If you are considering relocating to the western United States, you may be wondering which city is the best place to live: Portland or Sacramento? Both cities have a lot to offer residents, but there are some important differences that you should consider before making your decision.
In this blog post, we will compare and contrast the two cities in terms of their cost of living, climate, job market, and more!
If you are planning to own a car when living in Sacramento and Portland you are not alone, cars outrank public transport in both cities. In fact, over 80% of commuters in each city use their own vehicle as their primary mode of transportation!
The average commute time in both cities is on par with the national average, both being about 26 minutes for a trip. While these numbers are slightly ahead of the national average, keep in mind these are just the average commutes.
The official websites of both cities paint a picture of them being welcoming and easy to travel, however, TomTom provides congestion data showing both cities have a typical 20% congestion during morning rush-hours with Sacramento having 30% and Portland 40% congestion during evening periods (% congestion indicates the percentage increase in commute time).
If you want to avoid traffic jams there is public transport available in both cities. The options available to you depends on what part of each city you choose to live in. Portland is the unanimous winner for the quality of their public transport, with 70 miles worth of light rail lines (and more being added every year).
Portlanders have access to convenient light rail, streetcar, and bus services throughout the metropolitan area. Sacramento relies more heavily on buses, which while receiving worse reviews online in general, do service a wider area of the city with services available in most suburbs.
Portlanders have more options for public transport while Sacramento has fewer, but in Sac, they cover more parts of the city. Portland’s public transport is much more utilized with a higher ridership rate (287 vs 24 per 100k residents)(Portland.gov).
This higher demand explains the variety of services in Portland with 15 to choose from, while Sacramento has just 11. However, with demand comes price, and Portland’s public transit is unquestionably pricier. So, while Portland is easier to get around, it costs a lot more to do so.
Housing Costs in Portland and Sacramento
Portland has a reputation for being one of the most expensive cities in America and this is certainly true when it comes to housing costs compared with Sacramento.
The average rent in Portland is $1800 per month while Sacramento rental prices are much cheaper at around $1400 each month (including utilities).
This makes Portlanders pay much more on their monthly housing cost than Sacramentans. The only consolation for Portland residents is that their utilities are 12% cheaper than the national average, which is an important consideration given the notable rental costs.
The alternative to renting is to purchase your own home. The average cost to buy a house in Portland is $470,000 while the average in Sacramento is significantly lower at $365,000.
So, if you’re looking to purchase a home and price is important, Sacramento has a lot going for it being more than 20% cheaper.
Cost of living in Portland and Sacramento
When considering the differences between Portland and Sacramento there’s more than just the cost of housing to evaluate. Another difference to consider is other costs of living, like transportation and food.
Food is cheaper in Sacramento, with grocery prices and restaurant prices being marginally less expensive according to Numbeo.
These small savings in Sacramento will be insignificant to the foodies when you consider that Portland has a much greater range of choices when it comes to restaurants (19 vs 15 per 100k residents).
In addition to fewer eateries, Sacramento also has slightly fewer convenience stores (12 vs 13 per 100k people) (Areavibes). When considering utility rates, Portland might be below the national average, but it still loses out to Sacramento on electricity bills ($154 vs $132 monthly average) as well as gas ($36/mo vs $30/mo avg cost) (Numbeo).
The next major cost of living is transportation costs. The average gas price in Portland is $4.02/gallon (at time of writing) while in Sacramento it is $4.68/gallon (GasBuddy).
However, Portland’s public transportation is much more expensive than Sacramento’s. The monthly pass for Portland’s TriMet costs $100, compared to Sacramento’s Regional Transit which only costs $64 a month (although there are some restrictions on use) (TriMet VS Sacramento RT).
In the end, when comparing the cost of living between Portland and Sacramento, Portlanders generally pay more for the basics while overall, in most categories Sacramento appears to be cheaper.
However, Portlanders have more choices when it comes to restaurants and entertainment. Portland is a great city for those who want more options and don’t mind spending a bit extra on their monthly expenses.
Sacramento, on the other hand, maybe a better option for those looking to save money.
Demographics in Portland and Sacramento
Portland is the larger of the two cities with a population of 652,000 to Sacramento’s 524,900 (Neighborhoodscout). Both cities have similar age distributions with 24% of both populations being aged 55 or older.
While Sacramento is the younger of the two cities with an additional 5% of their total population being younger than 35 years of age.
Both cities have very high rates of high-school completion (at about 90%) and 6-7% current college attendance. However, this is where the similarities end, reflecting Portland’s technology-based white-collar economy, college graduates make up just over 50% of their population; Sacramento meanwhile has only 33.1% of their population made up of college graduates.
