Portland, OR Neighborhoods & Towns
Portland lies just south of the Washington state border at the meeting of the Willamette and Columbia rivers. The city's organized layout and accessible public transportation make it one of the most user-friendly cities in the United States. Portland's tourist website has a helpful series of neighborhood maps that list cultural sites and routes to and from public transportation.
Portland consists of five geographical sections: North (N), Northeast (NE), Southeast (SE), Southwest (SW) and Northwest (NW). Streets are named according to their section (i.e. NW 23 Ave). In the Northwest you'll find Forest Park, one of the largest forested parks in the country, and an excellent park for hiking or jogging. The nearby Tryon Creek State Park, just five miles south of the city, also provides relaxing outdoor activities.
Portland's downtown lies in the center of the city's grid, primarily in the SW section just west of the Willamette River. Most of the city's commercial and high-rise properties stand in the downtown area. Downtown sites of interest include Pioneer Courthouse Square, a 40,000-square-foot public square known as "Portland's living room." The square is home to several public art exhibits throughout the year and dozens of free spring and summer concerts. The Tom McCall Waterfront Park, on the banks of the Willamette, hosts numerous events, including the annual Oregon Brewers' Festival, the Gay/Lesbian Pride Festival and the Bite of Oregon culinary festival. The downtown area is also home to the Portland Art Museum and the Oregon Historical Society. Just north of Portland's downtown area is the University of Portland, which also sits along the river.
Chinatown, Old Town and the Pearl District
Portland's Chinatown is in the NW district, as is the Old Town Historic District, which has transformed from an area of seedy back alleys to a prime nightlife locale. This area is home to the city's vibrant gay and lesbian scene. West of Chinatown in NW is the trendy, upscale Pearl District, where you'll find many of the city's art galleries. On the first Thursday of every month, according to Portland's tourist website, all of the Pearl District's galleries stay open late "amidst a street party atmosphere." The Pearl District is also home to Powell's City of Books, a Portland landmark.
Immediately west of the Pearl District is the similarly trendy Nob Hill neighborhood, a dense area of old-style Victorian homes and new condominiums. NW 21st and NW 23rd streets brim with expensive boutiques, shops and restaurants and have been dubbed "trendyfirst" and "trendy-third" or just "uptown."
The Lloyd District, just east of the Willamette and mainly in NE Portland, is primarily a commercial region. Attractions include the Lloyd Center Mall, the Oregon Convention Center and the Rose Garden Arena, home to the NBA's Portland Trail Blazers. Also in the NE district is the popular arts district on Alberta Street, which hosts events like Last Thursday (in response to Pearl District's First Thursdays event), in which galleries are open late on the last Thursday of each month.
If you're planning on traveling outside the city, you won't be disappointed by the area's natural wonders. Visible from the city (on clear days) are peaks of three mountainous volcanoes: Mount Saint Helens, Mount Tabor and Mount Hood, all of which have parks and recreational sites. Many of the nearby mountains serve as great slopes for skiers, travel writers say. The Portland area is also a hotspot for wine aficionados. Portland's tourism website provides information on the area vineyards and wineries that host daily wine tastings.
The popular and hip Hawthorne District lies in southeast Portland. It has a rich history of attracting bohemians, hippies, members of the LGBT community and, most recently, young hipsters fresh out of college. The neighborhood is exceedingly pedestrian-friendly, and is packed with excellent pubs and eateries.
Remain cautious when traveling through Downtown, Old Town, The Pearl, 82nd Avenue and Sandy Blvd. at night. During the day the city and its tourist centers remain very safe relative to other large cities. Still, you should take mind and guard your belongings on subways and other public transport. Getting around the city on a bicycle is definitely worthwhile, but be sure to wear a helmet.