The Pearl District in Portland, Oregon used to be a place few people ventured into unless they worked there or had unavoidable business in the neighborhood. Today it is a thriving and vibrant urban neighborhood--Portland's most popular. It is a lesson on how cities can make lemon aid out of an unwanted lemon.
Originally the area was full of 100-year-old brick warehouses and transportation hubs and not much else. I used to work on 14th Street and found the place rather scarey. Today is a different story. It is full of art galleries, New York style loft apartments, new high-rise condominiums, specialty restaurants, boutique shops and hotels, and beautiful parks with water fountains. It is up scale but has a casual atmosphere and it is the place to be in Portland.
The neat thing about it is it is close to the main downtown Portland area and it is easy to take the streetcar from one area to the other. It is bordered by the Willamette River, West Burnside, Broadway and the 405 Freeway.
The Pearl is not all tall buildings and concrete. The streets are tree-lined with flower pots and baskets and there are four good-sized parks where you can relax and children and dogs can play.
Tanner Springs Park is an unusual park to find in the middle of a city. While it does have some groomed areas where the grass is cut to make the usual green lawn found in city parks, it also has some areas where the grass is left to grow tall so it can rustle in the wind beside a spring-fed pond.
Dogs are kept out of Tanner Springs, but Portland is a dog-friendly city and The Pearl is especially so. Dogs are welcome in many shops and many will even have a treat for a nice, well-behaved pooch. The Fields Neighborhood Park has an off-leash area where they can play and romp.
Jamison Square Park with its water feature of water running down steps into a pond is popular with families especially on hot sunny days when the kids can play in the water. But it is also a good place to just sit and read a book.
The North Park Blocks are a much older park area where the trees are large and there is plenty of shade. Several festivals are held here including the Annual Art in the Pearl Festival and the Northwest Beer Fest. There is a children's play area and a basketball court. Dogs have their own sculptured fountain in the shape of a water bowl in this park where they can get a fresh drink of water.
Art is a big thing in The Pearl and there is a large number of art galleries including Froelick, Augen, and Elizabeth Leach. First Thursday is an art event that takes place the first Thursday of every month and this is when new exhibitions are launched. The galleries stay open late, the streets are full of street vendors selling their artistic creations and food vendors offering tasty treats. Musicians set up on street corners to serenade passersby. Many shops are open as well with some of them offering refreshments. Hours for First Thursday are generally 6 pm to 9 pm. Parking can be difficult at this popular event so it is best to take public transportation.
If you are looking for something distinctive whether it is for your home, children, pets, or your own body there is a good chance you will find it here in one of the boutique shops like Mabel and Zora, House of Lolo, or Lizard Lounge. Visit the Museum of Contemporary Craft for a feast of design ideas. Powell's Books, a Portland icon, is located on Burnside. Touted as the largest privately owned bookstore in the country, it is a place to wander around and get lost both mentally and physically.
The Pearl is more than a place to shop. You can find every kind of restaurant here including restaurants with ethnic foods. In addition there are wine bars, coffee bars, brewpubs, bakeries, ice cream parlors, vegan shops, and grocery stores. Take a tour of the Bridgeport Brewing Company and taste their brews or visit The Rogue Distillery and Public House or the Deschutes Brewery and Public House.
For lunch or a casual dinner head to the Oven and Shaker for brick oven-baked true Italian style pizza. Or stop in at Henry's 12th Street Tavern located in the former Blitz-Weinhard Brewery for steak, great hamburgers, sausages, or babyback ribs.
You will feel like you have stepped back in time when you enter Fuller's Coffee Shop at 136 NW 9th Ave, Portland. Do you remember sitting on a stool at a horseshoe shaped counter eating a hot-fudge Sunday? Well, they may not have the ice cream but you can have a breakfast straight from yesterday almost all day. Try the French Toast made with homemade bread or blueberry pancakes. You can get a bacon and egg sandwich and take it with you if you like. Even the jam for the toast is homemade.
Happy hours at the Teardrop Cocktail Lounge at 1015 NW Everett Street can't be beat. They are known for unusual cocktails such as "Root of All Evil" which is a mixture of aged rum, lime, amaretto, bitters, and root beer. Then there is "Bury the Lead" made with vodka, lemon, maraschino, apricot liquore, and orange bitters. They have a small kitchen with a limited menu but here is a hint. Have a pork belly sandwich with their special coleslaw. Delicious. You get a 20% discount on food during happy hours. Happy hours are: Monday - Friday 4 pm to 7 pm.
Any hotel in downtown Portland will place you fairly close to the Pearl District with Portland's excellent public transportation but the hotels below are within easy walking distance:
The Mark Spencer has a street car stop right in front of the hotel. Some rooms have a full kitchen and kitchenettes are available in others. This is an older hotel that has recently been refurbished. They serve an afternoon tea with biscuits and also have an evening wine reception.
The Westin has recently been renovated to bring it up to date. The location makes visiting the core area of downtown and The Pearl District easy. One of Portland's famous food-cart pods is just down the street.
Double click on the map to make it larger.