Sacramento is the more diverse city, with 67.6% of the population being non-European ethnicities. Meanwhile, Portland’s population is 70.6% white.
This is also reflected in language diversity with over 37% of Sacramento speaking a language other than English, while Portland is just under 19%.
This is a close reflection of the immigration statistics for each with almost 25% of Sacramento being immigrants, while Portland is only just surpassing 10%.
Income and employment in Portland and Sacramento
Portland may be the more expensive city hands-down, but when it comes to job opportunities, Portland is the clear winner.
The city has one of the strongest economies in America, thanks in part to its booming tech industry. Companies like Intel and Nike are headquartered in Portland, and there are plenty of jobs available in other sectors as well (such as healthcare, retail, and tourism).
In contrast, Sacramento has a much smaller job market with just over 200,000 people employed in the city.
Another difference between the cities is that Portlanders generally earn higher wages than their Sacramentan counterparts. The disparity in college-educated citizens is reflected in employment statistics and income.
Portland has a median income of $71,005, almost 13% above the national average, while Sacramento is almost exactly the national median of $62,843.
Though Portland enjoys a 13% greater income, their higher cost of living does mean that in real buying power, the two cities are on a similar footing; in fact, Sacramento is slightly ahead when adjusted for cost of living.
While earnings adjusted for purchasing power goes to Sacramento, Portland does have a higher employment rate and more job opportunities.
Earning potential in Portland is significantly higher than in Sacramento, with the income per capita for Portland at $41,310, a full 21% above the national average.
Sacramento on the other hand trails at 6% below the national average. So, while money goes further in Sac, there is less cash flow in the community. This directly reflects Portland’s large and growing economy based around the globally expanding tech industry.
Crime in Portland and Sacramento
One important factor to consider when relocating is the crime rate of the city you are moving to. According to Neighborhoodscout, Sacramento has a 27% higher crime rate than Portland – however, Numbeo suggests both cities have comparable crime as of December 2021.
There is difficulty in obtaining specific and current information because both cities have seen significant increases in violent crime since 2019.
Both have similar homicide and violent crime statistics, although Portland has a higher rate of sexual assaults, meanwhile, Sacramento has a higher rate of home invasion, burglary, and theft.
Despite increases in crime, both cities are considered to be safe in general. neighborhoodscout.com provides comparable safety ratings for both, showing both are marginally safer than the national average.
Numbeo shows that citizens of both cities feel very safe in the city during daylight and moderately safe at night with Sacramento edging out Portland for the safer of the two by a margin of 3%.
In general, both cities do not pose a high crime risk and law enforcement in both cities cite gang-related violence as the main cause of violent crime; this suggests that being a random victim of crime is even lower than the statistics suggest.
Weather in Portland and Sacramento
The weather is another consideration when choosing where to live, for many people climate is a key factor in determining where to live.
Portland is known for its rainy weather, with an average of 152 days per year that sees precipitation. Conversely, Sacramento enjoys shorter, more mild winters and longer, hotter summers.
According to Weatherspark Portland typically has a temperature between 36°F to 84°F and occasionally dips to a freezing 26°F or below.
In return for the cooler, wetter winter it also doesn’t get as hot as Sacramento, with a much more tolerable 95°F the typical maximum.
Portland experiences stable seasons, with a short, warm, and dry summer but with the rest of the year being overcast, and precipitation almost half the year on average.
While Portland may be described as more temperate, it is also colder and wetter more of the time which can certainly take the edge off for many people.
If winter isn’t for you and you have a higher tolerance of the heat, Sacramento might be more your flavor. The summers are long and arid, with an average of 94°F but heat waves can reach a scorching 102°F.
In return for this blistering summer their winter, though very wet, is very short and rarely reaches freezing, usually a more-mild 39°F.
Events and entertainment in Portland and Sacramento
Portland is the more culturally rich of the two cities, with a much higher concentration of theaters, music venues, and art galleries. There are also significantly more festivals in Portland throughout the year – from food to film to beer.
When it comes to sports, both Sacramento and Portland have NBA teams (the Kings and Blazers respectively), however, Portland has a large number of additional professional sports franchises including Major League Soccer’s Timbers, NWSL’s Thorns FC, Minor League Baseball’s Hillsboro Hops and an AHL hockey team.
In terms of nightlife options, Sacramento leads with over twice as many bars per capita when compared to Portland. However, Portlanders enjoy a larger variety of restaurants – almost three times as many unique eateries per capita.
