Portland is hands down one of my favorite US cities to visit. I’ve been there four times to date, even spent a month ‘living’ there, and can’t wait for my next trip back. There’s just so much to do, see, and eat! Sure, you can say the same for any other major US city, but Portland has a vibe that can’t be duplicated anywhere else. People flock to Portland, for their incredibly diverse foodie scene and creative culture. Not to mention, the number of green spaces and nature on the outskirts of the city—where else could you drive 20 minutes out of the city and be surrounded by top-notch waterfalls and lush greenery? Let’s face it, Portland is a must-visit kind of city.
Let’s talk about the best Portland neighborhoods to visit now. There are so many pockets of uniqueness in this city, with each neighborhood possessing its own charm and personality. Limited on time and wondering which Portland neighborhoods are the best ones to visit? In this post, I’m sharing 8 of my favorite Portland neighborhoods that will satisfy first-timers and return visitors alike. Read on to discover my favorite things to do in these Portland neighborhoods!
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BEST PORTLAND NEIGHBORHOODS TO VISIT: OVERVIEW
Downtown Portland / Old Town Chinatown is compact, super walkable, and brimming with things to do. You’ll have access to the riverfront where you can soak in amazing views of the Willamette River and all the bridges that connect the city. Chances are if you’re visiting Portland, Oregon for the first time, this is where you’ll start off to find your bearings.
In addition to the Downtown Portland area, I would recommend seven other unique neighborhoods in Portland to visit:
- Mississippi Avenue: a down-to-earth, funky and edgy neighborhood filled with music, art, shopping, and an awesome food cart pod
- Alberta Arts District: boasts some of the most avant-garde arts and community elements in Portland, featuring art galleries, murals, shops, great little cafes, and bars
- South East Burnside: this is where the nightlife is, where a good concentration of brewpubs and bars are
- Pearl District: where the warehouse district’s past meets the future
- NW 23rd Avenue: Portland’s best-known shopping street with both independent shops and national chains
- Hawthorne Blvd / Belmont: the counterculture capital of Portland, host to a cool blend of vintage and independent boutique shops, cafes, restaurants, and bars (often compared to the Haight-Ashbury neighborhood of San Francisco, CA)
- SE Division Street: vibrant and modern neighborhood, features block after block of must-see and must-eat destinations
DOWNTOWN / OLD TOWN CHINATOWN
Portland’s compact, walkable downtown offers easy access to great food, green spaces, cultural offerings, and tax-free shopping. If you’re looking for brand names, Downtown is the place for you. There are also bookstores, gift stores, boutiques, vintage, and thrift shops as well.
THINGS TO DO IN DOWNTOWN PORTLAND
Alder Street Food Pod | The largest downtown collection of Portland’s famed food carts is located between Southwest Alder and Washington Street, from Southwest Ninth to Southwest Tenth avenues. There are literally 4 blocks, lined with food trucks of various cuisines, forming a huge square. Most carts are open extended lunch hours on weekday afternoons.
Portland Saturday Market | Operating since 1974, the Portland Saturday Market is the largest continually operating outdoor arts and crafts market in the nation. Shop and eat to your heart’s content, and then stroll by the waterfront afterward. If it’s a nice and sunny day, this is the perfect place to sit on the grass, soak up the sun, maybe have a picnic, and watch all the bikes, scooters, and people drift on by. If you pass by the “elephant ear” food stand, try one! It’s basically a huge slab of fried dough dipped in cinnamon sugar.
Pioneer Courthouse Square | There’s always something going on here, as it’s the most-visited spot in town. It hosts ~ 300 events each year, including a farmers’ market on summer Mondays, free concerts, movies, and a grand holiday tree-lighting party. Before you head to Portland, check out what events are taking place, you might find something cool.
Free Walking Tour | If you like learning about the history and culture of your travel destinations, try a tip-based walking tour. Get to know more about the quirkiness of Portland as well as the history of the city. The Secrets of Portlandia free walking tour starts in Downtown.
