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Portland or Seattle?

My husband and I will have about 4-5 days away from our little boys this summer and we're trying to figure out where to go. We want cooler weather where there's a good amount to do but we can also relax for a bit so we're considering Portland or Seattle. Which one would you recommend (or which one has more things for children to do, that would also help us)? We'll probably do the other one with our boys later. Thank you!

Posted by
16883 posts

Now you've opened a can of worms! If you Google "Seattle Portland Smackdown" you'll get quite a few results, such as this one from our regional Sunset Magazine.

Posted by
1464 posts

I live in Seattle and have visited Portland, and I think as far as your criteria go, it's close to a tie, except on the cooler weather thing. Both Seattle and Portland get hot in the summer, but Portland probably averages significantly hotter and stays hotter longer. Seattle may have a few heat spells where it gets into the 90s, but summer tends to be mild more of the time, with temperatures in the 70s and 80s. If you're coming from Phoenix or Texas, you'll think it's downright pleasant even on the hottest days, although many restaurants and shops do not have air conditioning. (Most hotels and malls and department stores do.)

Both Seattle and Portland have plenty to see and do and are close to enjoyable recreational activities such as great hiking, and some stunning scenic areas if you'll have a car and plan on getting out of the city. You can't go wrong with a visit to either one.

[Edit: I wrote this before I saw Laura's post. I tried my best to be neutral, but of course, Seattle is way better than Portland!]

Posted by
16883 posts

I've lived all my life in Seattle and visited Portland for just a few weekends. But that's not to say that Portland isn't nice or that Oregon doesn't have other places of interest (like the coast!).

Posted by
6487 posts

The few degrees warmer that it might be in Portland should not be a decision maker. I've been to both several times in summer and it was quite warm in both. Both can experience heat waves with temps in the 90's but they don't last long and if you need to escape to cooler weather, it's just a short trip to the water. Coastal areas are usually about 10-20 degrees cooler than the downtown areas.

I live within 1-1/2 hrs of Portland so get there often, but I've also been to Seattle for long weekends many times. It's really a tough decision because there is much to see and do in both. I think Seattle may have just a teensy bit more touristy sights but Portland has always struck me as a bit more relaxed. If you stay long enough to want a daytrip there are wonderful options from both.

Posted by
384 posts

Jennifer,

As a resident of Seattle, I can tell you many helpful things!

  1. We love tourists, mostly because they're a delivery system for wonderful, wonderful money.
  2. A lot of people will correct you about Pike (vs. Pike's) Place Market. You can call it the Grand Canyon as long as you're bringing money.
  3. Did I mention we really like money here? Especially your money. We like your money a LOT. You should give us some.
  4. If Steve Balmer offers to buy your baby, DON'T DO IT! He'll re-zone the little tyke and build a skyscraper on him!
  5. Snark is a legally-recognized language in Seattle.
  6. Once a fortnight, Rick Steves himself rises out of Lake Union and sings "Oh, Fortuna!" at decible levels approaching a 747 at take-off. No one knows why he does this and we kinda wish he'd knock it off.
  7. Pot's legal here. Oh, so legal.
  8. Seattle is a neat town full of things for adults to do. There's amazing dining (try Canlis for an economical and relaxed dining experience!), there's art museums, there's Pike Place Market (far less dodgy than it used to be, but there's a reason the locals avoid the place), there's the Space Needle (see previous notes about money), there's strolling by Lake Union, there's baseball in the summer and football in the fall (money). Plus, if you come at the right time of day, you can watch hordes of quasi-suicidal Amazon workers bewailing their poor career choices! Not much for kids to do, 'tho. There's the Pacific Science Center and the EMP Museum -- I guess kids would kinda like that sorta stuff.

PORTLAND:

  1. It's full of Hipsters. Now, I'm not saying Hipsters are bad people (Hipsters are bad people), but when a resident of Seattle says "Hi!" he really means "Right, sod off you lot". In Portland, they just dispense with the "Hi!" part all together. Also, if you've seen one food cart, you've kinda seen them all.

