Neighborhoods of Portland: Visit. Shop. Play.

Angie Beiriger; Dan Kelley


The city of Portland is known by many nicknames—Stumptown, the Rose City, Bridgetown, Rip City. No matter what you call it, that name refers to a city renowned for its diverse and vibrant neighborhoods. The vast majority of these pedestrian-friendly neighborhoods are easily accessible by foot or bike (rent a bike at one of the many shops in town). Portland’s world-class public transportation (trimet.org) will get you to each neighborhood by bus, MAX light rail, or streetcar. Getting around is easy, since most of the city is laid out on a grid that spreads across the city quadrants: North, Northwest, Northeast, Southwest, and Southeast. (Remember, Portland has to keep it weird by having a fifth quadrant.) The Willamette (rhymes with Janet) River separates the city into east and west. Burnside Street separates north and south. Look for the N, NW, NE, SW, SE in the street address to help figure out where you are.


Pioneer Courthouse Square signpost. Photo credit: Cavale Doom, https://www.flickr.com/photos/cavale/8376789007/.

One of the highlights of a visit to the Rose City is visiting these neighborhoods and discovering their unique offerings. Deciding what neighborhood to explore can be difficult, but rest assured no matter where you go there will plenty to do and see. While you’re out and about, get in some guilt-free shopping—there’s no sales tax in Oregon! Some suggestions for neighborhoods and places to visit, shop, and play follow. The public transportation serving the neighborhood is included, but check with Trimet for specifics. Take some extra time to find your own favorite park, gallery, or boutique. If you want a more guided experience, walking and bicycling routes are available from city planners. Check out the architectural, culinary, and “weird Portland” group tours. To learn more about neighborhoods of Portland and find the perfect way to spend your time, visit www.travelpor-tland.com/things-to-do/neighborhoods-regions/.

We’ll be profiling neighborhood restaurants, breweries, and coffee shops in an upcoming article, stay tuned.

The Lloyd/Broadway district in NE Portland is one of the closest neighborhoods to the Convention Center. It’s home to the Lloyd Center, Oregon’s largest mall and popular family destination. Shop at one of its more than 150 stores (Made in Oregon, and H&M), catch a movie at one of the 18 screens, or rent some skates at the indoor ice rink. If the mall isn’t your thing, stroll over to Broadway Street to check out one of the city’s best independent bookstores, Broadway Books. Cooking enthusiasts should visit Kitchen Kaboodle, a locally owned shop full of gadgets, home accessories, and cookware. High-end consignment store Here We Go Again features a great selection of vintage and modern fashion. (Bus, MAX, Streetcar)

A short distance to the south of the convention center is the up-and-coming Lower Burnside Area. Burnside may be one of the busiest streets in town, but that hasn’t stopped stellar restaurants and funky boutiques from taking a hold on the neighborhood. East Burnside is divided into upper and lower districts. The lower district is closest to the Convention Center. Peruse the offerings at one of the vintage shops like Modo Boutique, Bombshell Vintage, or Rock n’ Rose. A visit to the iconic Hippo Hardware is on many a Portland visitor’s bucket list. Catch an indie rock show at the Doug Fir Lounge (located in the Jupiter Hotel) or just visit the bar upstairs to experience the modern log cabin ambiance. Take a walk over the massive Burn-side bridge into downtown Portland to catch stellar views of the river, bridges, and skyline. (Bus, Streetcar)


Downtown Portland at sunset from the Burnside Bridge. Photo credit: C.M. Keiner, https://www.flickr.com/photos/cmkeiner/6178373872/.

One of the hippest neighborhoods in Stumptown is Historic Mississippi Avenue (N). The street’s recent transformation and development has made it a destination for shoppers, diners, and people watchers. The Meadow features an extensive selection of salt, chocolate, and flowers. In fact, the owner, Mark Bitterman, actually wrote the book on salt—the James Beard award winning Salted: A Manifesto on the World’s Most Essential Mineral, with Recipes. Check out Paxton Gate, a true curiosity shop with a huge selection of fossils and minerals, taxidermy and bones, plant oddities, and really funky jewelry. After perusing one of the many vinyl, comic book, or paper goods stores, round out your visit by catching some live local music at Mississippi Studios. (Bus, MAX with walk)


Wall of salts at The Meadow. Photo credit: lesleyk, https://www.flickr.com/photos/lesleyk/5851679537/.

