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Off the Charts: Seattle is the priciest tourist city in the U.S. Should you go to Portland instead?

caption: Collage of Seattle and Portland. Photos courtesy of Canva.
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Collage of Seattle and Portland. Photos courtesy of Canva.

Seattle is the most expensive city* for tourists in the entire United States, according to a recent report by

We put an asterisk there because the survey ranked Aspen, Colorado, as number one and Seattle as number two—but as Travel and Leisure Magazine pointed out, Aspen is considered more town than city.

Shocking that we would be neck-and-neck with a luxury ski resort town—and also that Seattle beat out San Francisco, New York, and Los Angeles. But those cities don’t offer the same amenities or vibe as Seattle, so how does our fair city stack up to its neighbors? Does the report really reflect the costs of visiting Seattle and taking in all the Emerald City has to offer?

With summer vacation season just around the corner, KUOW pulled some numbers to find the most affordable city for tourists looking to get that Pacific Northwest experience. We looked at the costs of everything from attending a football game to public transit, and how much it will cost you at the end of a busy day of outings to get some rest. Before the pitchforks come out, this author has lived in both Vancouver and Seattle—and is married to a born and raised Oregonian. There are no allegiances here, just numbers.


You can save cash on attractions and food by going to Vancouver over Seattle, but the hotel costs may sneak up on you in August. The most affordable option is Portland. Let the rivalry continue.

Or, skip the tourist standards altogether and spend time in one of the many free parks and art spaces in all three cities; the Rose Test Garden in Portland, Stanley Park in Vancouver, and Volunteer Park in Seattle come to mind.

Where did these numbers come from?

The numbers in the analysis above come from multiple sources and KUOW’s own analysis. All prices are listed in U.S. dollars.

Transit: Transit prices are based on the day pass rate listed for each city’s main transportation system: King County Metro in Seattle, Max Light Rail in Portland, and TransLink in Vancouver.

Iconic views: The price of each view attraction is based on general day rates.

Museums: The price of each museum is based on general admission rates. These prices do not include special exhibits or add-ons, such as the submarine ($8.50 per person) and planetarium ($7.50 per person) costs at the Oregon Museum of Science and Industry.

Sporting events: All prices are based on the average price of admission for the next five games of a regular season.

Hotels: The hotel prices reflect the median nightly price for one room with two guests on the weekend of August 23-25 at hotels with two stars and above, within each city’s tourist center. The price also includes local taxes and fees for that night.

Dinners: Dinner prices are based on an analysis by, a crowd-sourcing cost-of-living calculator. The prices reflect the average price for a dinner for two at a mid-range, three-course restaurant in each city.

Why you can trust KUOW