Built by pioneers and populated by artists and techies, this gloriously groovy, gritty and green city in the Pacific Northwest is an attractive base.

The snow-capped peak of Mount Hood is never far from view, looming over this gloriously groovy, gritty and green city in the Pacific Northwest. The independent spirit of Portland plus its wondrous natural setting on the Columbia and Willamette Rivers, make it a draw to people from around the country who are looking for a unique place to live. 

What is it known for?
It may seem like it is all bicycles and breweries here, with Portland’s entrenched cycling culture, bike lanes and at least 30 independent beer makers, but city life is not all an episode of the satiric television show, Portlandia. It has a booming cultural arena, from the Oregon Symphony and Portland Art Museum, as well as thriving art, music and creative scenes. The city is home to the headquarters of Nike, Adidas and Intel (the largest employer in the area), and more than 1,000 technology companies have set up shop here.

Portland has a proud history of green urban planning going back a century, with stringent restrictions on growth and development along with dozens of parks, gardens and wildernesses within the city limits. There is an extensive transport network, Trimet, that includes streetcars and light rail, and many Portlanders cycle to work.

There is a major foodie scene here, with chefs using fresh and foraged Oregonian ingredients and creating inventive cuisine in restaurants and supper clubs, as well as inside the city’s famous food carts. Sometimes it seems as though everyone has some creative hobby or has been bitten by the same artisanal entrepreneurial spirit. “People make things here, like beer, wine, coffee or ‘zines, custom bikes and shoes,” said Andrew Dickson, a copywriter and artist/performer who has lived in Portland for 15 years. “It is a great place to be an artist, with a supportive community. At any given rock show or art opening, half the people who come are musicians as well as artists.”

Where do you want to live?
Portland is divided into five main areas: Northwest, Southwest, Northeast, Southeast and North Portland. Most people are looking to live “close-in” -- within two or three miles of the urban downtown core and the Pearl District, which sits along the Willamette River where Northwest and Southwest meet. The area around the Pearl and NW 23rd (most Portland neighbourhoods take their names from the local streets) has condos and apartment buildings on offer, as opposed to the terraced houses or Victorian or Craftsman homes found in more residential districts. “There has been a high demand for properties close to the downtown sector in recent years and those close-in neighbourhoods have a great mix of architecture,” said Gary Majors, a broker at Markram Properties. “These areas have a lot of older homes built with old-growth wood and lots of character,” said Lawrence Teherani-Ami, media director at ad agency Wieden + Kennedy, who lives in historic Nob Hill in Northwest.

On the East Side (that includes Northeast and Southeast), the areas of Buckman, Lloyd Center, Alameda, Irvington, Hawthorne, Sunnyside and Brooklyn have a neighbourhood feel that appeals to Portlanders, and properties here have held their value. “You can walk to coffee shops, restaurants and the bus lines that take you downtown,” said Dickson. Areas such as Creston, Arleta and Center are the pockets between these in-demand neighbourhoods where Majors is seeing increasing interest from buyers. And “as the market rebounds”, he said, “the depressed areas in outer Southeast, Northeast and North Portland will become the next ‘place to be’.”

Side trips
Portland is roughly an hour from the beach towns along the Pacific Coast and an hour from skiing, snowboarding and hiking in Mt Hood National Forest and hotel destinations like Timberline Lodge. “The coast is a lot of people’s go-to spot,” said Dickson. “I love Astoria in the northwest and Yachats halfway down the coast.” Thanks to legislation passed in the 1960s, all of Oregon’s beaches are open to the public. Hood River is about an hour east of Portland on the Columbia River and a popular spot for windsurfers who take advantage of the winds coming off the Columbia River Gorge.

Willamette Valley wine region stretches for about 200 miles south of the city, but the heart of wine country is just a 45-minute drive to towns such as McMinnville and Dundee, home to vineyards like Antica Terra, which produces deep pinot noirs and unique roses, and Erath Winery, declared the 2012 Oregon winery of the year by Wine Press. Portland is less than a two-hour flight from San Francisco, and getting to Seattle is an hour’s flight or more than three hours by car or train.

Practical info
Rents in the “close-in” neighbourhoods vary, but generally a two-bed flat costs well over $1,000 a month. House sales have been on the increase in recent months, and the real estate market is making a slow recovery from the nationwide housing crisis. “In most areas, houses priced below $250,000 are attracting lots of attention, often garnering multiple offers,” said Majors. “It's not uncommon for lower-priced homes (under $150,000) to have five to 15 offers for the seller to consider.” The largest number of active listings are under this price, while houses between $250,000 and $500,000 are also selling very well and have the most limited inventory. New home construction has started up again, a good sign for property values overall, according to Majors.

“The city was founded and built by pioneers and their spirit still informs how the city behaves,” said Teherani-Ami. “It’s a place that thrives on the possibility of ‘what if’?”

Further information
Portland Mercury: news, entertainment, listings, calendars and reviews

Willamette Weekly: alternative paper covering news, culture and events around town and the Willamette Valley

Portland Timbers: the city’s popular Major League Soccer team’s site and blog