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The Top 20 Things to Know About Living in Salem, Oregon

Salem Oregon

by Matt Lyons Posted on December 11, 2023

If you’ve always wanted to be surrounded by the natural beauty of the Pacific Northwest without the high cost of living in cities like Portland and Seattle, then living in Salem, Oregon, could be the right move for you. Oregon’s state capital is located in the idyllic Willamette Valley, about  about an hour south of Portland. It’s also driving distance to the Pacific Ocean, and is surrounded by forests, state parks, and mountains perfect for exploring. That’s not all you need to know about living there, though. We’re here to give you the low-down.

Salem at a Glance

  • Salem is located in the Willamette Valley, right next to the Willamette River that flows through the city.
  • The city’s population is about 177,500.
  • Salem’s total area is about 49 square miles.
  • Salem is also known as the Cherry City — a shortened version of its moniker “Cherry City of the World,” given by the Pacific Coast Nurserymen's Association in 1907.
  • The median age in Salem, OR, is 37.

Living in Salem, OR — FAQ

Q: Is Salem, Oregon, a good place to live?
A:
Yes, Salem is a good place to live because of all the opportunities to get outdoors, its thriving wine industry, and its central location to both the ocean and a major city.

Q: What are the benefits of living in Salem, Oregon?
A:
The biggest benefits of living in Salem is the fact that there’s always something to do. Whether it’s taking in the natural beauty that surrounds you, visiting top notch restaurants, or exploring the cultural scene, Salem has a lot going for it.

Q: Is Salem, Oregon, a good place to move to?
A:
Yes! Whether you have a family, are a young professional, or are looking to retire, folks love the laid back and welcoming vibe that Salem offers.

Q: Is Salem, Oregon, an expensive place to live?
A:
Compared to Portland or Seattle, Salem is inexpensive. Portland’s cost of living is 127.7, while Seattle’s is 158.1. Oregon’s capital city falls at 104 (about four percent above the national average).

Cost of Living in Salem

Salem is a pretty affordable place to live for a modestly sized city, especially when you think about how expensive other cities on the West Coast can be. The cost of living in Salem is 104, compared to the national average index of 100. It’s lower than the state’s cost of living, which is 114.3. If you want to live in a vibrant, smaller city that doesn’t have the high cost of living attached to it, you can’t go wrong with Salem.

What Salaries Will You Need in Salem?

If you’re considering a move to Salem, it’s important to know what kind of salary you should have to support yourself when you get there.

  • As a family of four: With two adults working and two children, you should aim to make a combined salary of about $102,800.
  • As a young professional: As a single professional with no children, your salary should be around $36,200.
  • As a retiree: If you want to retire in Salem, OR, you’ll need a yearly income close to $63,300.

View of the distant mountains during sunset from Salem, Oregon.
(Source: Travel Salem via Facebook)

Living in Salem, Oregon — Pros and Cons

Pro: Lots To Do Outdoors

Lots of people come to Salem to be surrounded by natural beauty and to get out and enjoy it. Whether you want to explore the natural beauty of the Ankeny National Wildlife Refuge, take a day trip to explore coastal towns like Lincoln City or Ocean Lake, or stay closer to the city to enjoy the many parks and gardens like Bush’s Pasture Park, there are lots of ways to walk, bike, or ride around Salem.

Con: The Weather

Because of its location in the Pacific Northwest, you can expect the weather in Salem to be unpredictable. Although it’s located about an hour from the coast, it still experiences a damp climate and a significant amount of rainfall each year. It’s also one of the cloudiest cities in the country, according to RedFin, but locals think the summers and springs make it worth it!

Pro: An Amazing Food and Drink Scene

If you love trying new restaurants, visiting breweries, or checking out first-class vineyards, then you’re going to love living in Salem. This area of the country is very focused on farm to table dining, so if you like fresh, local, and delicious food, you’ll have lots of options. Not to mention Salem is in the heart of one of the best wine regions in the U.S., the Willamette Valley! Did you know there are more than 700 wineries across the valley?

Con: The Cost of Living

Although it’s more affordable than Portland, the cost of living in Salem is still higher than the national average. Affordable housing may be difficult to find, no matter if you’re searching for a house or an apartment, as the average home price here sits at $418,500 and the average rent sits at $1,425. The national averages are $346,700 and $1,700, respectively. However, the cost of other items, like utilities and healthcare, is below the national average.

Pro: Lots of Job Opportunities

If you’re looking for a new job — or are hoping to bring your skillset to a new area —Salem has plenty of opportunities. The biggest sectors are education and health services, but there are also government opportunities since it’s the state capital.Salem Health, Chemeketa Community College, and Willamette University are some of the area’s largest employers, and offer a wide range of opportunities. 

