A while back, I wrote a short blog on different options for housing in Portland. It was at that point that someone suggested that a piece also be written on the different neighborhoods in Portland. So, here’s a short list of some of the larger aggregated neighborhoods in Portland, with a little tourist info, as well as my own experience (or lack of experience) in those neighborhoods. I’ve spent most of my time in Oregon living in the suburban areas outside of Portland, so my views on these neighborhoods may be a little simplified, especially compared to a true, Portland-proper native. But, I hope that my summaries will suffice, or at least leave room for some clarification through comments.
First, for those unfamiliar with the geography of Portland, the city proper is divided into an East and West side by the Willamette River, which is the explanation for the many bridges in Portland, allowing access to and from either side. Nearly all of my experience with Portland has been on the West side, so we’ll start there.
West Side Neighborhoods:
Portland State University / Park Blocks / Multicultural District / Downtown (Southwest): This is kind of an amorphous, nebulous district, in the southwest of Portland, that includes the Portland State University campus, many of Portland’s civil service buildings, the Art Museum, and a lot of really neat old churches. Also, running along from south-to-north on 9th avenue are the south park blocks – a lightly wooded area dotted with statues, playgrounds, and home to the farmer’s market, every Saturday from spring until late autumn, down by the PSU campus. I used to live down here, in on campus housing, and most of my apartment recommendations are from this area. It’s convenient, close to the MAX line, campus, and easy access to the highway. A little further north is some shopping, and Pioneer Courthouse Square.
Old Town Chinatown / The Pearl / Northwest 23rd / Alphabet District: I draw the north-south line on the West side at Burnside, a street that runs across the east-west length of Portland, acts as a pretty good reference point for directions, and is near the beginning of the Alphabet District. Pretty simply, this district is the most navigable – streets running south-north are all numeric, while streets running east-west are alphabetically arranged (Alder, Burnside, Couch, etc.). Chinatown is home to much of the Portland nightlife, and the Roseland Theater, one of Portland’s bigger music venues. The Pearl is one of the “nicer” parts of town with more pricey restaurants and shops. Northwest 23rd (or just “23rd”) is named after 23rd street, which is home to a plethora of small boutiques, brew-pubs, and other interesting Portland gems. My friends in the program from out of town make a point to take friends that visit them to this street in particular. If you’re on the west side of town, this is a hub of activity that shouldn’t be missed.
Now for the east side. I’ll admit that I have considerably less experience here, but every time I stop by this side of town, I always find something else I like about it. Right off the bat though, as a supplement to my other piece on housing, if you’re looking for a house to share with a few people, the east side is where you’re going to want to look.
Sellwood: On the southeastern side of town, my experiences with this neighborhood are limited to stopping by a couple natural goods shops, and the Sellwood park. It’s a nice, quiet side of town – lots of residential housing, and it seems like a very nice place to raise a family in Portland. I un-educatedly categorized this part of town as where I might like to settle down in x-number of years down the road.
Alberta / Killingsworth / Hawthorne: While these streets might be a little spread out through the east side, I think of all of these as streets that are typically “Portland-y.” These are the trendy parts of town, that are without most of the name-brand shops that dot The Pearl, and have plenty of great restaurants, independent shops and brew-pubs. Expect to see large bicycle “parking lots.” There’s so much to do, drink and eat in this part of town, and I’ve done so little there, that I know I’m not nearly doing it justice. One warning though, I have heard opinions of this side of town that it can feel a little exclusionary of those that do not fully adopt the preferred lifestyle of the stereotyped majority population (all natural products, fixed-speed bicycles, involved facial hair, etc.). Personally, I haven’t shared in experiences that would lead to this hesitancy – this is just meant to be a heads up of things I’ve heard from people.
This was admittedly too short to do any one of these neighborhoods any justice, and my own opinions and experiences have influenced my feelings, but I hope that this helps incoming students, at least a little. At the very least, I hope that this opens up the floor for more questions, that I (or other knowledgeable readers) can explain further.