Portland is a clean, friendly city. Small compared to many other major metropolitan areas, the city has European character, a quirkiness reminiscent of San Francisco and a clean and accessible downtown. With a laid back attitude, great coffee, great microbrews, and an up and coming foodie scene this is one town worthy of a visit. Known as the the city of Roses, Portland offers tourists and locals lots to explore.
The city is comprised of five quadrants; Southwest, Northwest, Southeast, Northeast and North. The city is divided east and west by the Willamette River that winds its way through the city and is spanned by 10 bridges. The city is furthered divided north and south by Burnside Street that runs through the heart of the city.
NW Portland’s trendiest neighborhood, the Pearl District, was once an abandoned district of warehouses and breweries. With the concerted efforts of businesses and architects, the Pearl now shimmers with activity. Northwest modern architecture incorporates the existing shell of a building – brick and wood facades – into chic new edifices. A trolley line, running through the district’s center, makes for easy transportation to other parts of the city.
On the ground floor, Pearl visitors will find trendy shopping. Adidas, Diesel, and Anthropologie have space here, as do many local boutiques. Above them rise some of Portland’s priciest lofts and condominiums. On the First Thursday Artwalk, pedestrians wander through the Pearl’s numerous art galleries. Many of Portland’s artistic innovators base themselves here, including Wieden+Kennedy and Portland Center Stage.
While always bustling with activity, the Pearl comes alive at night. Clubs and bars within easy walking distance make for active nights. As an upscale neighborhood, the Pearl stands out from much of Portland’s casual aesthetic. Heels and collared shirts replace plaid and sneakers, and the drinks rise in both price and quality. For an elegant night out in Portland, the Pearl is the place to see and be seen.
NW 23rd and NW 21st Streets (Nob Hill)
Since ceding the title of “trendiest shopping district” to the Pearl, NW Portland has relaxed into a genteel atmosphere. NW exudes the feeling of a former starlet who has gained the elegance and confidence of age. Victorian homes nestled at the foot of the hills cluster around a two main commercial streets.
On NW 23rd Avenue, upscale clothing, jewelry, and furniture stores bumps elbows with homey brewpubs. NW 23rd has some of Portland’s most long-established fine dining, including Paley’s Place, Wildwood, Café Mingo, and Papa Haydn. On 21st, shoppers will find Portland’s premiere independent movie theater, Cinema 21, as well as small bars and coffee shops, stalwart mom and pop groceries, and a restaurant for every taste. More bohemian offerings remain in the area as well – notably Music Millenium, Portland’s best independent music store.
Easily accessible by trolley from downtown Portland, the NW neighborhoods appeal to young professionals and couples. PGE Park, home of the minor league Portland Timbers soccer and Beavers baseball teams, is nearby. The West Hills and Forest Park, as well as the city center, make NW an ideal place to keep work and play in close proximity.
The business center of Portland sits between the Willamette River and the green bulk of the West Hills. A busy grid of business and shopping, downtown centers itself at Pioneer Square. Called “Portland’s Living Room,” this central square hosts cultural festivals, summer concerts, political rallies, and even impromptu midnight comedy shows.
Portland’s major shopping clusters around the square at Pioneer Place mall and department stores. Running along the edge of downtown is Tom McCall Waterfront Park, a long stretch of riverfront park where businesspeople stretch their legs on lunch. Museums, theaters, concert halls, and Portland State University line the shady, bench-spotted Park Blocks. Served by MAX light rail, bus lines, and trolley, downtown is a hub for transportation as well as commerce.
Across Burnside Street, which divides North and South Portland, is Chinatown. Passing under the massive lion gate entrance, visitors enter a neighborhood that has undergone many transformations. Formerly created and inhabited by Chinese immigrants, the area fell into disrepair for some years; recently, it has been revived as a center of nightlife, especially gay and queer scenes.
