Where to Stay in Portland, Oregon

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Updated: March 17, 2022

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Where to Stay in Portland, OR

Portland remains one of America’s hippest cities, boasting a dynamic culinary scene, some of the best craft breweries and coffee shops in the world, booming arts, indie cinemas that serve alcohol, and an alternative, outdoorsy culture. Though there are no major showstoppers in terms of sights, its colorful inhabitants (lampooned in hit TV show Portlandia), cafés and farmers’ markets, festivals, and eclectic neighborhoods make for an enticing trip.

The city is divided into 6 “quadrants”, with the Willamette River further dividing the center in 2, north to south. The Downtown core lies between the river’s west bank and the I-405 freeway, featuring the key museums, shops, and most of the hotels. Just to the north and along the river, Old Town Chinatown is the city’s most historic quarter, with a smattering of sights and some of the best restaurants, shopping, and nightlife. To the west, the Pearl District and adjacent Nob Hill are primarily residential districts with strong arts, culinary, and shopping scenes. On the other side of the river, the Eastside neighborhoods are some of the most interesting, brimming with innovative restaurants and indie stores.

It’s relatively easy to explore the city center on foot, and the rest of the city is well-served by public transport – there’s no need to drive.

Tri-Met handles public transport in Portland. MAX Light Rail zips between downtown and several east-west neighborhoods (and the airport). Portland Streetcar loops around Downtown, Nob Hill, the Pearl District, and the Eastside.
• Portland boasts an extensive network of bike paths and lanes. The city bike share program is operated by Lyft’s Biketown.
Portland International Airport is 13 miles northeast of downtown, accessible via the MAX Red Line light rail (40 minutes).

Best Places to Stay in Portland, OR

Best Neighborhoods in Portland for…

  • Best Neighborhood to Stay for First Timers/Sightseeing: Downtown
    Though it lacks some of the character of Portland’s outer neighborhoods, given its excellent transport connections, downtown is a sensible jumping-off point for exploring the city. It’s also home to Portland’s biggest museums – the art and history museums – as well as central Pioneer Courthouse Square, landscaped riverside parks, and a host of shopping and eating options. The attractions of Pearl District and Old Town Chinatown are just short strolls away.

    • Downtown has the best choice of accommodations overall – over 35 hotels in all price ranges.

  • Most Romantic Neighborhood: Nob Hill
    Just northwest of Downtown, Nob Hill is one of our favorite Portland neighborhoods. Its tree-lined streets feature beautiful Victorian houses and some of the city’s best bars and restaurants clustered primarily along NW 21st and NW 23rd avenues. The Fireside is one of the coziest places for a date, specializing in contemporary Pacific Northwest cuisine, while Italian restaurant Caffe Mingo and French restaurant St. Jack offer romantic Old World vibes. Luscious desserts are served up at Papa Haydn, a local cult favorite. Best of all, the neighborhood is a short walk from tranquil Washington Park with its miles of trails and especially romantic Rose and Japanese gardens.
  • Best Neighborhood for Nightlife: Old Town Chinatown/Central Eastside
    Portland’s traditional entertainment district lies within Old Town Chinatown, featuring everything from live DJs and cocktails to microbreweries and dive bars. The blocks between W Burnside St, Everett St, Second Ave, and Fourth Ave are closed to traffic Friday and Saturday nights after 10pm. Highlights include Fuse Bar, the old-school games at Ground Kontrol Classic Arcade, the rock ‘n roll vibes at Dixie Tavern, and LGBTQ hotspot CC Slaughters Nightclub and Lounge. Something of a Portland tradition, the drag revue at Darcelle XV Showplace has been going strong since 1967. There’s also live jazz at Wilf’s in historic Union Station and lots of laughs at Kickstand Comedy.

    Central Eastside offers a more contemporary scene, with spots like hipster biker bar White Owl Social Club, craft beers at Cascade Brewing Barrel House, live bands at Revolution Hall, and top performers at Helium Comedy Club. We also like Pips & Bounce, where drinks and cocktails are paired with 10 ping-pong tables. Finally, spirit aficionados should explore “Distillery Row”, home to the city’s burgeoning craft distillery movement, led by New Deal Distillery.

  • Best Neighborhood for Food and Restaurants: Central Eastside
    The birthplace of influential food critic James Beard, Portland has become one of America’s foodie hotspots, with a mix of locally-inspired northwest cuisine and high-quality international restaurants. You’ll find great places to eat all over the city, especially in downtown, Pearl District, and Nob Hill, but Eastside is our pick for the city’s best new restaurants. Highlights on a very long list include the small plates and cocktails at Scotch Lodge, tropically-inspired Hey Love, Vietnamese Berlu Bakery, French restaurants Canard and Le Pigeon, Nong’s Khao Man Gai Thai food, and Delicious Donuts. We also love the modern American food at Clarklewis Restaurant near the river and Russian cuisine (and vodka) specialist Kachka.

