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.)