This blog post was updated on September 15, 2020.
With just over 3,000 miles between them, Portland, Maine and Portland, Oregon are on opposite ends of the United States. So, if you’re trying to visit Portland, which one should you choose? The answer depends largely on your own interests. Are you looking for an easygoing East Coast break or to have a wonderful time on the West Coast? Do you prefer the Atlantic or the Pacific? Are you craving a bit of cozy New England charm or hankering for a refreshing dose of Northwestern cool?
The fact of the matter is that both cities are amazing places to visit, with many similarities. You’re bound to have a blast in either, and it definitely would be worth making time to visit both. That said, a friendly comparison between the two cities reveals some differences.
So, let’s have a look!
Let’s start with a look at demographics and the like to help weigh your decision.
Portland, Maine has a population of about 66,000 while Portland, Oregon is almost 10 times bigger with close to 660,000 citizens. Neither Portland is an especially big city but our Maine contender might offer a homier small-town feel while the other one in Oregon probably would be better for folks who enjoy more urban pursuits and a faster pace, with the town’s vibrant nightlife and live music scene being major highlights. In terms of the population itself, Portland, Oregon is somewhat more diverse with a significant Asian community, but the average age in both cities is around 35 years old. So, either choice would be good stomping grounds for young travelers (and the young at heart, of course).
Both Portlands offer excellent access to the great outdoors, but with different climates.
Of the two, Portland, Oregon is the more temperate destination. It’s mild year-round here. Winter is, of course, cooler than summer but neither is extreme. Snow is rare, but rain isn’t unusual. The city sees around 36 inches of precipitation annually. All that rain means Oregon’s Portland has plenty of lush green spaces in town, like Council Crest Park with its panoramic views of Mount Hood; and within a short drive away, like the Columbia River Gorge with 191-meter-tall Multnomah Falls. None of this is a secret though, and at busier times of the year, expect to be anything but alone.
If you want to experience each season, quintessentially, consider Maine. This coastal city sees all four seasons in full effect. Winters are cold and tend to be snowy. Spring is rainy with cool temperatures (average annual rainfall is about 47 inches). The driest season is summer when average highs hover in the mid to high 70s. Autumn is the vibrant stuff of New England dreams. Compared to its western counterpart, Portland, Maine also has far greater access to remote wilderness areas and is closer to the sea. This Portland is an actual port on the sea. If sea kayaking around desert islands such as the Casco Bay Islands or Mackworth Island and having beaches all to yourself is your sort of thing, then East Coast Portland is the one for you.
Of course, West Coast Portland isn’t far from some amazing beaches such as world-famous Cannon Beach (about an hour and a half away from the city) and other beautiful beaches slightly nearer. Still, for unfettered access to Mother Nature in all her glory, Maine’s Portland has the edge.
Floor to Ceiling
As both Portlands see plenty of drizzle throughout the year, each has its own special ways to enjoy the great indoors.
With respect to inside pursuits, Portland, Oregon is renowned for its independent bookstores, including Powell’s City of Books — the world’s largest new and used bookstore in the world. It’s home to some of the country’s best cafés as well — perfect for whiling away an afternoon reading the books you purchased around town. The city also has an excellent array of galleries and art museums as well, including the acclaimed PDX Contemporary Art gallery.
Not much of a reader? Visit Portland, Maine instead. This city is more for shoppers in search of bargains for sensible and stylish clothing with factory outlets around town including Bass Shores, L.L. Bean, New Balance, and others. Not up for all that shopping? History buffs will find plenty of places for keeping out of the rain and thoroughly entertained. Portland, Maine’s history stretches back to the 1630s. A number of museums and impeccably preserved buildings are open for the public to visit including the Maine Irish Heritage Center and the Portland Head Light at Cape Elizabeth, the state’s oldest lighthouse.
Food for Thought
Whichever Portland you’re headed to, one thing’s for sure: you will eat and drink well!
Wines from Oregon are receiving more and more positive attention these days and the state’s Pinot Noirs are especially pleasing to a growing number of discerning palates. Portland acts as a perfect hub for trying local quaffs. The city is highly regarded for its microbreweries too. The restaurant and café scene is nothing to scoff at either, with a grow-locally inspired globally approach to created menus. Highlights include Spanish gastropub Ataula, Duck House Chinese restaurant, and Olympia Provisions.
For seafood lovers, there are few destinations in the U.S. to rival Maine and perhaps nowhere else in the world to go for better, fresher lobster! In recent years, the city’s Old Port district has garnered an excellent reputation for a number of destination dining establishments and active waterfront and thriving fishing trade. A few must-visit eaters are the historic and wood-stoved Fore Street, and the fresh seafood emporiums Eventide Oyster Co., and Scales.
Been to either Portland or maybe both? Which one’s your preference? Drop a line in the comments section below explaining which Portland is your favorite and why.