So there's some helpful advise about how you and your money can come to Seattle and have a wonderful time!

Posted by
1464 posts

Jennifer, Mike Beebe wrote his response in Snark, which might not be familiar to you as a Texan. It's a language a lot of Northwesterners use to deter the influx of southerners.

;)

Posted by
375 posts

Hi - For what it's worth: Seattle is a big city, like Chicago (which I love). Portland is like a bunch of little cities/neighborhoods - all with their own cool vibe. Many cool restaurants in each of the quadrants. So, I vote Portland. Great walking tour downtown. The Art Museum and the Science Museum have a Friday night for Adults event. Fab farmer's markets (many!). The bridges! They are so awesome! The new one is pedestrian (no cars) only. Great, great food and beer scene. festivals! And skip Voo doo donuts (it's like next to a strip club); go to Pip's...so delicious and marvelous and they give back to the community like crazy. And, oh, the Columbia River Gorge...on my! Hiking, photography, vistas!

Posted by
13088 posts

I just wrote a long post on things to do with children in Seattle, and then re-read and saw this trip is without children. So I deleted it. And then I saw your other post asking about Vancouver. That would be my vote!!! Go while the exchange rate is favorable. It is a beautiful world-class city. With five days, you could spend a couple of nights at Whistler if interested in bicycling, golf, or just mountain views. It is a very cosmopolitan ski resort with lots to do in the summer as well. And excellent restaurants.

Posted by
13 posts

Portland is better. It's cheaper, has better public transit, it's easier to get around the city, less traffic, less people and has more to offer. I'm not sure about for kids though. But Portland beats Seattle anyday. Seattle's overrated and overpriced.

Posted by
4637 posts

When I was choosing where to move 26 years ago Seattle won and I still think I made good choice. Other people chose Seattle or its suburbs, too. Like Rick Steves, Bill Gates of Microsoft, other famous company are located here too. Boeing, Starbucks, Amazon and many others. There is a reason for it. Beautiful city and its surroundings. It's bigger than Portland and has Puget Sound, Lake Washington, Lake Union, Green Lake and many other smaller ones. It like Portland has many neighborhoods with character: Queen Anne, Capitol Hill, Ballard, University District, Fremont - you can even find a statue of Lenin there, and many others. Mike Beebe said it very eloquently and I would add - many smart people live here. New president got only 8% of votes here.

Posted by
4637 posts

blaze 2099 is partially right. Portland is cheaper but because Seattle is better you pay more. It goes like in saying: you get what you paid for.

Posted by
6487 posts

"Portland is cheaper but because Seattle is better you pay more. It goes like in saying: you get what you paid for."

Ah, but sometimes cheaper is really a bargain because you get so much more than you pay for.

And, in reality, Portland isn't all that much cheaper anymore, closing the gap more every year.

Posted by
646 posts

I have lived in and live near Portland. I visit Seattle with some frequency.

If attractions like art museums, aquariums, giant tourist towers, major glass artists, giant ferris wheels, etc, are what you envision doing, go to Seattle. The Space Needle, Chehuly Glass, and Pike Street Market are unique to Seattle. You can do most of it with other a car too. We take the train up and spend a weekend without one regularly. It also has many lakes, rivers, and bays to explore for which a car is necessary. You could daytrip to Victoria by ferry. Oh, and taking the ferries is fun.

Portland has the Zoo Complex, Powells Books, and a much more walkable downtown. It does have an art and a science museum, etc. It also is close enough for a day trip to The Columbia Gorge and its spectacular water falls, Mt. Hood, and Mr. Saint Helens, and Cannon Beach. But to go beyond downtown you'll want a car.

Both cities have good food, great micro brewries, legal marijuana, fantastic parks, and a lefty trendy vibe (Portland excells in this department). Portland feels and is smaller.

So what do you want to do?