In northwest downtown is the largest classical Chinese garden in the country as well as the world’s smallest city park and the famous Saturday Market.
The South Park Blocks of downtown offer one of the cities most beautiful streets. Here you’ll find the Portland Art Musuem and the Oregon Historical Society Museum.
In the Southwest Hills sits the tranquil Japanese Gardens, the famous Rose Test Garden, the Pittock Mansion, the Audubon Society of Portland as well as miles of hiking trails in Forest Park.
The Northeast’s rising star is the Alberta Arts District. A recently revitalized neighborhood, Alberta has been hit with a rush of creative energy – art studios, galleries, musicians, and performance artists cluster in its vicinity. A few fashionable restaurants have made their mark, such as Ciao Vito and Alberta Street Oyster Bar, but overall Alberta has a vital, bohemian character. Here visitors will find cheap bars, pizza joints, and a food cart devoted entirely to grilled cheese sandwiches.
Alberta’s artistic side shines on Last Thursday. This monthly event, a response to the chic First Thursday gallery walk in the Pearl District, is a street festival of epic proportions. On the final Thursday of each summer month, Alberta Street becomes a pedestrian party. Clowns ride unicycles, musicians jam on the corners, fire-dancers awe onlookers, and the crowds are shoulder-to-shoulder for blocks. The performances are enough reason to visit, but shopping also draws craftspeople, jewelry-makers, and designers, who offer unique pieces for reasonable prices. Nightlife booms after darkness falls and the crowds withdraw to patios for a beer.
The cute and hipster Mississippi Avenue has also seen revitalization in recent years. Once an area associated with gang violence, Mississippi now has a few charming boutiques, small bars, and the venerable Mississippi Studios, a center for independent music performance and recording. The tiny Por Que No taco shop is always packed, as is the courtyard of Amnesia Brewing, where the smell of roasting bratwurst drifts over the picnic tables. The adventurous can follow Mississippi down into the maze of streets beneath the Fremont Bridge, where a burgeoning group of bars and clubs, and the Widmer Brothers Brewery, are beginning to attract nighttime drinkers to the industrial district.
Old homes, parks, and leafy, tree-lined streets define the inner Northeast neighborhoods. Upper middle-class families call Irvington, Hollywood, and Laurelhurst home. Northeast runs from the crest of Alameda Ridge, a hill with large, expensive homes and views of downtown, across the I-84 freeway to Burnside, a major street that splits the city into North and South. It’s a great area to meander down boulevards on bikes, find a slice of pizza, or play tennis in the park. The Hollywood District has excellent antiques shopping. Tours run of the old 1900s-era homes in the area, many of which once rested on orchard acreage.
Lloyd Center Mall and Cinemas, which are served by the light rail system, bring many shoppers to Northeast. Nearer to the river, the spires of the Convention Center and the dome of the Rose Garden, home of the beloved Portland Trail Blazers, dominate the skyscape. This area, called the Rose Quarter, is a business district and transport hub for bus and light rail. It also offers access for pedestrians to the riverfront Esplanade walking path.
Immigrants arrive daily to Southeast Portland. Most are young, intellectual, and wear skinny jeans; they live in a district of town once considered a hippie hangout. Southeast has now morphed into a vibrant network of bike lanes and cheap bars. Whether shopping at vintage stores on Hawthorne Boulevard, getting an artisan latte at Stumptown Coffee, or ramping up for a midnight spin at Holocene dance club, young Southeast residents find their peers in droves around these parts. The nightlife pops with energy, mostly centered on bars along Belmont, Hawthorne, and Division Streets; for dancing, karaoke, and live music, locals head down the road to East Burnside. This industrial area now hosts the Doug Fir, one of Portland’s best local music venues, as well as bars and dance clubs.