Con: Traffic

Even though it’s a modestly sized city, the traffic in Salem is something that can get annoying. The I-5 — a major north-to-south interstate —  goes right through this area, making it hard to get places, especially during rush hour. If you don’t want to drive, you can take advantage of biking or using public transportation, depending on where you live in the city. Routes can be spotty, though, so driving is definitely recommended. 

Pro: Arts and Culture

Whether you’re into theater, exploring museums, learning about history, or discovering new music, there’s always something cultural to do in Salem. You can stop at the Deepwood Museum and Gardens, enjoy artsy and foreign films at the Salem Cinema, or check out a tour of the Oregon State Capitol building.! In the summer, there are a variety of events to attend, like the Salem Art Fair and Festival, the Oregon Quilt Festival, or the Salem Holiday Market.

Con: Public Transportation

Salem isn’t exactly known for its extensive transportation system, especially if you live or work outside the major business district. There is a bus system known as Cherriots, but there is no light rail or commuter trains. Most residents drive, which is why the traffic is such a problem in this smaller sized city. 

A large tan-colored residential home in the woods of Salem, Oregon. The home features an asymmetrical exterior, a large driveway, and a covered porch.

Home in Salem, Oregon
(Source: Blum Real Estate via Facebook)

Salem Housing Market

As we mentioned, the Salem housing market can be a little pricey, depending on where you’re moving from. Costs will be lower than in Portland, but you can still expect a good amount of searching before you find the perfect home in your price range. The average home value in Salem is $418,500, higher than the national average, but lower when comparing the state of Oregon as a whole.

If you are shopping for houses, your inner architect will be pleased to know that you’ll find everything from Greek Revival and Queen Anne to Victorian Gothic and Colonial-style homes.

Apartments/Renting in Salem

If you’re interested in renting in Salem, you’re not alone. A lot of young professionals and families that are just starting out choose to rent before buying a home. The average rental in Salem for an 883-square-foot bedroom will cost around $1,425 per month. While it isn’t the cheapest rent, you’ll get a lot more bang for your buck than you would in a larger city like Portland, Seattle, or San Francisco. 

Best Places to Live in Salem 

Want to know where to live in Salem? Check out some of our top picks for the best neighborhoods in Salem.

Best Salem Neighborhood for Families

If you have a family, consider moving to Turner, which is the #1 best place to raise a family in the Salem area, according to Niche. This safe community prides itself on its friendly residents who make it a point to look out for each other. The school district has a B+ rating on Niche, including Cascade Junior High School and Turner Elementary School. It’s a quiet area that offers lots of opportunities for kids to get outside and play.

Best Neighborhood for Singles/Young Adults/Professionals

If you’re looking for a place to live that’s affordable and just a quick commute to the city, then you should look for places in the Monmouth neighborhood. It’s also considered one of the best places to live for young professionals in the Salem area. Because it’s not directly in the city itself, you can expect to find more affordable housing, which means you can find the space of your dreams for a lot less. Additionally, it’s home to Western Oregon University, and there’s a lot of young folks who call this area home—so you can expect lots of dining and nightlife options!

Best Salem Neighborhood for Retirees

Four Corners is one of the best neighborhoods for Salem retirees. This walkable community is full of great ways for retirees to stay active, and one of the most popular places to visit is the Santana Village Park. You’re not far from the city center, which means no matter if you want to take in a museum, try a new restaurant, or stroll along the Willamette River, it’s easy to do.  

Transportation

In short, you’ll need a car to get around. Because it is a smaller city, the public transportation doesn’t reach many areas, and is focused on the central downtown areas of the city. They have a public bus system known as Cherriots, but there is no light rail system. This contributes to the heavy traffic experienced by residents, especially during morning and evening commutes. Salem prides itself on being a green city, and lots of residents choose to just bike instead. Salem is considered bike-friendly.

The red brick Eaton Hall on the campus of Willamette University in Salem, Oregon. The building is nestled among tall trees that have begun to change color in the fall.

Eaton Hall at Willamette University
(Source: Willamette University via Facebook)

Schools and Higher Education

Need to find what schools to send your kids to? You will be happy to know that Salem is home to some great K-12 schools, as well as some higher education institutions.

According to Niche, these are the best schools in Salem, all with A grades:

  • Blanchet Catholic School
  • Early College High School
  • Kalapuya Elementary School

Additionally, you’ll find higher education institutions in Salem like:

Salem Weather/Climate in Salem 

Salem is no exception to the Pacific Northwest’s famously wet climate, with plenty of rainy and cloudy days. The summers tend to be short, warm, and mostly dry, while the winters are cold, wet, and cloudy. The temperature ranges from 36 to 85 degrees throughout the year. Although there is a lot of rainfall, you don’t have to worry about many blizzards, as the rain only turns to snow for a few days per year. 

