When travelers begin considering which Pacific Northwest city to visit, a classic showdown tends to ensue: Portland vs. Seattle. Citizens and frequent visitors of both cities are stockpiled with facts and statistics that support their side, and while the discussion may not get as heated as those friendly debates such as Seinfeld vs. Friends or Pepsi vs. Coca-Cola, it’s still worth having the conversation.
About 175 miles apart, the two cities have a fair share of similarities, which is why choosing between the two can be so difficult. Both the City of Flowers and Emerald City are known for having plenty of rainfall, young demographics, a laid-back lifestyle and solid soccer organizations, but when it comes to choosing which of the two to visit, how do you decide? What makes each city unique?
Seattle: While it’s hard not to talk about Seattle without mentioning the Space Needle, the Seattle Art Museum and Olympic Sculpture Park, there are plenty of popular attractions that aren’t on the postcards, though we’d be remiss to not mention Pike Place Market.
Established in 1907, Pike Place is a public market by the water that has connected citizens and farmers, a tradition that continues today. As you take a stroll through Pike Place Fish Market, keep your head on a swivel, as the fish mongers are famous for throwing the day’s catch to one another. After stocking up on the region’s freshest ingredients or dining at one of the market’s 80 restaurants, you and your family can walk over to the Seattle Aquarium and the Seattle Great Wheel, both only steps away.
Portland: Full of unique neighborhoods, strange museums and massive bookstores, the City of Roses is as idiosyncratic as the people that live there. Despite it being a bustling city, Portland has an astonishing amount of urban parks that allow you to enjoy the great outdoors without separating from the skyline. If you’re only in town for a few days, Washington Park is must-see before heading home. With Portland Japanese Garden, the Oregon Zoo and the International Rose Test Garden, Washington Park has something for travelers of all ages and interests.
After an eventful day of reveling in the artwork or making furry friends, be sure to stop at Portland’s Voodoo Doughnut. The famous – or infamous, depending on who you ask – restaurant serves tasty and sometimes risqué treats decorated with unusual toppings such as bacon, bubblegum or your favorite cereal and candy. While the shop has made its way to other cities around the U.S., the original Voodoo Doughnut is fun to see and taste.
Seattle: Attention hikers: lace up your boots and fill up those CamelBaks because you’re about to trek through hiking heaven. If you’re traveling with young ones or simply new to the experience, we recommend walking along the paved pathways of Olympic Hot Springs Trail. Situated in the heart of Olympic National Park, this beginner-friendly trail has a few hot pools right next to it, and others that are more secluded for true explorers to discover. When you come across one, be sure to check the temperature, as some can get as hot as 118°F!
Looking for something a bit more challenging? Mount Si is a happy medium between a true climb and a leisurely stroll, but the real experts are headed to Mount Rainer. The active volcano is covered in wildflowers in the summer and snow in the winter, so if you’re visiting in December, you better bring your snow shoes.
Portland: From bird watching at Ridgefield Refuge to gazing upon the waterfalls at Columbia River Gorge, the variety of outdoor adventures to be had around Portland is nearly limitless as well. While hiking and biking are already well established at iconic locations such as Mount Hood and Forest Park, there is one activity on the rise that visitors tend to forget: surfing. Though it’s not as crowded as the beaches in California, which is a good thing according to the locals, the number of surfers catching waves along the Oregon Coast is rapidly increasing. Due to its northern location, the water can get little bit chilly, so consider bringing your wetsuit.
To be clear, we’re just scratching the tip of the iceberg here. The Pacific Northwest is one of the lushest and most breathtaking areas in the world, so you’ll have more nature sights to explore than you know what to do with. Within minutes of arriving at either of these cities, it’ll be easy to see why the locals are so steadily eco-conscious.
Seattle: Seattle has the larger metropolitan area of the two cities, so it can be a bit more difficult to get around. To be frank, be prepared to sit in some traffic if you rent a car – not that you have to though. Seattle has multiple public transit systems including the Link Light Rail, which makes trips from Angle Lake Station to the University of Washington through downtown, and King County Metro Transit, which provides bus service in downtown and outlying neighborhoods in King County. If you’re just looking to commute between popular downtown attractions such as the Space Needle and Seattle Children’s Museum, try the Seattle Center Monorail, only about a mile long.
Portland: Consistently ranked each year as one of the easiest cities to get around, Portland prides itself on its state-of-the-art public transit system. The root of its renowned public transportation system is the MAX light rail, which is 60 miles of track that connects 97 stations throughout the city, region and airport. In addition to a world-class light rail, Portland has 315 miles of bikeways, and the nation’s highest percentage of bike commuters. With lanes and paths all over town, it’s easy for cyclists to explore in an eco-friendly way.
DINING AND DRINKING
Seattle: Looking for a drink to help you ramp up instead of wind down? Emerald City has you covered. In addition to being the birthplace of international coffee powerhouse Starbucks (ever heard of it?), Seattle has hundreds of coffee shops, making it a hot and cold brew mecca. Here, coffee isn’t just a beverage, it’s an art form. Baristas are often happy to explain what makes their coffee unique – where the beans are from, where they are roasted, how they are poured – just in case you need a crash course on the subject.
While Seattle’s restaurant reputation isn’t as legendary as its coffee scene (and understandably so), the rapid growth of the city’s population has brought a huge development in the food industry, as well. As the fastest growing city in America, Seattle’s demand for world-class chefs has never been higher, and thousands are choosing to answer that call. If you aren’t indulging in the classic seafood fare of Pike Place Market or Anthony’s Homeport, you still have plenty of genres to choose from. From savory steaks at the old-school Metropolitan Grill to the delectable Italian dishes at Il Terrazzo Carmine, Seattle has more than enough restaurants for you to try during your visit.
Portland: When it comes to Portland, if you aren’t thinking nature, you’re thinking food. And for good reason. Known for doing its own thing, Portland does eateries like nowhere else. The city’s food-cart scene is composed of more than 600 tiny kitchens, the most popular area being between Southwest Alder and Washington streets. Travelers exploring the city by foot are in a great position to try the array of dishes originating from all over the world. Check out Nong Khao Man Gai’s world-famous chicken and rice, or animal-product free barbecue at Homegrown Smoker. No matter how specific your taste buds are, Portland’s food trucks have something to appease them.
When you want to wet your whistle, Oregon’s largest city has more than enough options to choose from. Boasting about 85 microbreweries and counting, “Beervana” is a fitting name for the metro area. Best of all, many of the breweries and beer gardens are dog-friendly, so you can bring along your favorite furry drinking partner.
Ready to experience the cities for yourself? Check out Portland and Seattle vacation packages, and find exclusive rates on flights, accommodations and transportation with Vacations by Marriott.