Portland is a city of neighborhoods, each with its own distinct personality. But taken together, they make up the quirky charm that is Portland.
Generally speaking, Portland is divided roughly on a grid with two main dividing lines – Burnside St. divides North and South, and the Willamette River divides East and West. The East side of the river retains the grid system for quite a distance from the river, making street addresses really easy to find. For instance – trying to figure out where 1629 SE Hawthorne is? That’s easy – it’s near the corner of 16th and SE Hawthorne. (This trick gets harder to use when you’re trying to figure out where someplace like 5320 NE 33rd is – unless you happen to know which street is 53 away from Burnside.) The West side of the river is less attached to the grid system once you get out of the downtown area and NW Portland, but anywhere with a grid it’s easy to find your way around – once you understand the system.
In addition to the major neighborhoods in Portland, there are sub-neighborhoods which are also commonly known around town. Some of them are listed here, too.
Portland’s downtown area, on the West side of the Willamette River, is compact and easily walkable (especially the main shopping and dining areas). You may notice that the city blocks seem smaller than average city blocks, and you’d be right. More corners meant more expensive corner office real estate! There are lots of one-way streets in downtown Portland, which can make it a challenge to navigate if you’re driving and aren’t sure where you’re going. When walking, however, they’re not a problem at all. SW Portland, of which downtown is a major part, stretches up into the West Hills (full of mansions and windy roads).
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Part of NW Portland often gets lumped in with downtown because of proximity, but because it lies on the other side of Burnside it’s technically in NW and not SW Portland. The areas which are easily accessible from downtown are Chinatown, Old Town and The Pearl District, each with its own character. Going further northwest of downtown puts you in the neighborhood locals traditionally are referring to when they say “NW Portland” – the area around NW 23rd and 21st Avenues. While the Pearl is a newer upscale development, NW 23rd and 21st are old upscale. That small area is known primarily for its fun and often funky (though still usually high-end) assortment of shops, restaurants and bars – as well as a distinct lack of parking. It’s well worth a visit, just be sure to ditch the car downtown and take the tram.
NE Portland has been working its way from being partly sketchy to mostly fantastic over the last several years. Whereas some parts of NE Portland used to be places where locals (at least those who didn’t live in the area) didn’t want to go, most of NE Portland has become a desirable place to live. The Laurelhurst area has long been full of old money and old mansions. More and more restaurants and businesses moving into NE Portland are continuing the upward trend, and the area is also home to many Portland artists.
Neighborhoods in Northeast with their own page:
- Eliot – Great place to eat, drink and walk around, in close-in Northeast.
SE Portland has long been the most hippie-centric neighborhood of what is a left-leaning city – there’s an area in SE that’s affectionately known as the “People’s Republic” – although prices have risen enough in recent years to drive many long-time residents into NE. SE Portland includes Mt. Tabor Park, the park on the city’s own little distinct volcano. Hawthorne Blvd. is the traditional center of the area’s bohemian culture. The area known as Ladd’s Addition doesn’t follow the grid system of the rest of the East side, so it’s easy to get turned around in there. If you get out as far as SE 82nd., you’re likely to find lots of used car lots and Asian markets.
North Portland refers to the area that the Willamette River would run through if it didn’t take a left turn after leaving downtown. It’s becoming more developed as people leave NE Portland (as the prices go up) and settle in North Portland to fix up the lovely old homes and beautify the neighborhoods. Some notable sub-neighborhoods are just streets along which there is a heavy concentration of shops or restaurants – like Albina or Mississippi.