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Visiting Northwest Portland A Newcomer’s Guide

Visiting Northwest Portland: A Newcomer’s Guide

Portland has something for everyone’s lifestyle, and Northwest Portland is the embodiment of that dream. Living in this city district puts you right in the middle of some truly fantastic bars, restaurants, and shops. 

But, if you’re new to the area, take a minute or two to read about our favorite things to do and see in the Northwest!

A Brief History of Northwest Portland

Most Portlanders refer to the Northwest as Nob Hill or The Alphabet District because the streets in the area run alphabetically from Burnside to Thurman. 

Northwest Portland consists of the Pearl District, the majority of Old Town Chinatown, the Northwest District, and a variety of residential and industrial neighborhoods. 

Since the late 1800s, the area has been a popular destination for wealthy residents, restaurants, and shopping.

When Portland’s population exploded after the Lewis and Clark Exposition in 1905, the neighborhood began to add more multifamily housing units, signaling the beginning of the area’s flourishing. 

However, the area fell into disrepair during WWII, until the city experienced a revival in the 1970s. The area was then appealing to investors, conservators, and young people. 

Many of the vacant commercial buildings on NW 21st and 23rd Avenues began to attract businesses, and these structures are now occupied by restaurants, national chains, and boutiques.

The Northwest Portland Food Scene

With so many restaurants, cafes, and bars in this district, it’s no surprise that Northwest Portland has a thriving food scene. After all, many award-winning chefs showcase their culinary skills in this cozy neighborhood. 

There are numerous options available to you, but there is something for everyone. If you’re taking a day trip from the other side of the river, consider this your Northwest Portland dining guide.

1. Restaurants and Cafes

Restaurants and Cafes

The Northwest’s heavily trafficked streets are lined with both fancy and local restaurants. In fact, they are among the best in the country and frequently use fresh ingredients provided by local farmers. 

You don’t want to miss out on this experience, so check out our recommended restaurants if you’re in the area.

The Best Restaurants and Cafes in Northwest Portland

  • Ringside (2165 W Burnside St, Portland, OR 97210) – Ringside is the best place in the Northwest to get dry-aged steaks in a classic steakhouse setting. They’ve been in business for 70 years, so you can expect an old-school menu with bacon-wrapped scallops and wedge salad. They also have one of the best wine lists in town.
  • The Dragonfly Coffee House (2387 NW Thurman St, Portland, OR 97210) – If you want something other than a pastry with your coffee, go to Dragonfly Coffeehouse. Their establishment is cozy and low-key, with plush seating. If you’re looking for something to do on a rainy day, go to this coffee shop and indulge in your favorite coffee while reading books from their adorable library.
  • Kung Pow! (500 NW 21st Ave, Portland, OR 97209) – It’s difficult to find good Chinese in Portland, but when it comes to flavor and spices, Kung Pow in the Northwest delivers. Try some of their best-selling fried foods. Its whimsical cocktail menu is a delicious and inventive take on the Chinese zodiac.
  • Restaurant St. Jack (1610 NW 23rd Ave, Portland, OR 97210) – St Jack, with its upscale atmosphere, screams “nice night out.” The menu focuses on French flavors, specifically Lyonnaise, and the bar and dining room are separated, allowing the party people to do their thing while serene, romantic dinners take place just steps away. This restaurant serves one of the best chicken liver mousses in town.
  • Escape From New York Pizza (622 NW 23rd Ave, Portland, OR 97210) – The pizza in this place makes you feel both hungry and nostalgic, especially if you’re in the mood for a slice in the traditional New York fashion. Escape was the first restaurant in Portland to serve pizza by the slice, and they’ve been doing so since 1983. The tiny outpost is a living shrine of customer mementos, all of which are pasted to the wall.

2. Clubs and Bars

Clubs and Bars

The nightlife in the Northwest’s streets is thriving in the same way that the food scene is. As a result, there are numerous clubs and bars to choose from. 

Almost every neighborhood in town has one. So, if you want to experience a happy hour in the Northwest, take a look at what we have in store for you.

