Portland Saturday market is full with visitors that are buying craft and art products o, in Portland, Oregon, via Ziga Cetrtic / Shutterstock.com

7 Best Places to Live in The Pacific Northwest in 2024

Living in the Pacific Northwest (PNW) means experiencing all four seasons to their fullest. In its burgeoning cities, residents enjoy a household income above the national average, which can be saved or spent on recreational activities. The great outdoors are readily accessible for public enjoyment, offering relaxation or adventure, such as the ultimate natural gym at Mount Rainier, just a short trip from Seattle. Contrary to the original statement, Salem, while being the capital of Oregon, is not known for its beaches; instead, coastal towns in Oregon offer beach access. Portland, Oregon's largest city, maintains its unique character all year round.

So, what's it like to live in the Pacific Northwest, arguably the most naturally diverse region in the nation? Bellingham, a city in Washington, boasts a historic district dedicated to shopping, not necessarily being the first city in the state. Bend, another city worth mentioning, offers picturesque views along the Deschutes River Trail, making every dollar spent on housing seem worthwhile for those who fall in love with the outdoors.

Bellingham, Washington

Fairhaven district, Bellingham, Washington: Nelson Block and other buildings.
Fairhaven district, Bellingham, Washington: Nelson Block and other buildings. By Joe Mabel, CC BY-SA 3.0, Wikimedia Commons

With a population of 101,422, Bellingham is the county seat of Whatcom County and is experiencing an annual growth rate of 3.85%, which translates to a 10.4% increase since 2020. Located at the foot of Mount Baker and just over an hour away from Vancouver, BC, Bellingham has a median age of 33.7 years. Despite an average household income of $89,546, its higher poverty rate of 18.71% reflects the cost of living challenges. The median listing price for homes is $680K, with the median sold price at $647.5K. Bellingham appeals especially to winter sports enthusiasts, campers, and craft beer lovers. It's safer than 27% of U.S. cities and has a 5.1% unemployment rate, making it an attractive place for families seeking job stability and diversity.

The Pacific Northwest lifestyle offers mild summer temperatures and a wealth of amenities, including easy access to Canada for weekend trips. Activities range from summer camping to winter snowmobiling at Larrabee State Park. The Whatcom Museum showcases art, history, and ethnography of the region. For shopping, the Fairhaven Historic District and local businesses such as CreativiTea, Paper Dreams, and Seasons Fashions are popular. Culinary delights can be found at Chuckanut Bay Distillery, Boundary Bay Brewery & Bistro, and Saltine Bellingham, among others. For breakfast, the Monte Cristo Crepes at Mount Bakery Cafe are unbeatable, while Mallard Ice Cream offers delightful flavors to cool down in summer.

Bend, Oregon

Bend, Oregon Whitewater Park.
Bend, Oregon Whitewater Park.

Bend, with a population of 105,000, nestles at the base of Mount Bachelor, the sixth largest ski area in the U.S. It's safer than 48% of U.S. cities, with a median home listing price of $824.9K and a median sold price of $719,000. The median rent is $1,874. Despite a high unemployment rate of 9.52%, the median household income is $119,319. Known for being one of Oregon's sunniest cities, Bend encourages an outdoor lifestyle with hiking, water sports, and winter activities. The city offers unmatched access to nature, including the Tumalo Mountain Trail and Deschutes River Trail.

Attractions such as the High Desert Museum and the Sun Mountain Fun Center cater to families and tourists alike. Bend's shopping scene, including the Old Mill District, offers a wide range of stores. As the city with the most microbreweries per capita in the nation, venues like Deschutes Brewery are must-visits. The Sparrow Bakery and 900 Wall are popular dining spots, offering a variety of dishes and drinks.

Eugene, Oregon

Eugene, Oregon, downtown cityscape and mountains in the afternoon
Eugene, Oregon, downtown cityscape and mountains in the afternoon

Eugene, with a stable population of 177,863 in Lane County and a metropolitan area population of 380,532, boasts a median home price of $459,421. While most residents choose to rent, paying a median rent of $1,761, the city offers an average household income of $89,619. Despite a higher poverty rate of 19.29%, Eugene is considered one of the best places to live in Oregon, thanks to its desirability ranking of 22nd out of 150 metro areas. Its prime location—60 miles west of the ocean and 100 miles east of the Cascade Mountains—coupled with its appeal to young professionals, contributes to its desirability, although it's more accurate to say the city leans more liberal than conservative.

Eugene presents an urban-suburban mix feel with ample parks, restaurants, coffee shops, and highly rated public schools, making it ideal for those who prefer green living with modern conveniences. The city is known for its extensive biking and hiking trails. Despite a tight housing market, starter homes are available in the $300,000 to $500,000 range, with 27.61% of annual salaries going toward household costs. Eugene's economy thrives on innovative technologies and commercial real estate, with lumber being a significant industry, alongside a growing presence in the non-lumber manufacturing sectors, such as electronics and biotech technologies.

