Portland is made up of an extraordinarily diverse collection
of neighborhoods, each with its own identity. What unites them is the Willamette River—which
courses north through the city, laced by intricate bridges—a plethora of parks,
and gorgeous Mount Hood views. The city’s business core and Cultural
District are situated on the river’s southwest bank, flanked by Washington Park—home
to Oregon Zoo, the International Rose Test Garden and the Portland Japanese Garden—on rolling hills to the west. The northwest quadrant
is the setting for the city’s historic Old Town and Chinatown, the gorgeously renovated Pearl District and
sophisticated Nob Hill. The Northeast sector of the city holds the multicultural
Alberta Arts District. Southeast
Portland is the setting for
the bohemian Hawthorne and Belmont districts, as well as the recently named LoBu
(Lower Burnside) District, known for its nightlife.
South of Portland’s business district, massive elms shade one of the city’s best-loved spaces—the South Park Blocks, a 12-block-long ribbon of verdant lawn filled with public artworks. The city’s major cultural institutions reside alongside this leafy space, among them, the nationally renowned Portland Art Museum, the historic Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall, a theater complex (Antoinette Hatfield Hall of the Portland Center for the Performing Arts), the compact, fascinating Oregon Historical Society and the campus of Portland State University. On Saturdays, March through December, jewel-toned fruits and vegetables are on sale here at the city’s primary farmers market, one of the largest and best in the nation.
Portland is masterful at transforming industrial sites into beautiful, functional spaces. Historic brick buildings in the Pearl District that were once warehouses and factories are now filled with fetching shops and art galleries, dynamic restaurants and visionary housing. The mix of restored historic buildings, modern architecture and parks has turned the Pearl into one of the most desirable parts of town for visitors and residents alike. The district’s monthly First Thursday art gallery walk and Art in the Pearl, a Labor Day weekend festival, turn the Pearl into a lively party. This is also the home of Powell’s Books, the largest independent bookstore in the world.
The historic riverside district of Old Town is home to the city’s colorful Chinatown. Beneath the streets of both districts, underground tunnels were once used to “Shanghai” the unwary into servitude aboard ships. Today, Old Town is a thriving arts-and-entertainment district with one of the largest assemblage of cast iron buildings in the nation. This district is also home to the country’s largest open-air crafts market (the Saturday Market, now held Sundays, too), as well as one of the city’s most appealing cultural sites, the Lan Su Yuan, or “Garden of Awakening Flowers.”
Nob Hill is a smaller version of its namesake San Francisco neighborhood. Lush trees here overshadow beautifully restored “Painted Ladies”—Victorian houses—filled with elegant boutiques offering everything from fashion jewelry to Italian linens. In summer, Nob Hill bustles with sidewalk cafes, and the district is home to some of the city’s best restaurants and pubs. Many shoppers and diners choose a sweet finale at the city’s popular Moonstruck Chocolate Café.
Alberta Arts District
This exhilarating northeast Portland neighborhood thrives on a diverse mix of cultures. Along Northeast Alberta Street, between 12th and 31st avenues, the district blends Asian and Latin eateries, African-American galleries and homegrown arts studios. The district is also home to numerous hip boutiques and some of the city’s best restaurants. The Last Thursday Art Walk draws a crowd to Alberta’s galleries and studios, with street musicians and vendors boosting the lively atmosphere.