    Equally impressive, the Central Eastside’s food carts are some of the best in the city: the Cartopia pod is open late (in Portland, food trucks are gathered together in food courts dubbed “pods”) and is known for its poutine and pizza.

  • Best Neighborhoods for Shopping: Downtown, Pearl District, and Lloyd Center
    With no sales tax (very unusual in the US), Portland is a justly popular place to shop. Downtown, especially around Pioneer Courthouse Square, is a good place to start, with a major Nordstrom department store and nearby Pioneer Place indoor mall packed with all the usual suspects from Apple to H&M, a food court, and a movie theater. Over in the West End district are more independent stores such as Wildfang (women’s fashion), Woonwinkel home and accessories store, and local hit Danner Boots. The flagship Nike Portland store is also here (Nike is headquartered in Portland).

    We also like the Pearl District, across Burnside Street to the northwest. It’s a walkable neighborhood of converted warehouses and red-brick buildings filled with major brands and indie stores. Powell’s City of Books is a Portland attraction in its own right, a vast, iconic emporium of books open since 1971. Garnish is especially good for women’s fashion and local designers. Pick up bargains at Recycled Chic Boutique or peruse quality merino wool clothing at New Zealand-based Icebreaker. U.S. Outdoor has been supplying adventurers since 1957, while Portland is also the US headquarters of Dr. Martens and its ever-trendy boots.

    It’s also worth considering a trip out to Lloyd Center Mall, one of Portland’s largest shopping centers (2 miles northeast of Downtown). Inside are over 150 stores, a 10-screen movie theater, and an indoor ice rink. Nearby is the excellent Broadway Books and an outpost of Kitchen Kaboodle homeware store. Elmer’s Flag and Banner is crammed with flags, kites, and all sorts of quirky Portland souvenirs.

    • Lloyd Center is an easy streetcar ride from Downtown, but there are some good hotels here, if you want to avoid the city center bustle: Courtyard Downtown/Convention Center, Crowne Plaza, and Hotel Eastlund. There are also lots of cheapish motels on Grand Avenue, though quality is mixed.

  • Best Neighborhoods for Local Vibe: Hawthorne and Belmont
    Over in the eastside of the city, visit Hawthorne (anchored by SE Hawthorne Boulevard) to get a taste of Portland’s free-spirited counter-culture. There’s not much in the way of sights, but it’s a fun neighborhood to explore, peppered with attractive Victorian and Arts and Crafts bungalows and hip places to eat and drink. Standouts include the Moorish-style Bagdad Theater & Pub, open since 1927, and now an outpost of the McMenamin brothers brewing empire. Further west, the CineMagic movie theater dates back to 1914, and still shows new releases and golden oldies, while stores such as Excalibur Comics, Tender Loving Empire (records), North St. Bags, and Communion (clothing) add color.

    Six blocks north of Hawthorne, Belmont Avenue is another historic corridor worth strolling, lined with indie boutiques and diners.

    • There’s not much in the away of accommodation on Hawthorne (beyond apartment rentals), though you’ll find a cluster of attractive B&Bs in Richmond to the south: Bluebird Guesthouse and Evermore Guesthouse are great choices if you’re aiming to live like a local.

  • Unsafe Areas of Portland
    Central Portland is generally quite safe, though the usual precautions should be taken at night. The riots of 2020 and 2021 in the wake of George Floyd’s murder made headlines, but things have largely calmed down since then. Though Portland did record its largest increase in homicides ever in 2021, that was from a relatively low base. East and north of Downtown Portland tend to post the highest crime rates, but most of the neighborhoods listed here should be fine, at least during the day (take care in Old Town Chinatown at night). Note that Portland has also had a major homeless problem for years, with thousands of minors on the streets at any given time.

The 6 Best Neighborhoods in Portland for Tourists

1. Downtown Portland

The business and commercial heart of the city, downtown lies on the western bank of the Willamette River. Anchored by the always lively Pioneer Courthouse Square and the Pioneer Place mall, this is where most of the city’s mainstream shopping outlets are located, along with its two biggest museums: Portland Art Museum and the Oregon Historical Society, which chronicles the history of the whole state. The riverfront itself is lined with landscaped parks and gardens, restaurants, and river cruise companies. This is also where the Rose Festival (May-June) and Oregon Brewers Festival take place.

Though there are plenty of places to eat and drink downtown, Portland’s outer neighborhoods offer a more innovative scene. On the other hand, downtown is home to Oregon Symphony Orchestra’s Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall and its iconic 65-foot-high “Portland” sign, and the historic Keller Auditorium, home stage of the Oregon Ballet Theatre. The comprehensive Portland Farmers Market boasts 3 seasonal downtown locations.

