America's Best Cities: Portland, Oregon

No. 7

Jul 20, 2009
Outside Magazine
Portland skyline

Portland skyline    Photo: Portland Oregon Visitors Association-Brent Bradley

2.2 million: Population (metro)
$248,000: Median home price
A: Multisport grade
2 million: Number of volumes at Powell's, the largest bookstore in the world

Or, as we like to call it, Velo City. With cycling advocates in high places, the highest concentration of custom bicycle builders anywhere, and a 300-mile bike-route network set to triple in length over the next two decades, Oregon's biggest city definitely lives up to its rep as the most cycle-friendly place in the U.S. But it's not just about bikes. Indeed, the assorted natural playgrounds of PDX's Pacific Northwest setting have long lured multisport types in search of a temperate paradise. Mount Hood, centerpiece of a million-plus-acre national forest withyear-round skiing, is only 30 miles away; the Columbia and Willamette rivers border and bisect the city, respectively; the coast is 80 miles east; and 5,000-acre Forest Park is just one of 250 green spaces in town. But Portland's coolness draws coveted creative-classers like freshmen to free beer (there are 29 breweries within city limits, by the way), and that magnetism is partly responsible for the relatively high unemployment rate, with competition tough in liberal-arts fields. So look before you leap. The biggest employers are in technology, health care, education, and sportswear (Nike, Columbia, et al.), and home prices post-crash are on the rise again. But you get what you pay for: fertile arts and music scenes, world-class food and drink, and an extensive public-transit system amid plenty of wilderness, big water, and mountains.