Portland, Oregon, has a diverse population of 2.3 million citizens, and the city’s accepting culture is driven by a primarily young population that is liberal, well-educated, and adventurous. The city’s neighborhoods are held together by a common bond to “keep Portland weird,” but they do maintain their own unique personality.
According to U.S. News and World Report, Portland is the 6th best place to live in the United States, and there are numerous reasons why this is the case. The metropolitan region is very accommodating for children with great schools and numerous family-friendly outdoor and indoor activities available. Besides an ample supply of playgrounds, there are state and national parks within driving distance of the city that offer camping, hiking, skiing and snowboarding, ocean beaches for swimming and surfing, and lakes and rivers for water sports like boating, canoeing, and kayaking.
It is a breeze to get around Portland to explore the neighborhoods. Most of Portland can be traveled without a car. There are ample bike lanes and bikers are given respect on the roads as they are a built-in part of the culture. Portland also boasts an efficient mass transit system that uses five light rail lines, 80 bus lines, and a commuter rail to connect downtown, outlying neighborhoods, the Portland International Airport, and the metro community of Beaverton to Wilsonville. Although, 80 percent of Portland folks still travel by car.
People from Portland like to get outside in any one of the area’s four distinct seasons because the weather is darn good most of the year. The summers are sunny and dry, and winters rarely fall to freezing conditions. In the rare event that snow falls, it disappears within hours. The summers see a high of 81 degrees with lows around 58, and in the winter it stays between 35 and 50 degrees. From October to mid-spring rain is common with a peak towards the end of December.
In addition to comfortable weather, Portland is a foodie’s paradise, from artisanal bakeries to farmers markets to renowned food trucks and carts, the city caters to every type of diet through a plethora of locally-owned shops. Typically, the city’s restaurants and carts approach the craft of food preparation in an environmentally-friendly way; the food is fresh, and is often organic and sourced regionally, whenever possible. As we explore the Portland neighborhoods, let us start with food and see where it goes.
The Pearl District, Hawthorne District, and Belmont Area in Portland
The Pearl District is the place to live if you are into high-end cuisine. Along with great food, the area, which was formally a warehouse district, is full of trendy shops, and art galleries. You can grab upscale Latin American plates at Andina or get a gourmet burger and a beer flight at Deschutes Brewery & Public House. Pearl is the most hyped area in Portland. It is mostly urban, and provides a home to some skyscrapers, the Art Institute of Portland, and Powell’s City of Books.
In the Hawthorne District, you will find casual, independent shops for coffee, used clothes, and great food. Coffee connoisseurs will have fun visiting Coava Coffee Roasters, The Fresh Pot, and Oui Presse.
Southeast Portland, which is the home of Hawthorne District, offers up the city’s original bohemian community, which is now home to innovative boutiques, bicycle corridors, and new condominiums that give the area a highbrow feel. Once a bastion for counterculture and affordable housing, it is now one of the most expensive places to live in the city. Still, you will find many laidback hippies, hipsters, and Generation X entrepreneurs.
If food trucks are your thing, you will want to roost in the Belmont area and visit the “Good Food Here” pod where you will find carts that offer authentic Norwegian or Hawaiian food, and Fifty Licks ice cream. Belmont also has great pizza and pasta at Nostrana, and a spot called Slappy Cakes, where you can make your own pancakes.
Clinton, Richmond, and downtown Portland
The areas of Clinton and Richmond offer the Portland locals a variety of hole-in-the-wall spots like Yoko’s, which offers Japanese food, and Savoy Tavern where one can fill up on Midwest-inspired comfort food. You can also pick up some fresh baked goods, deserts, and coffee at Pix Patisserie.
Living in downtown Portland offers the most authentic and best food in the city. Food cart clusters are sprinkled throughout the downtown area, offering all kinds of delicious options like German and Indian fare. Furthermore, there is a giant farmer’s market for 10 months out of the year called Portland Saturday Market.
In the middle of “hodgepodge” Southwest Portland, the downtown area brings you everything from Washington Park, the Oregon Zoo, and Portland State University mixed amongst strip clubs and upscale retailers like Nordstrom and Saks Fifth Avenue. There is also a plethora of salons and spas, the Portland Center for the Performing Arts, and Pioneer Courthouse Square, a 40,000-square foot public space known as “Portland’s living room.”
Forest Park in Portland
The suburban parks inside Portland and the abundance of natural habitat that surround the city make the area ripe for adventure. In fact, Portland’s has the 8th biggest park in the United States, Forest Park, at 5,172 acres, and the city also has the world’s smallest park, Mill Ends Park, which is a mere 452 square INCHES.
If you want to live near Forest Park, you will find yourself in the Tualatin Mountain, which is west of downtown Portland. The park provides a refuge for both wildlife and people and is an integral part of the Portland environment. It is mostly second-growth forest with some patches of old growth and about 70 miles of recreational trails. The park is a part of a regional network of natural areas and trails managed by the Oregon regional government called Metro.
