The capital of Oregon State, Salem is also the county seat of Marion County.
Salem is situated beside the Willamette River, and in the center of Willamette Valley.
Salem, which was founded in 1842, acme Oregon Territory’s capital in 1851. In 1857, Salem became incorporated.
It’s the second largest city in Oregon State, after Portland. According to the 2017 Census, Salem has a population of 167,419.
What are the advantages and the disadvantages of living in Salem, Oregon?
Advantages of Living in Salem, Oregon
1 Plenty to do.
There are numerous parts and outdoor activities in and around Salem to keep the family occupied. Approximately an hour’s drive to the west of Salem, you get to the Pacific coast.
Portland is approximately 50 minutes’ drive to the north of Salem (46 miles via the I-5 N).
2 Shopping opportunities are good in Salem.
The City is large enough to have attracted most of the major stores, and many other stores, too.
If you’re stuck for choice in Salem, however, Portland is a 50-minute drive to the north.
3 Small-town feel.
There’s still something of a quaintness to Salem, OR. It’s small enough to maintain a friendly atmosphere, but large enough to cater to most needs.
4 Housing is cheaper…
In Salem, OR, housing is cheaper than other parts of the County.
The median cost to buy a house in Salem currently stands at around $283,200.
The median cost to rent a home in Salem is $1,450.
How does this compare to Portland?
Median cost to buy a home in Portland: $419,700.
Median price to rent a home in Portland: $2,050.
Disadvantages of Living in Salem, OR
1 Rains a lot.
There are not a whole lot of days filled with sunshine in Salem, OR between October and June.
Average high temperatures in summer months in Salem is:
June: 73 F
July: 82 F
August: 82 F
In the winter, average highs in Salem, OR:
December: 46 F
January: 48 F
2 One-way streets.
There is an entire maze of one-way streets in Downtown Salem. This takes time and experience to get used to it so you can navigate around effectively.
According to residents of Salem, OR, what’s it like to live in Salem?
Sara Segura says:
Salem is an interesting and uninteresting place all at once.
Several aspects and facts:
— The hospital in Salem is very nice.
In past years, it wasn’t nearly as good, but they have really improved on a lot of things.
For example, the “assumed fact” for years was that if you went to the ER, you would probably wait two hours or so.
However, I went to the ER a couple of years ago with a broken, displaced radius, got triaged immediately, had an operation with a hand specialist and was out of there within two hours.
I would call that improvement.
— The parks system is beautiful.
There are many parks, from neighborhood playgrounds to large parks such as Riverfront and Bush.
The awesome thing is, all the major parks are connected by walkways throughout the city.
There are plans to build a walking bridge which will cross the Willamette river to connect Riverfront park with Minto Brown park, which is on an island in the Willamette.
— There are multiple shopping centers/districts.
You have City Center.
There’s a regular two-level mall there, surrounded by little shops and stores.
Over on Lancaster, there’s a single level mall as well as lots of department stores.
If you drive South on Commercial street headed out of downtown, there’s more shopping centers and stores along that way.
— We have a Costco out by the freeway, and besides the normal Safeways, Roths, and Grocery Outlets, there’s a Natural Grocers and a Trader Joes.
— The bus system is not bad. You can get to basically any area of town.
— The train station is old and huge and beautiful.
You can catch an Amtrak train to Portland (we took it to the Zoo when I was little — I’ll never forget that), although Amtrak is notorious for delays, since they share tracks with freight trains, which have the right-of-way.
— Beware, downtown Salem is a grid of one-way streets, which can be difficult to get used to at first.
Stuff to do:
— Obviously, you can go to the mall.
You can go to the park. But Salem has some awesome events, too.
There’s an art festival in Bush park every summer, with art booths and music.
World Beat happens at Riverfront.
There are random concerts and things at Riverfront park throughout the summer.
— The Library is nice, and very large.
It has frequent story times for kids, which is really nice.
— On the note of kids, Salem is really a very family friendly town.
Besides the great kids’ section in the Library, we have A.C. Gilbert’s Discovery Village.
The Gilbert House is a wonderful place.
There’s actually two old houses painted bright colors, and turned into a Discovery Museum. I loved going there as a kid with my sisters.
There’s a Carousel at Riverfront park complete with hand-carved horses!
I remember going to it on opening day. It was spectacular, and really still is.
— Salem is the home of the Oregon State fairgrounds, so there’s lots of events that go on there.
Besides, obviously, the State Fair, you have the Agricultural Festival in April, and other less-important ones like an RV show, quilting shows, car shows, etc.