Posted by
31471 posts

jennifer,

If I'm reading your post correctly, your visit to the Pacific Northwest this summer will be just the two of you, but you'll be returning on another occasion with your boys? How old are your boys? Also, where are you from (you mentioned that you want "cooler weather")?

As I also live "somewhat" on the west coast, I've visited both cities numerous times so am familiar with both from a "tourist perspective". Which one to choose is a really tough choice as they're both great cities to visit. You may have "cooler weather" (and rain) in the summer or it could be hot and sunny.

It would help if you could provide a bit more information on your interests and what type of things you like to do. Post another note when you're going to take the trip with the kids, and I'll try to provide some appropriate suggestions.

Posted by
99 posts

I would recommend Portland with your kids. It's like a little sister of Seattle and is easier to get around with less traffic. Take a day trip or longer to the Oregon Coast (go crabbing, try cheese samples & get ice cream at Tillamook Cheese Factory, feed the seals at the little tiny aquarium at Seaside, admire the view at Ecola State Park, explore tide pools up and down the coast) and a separate trip to Mount Hood (take the chairlift up and play in the snow or even try some summer snowboarding or skiing; eat at Timberline Lodge). The beach and mountains are each less than 1 hour 30 minutes (each way) from Portland. There are beautiful hikes all over. Pick berries, cherries and other fruit at orchards/farms in Portland suburbs and near Mount Hood. Visit the Columbia Gorge and stop at Multnomah Falls. In Portland, go to OMSI (Oregon Museum of Science & Industry), tour the USS Blueback submarine, see the Zoo, play at the Children's Museum, shop at Saturday Market (food, arts & crafts), eat yummy fresh food, and play at parks.

Weather-wise, unfortunately, Portland isn't always cool. Last summer was nice but the previous several summers were unpleasantly hot and sticky.

Posted by
2526 posts

As a lontgtime resident in that area and love both Portland and Seattle, just immediately head to the Oregon Coast starting in Astoria and work your way south. Great sights, seafood, etc.

Posted by
3685 posts

Speaking as a native Texan (San Antonio) who lived in the Pacific Northwest (both OR and WA) a total of about 23 years (most of it in the Puget Sound area with very frequent visits to Portland), I don't think you can go wrong with either city. If you plan to stay in the city and not rent a car, either will work. Many have already commented on the attractions in both cities and you can find lots of information online.

In forum terms, is your time 4-5 nights or days? The formula is 2 nights = 1 day on the ground. You can certainly find plenty to see and do in either city to fill that time, but it would be a shame to visit either without getting out to see the beauty of this unique part of the US and world.

If you plan to rent a car and get out a bit, either will also do. In that case, the travel will be be part of the trip, not just a method of getting from one place to another.

Want freshwater? Portland has the Colombia River and the Willamette. Seattle has the many lakes already mentioned. Note that most WA lakes are natural lakes, not like the ones we have in Texas, but some farther east of Seattle are the result of hydroelectric dams.

Want falls? Seattle has Snoqualmie and Portland has Multnomah.

Want saltwater? Although the Columbia River is tidal at Portland, for real saltwater you'll have to drive from Portland to the Pacific for that, but it's not all that far. Seattle has Puget Sound, but it's not all that far to the Pacific from there either. If you've never seen a sound, it looks like a big lake only with tides.

Want beaches? I like OR beaches better than those in WA. Both are more impressive than anything on the Texas Gulf Coast, but be forewarned, the water is very cold. I loved walking on those beaches, but I'd take the water temperature of the Gulf over that of the Pacific any day.

Want rainforest? The Olympic Peninsula of WA is your destination.

Want mountains? I think Seattle has the edge on that with the Cascades and Olympics so close. For volcanos, I prefer Mt. Rainier in WA over Mt. Hood in OR. Nothing can beat Crater Lake in OR, but it's probably too far from Portland for either of your trips.

Want traffic? You can find misery in or near both Portland and Seattle. It's about all that water and all those mountains. There aren't many freeways or alternative routes. And yes, we have driven through Houston and Austin as recently as last October and November.

