The Portland vs. San Francisco rivalry is one of the West Coast’s oldest—and you may already have a favorite city in mind. After all, both cities are renowned for their liberal culture, vibrant arts scenes, and gorgeous natural settings. But which city is the best vacation destination?
Here to settle the question is
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car insuranceand your resource for expert road trip advice. Today, we’ll take a look at the costs of vacationing in these two West Coast giants, breaking down the average price of vacation essentials like food and lodging. We’ll also compare two sample weekend itineraries to find you the most affordable vacation options in each city.
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Portland vs. San Francisco: what the cities have in common
Let’s start with the similarities that make these two cities such heated rivals. Both Portland and San Francisco are diverse, liberal cities known for their quirky arts scenes and vibrant culture. If you’re looking for that offbeat, artsy West Coast vibe, you’ll find it in either city—but San Francisco has a more diverse population and a higher tech bro quotient, while Portland’s known for being weird, crunchy, and friendly.
The two cities are fairly close in population size—San Francisco has a population of 875,000, while Portland’s at 645,000 and growing fast—but San Francisco is much denser. That’s because the city proper is crowded onto 46 square miles of the San Francisco Peninsula, while Portland’s slightly smaller population sprawls over 145 square miles. That lower density gives Portland more of a small-town feel, while San Francisco’s uber-urban.
Both cities are located in gorgeous physical settings showcasing the best natural landscapes the West Coast has to offer. In San Francisco, you’re right on the Pacific Ocean—enough said. Portland’s farther inland, encircled by mountains and two mighty rivers. Outdoorsy visitors will find plenty to love in either city.
The biggest difference between PDX and SF? Cost. San Francisco is one of the most expensive cities to live in or visit, while Portland is still highly affordable, with tons of free events and attractions.
Is Portland more affordable than San Francisco?
The cost of living in San Francisco is sky-high—but does that mean visiting is just as expensive? Let’s take a closer look at how common vacation essentials compare in the two cities.
Average cost of a restaurant meal in San Francisco
Average cost of a restaurant meal in Portland
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Of course, where you eat in each city makes a difference. If you’re sticking to In-N-Out and Mission burritos, you’ll probably be able to maintain a reasonable food budget in SF. But dinner for two at a mid-range restaurant in San Francisco will likely run you about $80, while a comparable meal in Portland would be closer to $60.
Average cost of a night in a hotel room in San Francisco
Average cost of a night in a hotel room in Portland
San Francisco’s housing prices are notoriously ridiculous, and unfortunately, those high lodging costs extend to hotels. While it’s still possible to find a reasonably affordable hotel room in the city, prices well above $250/night for a single room aren’t uncommon. In Portland, on the other hand, it’s easy to find affordable lodging—including plenty of spots under $100/night.
Average cost of a rental car in San Francisco
Average cost of a rental car in Portland
Daily cost of public transportation in San Francisco
Daily cost of public transportation in Portland
Average cost of a parking ticket in San Francisco
Average cost of a parking ticket in Portland
Free things to do in town
You’ll need to pay for almost everything in San Francisco, from museum tickets ($25 for the Museum of Modern Art, $25 for the Walt Disney Family Museum, and $41 for Alcatraz, by the way) to parks ($15 for Angel Island State Park) to the hundreds of festivals, nightclubs, and theaters that give the city its name as a cultural hotspot. When it comes to free things to do in town, your options are pretty much…driving or walking around and looking at the buildings.
If you’re a big fan of architecture, that might be great—after all, San Francisco has some stunning neighborhoods! But if you prefer to have some real fun on a tight budget, head up to Portland. From
First Thursday in the Pearl Districtand
Last Thursday on Alberta Street, Portland’s bristling with free art walks,
farmer’s marketswith live music, free and affordable community yoga. Train lovers can visit the
Oregon Rail Heritage Centerfor free, and bookworms don’t need to spend a dime to enjoy an afternoon at
Powell’s City of Books, the world’s largest independent bookstore.
The bottom line
It’s pretty hard to come to any other conclusion: Portland is more affordable than San Francisco. However, if you’ve got your heart set on that Golden Gate getaway, it’s not impossible to plan an affordable vacation in the Bay Area. Below, we’ll give you a sample weekend itinerary for each city, along with price estimates, to help you settle on your dream West Coast vacation.
