The Great Debate: San Francisco vs. Portland

SF and Portland

It’s an odd thing, but anyone who disappears is said to be seen in San Francisco. It must be a delightful city and possess all the attractions of the next world.
– Oscar Wilde

Portland is a place where you can find a community as a feminist, a vegan or a fat activist. Artists, musicians, knitters, and filmmakers can all meet like-minded souls. It’s proved the perfect place for me.
– Beth Ditto

I’m a purebred. Born and raised and have only ever lived in the Bay Area, right next to San Francisco. A city that some have toted to be the best city in the entire world. Take that, Paris and New York. A 7×7 cluster of eclectic restaurants, museums, parks, and people. My roots have grown and spread throughout the San Francisco area. And while one of my biggest passions happens to be travel, my metaphorical wings always take me right back to where I started. San Fran, just call me a boomerang, I’ll always return home to you. My beloved, my sweet, my city of dreams. It’s the quintessential city of California. Sorry to break it to you, Los Angeles. Plus, you’re home to the Lakers, and that’s just raising red flags everywhere.

When I was younger, my parents took my sister and me on a vacation to our neighbors of the north. From California to Oregon, up Highway 1 we went. Coastline after coastline, lighthouse after lighthouse. The air and the openness seemed foreign from the big city of San Fran that I had become so accustomed to. But then I heard about Portland. A big city, too. Maybe the San Francisco of Oregon? Nah, I thought.

And then lone behold, 13 years after that vacation, I started dating a man that came straight from the “San Francisco of Oregon.” Last year, he took me to Portland again, and as a semi-grown woman, I got a much fuller experience of another big city in the West. Minus a visit to Voodoo Doughnut. Alas, I didn’t get to feel the magic in the hole. As far as doughnuts go, at least. But I think I’m still feeling the sting from that one.

And now having visited Oregon multiple times, my heart is slightly torn. I found myself falling in love with Portland. It was almost like I was cheating on my homeland. How could any city rival San Francisco? Although New York did a fairly decent job, but I’ll set that topic aside for now.

Now don’t get me wrong, I’m not about to up and leave all that San Francisco (as well as the entirety of California) has to offer. The Beach Boys didn’t write a song about the “cutest girls in the world” for nothing. I’ve grown too attached to the Golden Gate, I love eating at Foreign Cinema a little too much, and what would life be without Ghirardelli?

So lately I’ve been thinking that both cities have so much to offer – how can we ever really decide which one is better? Maybe I should take a lesson from Sweet Home Alabama – I can have both roots and wings.

For starters, it costs a Kim Kardashian-sized butt load of money to make your home in the city by the bay. I’m 24, I’m young, energetic, spry, and I work my Kourtney Kardashian-sized butt off to get ahead in my career, but I’m not a freakin’ millionaire. Let’s just do some basic math here. Based on the Consumer Price Index, I need approximately $3,662 in Portland to maintain the same standard of living that’s costing me $6,000 in San Francisco. Portland is offering me a 49% savings rate. Most retail stores don’t even offer that kind of revolutionary shit. The indices also show variations amongst rent prices, restaurant prices, and grocery prices. The costs are 59%, 22%, and 31% lower in Portland than in San Francisco, respectively. What the hell, CPI? Surely you can’t be serious (it was at this point in writing this post that I actually envisioned the response: I am serious. And don’t call me Shirley.) So let’s see – I can either have an extremely subpar apartment out in the Tenderloin, or perhaps take my cost savings and put it to living in a place where I don’t fear for my life each and every day. Point: Portland.

Next, let’s take a look at one of my all-time favorite things. Like ever. And that would be Christmas. Which city has it better, does it better, and will ultimately leave me a holly, jolly and satisfied customer? Based on Travel and Leisure’s rankings from 2012, Portland sadly fell close to last place in terms of the major cities in the U.S. while San Francisco ranked in the top 15. Way to go, Fog City. Now this might not score high in your book, but it sure as hell does in mine. I am a Christmas fanatic. I go from a put together 24-year-old to a crazed out five-year-old. You know the kind that are desperately in need of a nap, but because they have the fear of missing out, they become overly hyper and delirious/delusional while trying to stay awake? Whelp, welcome to me during Christmastime, bitches. I’m pretty fantastic. Let’s face it, Portland has the typical things like the tree lighting in Pioneer Courthouse Square, the visits with Santa, and multiple festivals of lights, but San Francisco has – drum roll, please – Union Square. From the Christmas lights to the skating rink to the performance of the Nutcracker to – hello! – the shopping, the only thing missing in San Francisco is the ability to have a truly white Christmas. But a girl can dream, right? Or at least that’s what the song tells me. Point: San Francisco.

As some of you may know, I have always been a commuter, which means, I drive a lot. I am used to having a vehicle to get places. I like having the ability to blast Miley Cyrus The Beatles whenever I please. But you know what? Living in San Francisco strips me of that ability. You would have to be bat shit crazy to try and have a car in San Francisco. First of all, the parking meters are ridiculous. Sure, let me shell out one dollar for three minutes. When the Giants were in (and won) the World Series in 2010 and 2012, some parking lots in dear Frisco were charging upwards of $300. And mama just ain’t got that kind of money. Not only that, but in this case, San Franciscans are much weirder than Portlanders – you can never keep track of when parking in a certain space is “allowed” because when the hell is street cleaning again? And those meter maids will show you zero mercy. But from what I’ve heard and seen, parking in Portland does not seem to be half as big of a hassle. Maybe I can finally get rid of that Xanax prescription. Point: Portland.