Beautiful Laurelhurst Park and Mt. Tabor Park offer extensive green space within the urban scene. While Portland’s young “creative class” takes itself seriously, they also love to play – horseshoes, bicycle jousting, indoor soccer, and nightly bar trivia. For many, outdoors pursuits complement city life; climbing gyms and cycling routes make for quick getaways. Toward the outer edges of the Southeast, restaurant signs are more likely in Chinese, Russian, Mexican or Vietnamese; here, immigrants have built intentional communities, and the blend of cultures, while somewhat isolated from the inner hipster culture of SE Portland, enriches and diversifies the area.
Follow the Springwater Corridor, along the Willamette past a world-class science museum; OMSI where people coem for riverfront walking and the cycling trail. From downtown Portland in about five miles, and you’ll arrive in Sellwood. Loosely connected to Southeast Portland, Sellwood is really its own community, in geography and in spirit. Many professionals who work downtown commute from Sellwood, a family-oriented area with a sprinkling of students from Reed and Lewis & Clark Colleges. From the spacious homes of Eastmoreland to Westmoreland’s cottages and bungalows, the area has old, varied architecture and wonderful parks. In spring, the Rhododendron Gardens spray bursts of pink, purple and white flowers.
A mix of new and old defines the area’s commerce. Antiques stores line Sellwood’s main street, mixing with sleepy coffeehouses, bookstores, and a wine tasting room. The Oaks Park Amusement Park, with its old-style roller coaster and skating rink, has been in continuous operation since 1905. Visitors will find fewer hipsters and fewer pretensions here; Sellwood feels like a throwback to Portland’s small-town, Northwestern past. As a neighborhood that values community, Sellwood has maintained its local roots, and remains one of Portland’s most livable neighborhoods.
Teenagers zip by on bicycles; families walk their kids to the market; the bus trundles past a community music hall. Ten years ago, this neighborhood had a rough reputation; now it’s on Portland’s radar for its affordable housing. For many years, North Portland was home to the city’s largest African-American population. Recently the neighborhoods have begun integrating, mostly due to an influx of young people. Family-run restaurants and corner shops have given way to the shops of local clothing designers, and some of the main streets now sport modern architecture. Gentrification has had mixed results – many of the area’s longtime residents have moved away, even as transportation options have improved and new businesses moved in.
On Interstate Avenue, a major transit street that now hosts North Portland’s light rail line, vintage neon flashes from every side. Kitschy hotels and karaoke bars advertise in flaming colors. Local BBQ favorite Fire on the Mountain draw crowds for its legendary wings, and new breakfast cafes seem to go in every week. Stately old homes overlook the river near University of Portland. Old brick buildings, churches, coffeehouses, Ethiopian restaurants, and bicycle repair shops share real estate. At the Tool Library, members can rent home repair equipment from a community garage to assist with repairs. North Portland is a true neighborhood, a place where families have lived for several generations; while it lacks the glitter of the West Side neighborhoods, it has the well-worn, well-loved feeling of a place many people call home.
St. Johns has a small-town feel. The single-story shops along the main streets, the old movie theater, and a sleepy character give this neighborhood its charm. A residential area of small, affordable homes lining tree-lined blocks, St. John’s is popular with families. The community has a distinct character and feels self-sufficient from the rest of the city, although it flows contiguously into North Portland. Tucked north of the city center at the confluence of the Willamette and Columbia Rivers, St. Johns is Portland’s northernmost neighborhood.
The St. John’s Bridge, a lattice of green cables and spires, crosses the Willamette into the heart of St. Johns. This beautiful bridge draws visitors to Cathedral Park, which sits in its shadow along the river. Nearby Pier Park draws Frisbee golfers to its shady course. St. Johns has many options for casual dining, including several superb family-run burrito joints, bakeries, and diners. Local entrepreneurs the McMenamins brothers have made careers retrofitting Portland’s vintage buildings into charming, homey pubs; the St. Johns Theater and Pub serves up pints with its $3 movies in the shell of an old church.
For more about Portland check out these Perfect Portland Articles.