Powell’s City of Books | A book lover’s paradise & the largest used and new bookstore in the world! Open 365 days a year. Occupying an entire city block, the City stocks more than a million new and used books. Be sure to go to the top floor and visit the rare book area.
Blue Star Donuts / Voodoo Donuts | I would personally recommend Blue Star because their donuts have more complex flavors, but of course, because Voodoo Donuts is iconic, I’ve included it here as well. I’ll admit, the donuts at Voodoo definitely are cute.
Tax-Free Shopping in Downtown | If you’re here for the tax-free shopping benefits, come to this neighborhood to do your shopping. Downtown has the Apple store and the Nike Store, as well as lots of national retailers, outdoor brands, indie boutiques, and other cool specialty stores. If you’re into thrifting/reuse fashion, there’s a Buffalo Exchange here that’s a lot of fun to browse around (you never know what you’re going to find).
Pine Street Market | Food hall with tons of good dining options, as well as a Salt & Straw location. Open from early morning to late night every day, Pine Street makes for a great lunch stop for visitors staying in downtown hotels, exploring the Portland Saturday Market, or waiting in line for Voodoo Doughnut or Stumptown Coffee.
Portland City Grill | Super cool spot on the 30th Floor of the Bancorp Tower. They have a delicious happy hour menu, great ambiance, great views of the city, and a live piano player situated smack dab in the center of the room with bar seating all around it. It’s the whole package: lunch/dinner, a free show, and the views. Just tell the security guard downstairs you’re heading to the restaurant and take the elevator up to the 30th floor.
See The Cherry Blossoms Bloom | If you’re lucky enough to be in Portland during cherry blossom blooming season (mid-March to early-April), head to Tom McCall Waterfront Park, located next to the Willamette River. From there, go towards the Steel Bridge. Even if nothing is blossoming, it’s still a relaxing place to be. The riverside park is a very popular spot to get your physical activity on–you’ll see lots of people jogging, walking, rollerskating, skateboarding and cycling. You can also get a great view of the boats on the river, making it a good spot to have a picnic lunch.
Ground Kontrol | A Portland staple! Who can say no to an arcade bar with all the classics such as pinball, Pacman, Paperboy, Soul Caliber, and Tekken as well as more modern arcade games! For those of you who like dancing— yes, there is a Dance Dance Revolution machine there. This is actually in Old Town Chinatown but it’s walkable from downtown.
Lan Su Chinese Garden | An authentic Ming Dynasty style garden built by Suzhou artisans, Lan Su Chinese Garden offers a peaceful escape in Portland’s historic Chinatown district.
Farmers Market at PSU | Every Saturday, from 8:30 am–2 pm, downtown’s South Park Blocks transform into the city’s largest open air grocery market. The Portland Farmers Market at Portland State University features 140 farmer and vendor stands, making it a great place to browse and buy local produce, flowers, and natural products. With the many food booths that surround the market, it’s also a great place to grab a bite to eat for lunch.
Love Belizean | If you’re a sucker for Caribbean food like I am, then you will have found your pot of gold with Love Belizean. The lovely couple who own the place serve up amazingly tender stews, curries, meat plates & other Caribbean offerings. It’s hands down one of my new favorite places to get a plate of comforting stewed chicken.
NOLA Doughnuts | Want a reminder of what those heavenly treats at New Orleans’ Cafe Du Monde taste like? Get the fluffy beignets here!
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ALBERTA ARTS DISTRICT
The Alberta Arts District in northeast Portland is known for its funky, independent vibe. It’s not so much weird, it’s more so artsy and hip here. With its long stretch of galleries, restaurants, bars, and boutiques, Alberta Street is the center of ‘hip’ and definitely worth checking out.
