Boly:Welch’s Unofficial, Unauthorized Guide for Moving to Portland

Portland Oregon metro glows with light at dusk while Mount Hood watches over

Behold our unofficial, unauthorized guide for moving to Portland! Hot take: Portland is a great place to live. And lots of people agree with us! We added almost 20,000 new residents in the last year, most of whom moved here from other states. That’s almost 54 new neighbors per day.

In the last decade, 400,000 people have set down roots in Oregon, drawn in by economic opportunity, the promise of Portlandia, and greater work-life balance and flexibility. Over half of those new residents settled in one of the three counties that make up the Portland metro area – Multnomah, Clackamas, and Washington.

At Boly:Welch, we’ve definitely experienced a swell of out-of-state candidates and new residents with questions about relocating to Portland. Some of the more common questions include: Where should I live? What is there to do? Where are the best places to eat? How do I find volunteer opportunities?

If you’re reading this guide, you’re likely new to Rose City or are considering moving to Portland. With that in mind, we’ve put together a practical, semi-comprehensive guide to Portland that will make your relocation as smooth as Damian Lillard’s 3-pointer (note: if you missed that reference, it’s about Dame Time to skip down to the sports section).

It’s a Wonderful Day in the Neighborhood

When you’re moving to Portland, one of your obvious priorities will be finding a great place to live. The good news is, there is no wrong place to live in Portland. There, we said it. However, you’ll hear a lot of opinions about different neighborhoods, because where you live does have a sizable impact on how you move about the city. Although the Portland metro area is fairly contained, especially compared to urban sprawls like Los Angeles and Phoenix, we still have the unfortunate problem of having some of the worst traffic in the nation. So, that four-mile commute into downtown that didn’t look so bad on Google Maps can end up being an hour-plus depending on where you choose to live. But on the plus side, our public transit service, TriMet, sprawls throughout all three counties and will get you nearly anywhere you need to go.

There’s also hot debate on the perks of living on the east or west side of Portland, although the pros and cons depend on your own personal preferences. The eastside tends to be a little more urban, with trendy dining and shopping options, while the westside has a reputation for being more suburban and better for raising families. Of course, these are broad generalizations, and each “side” has neighborhoods that fit neatly into each category.

 

Hand drawn illustration of Portland Oregon divided by neighborhoods and rivers

Portland is also divided roughly into six major areas (N, NE, SE, East, NW, SW), primarily split up by the Willamette River (which divides east from west) and Burnside Street (which divides north from south) and these areas are often referred to as “quadrants.” You’ll often hear people referring to their quadrant colloquially as ‘Northeast’ or ‘Southeast’, before they specify a street or landmark. Generally, people refer to their neighborhood by the nearest commercial street (e.g., Belmont) versus the actual neighborhood name (e.g. Buckman). So, you might hear something like: “I live in SE, right off Belmont, in the Buckman neighborhood,” when people are trying to orient you. 

The Portland metro is made up of many smaller neighborhoods, each with its own flavor and pros and cons. There isn’t one perfect neighborhood, but you will find that some areas may match your lifestyle better than others. Here is a quick breakdown of each area:

An assortment of residential, commercial, and industrial areas. Traditionally was the heart of Portland’s black community, but has experienced rapid gentrification in the last decade or so, especially with the expansion of the Yellow Line MAX (our local light rail service) up Interstate Avenue. Easy to walk, bike, and catch public transit around town. Notable areas within North Portland are: Mississippi Avenue, St. John’s, and Kenton.

Some of our favorite finds in the area are: Skidmore Bluffs & Overlook and Peninsula parks

A large mix of smaller neighborhoods and housing, split further between the more affluent inner section – “close-in” – and the more ethnically, culturally, and economically diverse outer Northeast. Includes Alberta Arts District, Lloyd Center, Moda Center, MLK (again, site of major gentrification and displacement of Portland’s black community), and Hollywood District. Housing ranges from newly-built apartment complexes, to quintessential craftsman homes, to 1920s art deco-style apartments. Parts of the area are very accessible by the Blue and Red Line MAX, frequent bus lines, and biking. Other parts are much more disconnected, especially in the outer Northeast areas.

Some of our favorite finds in the area are: McMenamin’s Kennedy School, Killingsworth Street, and Sandy Boulevard

Like Northeast Portland, Southeast Portland stretches from the Willamette River to roughly 82nd Avenue. It’s a mix of industrial areas, the Oregon Museum of Science and Industry (OMSI), some of the most celebrated parts of Portland, and large swaths of housing. Especially close-in, the area is accessible by major streets, which are chock-full of restaurants, bars, vintage shops, grocery stores, and more. You’ll likely hear about: Hawthorne, Belmont, Division, Powell, Reed, Mt. Tabor, Sellwood, and Eastmoreland. Parking can be difficult – the streets are narrower than you might be used to – so your best bets are buses and bike lanes. The Orange Line MAX will get you between Southeast and downtown Portland in a snap, if you prefer to commute via public transit versus driving. The Portland Streetcar runs north to south along MLK connecting you to Northwest Portland as well as Portland State University (PSU).

