The city has emerged as the capital of West Coast urban cool. — The New York Times
As Portland's 25-year vision plan notes, vibrant, diverse neighborhoods are home to all manner of people, "but it's all the other things that give a place its soul — the cafes and markets, the art, parks, plazas, vistas, and sanctuaries." In Portland, these eclectic and distinctive districts have become noteworthy attractions themselves, every bit as popular with visitors as the city's leading parks and museums. Culinary adventurers, avid shoppers, biking and walking enthusiasts, and architecture and design buffs flock to these ever-evolving neighborhoods, from the centrally located Cultural District, Old Town/Chinatown and Pearl District, to quirky pockets of dining and retail on the east side, including Alberta Street, Mississippi Avenue and the Hawthorne/Belmont neighborhood.
Downtown visitors are often struck by the neighborhood's wealth of green spaces, and nowhere is this more evident than along the verdant South Park Blocks, running from Salmon Street south for about a dozen blocks, lined with stately residential towers, soaring shade trees and some of city's most celebrated cultural institutions. The southern end of the district leads to the bustling campus of Portland State University — here on Saturdays you'll find the outstanding, seasonal Portland Farmers Market, which also sets up on Wednesdays at the Salmon Street end of the blocks (see Culinary section).
Amid the lushly landscaped Park Blocks, paved pathways fringed with benches and punctuated by regal statuary and sculpture make this leafy oasis a favorite spot for people-watching and lunchtime brown-bagging. The neighborhood's cultural treasures include the Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall, the Portland Center for Performing Arts, the Oregon Historical Society and the Portland Art Museum — the latter is the oldest museum in the Pacific Northwest and one of the city's must-see attractions.
Dining establishments serving inspired contemporary Pacific Northwestern cuisine — including farm-to-table pioneer Higgins and the Heathman Hotel Restaurant — draw plenty of foodies to the neighborhood.
A few blocks north and east from the Park Blocks, you will find downtown's most central MAX light rail stops as well as the upscale Pioneer Place shopping center, and both Nordstrom and Macy's department stores. At the heart of the district sits the namesake Pioneer Courthouse Square, also known as "Portland's living room," and The Nines hotel.
The West End
For many years this section of downtown (from about Southwest 10th Avenue to the 405 freeway) was characterized by rougher elements and run-down buildings. But the arrival of the artsy-chic Ace Hotel and the introduction of the Portland Streetcar along 10th and 11th avenues have helped rejuvenate this district. The northern blocks, closest to Burnside Street, have the lion's share of the neighborhood's dining and nightlife. Home to the Ace and the newly opened McMenamins Crystal Hotel, the area comes alive at night with its dance clubs, gay bars and live-music venues. Adjoining the Ace are such venerable dining and drinking establishments as Clyde Common, Kenny & Zuke's Delicatessen and Stumptown Coffee Roasters. Within a few blocks you'll find Grüner, which GQ named one of the nation's best new restaurants in 2010; Canoe and Alder & Co., exquisite design and houseware boutiques; and Cacao, which serves fine drinking chocolates.
Chic factor readings have gone off the charts at Southwest 13th Avenue and West Burnside with the opening of the Black Box, a building brimming with local and international fashion boutiques. Tanner Goods offers belts, bags, footwear and toys for men; and Solestruck, the largest online shoe retailer in the nation, enters the mix with on-trend shoes in its one and only retail location. Sweden's Dunderdon and Seattle's Blackbird showcase men's fashions, as well as Northwest tree stamp sets and hardy Portland-made Poler gear (their Napsack outdoes the Snuggie any day). Shoe lovers will find a haven at John Fluevog's new Portland outpost just a block away.
Northwest Portland/Nob Hill
A leafy district filled with handsome Victorian and Colonial Revival homes, both classic and contemporary apartments and storefronts, Northwest lies at the base of the rugged West Hills, which encompass the nation's largest tract of urban woodland, Forest Park. Connected via the Portland Streetcar to the Pearl District and downtown, this neighborhood historically known as Nob Hill but more commonly dubbed "Northwest" is home to a pair of streets ideal for strolling, window-shopping and cafe-hopping: Northwest 23rd and 21st avenues.