Once a month, the diverse neighborhood puts on a lively street fair called Last Thursday, which is a spinoff of the Pearl district’s “First Thursday” event. Musicians, performers, and local artists line Alberta Street displaying their talents and goods while tons of artwork is showcased in and around surrounding galleries, bars, and restaurants. If you’re ever in Portland on a Thursday, this is an event not to be missed!
THINGS TO DO IN THE ALBERTA ARTS DISTRICT
Check Out Street Art | Alberta is a long street, so if you’re on the hunt for street art and murals but crunched on time, start your walk from Tin Shed Garden Café and head towards Pine State Biscuits to Clary Sage Herbarium (0.7 miles). During this walk, you will see a lot of creative artwork on the walls. The best thing is, they’re always changing so you never know what you’re going to see.
Pine State Biscuits | Biscuits and gravy, highly rated, highly comforting. Need I say more? If you’re wondering what to get, The Reggie (fried chicken, bacon & cheese topped with gravy) and The Reggie Deluxe (The Reggie with an egg) are both to die for.
Tin Shed Garden Cafe | Go to The Tin Shed for breakfast or brunch, but be prepared to wait a while unless you get there early! This place is super popular but worth getting up early for. You can enjoy a cup of coffee in the garden area while you wait. Great people-watching spot too!
Bollywood Theater | Tapas style / Street Food Indian restaurant. Very different fare from your average American Indian restaurant. Try the bhel puri and kati rolls. The paneer kafti rolls are noted to be a flavor rush. This is a great option for lunch or dinner, but go early (5 pm) or late (after 8) to avoid the rush.
Grilled Cheese Grill | A food cart where you can eat your fancy grilled cheese sandwich on a converted double-decker bus. How awesome is that…
Salt & Straw | After eating your brunch/lunch/dinner, head on over for some truly delicious ice cream. Salt & Straw spotlights fresh, local ingredients in handcrafted, small-batch ice cream. They’ve got pretty creative flavors, such as pear with bleu cheese, Strawberry Honey Balsamic with Black Pepper, and honey lavender. If you’re not into all that, don’t worry, they have normal flavors that pack a punch as well. If you’re lost, just follow the aroma of the waffle cone wafting through the air.
Random Order Pie Bar | If there’s still enough room in your belly and you’re in the mood for pie, this is the joint to hit up. Coconut cream pie with a sweet and spicy chai. Tahitian Vanilla-Sugar Salted Caramel Apple pie, á la mode, with an Oregon cherry old-fashioned. Yes, yes, yes. This low-key stop along NE Alberta Street is great pitstop.
Great Notion Brewing | You’re in Portland, so you’ll need to speckle some beer stops into your daily itinerary. If you’re in the Alberta District, check out Great Notion Brewing, located next to Pine State Biscuits. They’re known for their iconic Blueberry Muffin Sour beer. Known for their innovative sours, stouts, and IPAs, they’ve expediently staked their claim in Portland’s robust craft beer scene. In addition to beer, they’ve got a full menu of quality pub food.
Local Tip: If you have a big group of friends and are looking for a place to eat that doesn’t have hours of wait time, breweries are a great option due to their ample and casual seating indoors/outdoors.
Stroll and explore | Allocate some time to walk and browse; take in what the neighborhood has to offer. There are so many unique shops on this street, ranging from independent craft shops to shoe stores, and gift/stationary stores to sticker shops. That’s what so great about Portland, the walkability and discoverability of the neighborhoods is at an all-time high. My favorite shop in the Alberta Arts District is Clary Sage Herbarium, a small intricately decorated shop selling various oils, herbs, and natural remedies (so quintessentially Portland, perfect for browsing).
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Technically a part of Kerns, East Burnside street is so packed with excellent bars, shopping and restaurants that I’m going to refer to it as its own destination. East Burnside’s centrality makes it a hub of eclectics. Its crowd is a mix of skaters from Burnside Skatepark, fashionably hip people browsing through the area’s many vintage shops, foodies from across the country, and lively bar hoppers enjoying a night out.