A saving grace for Sacramento is its relatively short distance to San Francisco, while far enough that you won’t be making the drive every weekend, it is close enough to book the occasional weekend away easily and take in the culture and variety of entertainment SF.
Outdoor Entertainment in Portland and Sacramento
It should come as no surprise that Portland is the more favorable city for winter sports and related activities, located much further north and with colder average temperatures. However, there is still a requirement to travel to the mountains to access these activities.
Both Portland and Sacramento enjoy the same proximity to beaches being only a short drive away from the Pacific coastline. While Portland residents are more likely to enjoy surfing, Sacramento enjoys twice as many golf courses per capita.
Sacramento is also home to Lake Natoma which has plenty of boating opportunities. Meanwhile, Portlanders can take advantage of their rivers for kayaking and white-water rafting adventures in the warmer months.
Sacramento is surrounded by several state parks with various recreational options such as camping, hiking, and fishing available throughout the year – while Portlanders generally must travel eastwards into Oregon’s national forests or up north into Washington state for these activities Neighborhoodscout).
Within the city itself, Portland leads for outdoor areas with 279 parks and recreation areas, a total of some 10,000 acres of land, more than double the recreation space per capita than Sacramento. Sacramento has a particularly low density of public parks within the city limits, with 222 parks totaling 3200 acres of land (City of Sacramento).
Meaning Portlanders can enjoy park access in their backyard while Sacramentans must travel to find it (Walkscore). Both cities are well-serviced by bike paths and both rank highly for walkability.
Why you would choose Portland
Portland is a larger city with many more restaurants and entertainment options than Sacramento. For those willing to travel a little further away from the city for their activities, Portland offers a larger variety of activities suitable for those without children.
Portland is also much better for winter sports and outdoor activities. The Portland climate, with lower humidity and a lower peak summer temperature, is favorable to many.
Portland has a larger and still-growing economy with greater opportunities to gain employment and the median pay is significantly higher.
The higher pay however is offset by the higher costs of living in Portland. When adjusted for cost-of-living, the higher income in Portland will be entirely absorbed by increased costs.
Portland is the better option for young singles and professional couples without children, especially those seeking work in the technology field.
This is particularly true when considering the many activities that favor singles, and couples without children as well as the high real estate costs, compounded further by a high cost of living.
Why you would choose Sacramento
Sacramento has a higher overall safety rating and is more family-friendly than Portland. It is also a more diverse city with more diverse cultural experiences, plus it has comparatively easy access to San Francisco.
Sacramento is the better option for families with children, especially those looking to move from further away where housing costs may be higher, such as New York or San Francisco. However, Portland does have more schools rated highly by Greatschools, so it shouldn’t be ruled out solely based on family.
Due to Portland having an almost 30% higher cost of living, the lower average income in Sacramento goes further than it would in Portland. However, while these reduced living costs mean the relative income is slightly higher than Portland there are two main drawbacks to Sacramento.
First, it has fewer entertainment venues and activity options (Worldpopulationreview) (however, for families, this could also be viewed as fewer things to spend your money on). Second, Sacramento has fewer employment opportunities, so make sure you have lined up a job before you make your move.
The Bottom Line: Which City Is Better To Live or Visit?
In conclusion, it is difficult to say definitively which city is the best place to live – as this depends on individual preferences and needs.
While Portland is the better option for winter activities and outdoor recreation with higher income potential – Sacramento offers greater affordability with a much cheaper cost of living.
Portland has more restaurants, activities, and cultural venues; Sacramento has more nightclubs and closer access to state parks and camping activities. If you can’t handle the cold weather or suffer seasonal depression, you may not want to tackle the 6 months of overcast and wet Portland weather.
For those prone to heatstroke or not looking to get a tan, Portland might be preferable. Finally, Portland is a more typical white-collar metropolitan experience in a predominantly white city.
Sacramento offers greater diversity, access to San Francisco, and the opportunity to meet and embrace many more cultures and people groups and expand your horizons.
Both cities have some great benefits and some concerns to be aware of. At the end of the day, you need to decide which elements are most important to you.
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Beth was born under a wandering star, with drama in her veins and ink in her pen. After stints studying theatre in Dublin and Utrecht she used her creative streak to see as much of the world as she could on as little money. She toured Italian Schools with a children’s theatre troop, lived as an au-pair in both Rome and Washington DC, explored the British countryside, worked her way through much of Europe, Salsa danced in Cuba and road tripped down America’s west coast where she discovered her spiritual home; Portland, Oregon. In between adventures she resides peacefully with her family, cats and ukulele.