The roughly 15 blocks along Northwest 23rd from Burnside to Vaughn encompass a mix of upscale chains (Pottery Barn, Restoration Hardware, Urban Outfitters) and indie boutiques and galleries; highlights among the latter include Kitchen Kaboodle, Blush Beauty Bar and Three Monkeys for gifts and home décor, and don't miss the exceptional locally designed special occasion dresses at Lena Medoyeff. Along 21st, the emphasis is more squarely on dining: some of the city's pioneers of modern Pacific Northwestern cuisine reside along this street, including the renowned Paley's Place. Stop by Caffe Mingo for superb Italian food, and Ken's Artisan Bakery for heavenly pastries and sandwiches. At the north end of the neighborhood don't miss Meriwether's Restaurant with outstanding farm-to-table cuisine, and the distinctive artisan spirits produced at Clear Creek Distillery.
Beneath Portland's oldest neighborhood, the "Shanghai Tunnels" recall the days when the riverfront was synonymous with unsavory characters who routinely shanghaied unsuspecting sailors, loggers and workers. Today you can tour the reputedly haunted underground tunnels and catacombs that form an eerie labyrinth beneath the streets. At street level, the gentrification of the adjacent Pearl District and the 2009 opening of the MAX light rail green line have helped spur a rejuvenation of this compact neighborhood.
The renowned Portland Saturday Market (open Sundays, too), held from March through December, is the largest and longest-running open-air crafts market in the country — it expanded to a new covered plaza beside the Burnside Bridge and the riverfront in 2010. The neighborhood is also home to the city's Chinatown, reached through an ornately carved Chinatown Gateway arch at Southwest Fourth Avenue and Burnside Street. Be sure to visit Lan Su Chinese Garden, one of the largest Suzhou-style gardens outside China. There are several excellent restaurants in Chinatown including Ping, Davis Street Tavern and Gilt Club, a sexy and sophisticated cocktail lounge and late-night eatery. You'll also find some of Portland's most popular gay bars (CC Slaughters, Hamburger Mary's); and along Ankeny Street — recently closed to car traffic and converted into outdoor seating — visit Central, Dan & Louis Oyster Bar and the famed Voodoo Doughnut.
The Pearl District
A much-lauded example of mixed-use urban redevelopment, the Pearl District has morphed from a derelict former industrial zone into a dynamic, cool and downright swanky hub of loft living, cutting-edge design and trendy dining and shopping. Served by the Portland Streetcar and — just a few blocks east — Old Town/Chinatown's MAX light rail green line, this still-developing district on the north edge of downtown possesses some of the most architecturally alluring buildings in the West Coast, many of them LEED-certified.
The Pearl is home to the world's largest — and arguably most famous — independent new-and-used bookstore, Powell's, as well as prominent national retailers like Anthropologie, The North Face, West Elm, Whole Foods and REI. But you'll also find distinctive fine boutiques and shops like Oblation Papers & Press and Cargo Imports, and contemporary art in galleries including PDX and Elizabeth Leach. Such cultural landmarks as Portland Center Stage (inside the ingeniously designed Gerding Theater at the Armory), the Museum of Contemporary Craft, and several art schools have made the Pearl a magnet for creative spirits — the monthly First Thursday gallery walk is a fine time to explore the arts scene.
Longtime restaurants like Bluehour, home to one of the city's sexiest happy hour scenes, and Andina, which specializes in contemporary Peruvian fare, have put the Pearl on the culinary map. Other eateries of note include Park Kitchen, Metrovino, Riffle NW, and Irving Street Kitchen. Craft breweries including BridgePort and Deschutes Brewing serve local beers and fresh pub fare; jazz is on the menu at renowned club Jimmy Mak's; and Teardrop Lounge and retro-fabulous Trader Vic's are reliable stops for well-crafted cocktails.
Alberta Arts District/Killingsworth
From 12th to 31st avenues, Northeast Alberta Street has become one of the liveliest and culturally diverse neighborhoods in the city, enjoying a dramatic grassroots revival spurred by artists, entrepreneurs, creative spirits, young families and students. The street is lined with boutiques, arts spaces, cafes, and the occasional food cart, reflecting the area's diverse makeup, from Asian restaurants to African-American galleries. An excellent time to soak up the scene is during the monthly Last Thursday street festival.
