Visiting Portland, Oregon’s many great neighborhoods gives you an opportunity to experience firsthand all the things the city is known for – whether that’s beer, bookstores or bikes. After you’ve explored Portland’s downtown, Pearl District and Nob Hill neighborhoods, it’s time to cross the Willamette River and see how the locals live.
“The east side neighborhoods, from what I have seen and from watching episodes of ‘Portlandia,’ are really the true soul of Portland,” says Ryan Lettier, concierge at theKimpton Hotel Vintage Portland. “Downtown is pretty mainstream, and it has its own vibe and its own character. But when guests visit the east side neighborhoods, they really come back feeling they saw the soul of Portland and what the culture and people are like.”
Marcus Hibdon, director of communications and public relations for Travel Portland, the city’s tourism organization, says he thinks Mississippi Avenue, in the north part of Portland, is one of the best neighborhoods in the city right now. “It really shows what the east side of Portland is like: locally owned places, there’s great bars, restaurants, nightlife and shopping,” he says.
Begin your exploration of Mississippi Avenue on its south end – near where it intersects with Fremont Street – by browsing the store at the ReBuilding Center. The nonprofit group, which is celebrating its 20th year, diverts building materials like doors, windows, pink bathroom sinks and more, that may otherwise go to a landfill, and sells them at a discount.
Walking up the street, you can check out vintage and rare instruments at Black Book Guitars. Farther up the road is Pistils Nursery. Mississippi Avenue also offers many other options, from ice cream to live music. And at its northern terminus is Prost, where you can enjoy a German beer and sausage.
Alberta Arts District
The Alberta Arts District in northeast Portland is known for its funky, independent spirit, which is epitomized by its lively Last Thursday monthly street fair.
“Neighborhoods change every 20 minutes, it seems,” and that’s particularly apparent in the Alberta Arts District, says Andy L. Welsh, front office manager at Hotel deLuxe. “You can feel what it’s like to be in a Portland neighborhood there.”
Other places to explore in the neighborhood, centered on Northeast Alberta Street, include the Tin Shed Garden Cafe, whose menu features great carnivore, vegetarian and vegan options, and Mimosa Studios, where you can paint your own pottery. And a trip to Alberta Street wouldn’t be complete without a stop by Random Order Coffeehouse & Bakery for a homemade slice.
A visit to the Hawthorne neighborhood in southeast Portland should begin with a walk or drive through the historic Ladd’s Addition, which is Portland’s oldest planned residential development. Its homes are a rich mix of bungalow, Craftsman, Mission and other styles, set along narrow streets lined with mature American elm trees.
Back on SE Hawthorne Blvd., be sure to explore The Red Light Clothing Exchange, especially if you’re looking for pink sequin hot pants or a vintage flannel shirt. From there, you can hunt down a new book to read at Powell’s Books on Hawthorne. Or, if you’re feeling particularly adventurous, you can schedule an isolation float in one of Float On’s sensory deprivation tanks.
Not too far from Hawthorne is Division Street. “I think this is the best dining neighborhood in the city,” Hibdon says. “You’ll find everything from really exquisite Italian food at a restaurant called Ava Gene’s to what many people will tell you is the best Thai food in the country, a place called Pok Pok started by [chef] Andy Ricker more than 10 years ago, focusing on Thai, Vietnamese and other Southeast Asian-inspired street foods.”
The Central Eastside neighborhood is accessible from downtown hotels via one of the nearby bridges, such as the new Tilikum Crossing, Bridge of the People or the Portland Streetcar. It’s an older warehouse district that has been retrofitting and converting its old spaces for new uses. Wandering around the neighborhood, you’ll see craft distilleries, local favorite Le Bistro Montage and the Oregon Museum of Science and Industry.
“For people looking for something a little more quiet or homey, there’s the Sellwood-Moreland neighborhood of Portland,” Hibdon says. “It feels a little bit like you’re going back in time, maybe to Mayberry [where the ‘The Andy Griffith Show’ takes place], maybe ‘Leave It to Beaver.’ It’s an old main street spread over two neighborhoods almost entirely populated by locally owned shops and restaurants.”
The Sellwood-Moreland neighborhood is accessible on the new Orange Line light rail from downtown. It offers a real mix of activities, ranging from nature walks and bird watching at the Oaks Bottom Wildlife Refuge, bumper cars and roller coasters at Oaks Amusement Park, and painting at The Loaded Brush.
“It’s also home to one of my favorite bars, a place called Bible Club PDX, which is a speak-easy-style bar located in an old house,” Hibdon says. “There’s no sign on the door. You just have to look for the green light in the window and you will know Bible Club’s open.”