This urban sweet spot overflows with fun shops and creative cafés.
There's a dazzling little neighborhood centered on Portland's NW 23rd Avenue known variously as Nob Hill, the Alphabet District, or simply Northwest. The latter label seems the most apt, as this part-upscale, part-bohemian enclave could very well be the epicenter of Pacific Northwest panache.
It's also the perfect base for shopping, dining, and exploring Portland's best attractions. The city's sparkling downtown, artsy Pearl District, and famously vast Powell's City of Books, as well as the Oregon Zoo, Japanese Garden, and International Rose Test Garden, are minutes away on foot or public transit.
THIS OLD HOUSE
Stroll down the quieter residential streets, particularly 20th, to admire the exquisite exteriors of still-private homes. Some of the city's first craftsman homes are here, along with an 1892 Richardsonian castle.
This urban-forested, pedestrian-friendly district is defined most of all by shops and cafés carved out of elegant old homes. Restaurants such as Wildwood and Paley's Place head up what is surely the state's highest concentration of superb regional cuisine. Stores along 23rd (or "Trendy-third") and its restaurant-rich companion avenue, NW 21st, range from high-end boutiques such as Zelda's Shoe Bar (with footwear displayed like museum pieces on pedestals) to the funky Music Millennium, a countercultural record store with its own velvet-curtained performance space. Or perhaps you're more interested in African art, Italian ceramics, or elaborate kites shaped like mermaids and VW bugs. There's a specialty store for everyone, including Moreland House with its large selection of collectibles on a single theme: wiener dogs.
Still, indulgence may trump variety. The $2 truffles at Moonstruck Chocolate Co. can be found around the corner from an herbal body wrap at the three-story Dosha Salon Spa. Not far away is Caffé Mingo, where your wine and coffee come in one dish, the penne al sugo di carne (with beef braised in chianti and espresso). The bronzed salmon salad at Papa Haydn is surpassed only by the restaurant's list of 22 desserts, including the epic marjolaine: chocolate mousse and hazelnut-praline cream piped between layers of hazelnut meringue topped with crème fraîche and waves of French vanilla chocolate.
The Czech-made cars zip you downtown in 15 minutes for $1.30 and connect with MAX Light Rail for service to the airport. 238-7433, www.portlandstreetcar.org .
You can work off some calories in nearby Forest Park, a 5,000-acre evergreen wonderland with 74 miles of hiking, biking, and equestrian trails. As you wander, you might ponder which name you'd choose for the 'hood. Its oldest moniker, Nob Hill, was a nod to San Francisco's same-named, old-monied hump. Indeed, some of Portland's fattest cats dwell around here now, and esteemed city founders helped inspire the Alphabet District label. Glisan, Hoyt, Irving, Johnson—the surnames of early movers and shakers—all line up here in user-friendly alphabetical order on the east-west streets. Lovejoy and Pettygrove streets are named for the two men who flipped a coin to see which one would get the right to christen their new stomping grounds after his hometown: Boston, Mass., or Portland, Maine.
Outside, the streets are simple; it's inside the buildings that you'll get lost. At Vivace Coffee House & Crêperie, order at the counter, then ramble through two floors of nooks and crannies full of lumpy sofas, lace curtains, and board games. The New Renaissance Bookshop is packed with enough spiritual tomes, music, candles, jewelry, and crystals to prolong the Age of Aquarius indefinitely. And there's still room upstairs for the meditation chapel complete with a small fountain and fresh flowers. The coziest perch of all has to be at the Heron Haus bed-and-breakfast, a 1904 English Tudor mansion built by the first president of the Port of Portland. Roost in the top-floor suite with its view of the city, Mount Hood, and Mount St. Helens, and you might just decide to skip the neighborhood's nicknames and simply call it wonderful.
Photography by Bruce Forster
This article was first published in November 2004. Some facts may have aged gracelessly. Please call ahead to verify information.
Area code is 503. Pick up AAA's Oregon & Washington TourBook andPortland map. Call Portland's visitors association at (877) 678-5263 or visit www.pova.com .
SHOP TILL YOU DROP
Dazzle Everything bejeweled—from chandeliers to Christmas stockings. 704 NW 23rd Ave., 224-1294. Moreland House 826 NW 23rd Ave., 222-0197. Music Millennium 801 NW 23rd Ave., 248-0163. New Renaissance Bookshop 1338 NW 23rd Ave., 224-4929, www.newrenbooks.com . Paint the Sky Kites 828 NW 23rd Ave., 222-5096. Twist Works by international artists. 30 NW 23rd Place, 224-0334. Zelda's Shoe Bar 633 NW 23rd Ave., 226-0363.
Forest Park Nation's largest wilderness park within a city's boundaries. Washington Park Includes the Oregon Zoo, Rose Garden, Japanese Garden, tennis courts, playgrounds, and trails. 823-7529, www.washingtonparkpdx.org .
Northwest Bicycles Rentals cost $15 for a partial day, $25 overnight. 916 NW 21st Ave., 248-9142.
Cinema 21 Independent and classic films presented nightly. 616 NW 21st Ave., 223-4515, www.cinema21.com . Mission Theater Movies, microbrews, and pub grub. 1624 NW Glisan St., 223-4527, www.mcmenamins.com .
Moonstruck Chocolate Co. Elegant truffles and sumptuous bars. 526 NW 23rd Ave., 542-3400, www.moonstruckchocolate.com .
Dosha Salon Spa Body treatments for men and women. 2281 NW Glisan St., 228-8280, www.dosha.org .
Clear Creek Distillery Call for a tour appointment to see how they make pear-in-the-bottle eau-de-vie. 1430 NW 23rd Ave., 248-9470, www.clearcreekdistillery.com . Jo Bar & Rotisserie Try the pear-ginger martini. 715 NW 23rd Ave., 222-0048. Tao of Tea International teas and tea cuisine. 2112 NW Hoyt St., 223-3563.
THE URGE TO SPLURGE
Caffé Mingo 807 NW 21st Ave., 226-4646. Paley's Place 1204 NW 21st Ave., 243-2403. Papa Haydn 701 NW 23rd Ave., 228-7317. Wildwood 1221 NW 21st Ave., 248-9663.
Muu-Muu's Great cheap eats during happy hour, 3 p.m. to 6 p.m. 612 NW 21st Ave., 223-8169. Vivace Coffee House & Creperie 2287 NW Petty-grove St., 228-3667.
Besaw's Café Try Cousin Maurice's Eggs with Brie, scallions, and tomato. 2301 NW Savier St., 228-2619. Cameo Café West Pancakes by the acre. 2340 NW Westover Rd., 221-6542, www.cameocafe.com .
Heron Haus $95–$350. 2545 NW Westover Rd., 274-1846, www.heronhaus.com . Inn@Northrup Station $99–$299. Jazzy all-suites hotel. 2025 NW Northrup, 224-0543, (800) 224-1180, www.northrupstation.com .