Favorite Alberta dining options include haute-vegetarian bistro Natural Selection, Indian street food at Bollywood Theater and adventurous cuisine at Aviary. Laid-back watering holes like Branch Whiskey Bar and the Bye and Bye are as great for people-watching as imbibing. Also of culinary note, Salt & Straw ice cream shop whips up innovative flavors like their pear-blue cheese, and brown ale with bacon. Boutiques Tumbleweed, Garnish and Frock, as well as pedX shoes, are among the distinctive retail outlets in this offbeat district.
Running parallel to Alberta a few blocks north, Northeast Killingsworth has also seen a steady profusion of noteworthy retail and dining, especially around the intersection with Northeast 30th Avenue, home to such restaurant stars as Beast (the domain of celeb chef Naomi Pomeroy), Autentica, Cocotte, DOC and Yakuza Lounge.
With easy access to MAX light rail and a rapidly emerging retail and dining scene, North Mississippi Avenue has become one of the city's hottest thoroughfares for strolling, shopping and noshing. With a similarly diverse, artsy and youthful buzz to nearby Alberta, Mississippi Avenue is a mix of rehabbed vintage buildings and newer, eco-friendly, mixed-use construction. This avenue, which is liveliest from Fremont to Skidmore streets, is anchored by the 40,000-square-foot Rebuilding Center, an emporium of recycled home materials, along with such eclectic eateries and nightspots as ¿Por Qué No? taqueria, Mississippi Studios music club, German-style Prost beer hall, the adjacent Mississippi Marketplace food-cart pod, and Lovely's Fifty Fifty gourmet pizza and ice cream restaurant.
Be sure to check out Bridge City Comics, Animal Traffic for vintage, and the Meadow — with its selection of artisan salts, fine wines and high-caliber chocolate. The neighborhood is also home to Portland's LGBT community space, the Q Center.
A few blocks east of, and parallel to, Mississippi Avenue, North Williams Avenue was designated an official "bike corridor" a few years ago, a move that has swiftly spurred the development of eco-consciously designed apartments and businesses, with a decided emphasis on food. The neighborhood's aptly named food anchor is The Hub, a nearly block-long building that's home to nationally acclaimed restaurants like Lincoln and Tasty n Sons, plus the artisanal coffee of Ristretto Roasters and Portland's outpost of the popular West Coast culinary school, Hipcooks. Nearby, Hopworks Bikebar draws a regular crowd of two-wheeling beer lovers.
28th and Burnside
Northeast claims it. So does Southeast. This highly popular "restaurant row" spans both quadrants, running about 10 blocks from Northeast Glisan to Southeast Stark streets. Bamboo Sushi and Ken's Artisan Pizza are favorites at the southern end of the strip. As you continue strolling north, watch for the exceptional Vino wine shop, Crema Bakery & Cafe and the art deco Laurelhurst Theater (which shows second-run movies and serves good beer and pizza). North of Burnside, Navarre and Tabla earn raves for Mediterranean-inspired Northwestern fare, and several other spots serve up everything from Cuban (Pambiche Cocina) to modern comfort food (City State Diner, Spints Ale House). And don't miss the artisan chocolates at Alma.
Additionally, the stretch of Burnside Street that bisects 28th also boasts several first-rate eateries. Consider the fine sandwiches and steak dinners at Laurelhurst Market, the astoundingly tasty fried chicken and waffles at the Screen Door, and the deftly presented regional contemporary cuisine served at June. The newest additions to the scene, Luce and Bar Vivant, are already getting rave reviews.
Hawthorne and Belmont
For several decades free-spirited Hawthorne, a 50-block spine of diverting shops, inexpensive ethnic restaurants, offbeat coffeehouses, and ambient lounges, has been Portland's hub of counter-culturalism. Hippies and hipsters work, live and play along Southeast Hawthorne Boulevard and the intersecting blocks, which contain dozens of handsomely restored Victorian and Arts and Crafts bungalows. Running parallel a few blocks north, Southeast Belmont Street has gradually developed a similar variety of both trendy and quirky places to eat, drink and shop.