Salem Crime Rate

Salem has a crime index of five according to NeighborhoodScout, which means it’s safer than 5 percent of U.S. neighborhoods. Your chances of becoming a victim of a violent crime in Salem is 1 in 212, which is a little higher than the state average. As far as property crime goes, you have a 1 in 28 chance of being a victim, which is also higher than the average for the state of Oregon. 

Job Market

The job market is competitive in Salem, as the unemployment rate is at 6.2 percent, slightly higher than the national average of 6 percent. There are lots of places to find good paying jobs, especially if you have skills in healthcare, government, administration, or service/retail industries. 

Local Food Scene

If you’re a foodie, you’re going to love all that Salem has to offer. While the Pacific Northwest is known for its coffee culture, there is so much more than that — although there are plenty of amazing coffee spots too!

Breakfast and Cafe Stops

Locals love the variety that’s available when it comes to grabbing a cup of joe or a nice easy breakfast. These are some of the hotspots in Salem for breakfast:

Lunch

When it comes to lunch, you can’t go wrong with:

Dinner

If you're looking to celebrate a special occasion, or just enjoy a night out on the town, Salem has you covered. Here are our picks for the best dinner spots in town:

The bar at Santiam Brewing Co. in Salem, Oregon, features an array of beers on tap as well as a variety of spirits above the bar.
(Source: Santiam Brewing Co. via Facebook)

Beverage Scene is Top Notch

When you’re in Oregon, you know you’re going to get an amazing assortment of craft breweries. And Salem does not disappoint! If you love trying new beers, you should definitely stop by:

In addition to beer, did you know that Salem is also home to some world class vineyards that create award-winning wine? That’s right, the Willamette Valley consistently produces some of the best wines, especially pinot noirs. Wineries to check out include:

Local Culture Scene

While you may think Salem is limited to the outdoor enthusiast, you’d certainly be wrong! There is a vibrant cultural scene in the city that includes lots of art, music, and theater. While there are a variety of wine and beer festivals that you can expect in this epicenter of beverages, there are lots of ways to engage with the artsy side of Salem.

Check Out the Nightlife in Salem

Who says Portland has all the fun? Salem has a great nightlife scene. Most folks love going out for a brew, a glass of wine, and some bites, but there are plenty of ways for adults to enjoy the nightlife on the weekend. In addition to catching a play, concert, or the Oregon Symphony, you’ll find these venues have plenty of fun and live music after dark.

A rolling field of irises at Schreiner’s Iris Gardens in Salem, Oregon.

(Source: Schreiner’s Gardens via Facebook)

Fun Things To Do in Salem, Oregon

What folks love about living in Salem is that you can have the best of both worlds—amazing access to the great outdoors as well as a thriving cultural scene! No one will make you choose when it comes to fun things to do in Salem, so no matter what you’re up for, there’s somewhere in or around Salem that you can find it. 

Free Things to Do in Salem 

Looking for free things to do in the Salem area? There’s no shortage of those! One of the top options is to go out and explore the various parks that are right within the city, like the Riverside Park. You can always take a walk or a ride along on your bike by the Willamette River as well. But for additional options, we recommend:

  • Tour the Oregon State Capitol
  • Wander around the beautiful downtown Salem
  • Check out Willamette University
  • View the Adelman Peony Gardens
  • Visit the Salem Saturday Market

Things to Do with Kids in Salem

If you have kiddos in tow, chances are you’re always looking for something fun to do with kids in Salem. One of the top choices is to ride the carousel at Riverfront Park and take a walk along the river. Because there are so many options to play, picnic, or bike in the areas around Salem, we always suggest that, but in case it’s a rainy day here are some other options that are fun for kids:

Day Trips from Salem

Although there’s lots to do and enjoy in Salem, sometimes you just want to see something else. Because of where it’s located, Salem is a prime spot for day trips, but there are also plenty of spots you can visit where you can spend the night, either camping, or in a hotel. There’s lots to see in the Pacific Northwest, so if you don’t want to travel too far, we recommend checking out:

A family loading up their PODS container

Let PODS Help You Move to Salem, OR

When you’re ready to make the move to Salem, OR, PODS can help you get there without the stress. We’ll deliver a portable storage container to your current address so you can fill it up on your own time. Once everything is packed, our drivers will pick it up and drive it to your new home. Need help packing or unloading? We can also arrange for local movers to give you a helping hand. As always, one month of storage is included with every move! 

Editor’s note: For ease of reading, monthly rental prices were rounded to the nearest $25 and home values were rounded to the nearest $100.

(Source for image featured at top: Dan Meyers via Unsplash)

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