“We're moving to Portland!" Who hasn't heard a friend or family member say that within the last few years? It seems like everyone is packing up and heading to the rainy Pacific Northwest to set up shop in Portland, Oregon, and it's easy to see why.
Not only there are exciting work opportunities, robust schools, charming neighborhoods and a good cost of living, but the cultural life of the city has never been stronger thanks to its much-lauded foodie scene, excellent entertainment in the form of live music and performing arts, quirky local events and traditions and much more.
But there's more to living in Portland than fun and games. As a rapidly-growing city, it has its own share of difficulties. As a city built around rivers, those bridges can get clogged up pretty quickly during rush hour, so traffic is a growing concern. The endless rain can also be an adjustment for some.
Finding the right place to live is all about balancing the pros and cons, the pluses and minuses, so from a local, here are 10 things you should definitely know and consider about living in Portland.
Portland's epic foodie scene — which includes restaurants, craft breweries, coffee shops, distilleries and food trucks — is one of the main draws. You can try food and drinks from every corner of the world, as well as exciting fusion varieties or inventive preparations. With a new “must try" spot opening seemingly every day, you'll basically never want to eat at home.
Starting your day at your favorite neighborhood coffee house, you'll then try that new taco place for lunch, before meeting up at that cocktail bar for happy hour and finishing the night at your favorite pho or ramen joint. The list never ends, but don't worry — you'll work it all off by biking everywhere!
You've probably heard of the legendary rains in Portland and throughout the Pacific Northwest. We're not exaggerating. On average, Portland receives around 36 inches of rain per year, primarily during the cooler months from late autumn to early spring. And we're talking days to weeks of long, consistent rain. You'll go so long without seeing the sun that you'll want to take vitamin D supplements.
Living with the rain is just a fact of life here, so if you come from a place where it doesn't rain a lot, you'll want to invest in good-quality rain gear, especially boots and jackets. Oh, and don't bother with an umbrella. Not only will the winds quickly render it useless, using an umbrella is a surefire way to show that you're not from here, as most Portlanders never use one.
Because of all that rain, during the summer, you'll want to take full advantage of those glorious sunny days with nary a cloud in the sky. After months spent inside nursing cups of fair trade, single-origin coffee and staring out the window, Portlanders head outdoors en masse when the weather is good.
City and neighborhood parks fill with picnickers and locals playing games, and over the weekend, everyone piles into the car to head to the Pacific coast, Mount Hood National Forest, the Columbia River Gorge, Sauvie Island or any number of nearby wilderness areas.
Portlanders love their outdoor recreation, rain or shine, so even when the weather isn't good, you'll still find people out hiking, cycling or any number of other outdoor sports.
As Portland has been growing as a major metropolitan area, there's one unfortunate side effect: traffic. A 2019 study found that Portland commuters rank 14th in the nation in terms of hours spent sitting in traffic, a whopping average of 66 hours a year.
Due to the topography of the area, there are few options for easy expansion of roadways, so traffic backs up for miles over the bridges, leading to hours spent sitting around. If you're going to consider Portland as a place to live, you'll want to take advantage of Portland's excellent public transit system, which includes buses, streetcars and light rail.
And you can always bike. Cycling is a way of life here in Portland, with designated bike lanes on many roads and considerate drivers.
If you do end up driving a car, you'll definitely need to be aware of a state law that only one other U.S. state (New Jersey) has. Here, it's illegal to pump your own gas. Instead, when you pull up to the pump, someone else will pump for you, asking you how much you want of what type and handling the transaction for you.
One definite upside of living in Oregon is that there's no sales tax, a law that applies throughout the state and in Portland. But before you get dollar signs in your eyes thinking of all those great tax-free goods (and trust me, Portland is a great shopping city, from vintage and antiques to locally-made crafts), there is a downside. To make up for that lost revenue, Oregon has among the highest personal income taxes in the country.
To help support Portland's famous arts scene, come tax time, you'll have to pay a city Arts Tax, which benefits local teachers and arts programs. It's only $35 per person, but still!
It's so easy to fall in love with the neighborhoods around the city center, from the historic Downtown, trendy Pearl and quirky Nob Hill districts on the west banks of the Willamette to the edgy Buckman and Kerns just across the river. In all these areas, you'll find some of the best dining Portland has to offer, hip craft breweries, chic coffee shops, excellent shopping and endless culture and entertainment opportunities.
But to live close to all this action, be prepared to pay a pretty penny. These are among the priciest neighborhoods in the area, and the cost of living in Portland is going up. The going rate for a one-bedroom in Portland is $1,803, a price you'll encounter mainly around these popular districts.
Looking further afield, you'll be able to find more reasonable rates, but you'll have to consider other factors like the commute. However, utility and cost of living expenses are overall lower here, so the primary expenditure is housing.
One of the ways Portlanders can mark you as an “out-of-towner" is if you can pronounce local names correctly or are knowledgeable of the local slang. For example, take Couch Street. Before you even think of pronouncing it as it looks, stop. It's pronounced as if the OU is OO. Don't you dare say Willamette as William-ette. Glisan is Glee-san. The U.S. Bancorp Tower that looms over downtown is Big Pink. And so on and so forth.
Long-time Portland residents like to grumble that as it's become more popular and mainstream, Portland has lost its famed “keep Portland weird" ethos. But I beg to differ. That iconic spirit still lives on, and you're sure to discover it as soon as you arrive.
Just walking the streets, you'll encounter quirky local characters like the Unipiper, see cars drive by that are covered in action figures or pass vibrantly-painted houses that look like something out of a storybook. All of it shows that people still come here to live totally unfiltered, fun lives that allow them to truly be themselves, in all their weird, out-there glory.
There are so many upsides to choosing Portland as your home, from outdoorsy fun both in and out of the city and great food and drink to diverse work options and a happening arts and culture scene.
But as more people fall in love with Portland's charms, there are downsides, from traffic and increased gentrification to that super-high personal income tax. But one thing's for sure — living here is an unforgettable experience.