Want to check out one of the most diverse art scenes in town? Take some time to stroll the more than 20 blocks of the Alberta Arts District. In addition to myriad established art galleries, the street is brimming with boutiques, shops, and cafes, many of which line their walls with work by local artists. The biggest draw to the neighborhood is the almost anything-goes Last Thursday festival. Art vendors line the streets and galleries host new exhibitions in what has become one of Portland’s largest street parties. It should be in full swing on March 26 during the conference.


Jugglers at Last Thursday on Alberta Street. Photo credit: MookieLuv https://www.flickr.com/photos/mookieluv/4747558427/.

The district is a great place to shop for a locally designed clothing at boutiques like Tumbleweed or designer shoes at PedX. Check out the fascinating selection of art books, photographs, and ephemera at Ampersand Gallery & Fine Arts. Parents of young children may want to pop into Grasshopper to choose a gift from a well-curated selection of toys. A visit to the neighborhood should include a short walk north to the Kennedy School, a historic elementary school converted into a mixed-use building featuring hotel rooms, a movie theater, several bars and restaurants, a soaking pool, and (of course) walls lined with murals and artwork. (Bus)

Division, Hawthorne, and Belmont are parallel streets in SE Portland, located close enough to be easily accessed via a quick bus or bike ride or even a brisk stroll. These three older streets all had busy streetcars linking them with downtown before the rise of the automobile. After some rough decades following World War II, they have all bounced back and now are brimming with restaurants, boutiques, bars, and Portland’s quirky vibe. They are a short distance from one of Stumptown’s jewels, Mt. Tabor. With a forest-like setting and panoramic views of the city, the 196-acre park situated on an extinct volcanic cinder cones in the middle of the city is another must-visit for bikers, hikers, and trail enthusiasts. (Bus)

The furthest south of the three streets, Division Street, has developed rapidly recently and now boasts some of the best restaurants in the city. Visit some of the boutiques and witness the transformation of a sleepy neighborhood into a culinary destination. Hawthorne Boulevard is P-town’s original hippie neighborhood. While some of the peace and love vibe may have mellowed a bit, you can still catch glimpses of its patchouli, tie - dye past. The popular neighborhood is a great place for people-watching and offers great shopping. Browse the shelves of Powell’s Books on Hawthorne or check out the huge cookbook selection at Powell’s Books for Home and Garden. Catch a film at McMenamin’s Bagdad Theater and Pub or pick up some of the city’s best cheese and import foods at Pastaworks. If soccer is your thing, check out 4 - 4 - 2, a great place to catch a Timbers, Thornes, or English Premier League match. The neighborhood is also a great place to look for collectibles, antiques, and vintage clothing. The business strip on Belmont Street isn’t as big as the other two neighborhoods, but it’s great place to hang out and pretend you’re a local. The Avalon Theatre offers old-school video games and pinball for kids of all ages. The boutiques Noun and Super-Maker feature vintage and modern gifts. Grab a cup of coffee at Stumptown and stroll over to beautiful Laurelhurst Park to see how Portlanders play in rain or shine. For a more historic and contemplative experience, visit Portland’s oldest continuously used cemetery and de facto arboretum, Lone Fir Cemetery.


Shops on Hawthorne Boulevard. Photo credit: Curtis Perry https://www.flickr.com/photos/curtisperry/8375296421/.