Despite their old-school roots and vintage vibes, Hawthorne and Belmont remain surprisingly dynamic — some of the city's hottest bars and restaurants thrive in this area, including Nostrana, Pine State Biscuits (famed for its decadent Southern-style biscuit sandwiches) and Cheese Bar, one of the West Coast's most acclaimed artisan-cheese counters. Along Hawthorne, you can dine on ethereal contemporary food sourced locally at nationally acclaimed Castagna, stellar thin-crust pies at Apizza Scholls and fiery-delicious Sichuan cuisine at Lucky Strike. Both streets also have popular food-cart colonies, with Cartopia at 12th and Hawthorne and Good Food Here on Belmont at 43rd.
Hawthorne still has plenty of longtime institutions, including two outposts of Powell's Books (one general-interest, the other specializing in garden and cooking titles), the gloriously restored McMenamins Bagdad Theater and Pub, and the fine Italian wine, cheese and charcuterie shop, Pastaworks. Mid-century antiques, vintage music and irreverent gifts rank among the neighborhood's other top retail finds.
For great views of the downtown skyline, head to Mt. Tabor Park, which is set on and around a 630-foot extinct volcano, at the east end of Hawthorne Boulevard.
Just across the Willamette River from downtown, this nearly 700-acre business district blends the industrial-chic of the Pearl District with the grassroots hipster vibe of adjacent eastside neighborhoods like Hawthorne/Belmont, Division/Clinton, and East Burnside. Bounded by Burnside, Southeast 12th, Powell and the river, the once entirely industrial neighborhood has become a hotbed of tech and eco-related businesses, edgy art galleries, craft distilleries, indie shops and trendy restaurants. It's also home to one of the city's favorite family attractions, the Oregon Museum of Science and Industry (OMSI). And, as of September 2012, the neighborhood is linked to downtown, the Pearl District and Northwest Portland by the newest extension of the Portland Streetcar line.
The neighborhood's galleries open late for an art crawl the First Friday of each month, and on weekends one can tour the craft distillers that make up Distillery Row, including House Spirits (Aviation Gin) and Eastside Distilling (Burnside Bourbon).. Several restaurants and bars in the area draw kudos from foodies, including Beaker & Flask for cool cocktails and artful contemporary food, Biwa for exceptional Japanese fare, Olympic Provisions for exquisite charcuterie, and Bunk Sandwiches for some of the most creative meals ever conceived between two pieces of bread (the same owners run Bunk Bar, a hip night spot nearby).
Until about a decade ago, the span of East Burnside just across the river from Old Town (extending as far east as 12th Avenue) contained mostly light-industrial concerns and prosaic businesses. This eclectic strip has experienced a rebirth, however, beginning in 2004 with the transformation of an old Travelodge into a hip mid-century modern boutique property called the Jupiter Hotel, complete with a rocking music club, the Doug Fir Lounge.
Critically acclaimed restaurants have gradually joined the action, among them the much-lauded French bistro Le Pigeon, the sustainable-food-driven Farm Cafe, and elegant wine bar and bistro Noble Rot, whose top-floor setting affords great views of downtown. Bar-hoppers should drop by hipster favorite Rontoms and the raffish B Side Tavern. Several intriguing indie stores are housed in the building at 811 E. Burnside St., and shoppers should also visit nearby Lille Boutique for luxurious lingerie, Una for women's clothes and accessories, and Machus for men's and women's items.
This neighborhood just south of Hawthorne is similarly rich with Portland history and an up-and-coming food and bar scene. Southeast Division Street, from about 10th to about 50th avenues, contains a mix of both long-established and newer restaurants and shops, while just a block south, Clinton is mostly residential but for a hip little business district from about 20th to 25th avenues. You'll find history here, including the world's longest continuous run of "The Rocky Horror Picture Show" at Clinton Street Theater every Saturday night, and Langlitz Leathers on Division, where the motorcycle jacket was developed in 1947.
These days, many of the neighborhood's visitors come to eat and drink at such buzz-worthy spots as Pok Pok, Wafu, the Woodsman Tavern, and Bar Avignon on Division Street; and St. Jack, Broder and Compote on Clinton Street.