— In the Summer, a street is closed off twice a week in Downtown Salem for a Wednesday Farmer’s market and a Saturday street market.
— Keizer is Salem’s sister city, and there’s a Christmas Parade of lights there every year, which is truly spectacular.
Also in Keizer, is Schreiner’s Iris garden.
They grow Irises to sell the bulbs, but they also have a display garden that opens in the Spring that’s full of other flowers besides Irises.
A wonderful photography and art opportunity. There are even people there painting and selling their art on the weekends.
— There’s an old Wool Mill in Salem you can get tours of, called Mission Mill Museum.
It’s really very neat, and they have it decorated beautifully at Christmastime.
They have a restaurant there, and multiple yarn shops.
— Of course there’s the Hallie Ford Museum of Art.
— Downtown Salem, there’s the Historic Elsinor Theater which still houses concerts. “From Bach to Rock and Broadway to Ballet”
— Near the Elsinor is the Reed Opera House.
It has been renovated inside and now houses classy shops and restaurants. Really beautiful.
— Besides all the awesome stuff that happens in Salem, you are really close to lots of other awesome things.
For example, Mt Angel is not far away, and they host the annual Oktoberfest.
Portland is reasonably close, so any shopping you can’t get done in Salem can be done there, as well as going to the Zoo and OMSI, the science museum.
A decently short drive East on HWY 22 will get you to some beautiful Wilderness areas with awesome hiking and camping.
Also out that direction is Hoodoo ski resort, which is nothing spectacular, but close enough to be worth it.
And Mt. Bachelor, in Bend, is only 3 hours from Salem.
The beach is only about 1 hour the other direction, depending on which beach you want to go to. (Pacific City is my favorite.)
And of course, there’s no way I can give you an overview of what it’s like to live in Salem without saying something about the Capitol building. Our Capitol is beautiful.
A white marble building with a huge dome topped by a gold-leafed statue of a Pioneer.
He’s huge. It’s awesome.
There’s a fountain across the street, facing the Capitol, that they allow you to play in during the summer.
There are gorgeous blossoming cherry trees there which are absolutely spectacular in the Spring.
There’s some good eating downtown, (I have to recommend India Palace for a delicious lunch buffet) besides your regular chain restaurants and fast-food places.
Last but certainly not least, Salem is a college town, home to Willamette University and Chemeketa Community College. Both of which I hear good things about.
Over all, Salem is beautiful with something for just about everyone.
It is really nicely situated right between the mountains and the beach.
There’s plenty of stuff to do.
An anonymous commentator said this about 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.
Disproportionate amount of newcomers leave within a few years as the lack of sunlight is difficult to deal with for such a long period of time.
Once school season is over, many families move. We’ve lived in large transient cities before, but we were shocked at the mass migration to get out every year.
I was told by co-worker that Salem was recently reported as the most depressed city in the US according to a recent city depression/happiness survey report.
I didn’t look into this, but is online I am told.
Some locals hesitant to make new friends because they don’t want to invest in relationships knowing likelihood newcomers might move.
We have been told that by several people. Many relocate to AZ or dream of moving to Bend’s drier, sunnier climate. Hard to watch son lose good school friends every year.
People stay indoors and hibernate during rainy season.
Energy levels drop significantly. UV lights and Vit. D help a little.
The first day the sun comes out in Spring, everyone seems alive again.
Those from the Pacific NW are use to it, those from sunnier climates have a difficult time adjusting.
IMHO, women seem to assimilate to the area easier than men. Not sure why.
Divorce rate very high.
People began moving here as a cheap alternative to Portland’s housing market.
I would not recommend this if your commute is beyond the Wilsonville area as it took me an hour and a half to get to Tigard last week.
Not usually that bad, but traffic in PDX has definitely gotten worse since we arrived 7 years ago.
Also, would not recommend if you seek the downtown hipster culture of Portland, it does not exist in Salem.
Completely different culture. About 50/50 conservative vs. liberal. Not much in between.
Beach is beautiful, though rarely over 60’s and rains most of the time.
Summer days are better, but water too cold to get in. Watch for rip currents if you do.
Don’t just visit during the summer. Visit during the rainy season for a week at a minimum.
We first visited and moved to the area during the summer and had no experience with the rainy climates of W. Oregon.
It was a major adjustment for all of us once the rainy season hit. It’s not the rain, but the darkness and overcast skies.
Overall, we have a good life in Salem and are grateful for it. No place is perfect.