Idaho Falls, Idaho

People walking around in Idaho Falls, Idaho.
People walking around in Idaho Falls, Idaho. Editorial credit: B Brown / Shutterstock.com

Idaho Falls, home to 68,875 people—a 4.54% increase since 2020—is the county seat of Bonneville County. It offers an average household income of $87,582 and a relatively low poverty rate of 11.44%. With a median housing cost of $385K in January 2024, reflecting an almost 9% year-over-year decrease, it's an opportune time for homebuyers. As a smaller city in the PNW, Idaho Falls provides excellent access to the Rockies and notable national parks like Yellowstone and Grand Teton. The presence of reputable medical centers, such as Mountain View Hospital and Eastern Idaho Regional Medical Center, contributes to its attractiveness for retirees and families alike.

With a cost of living 7% lower than the state average and 13% lower than the national average, Idaho Falls is an affordable place to live. The Idaho Falls Zoo, with its diverse animal exhibits, and cultural venues like the Museum of Idaho and the Art Museum of Eastern Idaho, enrich the community. For dining, Dixie’s Diner and The Bee’s Knees Pub & Catering Co. offer unique culinary experiences, while the Tap-n-Fill Tap Room provides entertainment with views of the Snake River.

Portland, Oregon

On-street outdoor dining on a Saturday morning at a breakfast, brunch, and lunch joint in downtown Portland, Oregon
On-street outdoor dining on a Saturday morning at a breakfast, brunch, and lunch joint in downtown Portland, Oregon, via hapabapa / iStock.com

Portland, balancing playful innocence with a vibrant edge, draws in newcomers eager for success and enjoyment. The city's population of 618,451, with nearly 2.5 million in the metro area, participates in unique events like naked bike rides and adult soapbox derbies, embodying the "Keep Portland Weird" motto. Voodoo Doughnut is a must-visit for locals seeking unusual treats. Positioned between two mountain ranges and less than two hours from the Pacific Ocean, Portlanders also enjoy weekend trips to the Willamette Valley's vineyards.

With a robust job market, an unemployment rate below the national average, and a poverty rate of 12.18%, Portland's average household income of $117,687 supports a high quality of life, including dining at world-class restaurants and maintaining fitness routines. The median age of 38.3 years reflects a community that is friendly, laid-back, and open to newcomers. Portland fosters self-expression, serving as a hub for startups and independent businesses. Cultural engagement is high, with access to museums, art galleries, and the West Coast's oldest public library. The city's highly educated population also supports local sports teams, including the NBA's Portland Trail Blazers, MLS soccer team, and the major junior ice hockey team, the Portland Winterhawks.

Salem, Oregon

Salem, Oregon, town skyline at dusk.
Salem, Oregon, town skyline at dusk.

Salem, the capital of Oregon, has a population of 176,251 and a median age of 35.9 years. Residents enjoy living along the Willamette River, with an average household income of $91,240 and a poverty rate of 14.61%. Salem offers a quintessential Pacific Northwest lifestyle that's perfect for those seeking affordable living in family-friendly neighborhoods with outdoor adventures nearby. The median house cost is $428K and rising, making it an appealing time to invest in living in one of the state's most vibrant cities. Willamette University draws families, students, and young professionals as the oldest university in the West.

Bush’s Pasture Park is a local favorite for trail walks and picnics. Residents have easy access to Portland for urban experiences and the Pacific Coast for beach outings. Home to the Oregon State Capitol and the Gilbert House Children’s Museum, Salem offers diverse attractions, including romantic cruises on the Willamette Queen riverboat. For dining, IKE Box offers a morning caffeine fix, and Happy Bibimbap House serves Korean favorites like Dol Sot Bibim Bap. Xicha Brewing Company is a popular spot for Latin-inspired beers such as Guava Golden Ale.

Seattle, Washington

Crowd at the Pike Place Market in Seattle, Washington.
Crowd at the Pike Place Market in Seattle, Washington. Editorial credit: Checubus / Shutterstock.com

Seattle, known for being the birthplace of Starbucks, offers a vibrant lifestyle that feels perpetually energized. Contrary to the mention of being the state capital, which is actually Olympia, Seattle is a major city in Washington with a population of 784,754 and a metro population nearing 4 million. From a modest beginning in 1870, Seattle has grown significantly. Although living here is not cheap, with a median home price of $768,396, the city's median household income of $161,694 and a poverty rate of 10.09% reflect its affluent community. The tech industry provides high-paying jobs, allowing residents to manage the 24.36% of their median household income devoted to housing.

Seattle is ideal for outdoor enthusiasts, with easy access to Olympic National Park and Mount Rainier National Park. Contrary to common belief, Seattle receives less rainfall than cities like Boston, Philadelphia, New York City, and Miami. The city offers numerous indoor attractions for cultural engagement and relaxation, including breweries. Surrounded by mountains and water, Seattle is close to wineries, ski resorts, hiking trails, and parks. The abundant greenery within the city and the rain are to thank for its lush parks and tree-lined streets.

The Pacific Northwest, with its varying climates from sunny Bend, Oregon, to rainy Seattle, Washington, includes cities like Idaho Falls, which offers affordable housing in a smaller community setting. From the wet Cascade Mountains to the drier eastern regions, these cities provide access to the region's major attractions, nature, and history. With a vibrant cultural scene, proximity to national parks, and exciting job opportunities, living in the Pacific Northwest often includes enjoying a craft beer amidst stunning natural beauty.

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