THINGS TO DO IN SOUTHEAST BURNSIDE
Screen Door | Southern food, great drinks, and an easygoing atmosphere. This place is extremely popular, so be prepared for a long wait if you don’t get there as soon as the doors open. You’ve been warned! I waited over an hour the last time I was there. Another strategy is to go for a late dinner, after 8pm.
Laurelhurst Theater | This charming cinema offers $4 second-run movies. Enjoy some Pizzicato pizza and local beer while you watch good flicks. After the movie, take a stroll down foodie row stretching north and south of East Burnside.
Fifty Licks | Fifty Licks is by far the best ice cream I’ve had in my life–like, ever. In my opinion, it’s a million times better than Salt & Straw. I’m smiling thinking about it now… They’ve got uncommon yet delicious flavors like Thai Rice, Mango Sticky Rice, Cornbread with Honey Butter, Mochi Green Tea, French Toast, and Banana Pudding. The Banana Pudding and Green Tea Mochi flavors are my all-time favorites there. They have other locations throughout Portland as well.
Doug Fir Lounge | Doug Fir is the place to catch current headliners in the indie music scene. They have a constant music line up worth checking out. Have a drink in the upstairs restaurant/bar and then check out the show in the cave-like live venue space in the basement. Such an architecturally cool place.
Rontoms | Walk in during happy hour between May and October, and pretty much every social demographic under age 40 is gathered on the back patio. A good place to begin your bar crawl!
Voicebox Karaoke | End your bar crawl night breaking out into song. Located in the historic Buckman neighborhood in Southeast Portland, Voicebox Karaoke offers private karaoke suites, a full bar, and an awesome food menu.
Base Camp Brewing | Base Camp Brewing is a great place to try some new beers as you tour SE Portland. The spacious indoor/outdoor spaces are decorated to feel like a cabin/campsite lodge, with tables sporting topographical map tops and rope bound chairs. Visitors and first-timers should definitely try their ubiquitous S’mores Stout.
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NORTH MISSISSIPPI AVENUE
More shopping, coffee, and bars! Smoked chicken sandwiches, fancy brunch, cult coffee shops, etc. You’ll never go hungry when you’re in the North Williams and Mississippi Ave neighborhood—the area boasts everything from high-end options to down-to-earth street carts—additionally, you’ve got your mini-chains like Blue Star Donuts, Little Big Burger, and Ruby Jewel Ice Cream here. Make sure you have room in your belly before heading over!
THINGS TO DO ON NORTH MISSISSIPPI AVENUE
Gravy | Go here for brunch, but make sure you get there early! Known for their sausage gravy, platter-size hash browns, and the overwhelmingly huge portions. You’ll probably want to share with a friend as you enjoy bottomless mugs of Cellar Door Coffee. Insider tip: Wednesdays and Thursdays are slowest if you can squeeze in a midweek meal.
Mississippi Studios and Bar | A local favorite for live music venues in Portland, also with a very notable beer garden. Sit inside or out in their large covered outdoor space with a fire pit. They show silent black and white horror films in the evening in their massive outdoor area. The attached bar, Barr Bar, is tons of fun too.
Interurban | Mustache-twirling gents and mounted antelope heads keep the spirit of 1910 alive. Sample pre-Prohibition–style cocktails alongside hand-dipped corn dogs. They also have amazing food on weekend mornings.
Prost! | Co-located with a great group of food carts. Great German beer on tap, plus they allow you to bring in food from the carts just outside their doorstep! Spacious outdoor seating. Sounds like a good night.
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THE PEARL DISTRICT
Loading docks and cobblestone streets hint at this former warehouse district’s past, while stylish bars and gleaming lofts point toward the future. Pearl District has a lovely mix of restaurants, design stores, art galleries, retail stores and more.
