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Playing it cool: Seattle vs Portland

Published January 10th, 2014

You can thank Seattle for Starbucks. Perhaps the perpetually grey skies prompted the need for coffee, but down the road in Portland they’re making a pretty good fist of their own coffee culture. In fact, Portland is fast catching up as one of America’s premier hipster hang-outs, so we here at Student Flights thought it necessary to answer the question of our times: which Pacific Northwest city is cooler – Seattle or Portland?

 

“You should know that I’m thinking of you. Up and down I-5 more often than a serial killer!” wailed Spencer Moody of local Seattle legends The Murder City Devils, and the 275-kilometre stretch of Interstate 5 between Seattle and Portland buffers some subtle but important differences. When it comes to music, sports and stuffing your face, each city does its own thing – so we’ve bunkered down at Student Flights headquarters to rate the two towns according to the following arbitrary categories.

 

Music

 

Nirvana. Pearl Jam. Mudhoney. Yes, yes… we know the list. But even without the now-passé grunge scene, Seattle still packs a formidable punch when it comes to music. Birthplace of Jimi Hendrix, headquarters of Sub Pop records and home to acts as diverse as Modest Mouse, Band of Horses and Foo Fighters, Seattle’s beloved indie rock scene is pretty much second-to-none.

 

Portland’s musical merits are perhaps less renowned. Bands like Poison Idea, Everclear and The Dandy Warhols all formed in the city, while prominent musos like Elliott Smith and Chicago native Chris McCaughan have decamped to the city at one stage or another. It was also in Portland where Kurt Cobain met Courtney Love, though whether that’s actually a good thing is open to debate.

 

Verdict: Portland has karaoke, but Seattle is home to some of the world’s best bands. Case closed.

 

Food and Drink

 

They take their food seriously in the Pacific Northwest. From fresh seafood to Asian fusion, mobile food trucks and farmers’ markets, Seattle is home to some seriously gourmet dining. It’s also one of the birthplaces of America’s microbrewery culture, with the eternally popular Pike’s Brewing – adjacent to the bustling Pike Place Market – helping put Seattle’s beer scene firmly on the map.

 

They don’t mind a glass or two of ale down the road in Portland either. In fact, the city is renowned for its multitude of microbreweries, with the Oregon capital arguably the epicentre of a craft beer cultural revival. They’re also big on food trucks, with more than 600 trundling the streets of this picturesque riverside city, making Portland one of the best places to eat genuine American street food.

 

Verdict: Seattle may have started the trend, but Portland is the new leader when it comes to gastronomy.

 

Sports

 

“Marge, Bart rides up in the front seat today because he's a good guy at sports!” That’s right hipsters, there’s nothing more ironic than getting into sports and most ironically of all, Portland and Seattle’s fiercest rivalry is fought out in the stadiums of Major League Soccer. Seattle Sounders may attract the league’s largest attendances, but ask yourself this – do their fans ever bring chainsaws to games?

 

To say the Portland Timbers are fanatically supported is an understatement. Their Jeld-Wen Field is routinely packed to capacity and the derby with the Sounders is one of the most fiercely contested events in American sports. Oh yeah, the two cities are home to some other teams as well, including the Seattle Mariners, Portland Trailblazers and Seattle Seahawks… but hipsters don’t care about those sports, right?

 

Verdict: Portland wins hands down, provided they haven’t already chopped them off at Jeld-Wen Field.

 

Portland is America's bicycle capital... apparently

…and the winner is

 

Portland by a brew-sniffing nose. Seattle may have the Space Needle, Frasier and fixie bikes, but Portland has an Aerial Tram, Portlandia and enough bike-friendly neighbourhoods to keep even visitors from Seattle happy. Put simply, Portland is a cool city – but then so too is Seattle. Perhaps the only legitimate way to settle the debate is to pack your favourite flannels and visit the Pacific Northwest yourself?

 

Mike Tuckerman

From Europe to Asia and many places in between, there's rarely a town or city I've not enjoyed exploring. When I'm not wandering the streets and discovering new destinations, you can usually find me hanging out with the locals at major sporting events.