A weekend in San Francisco
If you want to spend an affordable weekend in San Francisco, aim for January. That’s when flights will be the most affordable, and you’re likely to find the best deals on lodging, food, and other travel essentials.
Lunch: Turtle Town in the Tenderloin serves up the city’s best pho, and if you’re visiting in January you’ll want that cozy comfort food to start off your weekend. Add a side of spring rolls and a Thai iced tea to the restaurant’s famous chicken pho. Total: $26.20.
Afternoon: Stroll down Larkin Street for some excellent boutique window shopping, then take a historical walking tour at the
Tenderloin Museum. Total: $10.
Dinner: Head down to Market Street for dinner at
Zuni Cafe, where the best French and Italian cooking meet sustainability. Start off with an aperitif, then follow Zuni’s famous Caesar salad with pan-seared swordfish in saffron beurre blanc. Total: $71.
Evening: Catch a late-night comedy performance at
Sketchfest! Total: $55.
Hotel Emblemin downtown San Francisco will keep you close to the action without breaking the bank. Total: $212/night.
Brunch: The most important meal of the weekend starts at 11:00am at
Merkado. Start with roasted lamb albondigas with chile-morita pepita salsa, then keep it classic with eggs benny with chile de arbol hollandaise—and don’t forget cocktails! Total: $50.
Afternoon: Head across town to
Golden Gate Park, where there’s no shortage of free things to do. Stop at Alamo Square along the way for a snapshot of the Painted Ladies! Total: $0.
Dinner: Just a few blocks north of the park is
Mandalay Restaurant, an unmissable spot for San Francisco’s best Burmese food. Be sure to order the lap pat dok (tea leaf salad), and add a glass of the house white. Total: $57.
Evening: Finish the night at
Madrone Art Bar, where rotating art installations and live performances go hand in hand with surprisingly affordable drinks. Total: $30 plus cover charge ($5-15).
Total cost: $733
Add a $5 Muni pass for each day you’re in the city, and your San Francisco weekend total comes to under $750—minus the cost of travel to the city!
A weekend in Portland
The most affordable time to visit Portland is fall, when prices are at their lowest. Plan your weekend for late September, and you’ll score the best deals on everything the city has to offer.
Lunch: Start your weekend off right at one of the city’s best food trucks:
Erica’s Soul Foodon NE Russell Street. The gluten-free smothered chicken comes with two sides, like collard greens and sauteed squash. Total: $19.
Afternoon: Check out the pay-what-you-can
Time-Based Art Festivalhosted by the Portland Institute for Contemporary Art (PICA). Total: $0.
Dinner: Here’s your weekend splurge: the omakase experience at
Nimblefish, an intimate counter sushi restaurant on SE Hawthorne. Total: $85.
Evening: The city’s biggest theater company,
Portland Center Stage, offers $25 tickets for all shows, plus 50% off for students and visitors 30 and under. Total: $25.
Lodging: The boutique
Society Hotelin Old Town Chinatown used to be a rooming house for sailors. Today, a bunk bed in a communal space could run you as little as $53/night—but you can upgrade to a dog-friendly suite for just $154/night. Total: $53/night.
Brunch: There are plenty of spots in Portland that serve a mean brunch, but pop-up-turned-institution
hunnymilkis about nothing else. The prix fixe menu includes everything a good brunch needs: one sweet dish, one savory, and one drink. Total: $26.
Dinner: Reserve a table to sample the five-course chef’s tasting menu at
Republica, an imaginative Mexican-forward eatery in the Pearl District. Total: $70.
Evening: Sunday Sessions at
Rontom’smight be the best way to catch the cream of Portland’s crop of emerging artists. Total: $0.
Total cost: $341
Throw in $5 to cover a weekend’s public transportation costs, and you’re looking at a grand total just under $350—not counting travel to the city. By opting for Portland over San Francisco as your West Coast vacation spot, you could save nearly $400!
How to find affordable car insurance before your vacation
Planning an affordable vacation doesn’t have to mean sacrificing quality or fun. By opting for a more affordable destination, like Portland vs. San Francisco, you can make more room in your budget for fun splurge meals and activities while still keeping your overall costs low.
The same goes for car insurance—saving doesn’t always mean cutting. In fact, with help from insurance super app Jerry, users can save an average of $800+ a year just by comparing new rates for the same coverage they had before!
No matter where the road takes you, start out any journey by making sure that your car insurance fees aren’t holding you back. Who knows—with the money you save, a whole new world of vacation destinations could open up!
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