THINGS TO DO IN THE PEARL DISTRICT
“First Thursdays” | A monthly night where the art galleries stay open late, people dress up and go drink wine and check out the latest art. Walk from gallery to gallery to view all of the new art exhibits.
Andina Restaurant | “Novoperuvian” cuisine in the Pearl District. I ate there a few years ago for a friend’s birthday dinner and oh, was it amazing. If you’re looking for a change of pace from food pods and food cart meals, Andina is a great option.
Deschutes Brewery Portland Public House | Deschutes is one of those renowned breweries in all of Oregon. If you’re beer tasting in the Pearl District, Deschutes is a great place to start. Good beer and good food! They have multiple locations throughout Oregon (in Roanoke, OR, Bend, OR and even the PDX airport).
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NW 23RD AVENUE (NOB HILL)
NW 23rd was up and coming a few years ago, but this street is now officially known as Portland’s best-known shopping street. National chains have taken over much of the south end of the street, but continue your stroll and you’ll find there are still many locally-owned boutiques to visit. Start at 23rd and Glisan and work your way north to see all that this neighborhood has to offer. If you’re done, head over to NW Slabtown where you’ll find mid-rise condos, apartment buildings, among lots of up-and-coming restaurants and bars. (While walking around NW Portland, I’m sure you’ll be fantasizing about living here–I know we were.)
THINGS TO DO IN NW 23RD (NOB HILL)
Go Shopping | Walk around and shop for national brands as well as independent brands. Here, you’ll find quirky gift shops as well as independently owned stores selling shoes, sustainably made clothing, home decor, rugs, jewelry, and beer/wine.
Breakside Brewery | Breakside Brewery is a few blocks away from 23rd in the NW Slabtown district. If you’re limited on time or have a beer consumption limit, add Breakside to the top of your list. Not only do they have great beers (Breakside IPA and Wanderlust IPA are iconic), they have delicious brew bites too.
Carioca Bowls | Hot summer day in PDX? Head to Carioca Bowls and cool off with one of their beautiful and delicious acai bowls! Aside from acai bowls, they also sell pao de queijo (cheese bread), avocado toast, and a vegan version of the bean stew feijoada.
Will Leather Goods | Founded in Eugene in 2007, this leather accessories company has grown exponentially. They now have stores in Oregon, California, New York, San Francisco and Detroit. Let the rich smell of leather hit you as you walk in! There is an espresso bar and a patio out back that allows shoppers to take their time browsing leather products with an afternoon pick-me-up in hand.
International Rose Test Garden | I cannot say enough good things about this iconic rose garden in Portland. The rose garden is one of the most massive, free-admission flower gardens I’ve ever laid eyes on. It’s truly a sight to see and a must-visit when you’re on the west side of Portland. The International Rose Test Garden, located in Washington Park, is 2 miles away from NW 23rd. You can take the bus or grab a Biketown bike to get here.
Eclectic is the norm here on Hawthorne Boulevard in Southeast Portland. Hawthorne Blvd is a super walkable street with block after block of vintage shops, independent boutiques, restaurants, coffee shops, and things to do. I spent a month living right off of Hawthorne Blvd, and I never got tired of walking down this street. There are seriously so many shopping, drinking and eating options!
THINGS TO DO IN HAWTHORNE
Vintage Shopping | Hawthorne is the first place you should go if you’re looking for vintage clothing or antique home goods. Notable vintage/consignment shops include House of Vintage, Focus Group, Buffalo Exchange, Crossroads Trading Co, Lounge Lizard, Magpie, and Red Light Clothing Exchange. Just with these shops alone, you’re sure to find yourself buried in hours of shopping once you begin.
Bagdad Theater and Pub | This theater venue features fun Moorish architecture and is a great place to catch a movie after dinner. This is a view-and-brew-style venue, meaning you get to enjoy first-run features while drinking craft beer and munching on pub fare. After the show, play pool behind the screen at the Backstage Bar or visit the adjoining Bagdad Pub.
