Parts of Northwest Portland are almost considered part of downtown, because the line between the two – Burnside Street – isn’t exactly like a major border crossing. Many of the neighborhoods within NW Portland are exceptionally popular with locals and tourists alike for their shopping and dining options. The more interesting neighborhoods are listed below.
The Pearl District is the most recently redeveloped neighborhood in NW, and has become a magnet for upscale shops as well as shoppers. To Portlanders who have lived in the city for any amount of time, this change is particularly interesting as the area that’s now called the Pearl District was once an industrial and warehouse district that was dicey at night and questionable during the day. These days, in addition to the trendy shops, the area is home to fine restaurants, art galleries and some of the most exclusive condos in the city. It has retained some of its industrial feel in terms of the exterior of the buildings, making it a charming neighborhood to wander as well as shop in. One of the long-time residents of what is now considered the Pearl, although it’s been there for years, is the famous Powell’s City of Books. Within the Pearl are a couple of public squares, including the popular Jamison Square with its pool-like fountain (very popular with little ones in hot weather).
Chinatown and Old Town are next to the river, just across Burnside Street from downtown. Parts of it are interesting and, as the name indicates, it’s historically important as the oldest part of the city of Portland – but much of it just feel rundown and not an area where you want to spend too much time. The Chinatown part is a major disappointment if you’re expecting something like San Francisco’s famous Chinatown, and there aren’t even many Chinese people living in the area anymore. The highlight of Chinatown these days is the lovely Classical Chinese Garden. It takes up only one small city block, but as soon as you enter you’ll feel transported.
Further to the West you’ll find what Portlanders mean when they say “Northwest” – the area around NW 21st and NW 23rd Avenues. This small neighborhood is crammed with interesting shops, bars and restaurants, and is notoriously difficult to park in. Do yourself a favor and take the Portland Streetcar up from downtown.
Finding your way around in NW Portland is made easier by the lettered streets, which are in alphabetical order. From Burnside, the next streets are Couch, Davis, Everett, Flanders, etc. Do note that “Couch” isn’t pronounced the way you’d think – it’s someone’s name, and is pronounced like “kooch.” Yes, really. Fans of “The Simpsons” may recognize several of the names from the popular show; the show’s creator, Matt Groening, is from Portland and has immortalized the city in several of his characters, including Ned Flanders, Reverend Lovejoy (the L street) and Mayor Quimby (the Q street).