Salem, Oregon

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What's it like to live in Salem?

What is it like to live in Salem, OR?

Here are our observations after living in Salem for seven years, hope it helps those contemplating moving to the area.

We are mid-thirties w/ kids, lived in a few large and small cities across the US from New England, to NC, NV, IL and others.


Convenient to get around and to beaches, mountains, etc. Traffic is congested during commute hours, not bad during other times.
Parts of town are relatively attractive, downtown is nice, several good parks.
Summer is great, but quite short, although it varies year to year. One year it rained almost daily with temps in the 60’s until the end of June when the rainy season started again in early Sept. One year it was 106 in May and rainy season held off until late Sept, which locals tell me was a rare season.
People generally friendly and conscientious.
Surprising number of good local restaurants and grocery stores.

Job market lacks diversification beyond government jobs, but not surprising for a small capital city.
While housing may be cheaper than Portland, incomes in Salem are less also. Home prices/rents are recently very high and far stretch the budget of the average family here, no different than Portland. Several of our friends are selling their homes while prices are high so they aren't caught upside down during next economic downturn, which they believe is on the horizon. Salem historically has had a very cyclical “up and down” housing market, price wise.
Slow pace. People walk, move and drive very slowly here. Drives some “type A” people nuts. Town is definitely “type B”.
Large portion of the city looks unkept and run down; lot of blight. West Salem, Keizer and South areas are decent. West Salem access truly a burden during commute hours adding 20 mins or so to daily drive each way.
Frequent property crime, even in nice areas. Blatant drug activity conducted out in the open during daylight hours downtown. Unbelievable amount of homeless people. We feel safe overall though.
Surprising amount of racial intolerance reported by minority friends. Not a diverse area. Shocked to see Confederate flag stickers and flags on trucks in area, which thankfully is not an everyday occurrence.
People are friendly, but not socially inclined group who keep to themselves. Some locals hesitant to accept newcomers since many stay a short time. We have made friends here, but took a considerably longer time vs. other places we have lived.

Is Salem, OR conservative? If Salem is not conservative, is it as open-minded and progressive as Portland is?

Salem, Oregon is majority liberal, but as I often tell people—liberal by Oregonian standards is not necessarily the typical definition of liberal.

Most Oregonians favor state-focus and state solutions over federal guidelines, and that is becoming ever-increasingly attractive as the rest of the country essentially shits on our state with all the taxes we pay into federal.

People who have never been here and know nothing about us shit on our state almost constantly. Same for Cali and Washington.

Oregon is very small and state-focused, rather one identifies as liberal or conservative here.

Oregonians are proud of our state, and we try to take care of our people.

Would you rather live in Portland, OR or Salem, OR?

Having lived in both, it really depends on what you’re looking for.

Portland is amazing for a dense, urban feel. There are countless great places to eat, entertainment, cultural events and activities, shopping, parks and natural attractions, and an endless supply of interesting people. But, it’s also expensive, overcrowded, and busy. Jobs are highly competitive, traffic is a constant nightmare, and a lot of Portland’s uniqueness and charm has been paved over by high-rise snobbery and elitism.

Salem, on the other hand, is a great place to settle down and get comfortably domestic. It’s cheaper to live here than Portland (though affordable housing is becoming increasingly rare), and there is a lot less competition for jobs. And, of course, it’s the state capital so there are a lot of state agencies and employees. It’s easier to get around town, and just generally getting stuff done is simpler. But the trade-off is that Salem has a lot less to offer culturally. It’s a lot more homogenously white, middle and lower-middle class folks. There aren’t nearly as many high-quality restaurants or cultural events. There are some parks and nice natural spaces, but none of them really rise to the level of Portland’s better park areas. There’s adequate shopping and other services, but it’s much more middle America.

Fortunately, Portland and Salem are only about an hour’s drive apart so you can easily pop between them as needed. I currently live in Salem, but have coworkers who live in Portland and commute here to work. (I tried that for a while but my sanity couldn’t handle it.)

Pros and cons to living in Salem?

We moved to West Salem from Utah in order to shield our kids from the stigma of being ex-Mormon in a predominantly Mormon community. That worked pretty well. Few people care what church you go to—if you go to a church at all. However, we were disappointed with how very conservative/Republican people are in West Salem. If you’re Republican, move to either West Salem or Keizer. If you’re Democrat, move to South Salem. As far as things to do, it was very, very difficult, at first, to find the activities I wanted for my kids. But we did find them. There is at least one (but usually two) of everything. One or two good soccer clubs, one good ballet studio, one good independent film theatre, one good community theatre. I’m sure people will chime in and say there are more than that. My point is, you probably only NEED one of each of these things, so you survive. But it isn’t like Salt Lake City or Portland. OH: there is no skating rink, no ice rink, and now, sadly, no Nordstrom. The entire downtown mall is dying. This is all kind of forgivable, though, because, hooray, we now have an In-N-Out Burger nearby in Keizer.

A Few Pros & Cons Of Living in Salem, OR… // Relocating to Oregon