The west side of the river hosts some of Portland’s oldest neighborhoods and iconic landmarks. Downtown, Chinatown, Old Town, and the Pearl District may look like separate neighborhoods on a map, but they flow into each other without any clear divisions. Portlanders are rightly proud of the Downtown area (SW), which is brimming with food carts, cultural institutions, and (of course) tons of cyclists. The South Park Blocks link the Portland Art Museum and Oregon Historical Society with Portland State University and are beautiful to walk through. The blocks feature Portland largest Farmer’s Market, which runs on Saturdays from mid-March through mid-December. Waterfront Park, close to the Willamette River, is also a great place to explore. Closer in, the beautiful Multnomah County Library main branch should be on every librarians bucket list. Pioneer Courthouse Square has been called “Portland’s living room” and is great for people-watching anytime of day. Union Way, Portland’s eclectic shopping arcade, features high-end retail and a true hipster vibe.


Portland’s living room, Pioneer Courthouse Square. Photo credit: A. Davey https://www.flickr.com/photos/adavey/8699673325/.

Hugging the Willamette River on the edge of downtown, Old Town and Chinatown (NW) were pretty sketchy until a few years ago, and can still be a bit gritty, but its historic architecture and lively nightlife make it very worthwhile. A true Portland institution, Darcelle XV has hosted some of the area’s most iconic “female impersonators” for almost 50 years. Other dance and burlesque clubs mix with dim sum restaurants and herb shops to make up one of the most eclectic areas of the city. Find out about Portland’s seedy past with the free Secrets of Portlandania or a guided Portland Underground tour. The hub of the area is the incredible Lan Su Chinese Garden, an authentic Ming Dynasty style garden that is the epitome of an urban refuge. Stroll through the breathtaking gardens then relax in the Teahouse in the Tower of Cosmic Reflections while you enjoy the best tea in Portland. Stop into the Pendleton flagship store for a lovely selection of goods from the iconic Oregon company. (Bus, MAX, Streetcar)


Female Fu Lion in Front of Chinatown Gate. Photo credit: camknows, https://www.flickr.com/photos/camknows/4148599230/.

With its high-rise condos, wall-to-wall shopping, and endless dining options, the Pearl District is one of Bridgetown’s most urban residential centers. Any visitor’s first stop should be to the legendary Powell’s Bookstore. You may need a whole day to explore the exceptional selection of books, gifts, zines, and maps. A shoppers paradise, the Pearl is home to outdoorsy shops like REI, Patagonia, and North Face, as well as retailers like West Elm and Anthropologie. Antique and interior design shops abound. Paper aficionados will love Oblation Papers & Press, a letterpress print shop, paper maker, and retail store. Stroll down the South Park Blocks to watch the old-timers playing Bocce, tech workers eating lunch, and young neighborhood kids on the playgrounds. Nestled on a corner next to the blocks is the historic DeSoto Building, which hosts high-profile art institutions like Blue Sky Photography Gallery, Charles A. Hartman Fine Art, The Museum of Contemporary Craft, and Augen Gallery.


Pearl District Go by Streetcar sign: Photo credit: Steve Boland. https://www.flickr.com/photos/sfcityscape/4997559367/.

A bit further out from the city center is one of Portland’s original destination neighborhoods, the Northwest District/Nob Hill district. NW 23rd and 21st streets feature high-end boutiques like the jewelry haven Twist as well national retailers like Urban Outfitters, Restoration Hardware, and Pottery Barn. Historic homes and elegant vintage apartment buildings line the side streets. Catch the most recent indie documentary at Cinema 21. With breathtaking views of the surrounding forests, bridges, and mountains, the vast historic Pittock Mansion is another must-see jewel of the city. (Bus, Streetcar)

Find your own adventure at those described here or go off the beaten path by exploring other the notable neighborhoods, such as St. Johns/North Portland, Upper Burnside/Laurelhurst, Alameda/Fremont, Montavilla, Williams, Woodstock, Sellwood/Moreland, and so many more. Whether you prefer the bustling vibe of an urban center or a quiet encounter with one of the many Bridgetown parks, there’s a neighborhood in Portland waiting for you to explore. And remember, we’ll be profiling the bars, breweries, and restaurants in theses neighborhoods in an upcoming article.

Copyright © 2014 Angie Beiriger and Dan Kelley

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