The Best Clubs and Bars in Northwest Portland

  • Kells Brew Pub (210 NW 21st Ave, Portland, OR 97209) – Kells Brew Pub in Northwest Portland produces Irish-style beers using local ingredients. The whiskey and bourbon selections here are meticulously curated. There are seasonal classic cocktails that are enjoyable. For lunch, dinner, and weekend brunch, the kitchen prepares traditional Irish dishes as well as local favorites.
  • McMenamins Tavern & Pool (1716 NW 23rd Ave, Portland, OR 97210) – Since 1983, this establishment has served its own handcrafted beer, wine, cider, spirits, and coffee alongside good, honest pub fare. Locations rich in art, history, and a sense of place range from neighborhood pubs to historic hotels where live music and history talks are the norm, and soaking pools, movie theaters, and other fun reigns supreme.
  • Breakside Brewery (1570 NW 22nd Ave, Portland, OR 97210) – This one-of-a-kind neighborhood brewpub offers a full-service restaurant on two levels as well as a large selection (16 taps) of Breakside craft beers. Breakside Northwest has been rated as one of the best Portland breweries in the area since its inception. 
  • North 45 Pub (517 NW 21st Ave, Portland, OR 97209) – From 4:00 PM to 6:00 OM North 45 Pub offers a daily happy hour. They serve over 150 bottles of the finest bourbons, ryes, Irish, and Scotch whiskies available. North 45 also has a rotating wine list and a large selection of delectable Belgian beers. Every week on their patio, you can look forward to a DJ Night. 
  • Muse Winebar ( 2264 NW Raleigh St, Portland, OR 97210) – Muse provides an intimate setting in which you can linger, reflect, and enjoy well-crafted wine at a reasonable price, featuring small artisanal producers, off-the-beaten-path appellations, and unusual or rare flavors. To complement your glass, this wine bar offers a refined selection of tempting bites of cheese, charcuterie, and other tastes.

Shopping in Northwest Portland

Northwest 21st and 23rd Avenues are full of nice and eclectic retail businesses. There are many trendy shopping spots, particularly along NW 23rd Avenue, which are ideal for tourists and visitors looking for something to do in their spare time.

1. Local Shopping Markets

Local Shopping Markets

Nothing beats shopping for locally produced products in your neighborhood. For Northwest Portland residents, there are few local shopping places that bring pride to their community. 

We’ve rounded up the best for you!

The Best Local Shopping Markets in Northwest Portland

  • The Meadow (805 NW 23rd Ave, Portland, OR 97210) – The Meadow’s Northwest store has the largest selection of chocolate bars, with approximately 400 available. During the warmer summer months, the store attracts a large number of hungry travelers and curious tourists. Take note that their entire back wall is made of quartz-colored pink Himalayan salt slabs. Remember to look into that when you finally visit the store.
  • Tender Loving Empire (525 NW 23rd Ave, Portland, OR 97210) – This is a handmade goods boutique as well as a record label that supports and facilitates the work of hundreds of local artists. Tender Loving Empire is totally a go-to for NW 23rd gift shops, with a wide selection of jewelry, housewares, cards, and prints.
  • Aylee & Co. (1408 NW 23rd Ave, Portland, OR 97210) – If you’re looking for a local boutique while visiting 23rd Avenue, Aylee & Co. is a must-stop. Aylee Cody, a local designer/metalsmith, has created an exclusive line of handmade jewelry. All of the jewelry here is handcrafted, and the prices are very reasonable (ranging from around $100 to $1,000+)

2. Boutiques and High-End Stores

Boutiques and High-End Stores

You can also rely on some of the shops, even the local ones, in the Northwest Portland area when looking for branded goods. There are even stores that sell everything from men’s and women’s clothing to accessories.

