What's it like to live in Salem, OR?

Profile written by local expert:

Lyn Thomson

From the historic downtown area to the vineyard-covered Willamette Valley countryside, Salem, Oregon, provides a peaceful setting and a more relaxed atmosphere than you'd find in a larger city like Portland, Oregon, located less than 50 miles north.

While Salem does have a small-town feel, it doesn’t lack in important amenities. The metro area is home to a major hospital and several shopping centers, as well as Willamette University, the oldest university in the West.

Salem also has a relatively vibrant cultural scene anchored by the historic Elsinore Theatre, where residents can enjoy classic cinema, live music and theater. The Hallie Ford Museum of Art, part of Willamette University, is home to a wonderful collection of Pacific Northwest art, as well as a variety of works from around the globe. The city also celebrates various cultures with its annual World Beat Festival, which is organized by the Salem Multicultural Institute.


U.S. News analyzed 125 metro areas in the United States to find the best places to live based on quality of life and the job market in each metro area, as well as the value of living there and people's desire to live there.

Salem, Oregon is ranked:

#77 in Best Places to Live

#111 in Best Places to Retire




Best Places to Live

  • Desirability
  • Value
  • Job Market
  • Quality of Life
  • Net Migration

Read how we rank places

Salem, OR Quick Stats

  • 410,119

    Metro Population

  • $47,240

    Average Annual Salary

  • N/A

    Avg High/Low Temps

  • 36.3

    Median Age

  • $269,367

    Median Home Price

  • N/A

    AVG Annual Rainfall

  • 4.2%

    Unemployment Rate

  • $877

    Median Monthly Rent

  • 23.5 minutes

    Avg Commute Time

What's the cost of living in Salem, OR?

Overall, the cost of living in Salem is roughly on par with average cost of living in the U.S., although the median household income is slightly lower. Salem’s housing costs, particularly both for renters and buyers, is much more affordable than what residents of nearby Portland experience. Homes for sale or for rent are generally also easier to find in Salem than they are in Portland.

Value Index

Index Score: 6.1 /10

How we calculate this.

Salem offer a lower value than similarly sized metro areas when you compare housing costs to median household income.

Housing Costs 2018



Housing Costs Over Time

Data sourced from Zillow median home sale price data series. Additional data provided by the Austin Board of Realtors, Houston Association of Realtors, Intermountain MLS, Omaha Area Board of Realtors, San Antonio Board of Realtors, and the Salt Lake Board of Realtors.

Buying or selling a home? Find top real estate agents in Salem, OR.

What's the weather like in Salem, OR?

Salem has a relatively mild climate with four distinct seasons. Salem gets more rain than the national average, with the winter months being especially susceptible to showers. Low levels of sunlight and fewer sunny days than in other parts of the country may be bothersome to some newcomers. Snow is rare in the winter; if it occurs, it usually does not last more than a day or two. Summers are relatively mild, although there has been a trend in the past several years of an increase in the number of days when temperatures reach the 90s.

What's the best way to get around Salem, OR?

Salem has a transit system of public buses, but the majority of residents drive. Most people’s commute time is reasonably short. The downtown area of the city is very walkable.

Salem is not home to a major airport, so residents usually fly out of Portland International Airport. The HUT Shuttle offers regular transportation between Salem and the airport. Train service between Salem and other metro areas along the West Coast is provided by Amtrak.

Commuting in Salem, OR

Means of Transportation
Above national average

Equal to national average

Equal to national average

Public Transit
Below national average
Average Commute Time

23.5 minutes

2.9 minutes less than national average

Average Commute Times by Zip Code

Data sourced from the U.S. Census Bureau's American Community Survey.

Who lives in Salem, OR?

Most households are composed of families, and many of them include children younger than 18. About a third of residents older than 25 hold an associate degree, bachelor's degree or higher.  

Age Distribution

Marital Status Breakdown

About the same number of single people in Salem as national average

Data sourced from the U.S. Census Bureau's American Community Survey.

What is there to do in Salem, OR?

Salem has many historic attractions to explore. The Oregon State Capitol and its grounds are open to visitors, and tours are available. In the summer, you can take a tower tour to the observation deck and see the city from a higher vantage point. The Willamette Heritage Center is a place to learn more about the lives of early settlers and the local industry.

Salem is also home to numerous gardens and parks. Bush's Pasture Park is especially popular in springtime when the roses are blooming, while in the summer, it hosts the Salem Art Fair and Festival with more than 200 artists and approximately 30,000 visitors who come from all across the country. Just west of Salem is Riverfront Park, which runs along the Willamette River. Families are particularly fond of this space because it's home to the Riverfront Carousel, and is the site of many local events, like the Fourth of July celebration and holiday tree lighting. There is also the Oregon Garden, located in nearby Silverton, which covers more than 80 acres and showcases the diverse botanical life found throughout the Pacific Northwest. 

Salem residents also benefit from their Willamette Valley location in that the region's many wineries are a short drive away. One such winery, Willamette Valley Vineyards, offers sweeping views of the valley in addition to a variety of foods and beverages. Another local favorite is Left Coast Cellars, which pairs its vintages with pizza from its own pizza oven.

Salem is also an hour or two drive from the rugged Oregon coast. Many locals enjoying taking daytrips and weekend getaways to coastal towns like Lincoln City and Newport. Portland, with its impressive food scene and eclectic attractions, is also a short drive away.