The Eastbank Esplanade in Portland
For a good view of Mill Ends Park, the tiniest park on the planet, you will need to live near the median strip of SW Naito Parkway approaching the Eastbank Esplanade along the Willamette River. The Esplanade is a 1.5 mile paved pedestrian and bicycle path that also includes a boat dock and a canoe launch. There is a 1,200-foot floating section, which is the longest of its kind in the United States, and it gives the sensation of walking on water.
The Esplanade extends north from the Hawthorne Bridge past the Morison and Burnside Bridges to the Steel Bridge with connections to the eastside neighborhoods and across the Willamette to McCall Waterfront Park. The Eastbank Esplanade is a demonstration project for improved fish and wildlife habitat areas and riverbank restoration. There is also public art along the route that includes four pieces of modern sculpture by a group of local artists called RIGGA. The Esplanade gives great views of the downtown areas as it runs through the Kerns, Buckman, and Hosford-Abernathy neighborhoods.
Kerns, Buckman, and Hosford-Abernathy Neighborhoods in Portland
The Kerns neighborhood is an urban area and is considered the heart of East Portland. It is one of the first developed neighborhoods on the east side of town; therefore, it has older homes that are large and provide an historic charm. Some of the homes have been converted to small apartments. Along with older homes, the neighborhood has a mix of both commercial building and residential apartments and condominiums.
There are great restaurants and cool shopping spots in the neighborhood, which is inhabited by young singles and students, who want to live close to downtown, as well as families and professionals. You can catch a movie at Laurelhurst Theater or visit a collection of some of the best bars and restaurants in town, along with a number of microbreweries. For families, there are several nice schools and parks in the neighborhood. Everything one needs to survive is within walking distance.
The Buckman neighborhood is a classic Portland neighborhood that is filled with charm and personality. The houses are a mix of classic Portland homes in craftsman and Victorian styles. There are no high-rise or art deco houses in this neighborhood, but you will find a collection of funky restaurants and other businesses, along with their eclectic customers. It is home to two unique shipping areas, the Belmont and Hawthorne District, where you will find boutiques, coffee shops, and bars, late night restaurants, and microbreweries.
The neighborhood is a mostly older community of people, who have been around for years, and young couples just starting out with few families. The neighborhood is home to the highly-regarded Buckman Arts Magnet Elementary School, and Buckman Elementary. There is also the Colonel Summer Park and Buchman Community Garden.
In general, Portland is a great place for vegetarians and vegans because the city caters to the veggie crowd, and Buckman is home to a vegan strip mall that includes a vegan bakery and Food Fight Vegan Grocery.
The Hosford-Abernathy neighborhood mixes old charm with trendy restaurants, coffee shops, and bakeries. Since it is near Willamette River, there is a bit of industrial grunge with warehouses and other commercial buildings, and it is still a bit shabby when you move into the residential area, but it is an all-together endearing neigborhood.
One section of the neighborhood called Ladd’s Addition is a crop of older homes built between 1905 and 1930. The spot is Portland’s oldest planned residential development and is designated as an historic district by the National Register of Historic Places. Ladd’s Addition has a diagonal street grid with a circular park in the center around a traffic circle. The home architecture is diverse yet distinctive with lush streets pouring over with old elm trees, and lined with shrubs and rose bushes.
Southeast Clinton Street in the neighborhood has a charming strip of eateries like Fifty Licks, Off the Waffle, and Broder Café, and unique and locally-owned shops like Clinton Street Record and Stereo, and The English Department.
The Best Portland Neighborhoods in the North
North Portland or “NoPo” is Portland’s final frontier for gentrification. A rejuvenation of the area has pushed it from working-class residential neighborhoods and dusty industrial complexes to what is now hip boutiques, bars, and restaurants that were put together by savvy entrepreneurs.
In particular, the flagship neighborhood “Mississippi” went through a monumental makeover known as the “Mississippi Miracle.” In the neighborhood, you will still find blue-collar types and elderly minorities, but as gentrification goes, there is also a mix of young entrepreneurs and professionals, artists, and hip single folks. The condos, and Craftsman and Victorian homes are the typical housing that you will find in the neighborhood, which gets its name from North Mississippi Avenue.
In Northwest Portland, you will find the Nob Hill neighborhood, which is also called the Alphabet District. Nob Hill is a neighborhood with restored Victorian and Craftsman homes on narrow streets, with a commingling of new lofts, condos, and apartments. Within walking distance, residents find numerous bars, boutiques, salons, and cafes. The neighborhood is home to young to middle-aged renters, some couples, but mostly singles. There is little diversity as the residents are mostly white.
Northeast Portland’s flagship neighborhood is Alberta-Concordia. This part of town is the most diverse, and includes Portland’s largest black community, Little Vietnam, counterculture types, artists, and young couples without children. In Alberta-Concordia, itself, residents live in renovated cottage and bungalow homes. The streets are alive with people on walks, bicycles, and buses, with unique restaurants, shops, and bars all around.
Portland is a mix of playful and wild. Locals are friendly, laid back, and welcoming, and maintain a healthy work ethic while staying independently self-expressive. The neighborhoods are as diverse as its residents, and you really can’t go wrong when living and playing in any part of the city.
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