Some of our favorite finds in the area are: Woodstock, Oaks Bottom, Foster-Powell, and Montavilla 

East Portland is often conflated with SE Portland, but is commonly thought of as the area between 82nd Avenue and Gresham. It’s one of the most racially diverse areas of the city, as many of the displaced residents of color have moved east of 82nd after their neighborhoods gentrified. Unfortunately, the area has been chronically underinvested in, which has led to a lack of parks, sidewalks, streetlights, and community spaces. However, the food scene is incredible and the area has a reputation for affordability.

One of our favorite finds in the area is: Powell Butte

Northwest Portland is where most visitors to Portland land, since it includes many of Portland’s hotels, boutiques, and large chunks of downtown, including the famous Powell’s Bookstore. It’s densely populated (in Oregon terms), mainly with apartments of all shapes and sizes. You’ll probably hear about the Pearl District, the Alphabet District (including NW 23rd Avenue), the Brewery Blocks, up-and-coming Slabtown, and Forest Park. If you want to settle in this area, expect to pay for it. However, the tradeoff in accessibility and “downtown living” might be worth it to you – as long as parking isn’t a top priority.

Some of our favorite finds in the area are: Forest Park and NW 23rd Avenue

The majority of downtown Portland is located in Southwest Portland, which includes the Park Blocks, Tom McCall Waterfront Park, Pioneer Square, and many of the city’s prominent cultural touchstones like the Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall, PSU, the Portland Art Museum, Lan Su Chinese Garden, and much more. The Southwest also expands – you guessed it – west to Oregon Health & Science University (OHSU)’s campus, the Lewis & Clark College campus, Washington Park (which includes the Oregon Zoo, International Rose Test Garden, Hoyt Arboretum, and Children’s Museum, to name a few). Downtown Portland is extremely walkable, but housing is mostly limited to dorm-style apartments. Transit options outside the Blue Line MAX and some key bus lines are more limited, but parking is generally good. Housing options tend to be pretty pricey and limited outside of home ownership, except a few large apartment complexes.

Some of our favorite finds in SW Portland are: Council Crest and Tryon Creek State Park

Hillsboro

The seat of Washington County, with the area boasting both residential communities and farms. It’s also become a tech hub (colloquially known as Silicon Forest) with companies like Intel, IBM, HP, and more setting down roots here. Ever heard of the Airplane Home in the Woods or Roloff Farms? Yep, you can find both of those here! Housing in Hillsboro tends to be much more reasonable in terms of pricing, and you can always rely on the Blue Line MAX to get you to and from the Portland core.

 

Beaverton

Second-largest city by population in Washington County. It’s also one of the most racially diverse cities in Oregon, with many residents of color calling this area home. Nike is the major player in this city and employs more than 3,000 locals. There’s a lot more variety in terms of housing, and with all the shopping malls in the area, convenience is practically at your doorstep. If you’re commuting to Portland often, count on a slightly longer trip, but public transit via the Blue and Red Line MAX, WES Commuter Train, and various bus lines are consistently a good way to go.

 

Gresham

Gresham sits just east of Portland and is considered to be one of the most scenic cities in Oregon. With a variety of parks, nature trails, and dynamic views of Mt. Hood, there are plenty of activities for outdoor lovers. There’s a good mix of homes and apartments, and because it’s situated outside of the Portland core, it tends to be less expensive and offer more opportunities for first-time homeowners looking to set down roots. It’s also a culturally diverse area with many immigrant communities.

Some of our favorite finds in these areas include: Ron Tonkin Field, Orenco Woods Nature Park, Uwajimaya, Beaverton Farmers Market, and Springwater Trail

How to Find Work in Portland

One thing we hear from candidates who have recently relocated, or are planning on moving to Portland, is how hard it can be to secure a job in Portland compared to the city where they came from. This is mostly because, in many ways, Portland is a networking town. It’s not hard to develop a great network very quickly, but if you’re only relying on the large job boards and ignoring the human element in your search, you’re missing out on a large number of companies and roles.

