call Oregon home include Adidas, Nike (7 miles west of Portland), and Square, among many others.

Like Portland, Seattle is home to many major tech companies like Amazon, Microsoft, and Tableau Software. Other significant corporations in Seattle include Starbucks, Deloitte, Nordstrom, and Colliers International. So, no matter your industry, chances are you can find a job in either Portland or Seattle.

FAQ: Portland vs. Seattle

Here are some answers to frequently asked questions regarding Seattle versus Portland:

What are the average salaries in Portland and Seattle?

According to U.S. News and World Report, the average salary in Seattle is $74,330 a year. The average salary in Portland is $61,860 a year, and each of these averages is greater than the national average salary of $56,310.

What are the tax rates for Portland and Seattle?

Portland has a sales tax rate of 0% and an income tax rate of 9%, and Seattle has a sales tax rate of 10.1% and an income tax rate of 0%. The U.S. national average sales and income tax rates are 7.3% and 4.6%, respectively.

What are the average temperatures in Seattle and Portland?

In Portland, the average summer high is around 81 degrees, with a low winter average of 36 degrees. Seattle averages a summer high of about 76 degrees and a low winter average of 37 degrees.

How far is Portland from Seattle?

Traveling to Seattle from Portland or vice versa takes approximately one hour by plane, three hours by car, or three to four hours by train.

Which city has a better job market, Portland or Seattle?

Seattle has a more diverse job market, with a thriving tech industry and a variety of other industries. Portland also has a strong job market, but is more focused on creative industries and sustainable practices.

Is Portland or Seattle better for outdoor enthusiasts?

Both cities are great for outdoor enthusiasts, with access to national parks, hiking trails, and water activities. Portland is closer to the coast, while Seattle is closer to national parks like Mount Rainier.

Final thoughts

In the battle of Portland versus Seattle, there are no losers, and you can’t go wrong regardless of which crown jewel of the Pacific Northwest you choose. Both cities offer a robust job market, numerous entertainment options, and a decent cost of living, especially compared to other large metro areas.

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