I also happen to be one of those people that doesn’t enjoy constant sunshine. To be clear, I very much enjoy warm weather. I mean, me on a beach with a margarita (okay, let’s face it, it would more likely be a Shirley Temple since I rarely drink) is not a bad picture. At all. But I want to experience all four seasons. I want to sweat to death and find solace in a swimming pool in the summer, I want to be able to snowboard and romp around in the snow during winter, I want to sing in the rain and have my April showers, and I want to see the leaves actually change color during autumn. But San Francisco is more of a one-way track: foggy with a possibility of rain or sun. You just never know. We Friscans are tricksters. Or at least Mother Nature here is. But in Portland, I get the sun, I get the rain, I get falling leaves and rainbows and unicorns and – what?! – a pony! Okay not really, but you get my point. Last Thanksgiving, when I was in Portland, the weather matched up perfectly to the season. All it did was rain, and I loved it. I love taking runs in the rain, I love hearing it pound against my windowpane, I love seeing lightning and hearing the rolls of thunder (from the safety of a house, mind you). I even went to see that Christmas tree lighting in Pioneer Square with my boyfriend and his family and you know what? It snowed. I got my white Christmas early. Damn you, Portland, for stealing me away from SF. The one reason I would give to you for possibly being a better Christmas experience than SF, and you pull through. Faaack. Point: Portland.

Being raised in a family of massive Bay Area sports fanatics, I will also say that San Francisco tends to be associated with the Giants. Like I referenced above, 2010 and 2012 World Series champions. Just sayin’. I wish I could also slip the Niners in here, but hey, at least they made an appearance at the 2012 Super Bowl. They were robbed of that win, if you ask me. But in terms of professional sports, Portland is seriously lacking. Yes, you have the Oregon Ducks and collegiate sports (but hey, so do we). But the closest thing Portlanders have to a football team are the Seattle Seahawks. Woo. Hoo. I mean, Portland has the Trail Blazers – a team that has won the NBA championship once…in 1977. And don’t even get me started on baseball. Everyone rally together to cheer for the Portland…oh wait, the city doesn’t have a baseball team, either. Portlanders sadly can’t brag that they had over one million people flock to their city to celebrate a team’s win. Buuuuttttt we can. Bragging rights go to San Francisco, and so does this point. Point: San Francisco

Lastly, there’s the big rivalry between art and music and which city has the better overall cultural experience. Prior to visiting Portland, my boyfriend told me I would see all kinds of people. From the nudes to the meth heads to the hippies, Portland has it all. Well, boyfriend and you Oregonians, I’m here to tell you something: so does San Francisco. Name a street in SF you can walk down on and not see some random tweaking out. It might not be because of meth, but hey, we aren’t exactly the neighborhood for crack cocaine. But Portland would know all about that, right? (San Fran should get an automatic point here because all you smell throughout that city is weed, weed, and hey, some more weed, but I’ll let it slide). I know both San Franciscans and Portlanders have a habit of thinking they are each the culturally relevant end all, be alls. But I think, in this case, both cities offer a cultural overdose. Both Portland and SF have numerous street fairs, street performances, musical festivals, plays, symphonies, weirdos, truly avant-garde individuals, amazing restaurants, and so much more. Streets in both cities are covered with murals and artwork and people from all over the world want to frequent both locations. So for this one, can’t we all just get alone? Point: Both.

And again, just based on basic math, we might see that Portland wins out in this horse race. However, because I’m a stubborn ass, I refuse to believe one city – especially the one that hasn’t been my home for over the past two decades – is better than the other. And even if Portland does have its advantages over San Francisco, I won’t lose sleep over it. I have the best of both worlds. I get the awesome ability of saying I’m from the Golden City, and I get to date someone from the City of Roses. It’s a win-win in my book. His family is there, mine is here. So for now, my roots will remain here, and my wings will take me there. But I’ll always leave my heart in San Francisco.


  1. Anywhere last in Christmas is tops for me. Nothing is obnoxious as Christmas music. I do like the lights though. SF was great until about 2 years ago and now I feel like bashing my head into the wall with everyone on their phone. Bike messengers and techies in SF are really all the same…. they just stare at their phones and act insular. Portland here I come!

  2. Ok now I want to move to Portland! Currently in LA, thanks for helping me decide between the two!

  3. sissyjupe2 says:

    Hey!! i’m in such a dilemma too!! trying to move to the SF/SF Bay area but also dated someone from portland and fell in love with it there! argghhh. don’t know what to do!! i’m an RN and have licenses to practice in both states. I love the smaller feel of portland. also loved SF vibe and culture when working in Oakland for the last few months on a travel nurse contract. just don’t. know. what. to. do.!!

    • That’s exactly what happened to me. I met someone who was from Portland, and we would go back there to visit his family during the holidays, and I fell in love with the city.

  4. Clay Shentrup says:

    lo and behold

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