We recommend:

A photo collage of Portland Oregon including bicyclists, street fairs, a Portland Trail Blazers basketball game, Peninsula Park Rose Garden, and Multnomah Falls

What to Do for Fun in Portland

Portland is a mecca for many outdoor activities and has a buzzy cultural scene. It is also known for its rich and relatively varied food and beverage options. In fact, if you start typing “Portland is known for…” into a Google search, it will inevitably populate with food and drink suggestions. And also, depression, since seasonal affective disorder (SAD) is real! However, activities are in abundance year round. So, if you’re moving to Portland and looking for things to do:

  • Check out the Crystal Springs Rhododendron Garden
  • Walk up Mt. Tabor on a clear day to see some amazing city views
  • Experience the calming side of nature at the Portland Japanese Garden
  • Witness the color explosion at the Tulip Festival
  • Embrace your curiosity at Design Week Portland
  • Sample some unique treats at one of the many local Farmers Markets
  • Kick off the summer at one of the many Rose Festival events
  • Stop and smell the roses, not only at the International Test Garden, but locals’ favorite Peninsula Park
  • Break out your walking shoes for a tour of Forest Park, Portland’s largest urban park
  • Experience the excitement of Portland Pride in June
  • Bike around multiple neighborhoods during Sunday Parkways
  • Prepare yourself over multiple weekends for Portland Street Fairs, a mix of music, crafts, food, and people
  • The World Naked Bike Ride is also a thing
  • Listen to some incredible music at the Oregon Zoo, Edgefield Concerts on the Lawn, Pickathon, PDX Pop Now!, Waterfront Blues Festival, Chamber Music Northwest, or Cathedral Park Jazz Festival
  • Sample just about any beer you can think of at one of the Brewer’s Fests
  • If you’re into running, see if you can snag a spot on a Hood to Coast team
  • Visit the Portland Mercado, for food trucks serving South American, Central American, and Mexican food
  • Find tranquility in the urban hubbub at the Lan Su Chinese Garden (also particularly fun around Lunar New Year celebrations)
  • Experience My People’s Market, a market dedicated to celebrating Portland’s diverse community of makers and artists
  • Meet some notable authors and get your book on at Portland Book Festival
  • See thousands of swifts take flight at Chapman Elementary School
  • Halloweentown is real! And 30 minutes outside of city limits in St. Helens
  • Get your soak on at the soaking pool at McMenamin’s Kennedy School
  • Say meow to the International Cat Show
  • Enjoy an elephant ear and the holiday spirit at ZooLights
  • See the festive lights at Peacock Lane, a family favorite
  • Ice skating at the Lloyd Center Mall
  • Take to the slopes (with everyone else!) at Mt. Hood
  • Visit Powell’s Books. It’s on every to-do list because it’s pretty amazing
  • Catch a live show: music, comedy, off-Broadway – we have it all. Keep track of upcoming performances at Crystal Ballroom, Doug Fir, Revolution Hall, Keller Auditorium, Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall, Aladdin Theater, and many more.
  • Explore Oregon Museum of Science and Industry (OMSI), which includes everything from interactive stations to a planetarium

Although most other cities wouldn’t think of Portland as a dynamic sports town, the passion runs deep in Rose City. Check out:

How to Weather It All

The first thing to know about moving to Portland is that we tend to skew more casual in terms of style than many other parts of the country. To give a bit of context, it wouldn’t be out of place to see jeans and a plaid shirt at even the nicest restaurants in town. Outside of a few industries, people tend to skip on ties, suits, and heels.

As far as weather goes, everything you’ve heard is true i.e. it rains a lot here. It’s not like rain in the Midwest or on the East Coast though – typically it’s a persistent, grey, soggy drizzle with some breaks and heavier downpours intermixed. Despite what you’ve heard, it’s not looked down upon to use an umbrella, although many people forgo serious rain gear for shorter trips. Honestly, our best advice is to wear some mostly waterproof, relatively flat shoes and layer sweaters and jackets that don’t absorb tons of water. You’d be amazed what a difference dry feet and a warm core make.

Sweet golden dog in a yellow rain jacket

On the other hand, Portland has an average of 144 days of sunshine, almost all between the months of May and October. Like, our summers might be some of the best in the world. Styles still tend to be pretty casual, but you’ll see a lot of sunburns after the first nice weekend, so sunscreen is always in (especially after you haven’t seen the sun for several months). Although Portland summers are very agreeable, in the last decade we’ve seen an increase in high temperature days and wildfires, which can wreak havoc on air quality.

Some general items and styles that are always in: clogs, plaid shirts, Blazers gear, Timbers gear, reflective biking attire, Dr. Martens, anything Nike or Adidas, wool sweaters, Pendleton, jeans, beanies, dogs, glasses, beards, buns, bangs, overalls, oversized jackets, tats, and taking your style a little too seriously.

Where to Find Things to Do in Portland and Beyond

Get Involved

Relocating to Portland? Here are some recommendations from our crew: