North Portland is a part of town that confuses many newcomers. So, you have your Northeast and your Northwest to go along with your Southeast and your Southwest. One could assume that would cover everything, but that isn’t always case when exploring through the looking glass of Portlandia. North Portland wedges itself into the city limits between Northeast and the Willamette River, and like that land through the looking glass, it is like no place you’ve ever seen.
North Portland is best known for St. Johns, a little town square in the farthest reaches of NoPo. St. Johns has a lively history, as it was one of the first main burgs along the Willamette, each one competing to be the main hub of the growing region. The city of Portland won out and annexed St. Johns in 1915, but the separatist mood still survives in this far-flung outpost of PDX. You can get to St. Johns by going as far west on Lombard Avenue as possible, or by crossing the beautiful St. Johns Bridge from NW Portland. Even though it is remote, St. Johns has its own movie theatres, a McMenamins outpost, a food cart pod, and farmer’s market. Once you get there, you may never need to leave.
Another popular drag in NoPo is Kenton, aligned along N. Denver Street. Kenton is best known for the giant statue of Paul Bunyan (Woof!) welcoming visitors from the north. Once a company town for a meat packing company, the neighborhood is now full of charming local boutiques, stores, bars and restaurants. (On a personal note, I must add that the DMV location near Kenton is staffed by the nicest DMV employees you will ever want to meet!)
North Portland has long been popular with the LGBT population of Portland. Its alternative flavor has welcomed and provided safe harbor for those not interested in the downtown scene. While there are no strictly queer nightspots or watering holes, both the Mock Crest Tavern and the Foggy Notion are uber-queer-friendly. Plus, the Q Center and The Eagle are not too far away.
There is a lot to do and explore in North Portland, as well. There is a plethora of parks, from Cathedral Park under the St. John’s Bridge to the tree-filled Columbia Park to the big, rambling Pier Park, with its skate park and disc golf course, making it popular with the students of nearby University of Portland. To the north of North Portland (yes, there is even more further north!), you will find the Expo Center, the Portland Raceway and several golf courses.
Architecture in North Portland is a unique mix of older bungalows and what many people call “skinny houses.” The Portland “skinny house” sprouted up especially strong in the NoPo neighborhoods, where developers could use streamlined building plans that were already approved by the city permit office and build two normal-sized homes on one standard-sized lot. While the homes can feel cramped, they are quite spacious inside and many were built recently following green eco-standards.
So, if you haven’t explored North Portland yet, make the time to head on out and explore this very unique and fabulous part of Portland history.