Seven Virtues Coffee | Awesome local spot to grab a cup of handcrafted coffee. Their bags of ground coffee make for great gifts to bring back home.
Coava Coffee Roasters | Another popular coffee roaster. There are multiple locations, so you know it’s good.
Farmhouse Thai | Portland might have the country’s second best Thai food scene after Los Angeles. Farmhouse Thai might not be as popular as Pok Pok, but trust me, the food here is better. If you’re expecting traditional Thai food, this is not what you will get. Everything is presented beautifully and has so much flavor. Try the slow braised short ribs and the crab fried rice.
Khao Moo Dang | Has anyone heard of Thai brunch up until now? (Us neither.) Well, that’s what this restaurant is known for, and oh boy have we been missing out all our lives. Khao Moo Dang is the neighborhood’s Thai style pork, crispy pork belly, rice and noodle joint. Excellent comfort food!
Apizza Scholls | Hands down my favorite NY-style pizza spot in all of Portland. The crust is pure perfection and the toppings are as flavorful as can be. They sell full-sized pies only, but don’t let that deter you–you will finish the pizza because of how delicious it is.
Hawthorne Asylum | Yes, this is another great food pod you must check out if you’re in the area.
SE DIVISION ST
Portland’s newest restaurant row, Division Street, is where locals and tourists alike come together to enjoy the shops, restaurants, and friendly neighborhood vibe. Out of all the happening Portland neighborhoods, SE Division is the one where we would actually choose to live. The neighborhood was so clean, green, and inviting! Not to mention, it’s one of the most bike-friendly areas of the entire city. The variety of shops, cafes, and bakeries is enough to keep you here for hours.
Stroll and Shop | Take a stroll down Division Street to check out what all the independent shops are selling. There’s a good variety of shopping to be done here, including stationery shops, clothing stores, record stores, tea shops, and more.
Tight Tacos | Okay, they certainly don’t beat tacos straight from Mexico or California, but the tacos and burritos at Tight Tacos are pretty darn good. They serve authentic Mexican street tacos using handmade tortillas and flavorful marinated meat. The al pastor burrito is super jam-packed with meat, perfect for hungrier travelers looking to refuel.
Lauretta Jean’s | Pie a la mode after dinner? Check. The pies at Lauretta Jean’s feature the most flakey, buttery crust known to man. So, so good.
St. Honore Boulangerie | St. Honore is a neighborhood bakery and cafe featuring handcrafted French breads and pastries, as well as sandwiches, salads, and soups. If you can get your hands on the kouign aman and the raisin roll, do it without hesitation! I’m always on the hunt for good french bakeries that transport me back to Paris, and this one delightfully did the job.
Little Beast Brewing Beer Garden | Amazing farmhouse style ales located on Division Street in Portland! This cozy brewhouse is literally located in an old cottage home. The beer tastes great, the atmosphere is warm and casual, and their beer garden, which spans from the front yard all the way to the back of the property, is shaded by trees, provides coverage from the elements, and allows dogs! It’s the perfect way to spend a late afternoon on Division.
Artifact | I discovered Artifact on my most recent trip to Portland, and it immediately became my favorite buy/sell/trade shop. Artifact sells both fashionable used clothing as well as stylish used furniture. They tend to have more vintage styles like a lot of the traditional vintage shops on Hawthorne but at a fraction of the cost. The affordability of the items sold here still blows my mind!
Olympia Provisions SE | Ah, good old American charcuterie. If you’re in need of a mid-afternoon snack, head to Olympia Provisions in Southeast Division for some charcuterie and a cheese! They have a wide range of cheese/meat boards available throughout the day, along with great sandwiches like their beef tongue pastrami reuben. They have a large outdoor patio for dining as well.
And that concludes this list of best Portland neighborhoods to visit! What are some of your favorite things to do and neighborhoods to visit in Portland?
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