The Best Boutiques and High-End Stores in Northwest Portland

  • Altitude (1202 NW 17th Ave, Portland, OR 97209) – Altitude is a locally owned boutique that sells men’s and women’s lifestyle fashion brands such as Ray Ban, Smith, Bugatchi, Rodd & Gunn, Ben Sherman, Free People, Prana, Johnny Was, Mystree, North Drinkware, and more. The store has a bar made of wood from the original Mt Hood Meadows Yellow Chair lift, with rotating taps and wine by the glass. 
  • Garnish (404 NW 12th Ave, Portland, OR 97209) – Garnish is a boutique that specializes in contemporary jewelry and modern women’s fashions. Despite being made locally, each item is limited edition and handcrafted in Portland. Personal stylist appointments are also available at no cost.
  • Monique’s Boutique (429 NW 10th Ave, Portland OR 97209) – Monique’s Boutique on 10th Avenue NW is a great place to go if you like beautiful European-style clothing. It’s an independently owned women’s clothing boutique that sells a wide range of contemporary mix-and-match apparel and accessories, including hats, at reasonable prices. Monique’s carries unique brands, which is why the majority of the residents enjoy shopping there.

Northwest Portland Leisure and Recreation

Northwest Portland is charming and distinct in its own right. For a variety of reasons, this area has long been one of Portland’s most desirable neighborhoods. 

One obvious reason is the abundance of leisure and fun activities available there, whether it’s a sunny or rainy day, ideal for outdoor and indoor activities.

1. Outdoor Adventure

Outdoor Adventure

When it comes to outdoor activities, the Northwest of Portland can definitely deliver. Well, this district is home to Portland’s history as well as extensive green space. As a result, there are numerous tourist attractions.

The Best Outdoor Activities to Do in Northwest Portland

  • Swift watching – Head to Chapman Elementary School in Northwest Portland during the month of September to see an incredible sight. Thousands of Vaux’s Swifts gather overhead one hour before sunset to roost for the night. It has become a popular activity at Chapman, with over 2,000 people gathering on many evenings to watch these aerial acrobats. Please keep in mind that street parking is difficult to come by during Swift Watch.
  • Explore Washington Park – The best thing about living in Northwest Portland is its proximity to Washington Park, Portland’s signature park. It features a zoo, two museums, a spectacular rose garden, and one of the most authentic Japanese gardens in the world, all bordered by Forest Park. 
  • Go for a hike – Hiking is an essential part of the Northwest Portland experience. There are numerous hiking loops in the Northwest, including the Hoyt Arboretum Loop, the Marquam Nature Park Loop, Newton Road to Newberry Road, the Pittock Mansion Hike, the Tolinda-Ridge Trail, and many more. Make sure you have all of the necessary hiking tips.
  • Take a stroll around the neighborhood – Outdoor enthusiasts will never be bored in Northwest Portland. Take a walk around the neighborhood if you find yourself with nothing to do at an unexpected time. After all, the Northwest is full of nice, well-kept old houses as well as a slew of apartment buildings that are all so charming to walk through. There are also food carts everywhere, so you won’t go hungry.

2. Indoor Fun

Indoor Fun

Obviously, the district also provides enjoyable activities for those who are the total opposite of outdoor junkies. Not fond of the activities under the sun? We’ve got your back.

The Best Indoor Activities to Do in Northwest Portland

  • Plan a visit to Pittock Mansion (3229 NW Pittock Drive, Portland, OR 97210) – Visit the Pittock Mansion to learn about the fascinating success story of early Portland moguls Henry and Georgiana Pittock, who were instrumental in the city’s development. There, you can learn about Portland’s history through the lives of one of its most influential families, as well as the pioneer spirit that drove the city’s transformation from “stumptown” to a modern, industrial city. The mansion hosts rotating historical exhibits that feature art, artifacts, photographs, and more.
  • Take a tour at the neighborhood’s weirdest museum – The Freakybuttrue Peculiarium (2234 NW Thurman St, Portland, Oregon) is definitely weird and worth at least 30 minutes of entertainment if you’re looking for weird things to do in NW Portland. It is Portland’s epicenter for one-of-a-kind art, books, comics, gifts, urban legends, fascinating history, interactive exhibits, events, and an unforgettable experience.
  • Watch a movie at Cinema 21 (616 NW 21st Ave, Portland, OR 97209) – This independently owned and operated art cinema shows American independent, foreign language, documentary, and classic films. The Cinema 21 Theater also hosts some of Portland’s major film events, including the Portland International Film Festival and the Portland Queer Film Festival, making it indispensable to the city’s film culture.
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