Is Portland Safe? Everything Travelers Need to Know

Portland local, Jessica Spiegel, shares her top tips on how to stay safe in her hometown. From petty crime to dodgy areas to avoid, here's everything visitors need to know.

Photo © iStock/AndreyKrav

For most visitors, chances are you will feel totally safe and not feel uncomfortable while visiting Portland – except for possibly getting burned if you're too close to The Unipiper's fire-spewing bagpipes. Or maybe hipster overload will leave you feeling slightly out of place.

But before you ask about the sketch comedy series Portlandia, the answer is yes – most locals have seen at least some episodes, but we don't speak in excerpts from the show. Some Portlanders get annoyed at insinuations they're anything like the show’s characters. So, if you think someone reminds you of a character from Portlandia, keep it to yourself. 

Crime and Places to Avoid in Portland

Portland is a safe city for the most part, but that doesn't mean you should let your guard down. Common sense dictates you shouldn't leave your iThing in view in a locked car and expect it to remain there. Even busy areas of the city have smash-and-grab thefts, so lock your car doors and don't leave visible temptation.

Bike theft is a big deal. If you rent a bike make sure the rental company outfits you with adequate locks (and that you follow their locking instructions).

Bike culture is also a big deal here, which means there are sometimes bike-motorist confrontations if a cyclist thinks a driver is overstepping his or her lanes. Drivers, pay attention to the big (and sometimes painted green) bike lanes and areas.

Homelessness is an issue in Portland, as it is in many cities on the west coast. The vast majority of the time, that just means holding your breath while walking past a particularly odiferous encampment in Old Town or hearing a nonsensical monologue while you're riding the train. Every so often, though, those situations can escalate. Trust your gut.

Some areas you may want to avoid include:

  • Hazelwood around the Gateway Transit Center (highest rate of violent crime in the city).
  • An area known locally as 'Felony Flats' between roughly Duke and Johnson from 70th east.
  • West Burnside downtown (closer to the bridge there are a number of homeless shelters and camps; it's more iffy at night).

Most of the less-safe areas of Portland aren't places visitors spend much time.

Portland's parking police are not slackers, so don’t think you'll get away with overstaying your parking meter by a few minutes or pulling in for just a second to that no-parking zone while you grab an artisanal latte.

How to Speak Like a Portland Local

Here are some local pronunciations that you'll need to get right if you don't want to immediately be taken for an outsider. That big river running through the middle of the city? Never mind how it's spelled, it's pronounced will-AM-ette (as the saying goes around here, 'It's Willamette, dammit.')

The state you're in is OR-eh-gun, not or-eh-GONE. And the street on the west side of the river that looks like it's named for a piece of living room furniture? It's pronounced kooch. Not couch.

Yes, we know.

Portland is dissected into quadrants by the Willamette River and Burnside Street. The names of these quadrants are how locals generally refer to parts of town – NW (northwest), NE (northeast), SE (southeast), and SW (southwest). There’s also North Portland, which breaks rules, but there you have it.

How to Dress in Portland

Wondering what you should wear in Portland? This is a casual city. Jeans that don't have holes are considered 'dressy' nearly everywhere – even nice restaurants. And if you bought those $300 jeans with the holes already in them, then they're dressy, too.

You may have heard that it rains nine months of the year here, but... Okay, it does. Sort of. It's not a downpour, more like you're walking around inside a very misty cloud, so most Portlanders eschew umbrellas for waterproof hoods.

Two Strange Facts About Portland

  1. There's no sales tax in Oregon. The price on the tag is what you'll pay. Have fun.
  2. There really is a Uniper with fire-spewing bagpipes.

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  • Rudy said

    If you consider yourself conservative keep it to yourself. And certainly don’t dress the part. Wearing hats or clothing with certain logos (NRA, MAGA, for example) or any clothing with “Trump” will guarantee you will be harassed or followed in certain places. If you choose to wear such clothing, you do so at your own peril.

  • Dan B Justice said

    Portland's homeless population can be dangerous. Avoid all homeless camps. Drug addiction is rampant and do not wear sandels as there are used needles laying about. Human feces can be found in downtown business vestibule. Our vehicle was broken into even though nothing was left to be taken. Panhandlers are very aggressive. Not a safe city!

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  • RuffusU said

    My husband and I used to take a few days off and spend a couple nights in very nice downtown hotel.
    Not anymore. We live in Oregon, but no longer ever stop for a meal there.
    Most of the homeless are aggressive. The streets are filthy. Even the "nice" areas where 3-4 star hotels are, are surrounded by homeless people, begging.
    Portland is not what it used to be at least in the past 5 years. We were going there once a year for fun, show..... stop doing so about 5 years ago. It is becoming like downtown LA.
    It is really sad, that what used to be a nice city, is not managed much by any of its leaders.

  • no said

    Love the hysterical comments here.

    Portland will not be bummed if people who can't deal with the reality of the homeless (a growing issue through out the *entire* country! please explain where you'd like them to go) and are sad that they'd be better off leaving their MAGA hats at their hotel don't stop by for a visit. Tourism is thriving and the city is much more beyond the downtown area which is yes, often dirty, but also mostly very boring. There is much more to the city outside of it. If you enjoy partial clouds, immense greenery, a variety of unique, impressive shops and restaurants then go ahead and visit. Just use your common sense when booking lodging and do a little research about the area you're staying in. However, if you're scared of everything outside of small towns and suburbs and you're intimidated by "hipsters" probably not the place for you!

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