Living in Downtown Portland
Photo courtesy Travel Portland
Portland’s compact downtown area offers the cultural buffet of a much larger city. Museums, galleries, bars, restaurants, and shopping fill the streets with exciting options that draw throngs of visitors — and residents, too.
Living in Portland’s downtown area provides both convenient accessibility to the rest of the city and so much variety within its one square mile of concentration, you may never need (or want) to leave.
While Portland may not boast an architectural icon like Seattle’s Space Needle or the Empire State Building in New York City, there are plenty of quirky landmarks that make Portland’s downtown area both memorable and unique.
The “White Stag Sign”, named for its placement on the White Stag Building, looks over the downtown sky with incandescent bulbs forming the words, Portland, Oregon within the outline of the state. Take a walk over the Burnside Bridge to watch is sparkle at night.
The pepto-bismol pink boxes of Voodoo doughnuts can be spotted all over the city, but it’s the downtown location that can’t be missed. While residents will often argue that Blue Star is the better doughnut establishment, the Voodoo doughnut storefront, with its pink exterior and giant, twisted chandelier is a downtown icon in and of itself.
Powell’s, the world’s largest independent book store, takes up one whole block on Burnside Street — a major artery of traffic on the northern border of the downtown proper. You can get lost for hours amongst the stacks, or stop by and listen to a visiting writer speak.
Pioneer Square lies at the heart of downtown, as a place to gather and enjoy your meals from nearby food trucks and people watch as this central location bustles with city life. The 40,000 square feet of open space and steps are affectionately referred to as the city’s living room, for its comfortable, inviting nature.
These are just a few of the special spots that make downtown Portland memorable upon your first visit to the city, but locals have a chance to dig deeper and discover the variety of neighborhoods, the hidden gem establishments, and the impressive livability of Portland’s downtown area.
Bungalow style houses dominate much of Portland’s outer neighborhoods, but in the downtown portion of the city, apartment buildings are increasing in number and height. Central Portland is actually the only area in the state where developers can build up to 300 feet, and with the ever-increasing density of this city, more are taking advantage of that option.
Who’s moving to Downtown Portland?
Roughly 11,000 people call downtown Portland home. The median age of those residents is 38 and the average household net worth is $320,134 and 70% of those people are married.
Cities tend to draw younger, single professionals in general, so one might assume that the most metropolitan area of a given city would reflect that trend. That isn’t so in Portland, where the younger population gravitates to the outer neighborhoods, likely motivated by older houses that offer cheaper rent.
But the newness of many downtown Portland apartments is attracting a more settled, affluent crowd, including families. Some of the top high schools in the city are based in the downtown area, including Lincoln High School and Grant High School, which is an obvious draw for those with children. Additionally, there are plenty of kid-friendly and educational attractions to keep your younger ones busy on the weekends in downtown Portland, including the Oregon Historical Society, Portland Art Museum, Oregon Children’s Theater, and more.
Those who seek walkability and accessibility find downtown Portland particularly appealing. Walking is the transportation of choice with Portland’s 200 foot long blocks and a high concentration of amenities in one square mile. When you do need to reach the many other neighborhoods surrounding downtown, the streetcar, buses, and light rail will get you just about anywhere you need to go.
If you’re a foodie who wants plenty of options nearby, then downtown Portland will not disappoint. Portland is known for its abundance of food trucks. The Alder pod at SW 10th & Alder is one of the city’s largest, and its downtown location draws a rush of lunch-break workers from nearby office buildings. Luckily, there are plenty of trucks to thin out the crowd. Nong’s Khao Man Gai is a local favorite, serving up a chicken and rice dish that is simple and delicious.
Many businesses are based in downtown Portland. Those who work in the area are often drawn to the idea of living there, too. Portland is known for some sticky traffic situations, particularly during rush hour traffic. Living and working in downtown Portland allows you to avoid that completely, while enjoying the energy of the city as it wakes up to a new day.
All types of people are drawn to downtown Portland living, where culture thrives and eating options overwhelm. If the urban lifestyle is right for you, Portland’s accessible, compact, and friendly downtown area will fulfill your need without overwhelming your nerves. It’s a unique downtown that strikes the perfect balance of lively and manageable.
Where to live
Options for urban living are expanding as real estate moves skyward in the Bridge City.
Downtown Portland specifically refers to the area south of Burnside Avenue, and east of I-405. But several areas surrounding what is technically considered downtown, are often lumped in with that same label. These neighborhoods, particularly the Southwest Waterfront and The Pearl District, offer the highest concentration of urban living opportunities, outside of that one square mile.
Both The Pearl District and the Southwest Waterfront are technically outside of downtown, but they come with all of the access and amenities that one is looking for in urban living.
Many of the old warehouses in The Pearl District have been transformed into lofts with chic, industrial appeal. Located just north of downtown, this upscale neighborhood has cleaned up its grittier past to make space for high-rise condominiums and warehouse-converted lofts. Pearl Townhouses, Chown Pella lofts, Marshall Wells lofts, The Avenue lofts, and City Lofts are all unique spaces that reflect the neighborhood’s industrial past. This area has maintained a low skyline, but developers are now moving in with plans for taller buildings. Not all Portlanders are a fan of blocking the sunshine that graces The Pearl District’s streets. Regardless, these high-rise buildings are coming, and expanding the residential options for those looking to live in the area.
Residents of The Pearl District will enjoy the city’s highest concentration of breweries, from Bridgeport, the city’s oldest brewery, to the Ohio-based Fat Head’s.
Just south of the downtown square mile, you’ll find the Southwest Waterfront neighborhood with many high-rise apartment buildings. While you might find yourself further from the ground here, you’ll be much closer to the water with riverfront access nearby. The option to kayak or hop on a stand-up-paddleboard (or SUP) is appealing to the many outdoor types who find themselves in Portland.
Southwest high-rises include Riva on the Park, Essex House, Harrison Tower, and more, all of which will provide the higher-end amenities that many downtown dwellers seek.
Know Before You Commit
Are you ready for the downtown lifestyle? Portland’s downtown neighborhoods offer some excellent perks, from accessibility to public transportation, to the concentration of culture on nearly every block. But downtown living is not a perfect fit for everyone.
Many downtown dwellers in Portland choose to forgo their own automobile for public transportation and walking, instead. While you can find most things you need within walking distance, you have to enjoy being out and about in the city to take advantage of the downtown walkability.
Portland serves up a hefty portion of rainy days each year, and while it’s rarely raining hard enough to need an umbrella, being out and about in our Pacific Northwest drizzle doesn’t work for everyone. If you’re someone who is accustomed to driving from place to place, or only walking when the sun is shining, this might take some adjustment.
Portland’s downtown is undeniably an exciting place to live and it attracts a diverse crowd of residents. If you’re a city person who enjoys the energy and accessibility of a city center, then downtown Portland is the place for you!