Want cooler or rainy weather? The Seattle joke is that if you want an outdoor wedding, July 26th is the day. My husband races in both Seattle and Portland in the summer. Last summer 2 of his races in Portland were accompanied by 102° temperatures. However, it can rain and be cool at any time in either place.

Posted by
149 posts

Hadn't heard the wedding date joke but do feel this one quite apt:

What do you call a sunny day after two days of rain in Seattle?

Monday.

Posted by
2396 posts

Here is yet another Texan's opinion:

Portland is a great place to "be"; but for a short vacation, I would pick Seattle. There is just so much to do in the City center with no need to rent a car - it's even an easy train ride from the airport (sounds like Europe!). You can go whale watching or ride a boat to one of the San Juan Islands. You have access to nature and the sophistication of a major city in Seattle.

The Museum of Flight at the old Boeing plant is one of my favorite museums in the entire world - I don't say that lightly. It's an expensive cab ride from downtown, but totally worth it.

We have friends and family in Portland and I love it there. But without them, I would take Seattle.

Posted by
5786 posts

Do you live in big city TX or small town TX? Portland and Seattle metro districts are big city parking nightmares. If you can find a space expect to pay for parking with your credit cards. No one carries enough quarters for parking meters. A number of years past we stayed in a boutique hotel in Portland where our "Friends & Family" discount paring rate was something like $20 a day and parking spaces in the hotel's parking structure were hard to find. And we sort of ran through Seattle's Pikes Place because I only paid (some large sum) for two hours of parking. That said, both cities have transit systems that work and are walkable.

Posted by
5187 posts

Make sure that you look at hotel rates. The hotel rates in Seattle during summer can be ridiculous. If budget matters, do your research.

Posted by
3661 posts

Seattle is much larger, prettier, has a lot more money and is very gentrified-feeling, certainly one of the 3 or 4 richest US metro areas, and has more city attractions.

Portland is half the size, more industrial (the air can smell of paper mills), and the beggar problem, although bad in both cities, is worse.

I like visiting both cities but would not choose Portland over Seattle.

Posted by
379 posts

Once a fortnight, Rick Steves himself rises out of Lake Union and sings "Oh, Fortuna!" at decible levels approaching a 747 at take-off. No one knows why he does this and we kinda wish he'd knock it off.

Pot's legal here. Oh, so legal.

Yes you know.

Posted by
1068 posts

I think it doesn't matter. I prefer Portland for a number of reasons but both are great places and can occupy you for weeks. Both have lots of nearby nature areas as well. I would add that in the 30 years I have lived here Portland has never ever smelled like a paper mill or other "industrial" odor. It can smell like paper mills down around Eugene where they actually make paper, but that is a 2 hour drive and so far the wind has not carried it to the city of Roses. Pot is legal here too.

Posted by
2396 posts

Edgar - I live in Austin, Texas, which I consider to be a mid-sized city. I've never had a car in either Seattle or Portland so I haven't experienced their parking challenges.

Posted by
313 posts

Vancouver! But it all depends upon what you want to do. We've lived outside of Seattle, currently live outside of Portland, and used to live outside of Vancouver. My vote is still for Vancouver. Great Stanley Park, wonderful food, and the exchange rate is hard to beat. Granville Island is tops!

Brings the boys back to the Oregon later - they'll have a ball. Portland has a first class zoo, a great science museum (OMSI). Astoria has a ton of history (Astoria Column), Cannon Beach is more upscale, Seaside is the beach town you thought you'd see, Newport has museums. And no sales tax in Oregon - yet.

Posted by
2526 posts

When I have to drive in or through Seattle, I am required to revert to my salty language. Traffic is HORRENDOUS! Brush up on your required words if Seattle is in your itinerary and start with a full tank of fuel and an empty bladder.

Posted by
4637 posts

Yes Bruce, comparing to Montana it is indeed horrendous.

