23rd St & The Alphabet District, Portland: An Outdoor Shopping Gem

Sitting on a park bench, the cool spring breeze gently combs my hair as I bite into my carne asada burrito from a local taqueria down the street. It’s my favorite place to people-watch in this neighborhood: within the span of a half-hour I see a heavily tattooed mother strolling her toddler down the sidewalk as she’s holding a business conversation on her cell phone, and an older couple who could have walked out of the pages of Sundance catalog, with a younger goth couple, clearly on their way to bunch.

For the thousandth time I look around me and marvel at the tranquility of this neighborhood. A tree-lined oasis just north of the hustle and bustle of downtown Portland. This is the Alphabet District. A historical district in Portland’s NW section of town, zoned for historic preservation. In the 1960’s, entire blocks of majestic, century-old homes and commercial buildings were slated for demolition to make way for the new, but local residents banded together and sued City Hall. The result: a high level of livability unique to very few big cities in the US. Stately Victorian houses co-mingle with quaint bungalows and beautiful brick apartment buildings, where great care was taken with the outside architecture. Since then the neighborhood has been a beacon for historic preservation to which other cities across the nation and the world look.

Portland native Matt Groening, (creator of The Simpsons TV show) named several of the show’s characters after street names in the alphabet district: namely Flanders, Lovejoy, Kearney and Quimby.

And then there’s the shopping.

Where else can you find a tattoo parlor on top of a mom ‘n pop bagel shop? It’s an eclectic mix of shops and restaurants to soothe everyone’s (and I mean everyone’s) palette.


Tattoo, then bagel? Or vice versa?

Here is just a small smattering of what you’ll find.

New Renaissance Bookshop. I love, love, LOVE this bookstore. Converted from a traditional two-story house, you will not find much from the New York Times Bestseller’s list here. They cater to the new age, self-help and pet lover crowd, along with healing crystals, new age music, and yoga-inspired wares. Not into all that? They have a ton of other gifts for the book lover in general.


My favorite bookstore.

Dazzle. Portland’s hip ladies come to this upscale boutique for that inspirational, hippy-dippy outfit that can’t be found anywhere else.


Ladies, get your snazzy duds here.

Time for a lunch break. Walk west two blocks to McMenamins’ Blue Moon pub on NW 21st (one of three McMenamins pubs in the neighborhood). The local chain is famous for their burgers and house-made brews. My personal favorite is the Dungeon burger, washed down with a local IPA.

Blue Moon Cafe

McMenamin’s Blue Moon Cafe.

Not far up the street from the Blue Moon is Cinema 21. Open since 1926, it is a single screen, art house movie theatre showing both first-run and hard-to-find independent films.


One of the last Independent theaters.

Also on this street is 21st St Bicycles. They specialize in urban, touring and road bikes. In town for just a couple of days? You can rent your ride here! The staff is friendly, knowledgeable, and will get you peddling on your way.


Get your ride on.

And for dinner… go to the Fireside Bar – a neighborhood joint. Serving lunch and dinner, the food is mostly fancy American bar fare, and is open late with a fantastic bar.


This used to be a record store.

And last but not least, you cannot leave this incredible neighborhood without venturing north a few blocks to NW Thurman St. to witness The Freaky but True Peculiarium and Museum. The name speaks for itself. I don’t want to spoil anything by describing all the many mysteries you’ll find in there. This is a tourist trap even the locals can’t help but come back to. Check it out!

If you’ve been to this part of our fair city, what where your favorite or notable spots? Drop me a line!

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Hi, I’m Susan, a travel writer based in Portland, Oregon. THANKS for stopping by my Pacific Northwest travel site! This blog focuses on Pacific Northwest travel, but also is a place showcase all of my travels, and is a great place to start when planning your next vacation to my area of the world. Please e-mail me or leave a comment, I’m here to help!

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