Portland’s orderly structure of four geographically-determined neighborhoods separated nicely by Burnside and the Willamette River gets completely shoved to the side when you talk about North Portland. Apparently no one told the Willamette it had a job to do, separating districts evenly, so instead of proceeding in a northerly direction, it takes a turn to the northwest just about where Burnside crosses it. North Portland, therefore, is the district between the Willamette River to the west and Williams Ave. to the east. Its northern border is the Columbia River.
For the most part, navigating on the east side of the Willamette is relatively simple – the numbers on the numbered streets go up the further away from the river you get. In North Portland, however, the numbers get bigger as you get closer to the Willamette. As long as you remember that, you should be able to get around okay. Of course, much of North Portland is residential, so you may have no reason to spend time in the area, anyway. The following parts of North Portland are the areas you may hear mentioned or want to visit:
- Albina & Mississippi Avenues – Mississippi is actually very close to Alberta St. in Northeast Portland, and the two streets together form the center of a nice arts community. Many local artists and musicians live around here, including some who are well-known nationally. It’s a mainly residential area, but Mississippi Avenue itself has a fun collection of restaurants and shops. Nearby Albina also has some interesting places to eat and browse.
- St. Johns – This area is in far North Portland, near where the two rivers meet, and is almost like its own small town as opposed to being part of Portland. Much of the neighborhood is industrial, full of warehouses and cargo facilities, but conversely St. Johns is also home to lots of parks and green spaces. Despite the name, the St. Johns Bridge does not actually touch the St. Johns neighborhood.
- Portland International Raceway – PIR, as it’s commonly known locally, is in North Portland on the west side of I-5 in what’s called the Delta Park area. It hosts an annual Champ Car race each summer, but there are events going on throughout the year as well. There’s a MAX Light Rail stop just under a mile away from PIR, so it’s relatively easy to get to – which is good, because during popular events parking and driving to and from the track can be a pain. You can find out about events happening at PIR here. The track is built on the site of the former public housing city of Vanport, which was destroyed by a flood in 1948 and never rebuilt.
- University of Portland – This is a private Catholic school, most recently well-known for the successes of its womens soccer team. It’s near the St. Johns neighborhood.