Posted by
82 posts

As someone who has lived and worked in Portland since 2004, I may have a biased opinion. I would avoid Portland. For the last two years crime has steadily increased, it has become completely trashy with transients and homeless tents everywhere. Mass transit has become unreliable due to protests and riots. The police have their hands tied by local politicians and can't do anything. Gang violence and graffeti are becoming rampant. Good luck taking MAX from the airport to City Center with rowdys boarding at 82nd or LloydCenter. You will be approached by aggressive panhandlerd. I am originally from the East Coast and never experienced the problems that plague Portland back East. Portland used to be a wonderful city but not anymore thanks to the city politicians catering to the radical few. Just my opinion.

Posted by
82 posts

PS Voodoo donuts is way over rated and has become a tourist thing. Go to Blue Star donuts.

Posted by
4637 posts

Portland used to be a nice city. I must agree with Gregg. When I was there recently by train I wanted to board MAX but the whole MAX stop at the railroad station was like campground of transients. It was evening and I did not feel safe. Then in Downtown it was the same and trash everywhere. Rudy Guiliani is not my favorite but I must admit that he cleaned New York City. I could not recognize it when I was there in 1991 and then 1998. Portland seems to need somebody like that.

Posted by
31471 posts

jennifer,

I you decide to visit Portland and want a somewhat "unusual" hotel experience, you might consider McMenamens Kennedy School. It's located in an actual old school and the rooms are in the former classrooms, and they've retained the blackboards and other items. There are on-site restaurants, micro breweries, bars and even a movie theatre.

Don't misbehave while there or the Principal might give you a detention!

Posted by
408 posts

Seriously (more on my answer of "Vancouver"): As one who has lived in/around Seattle since the early 80s, and visited Portland on several visits, it comes down to whether or not you plan to rent a car. (Seattle is hills, hills, hills -- take it from someone who climbed those hills to work for over a decade. Driving them isn't fun either.)

If you do have a car -- and a lot of these good suggestions call for driving (esp. for a 4-5 day stay) -- then I wouldn't stay in either Seattle or Portland, proper. For Seattle, you could stay west of the city (across the Sound, somewhere in Kitsap) and take the ferry over to Seattle for your Seattle days. Then you could explore the areas west of Seattle (there's the whole Olympic Penn. ... even get out to the Pacific Ocean). Folks here have also given you similar ideas about staying/exploring outside of Portland. And if you do have a car you could, of course, hit both Seattle & Portland: it's a 4 hr. drive.

If you have no car then you'll be pretty much limited to walkable places (& public transportation). You can walk/explore both Seattle (again, the hills) and Portland, but walkability is where Vancouver (to us) wins hands down. Stanley Park, good food, interesting places to explore. Flat, walkable, interesting, and the exchange rate is good.

Posted by
4637 posts

Seattle versus Portland: I just found some interesting statistics:
Median family income:
Portland: 60,892 Seattle: 80,349
Median home price:
Portland: 406,200 Seattle: 609,100
Median monthly rent:
Portland: 1,695 Seattle: 2,350
Venture-capital deals in 2016 of over $ 1 million:
Portland Metropolitan Region: 50 Seattle Metropolitan Region: 182
Sources of this information: Census 2015, Zillow, year end 2016, Oregon Angel Fund and Pitchbook

Posted by
225 posts

I love some of these replies- so I'll give my two cents. I live in Seattle, married with no children. We travel a lot with our best friends who have 2 kids and we do a lot with them here in Seattle. Someone mentioned the Oregon Coast so I want to bring that up. I would say go to Portland for a couple days and then over to the coast WITH the kids. Do Seattle on your own. Of course there are cool things to do with kids here but there is plenty to do and amazing places to eat that you may just not want kids around. Plus some cool hotels you could stay in downtown. Whatever you decide though I don't think you could go wrong. Actually someone mentioned Vancouver too... You know you can take a train from Seattle to Vancouver in about 3 hours. You could always fly into one of the cities take a train to the other and fly home from there. Its a beautiful train ride too!