Best places to live in Oregon in 2021

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Oregon has a long history of beckoning newcomers to explore the state’s forests and Pacific shoreline. Thankfully, today’s home-seekers have an easier trip than the 2,000-mile Oregon Trail trek made famous by those early westward-bound pioneers. Between 2018 and 2019, Oregon’s net migration rate — the number that indicates how many people are moving in versus how many people are leaving — was more than four times higher than the national average.

Why is The Beaver State booming? Because living in Oregon is synonymous with feeling good. The 2019 edition of the Sharecare Well-Being Index ranks Oregon as the fifth-best state for a range of big questions including how safe residents feel, if they have a real sense of purpose in their lives and whether they can manage financial stresses. Speaking of finances, there’s no sales tax in Oregon, either.

While it seems that anywhere you land in Oregon will be a good place to call home, we looked at the biggest cities in the state to determine which metro areas can supercharge those feelings of well-being. Here are the best places to consider this year.

Best places to live in Oregon in 2021

While what makes a city ideal for you will not be a perfect match for someone else, there are common factors that everyone seeks when searching for a new place to settle. Here’s a rundown of the key factors that shaped our research:

  • Affordability – Buying or renting a home is typically the No. 1 expense on anyone’s list. We analyzed each city’s cost of living compared with median household income figures from the Census Bureau.
  • Safety – There’s at least one essential piece to loving where you live: feeling secure. We analyzed per capita statistics on violent crime and property crime incidents in the biggest cities in Oregon.
  • Job market – We looked at Bureau of Labor Statistics city-level unemployment data from the fall of 2020 to get a sense of how each of these cities has recovered from the initial shockwaves of the pandemic in early 2020. In addition to having a job, we also considered how much of each day is consumed by getting to and from work (if you can’t work from home, that is) based on average commute times from the Census Bureau.
  • Educational attainment – Education translates to achievement, so we looked at Census data on the number of residents with bachelor’s degrees in each of these areas.
  • Culture – Everyone has unique preferences about what to do outside of work hours, so our cultural metrics are a subjective evaluation of opportunities to see, do and experience these cities. We looked at convention and visitors bureau information and chamber of commerce listings to get a sense of some of the top arts and entertainment activities and food and beverage establishments.

1. Portland

Affordability: 7 out of 10
Safety: 5 out of 10
Job market: 8 out of 10
Education: 8 out of 10
Culture: 9 out of 10

Biggest upside: A metro area flourishing with big-name companies and a second-to-none cultural scene
Biggest downside: Safety

Portland is the biggest city in Oregon, so it naturally grabs a lot of the headlines about the state. However, thinking about living in Portland means considering the entire metro area, which includes standout places like Hillsboro (home to a huge Intel campus) and Beaverton (the corporate headquarters of Just-Do-It giant Nike). No matter which enclave you call home in the area, there are employment opportunities at several big-name companies, including Boeing, Columbia and The Standard.

Away from work, you’ll find an endless number of reasons to love the area, including 80 miles of trails in Forest Park, dining options that satisfy every palate and a creative scene filled with art walks and concerts.

2. Corvallis

Affordability: 6 out of 10
Safety: 9 out of 10
Job market: 9 out of 10
Education: 9 out of 10
Culture: 7 out of 10

Biggest upside: A highly-educated population and super-low crime rates
Biggest downside: A small town means a smaller number of activities, particularly over the summer break at Oregon State University

The term “big city” is relative, especially in Oregon. With roughly 60,000 residents, Corvallis still manages to be the 10th-largest city in the state. Home to Oregon State University, the city offers a youthful college-town feel balanced with plenty of options for more sophisticated tastes: More than two-thirds of the state’s wineries and vineyards are spread across the Willamette Valley, where Corvallis is located.

OSU is the largest employer in Corvallis, and HP also has a significant presence. No matter where you work, you probably won’t spend much time getting there if you do have to return in-person this year: The average commute time in Corvallis is just 16 minutes.

3. Bend

Affordability: 4 out of 10
Safety: 9 out of 10
Job market: 7 out of 10
Education: 7 out of 10
Culture: 8 out of 10

Biggest upside: Hiking, skiing, breweries and basically all the activities that attract people to Oregon
Biggest downside: The secret is out about Bend, so you’re going to have some stiff competition finding an affordable place to live

A bit further from the Pacific Coast than the other cities on our list, Bend is one of the fastest-growing mid-sized cities in the country, according to business insurance resource AdvisorSmith. The city is home to the Cascades campus of Oregon State University, but students find plenty of reasons to stay after graduation, including a booming craft beer scene and an abundance of outdoor activities.

All that good news for Bend translates to one serious shortcoming: The cost of living in the city was already fairly high, but when the pandemic pushed many to search for more space, the city quickly registered on everyone’s radar. As of early December 2020, the average home sales price in Bend reached a whopping $576,000, according to real estate brokerage Redfin.

4. Eugene

Affordability: 6 out of 10
Safety: 6 out of 10
Job market: 6 out of 10
Education: 7 out of 10
Culture: 8 out of 10

Biggest upside: A college town with plenty of culture to go around
Biggest downside: Job market

With the University of Oregon as its foundation, Eugene’s heartbeat has a young, creative pulse with a vibrant arts scene. The majority of job opportunities are found at the university or in government positions. While Nike’s headquarters may be located in Beaverton, the company’s roots are here, which has helped earn the city its “Running Capital of the World” and “Tracktown USA” monikers.

Even if you aren’t competing at a Prefontaine level, you can still enjoy the city’s 42 miles of jogging trails. When you’re done, you can take a different kind of path on the Eugene Ale Trail, which maps the area’s esteemed craft breweries.

5. Salem

Affordability: 8 out of 10
Safety: 6 out of 10
Job market: 7 out of 10
Education: 5 out of 10
Culture: 7 out of 10

Biggest upside: The most affordable real estate market on our list
Biggest downside: A smaller pool of job opportunities than you will find in other places around Oregon

Salem tends to fly under the radar of Portland’s big reputation, but this is the city that makes all of Oregon tick: It’s the capital of the state. The government is one of the biggest employers, and there are also plenty of opportunities in manufacturing, agriculture and distribution.

Like all the cities on our list, Salem offers easy access to the outdoors. If you’re looking for something less grueling than a hike, stroll downtown along the Willamette River or visit a wide range of museums and historical landmarks before enjoying the area’s favorite pastime: craft beer and wine. Salem has high hopes for its future, too, with one forecast projecting an additional 60,000 residents by 2035. Will you be one of them?

Next steps

For homebuyers, there is at least one silver lining in the pandemic: record-low mortgage rates. While it’s now cheaper to borrow money for your new home in Oregon or elsewhere, the mortgage process can be complicated. Count on Bankrate’s homebuying guide to help prepare you for your homebuying journey.

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Written by
David McMillin
Contributing writer
David McMillin writes about credit cards, mortgages, banking, taxes and travel. David's goal is to help readers figure out how to save more and stress less.
Edited by
Mortgage editor