Staying downtown is all about convenience, with a huge range of accommodation and central access to the local transportation system. Culinary options are fairly limited, however, and you’ll need to explore the outer neighborhoods to really appreciate the city.

2. Old Town Chinatown

The slightly faded northwest corner of downtown is known as Old Town. The city was founded here in 1843 and today is best known for nightlife and iconic eats: Voodoo Doughnut and Stumptown Coffee Roasters are famed throughout the United States. On the riverside, the Portland Saturday Market is a place to pick up gifts and souvenirs. The area around and just south of the Burnside Bridge is where local drunks were once regularly kidnapped, or “shanghaied”, into maritime service – you can still tour a tiny portion of the “Shanghai Tunnels”.

Above Burnside Street and marked by an ornamental gate at Fourth Avenue, the neighborhood becomes Chinatown, once the second-largest Chinese community in the US. Today it’s also known for nightlife as well as a couple of worthwhile attractions: the traditional Lan Su Chinese Garden and Portland Chinatown Museum, offering a small but illuminating insight into what life was once like for the Chinese immigrant community. The nearby Japanese American Museum of Oregon charts the history of Portland’s once vibrant Japantown. There are some decent Chinese restaurants here as well as destination stores such as Floating World Comics, Index (sneaker consignment store), Cal Skate Skateboards, and Red Robe Tea House.

There’s not a lot of choice here in terms of hotels, but Hoxton and Society are both excellent. The neighborhood can be raucous at night, especially at weekends.

3. Pearl District

Just to the northwest of downtown, the Pearl District is a swiftly gentrifying neighborhood that comprises converted warehouses, hip boutiques, and some of the best restaurants in the city. It’s best known for the iconic Powell’s City of Books on its southern fringe, and there’s otherwise little in the way of sights – the cobblestone streets are ideal for aimless wandering, sprinkled with art galleries and cafés. Between April and October, First Thursday sees special events and galleries open late, while performing arts are well-represented year-round by Portland Center Stage at the Armory and Artists Repertory Theatre. Kids enjoy the splash fountains and totem poles at Jamison Square, while adults flock to Deschutes Brewery, one of the state’s best.

4. Central Eastside

Some of Portland’s most vibrant neighborhoods lie across the Willamette River from downtown, a blend of old industrial areas and residential districts known as Eastside. Visit Central Eastside for a taster; here you’ll find the best restaurants in the city, the attractive riverside Eastbank Esplanade, and a host of indie shops and boutiques. The biggest family-friendly attraction is the Oregon Museum of Science and Industry (OMSI), with its associated planetarium and USS Blueback, the US Navy’s last non-nuclear submarine. Kids also love the restored trains at the nearby Oregon Rail Heritage Center, while grown-up entertainment is provided by Distillery Row (5 local micro-distilleries) and the Helium Comedy Club.

5. Nob Hill/Northwest

Northwest Portland’s Nob Hill is a plush historic residential neighborhood, crammed with attractive Victorian and Craftsman-style homes. It’s another walkable district, best known for two strips of restaurants, bars, shops, and coffee shops on parallel 21st and 23rd avenues. Nob Hill lacks conventional sights, but Washington Park is nearby, laced with trails and some of Portland’s most popular attractions: Japanese Garden, International Rose Test Garden, Oregon Zoo, and in the hills nearby, Pittock Mansion, a grand home built in 1914 with sensational views across the city.

Nob Hill lacks much in the way of conventional hotel accommodation: there are a couple of hostels and some decent motels at the northern end of the neighborhood, otherwise apartments are the way to go. It’s well connected to downtown by public transport.

6. Alberta Arts District

Of Northeast Portland’s eclectic neighborhoods, Alberta Arts District (along NE Alberta Street) is our favorite and well worth a trip. The area became a primarily African-American district in the 1950s, before falling on hard times in the 1980s and 1990s. Sparked by local artist and activist Roslyn Hill, it’s gradually transformed into a laid-back community of clapboard homes, art studios, and coffee houses. You’ll see everything from large-scale mosaic sculptures to colorful murals here, as well as Black Heritage Markers between 11th and 24th avenues, commemorating the history of the African American community. Other highlights include the local outlet of ice cream specialist Salt & Straw, Mike Bennett’s whimsical “A to Zoo Family Lawn Museum” (a series of changing installations and large wooden cartoon cutouts), and live shows at the Alberta Rose Theater.

There are a couple of quirky but good accommodation options here which are well off the tourist trail. Bus #8 links the neighborhood (at Alberta and 15th) with downtown, but it’s relatively easy to park here if driving.

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