Portland East Side vs West Side - The Great Debate

The Fremont Bridge from the middle of the Willamette River.

The Fremont Bridge from the middle of the Willamette River.

The joke is that Portland is divided into 5 quadrants. (Get it, 5 QUADrants. Hardy, har!) But, the only thing that matters to Portlanders is - which side of the river do you live on?

The only time any of my home buyers wonder if they should find a home east or west of the Willamette is when they're moving in from out of town. Just about anyone that lives in Portland, or the surrounding suburbs, already has definitive opinions about which side is "best". Meaning, of course, which side is best for them. 

I could say something very Realtor-ish, like, "I enjoy both east and west Portland equally for their diverse differences. Really, I do!"

Where's the fun in that, though? Of course I have a preference. However, I'm not going to tell you where I fall in the great debate! You're just going to have to guess which side I like more after reading my blog.

How Portland is Divided


The actual five sections of Portland are:

  1. North - triangle shaped section, separated from Northeast Portland by N Williams Avenue (which runs mostly north/south)
  2. Northeast - separated from Southeast Portland by E Burnside Street and from North Portland by N Williams Avenue
  3. Northwest - separated from Southwest Portland by W Burnside Street
  4. Southwest - separated from Northwest Portland by W Burnside Street
  5. Southeast -separated from Northeast Portland by E Burnside Street

The dividing line between east and west is the Willamette River. Even if you're not from around here, you might recognize that name from the greatest game ever invented - The Oregon Trail.

You can actually play  The Oregon Trail online now for free ! Wow, I love the internet.   

You can actually play The Oregon Trail online now for free! Wow, I love the internet.

North Portland is on the northeast side of the river (where the Willamette makes a turn towards the west), so it's lumped in with the east side. 

Don't think about it too much, just go with it.

If you'd like a bit of detail about each section, along with a list of neighborhoods, check out the Wikipedia "Neighborhoods of Portland" page.

Why East Portland is the Best!

Awesome food. Quirky. Weird. Artsy. Awesome food. Some good bars. Trendy. Awesome food.

When I ask why someone prefers the east side, those are the types of responses I get. That is, when I don't get the response, "People only live on the west side if they HAVE TO, right???"

I'm kidding, but kind of not really. While west siders are likely to venture into east Portland for what is rapidly becoming a foodie mecca, east siders wrinkle their noses at the idea of crossing a bridge. 

2017 NWSL Champions!

2017 NWSL Champions!

Unless they're attending a Thorns or Timbers game, of course. Then they'll grudgingly board the Max or get a Lyft, before quickly scampering back to the east side.

And why else would they leave the east side? There's plenty of fun to be had there.

The Clinton Street Theater boasts a, umm, diverse range of offerings and has also been screening The Rocky Horror Picture Show every single week since 1978. If you've never been to a live screening before, this is the place to do the Time Warp Again!

If you've ever watched (or heard of) the famous "Put a Bird On It" sketch of the show Portlandia, then you have to visit Land. Located on North Mississippi Avenue (a fun area worth exploring), the shop and art gallery is where the episode was filmed, but is worthy of a visit on its own merits.

Portland is notorious for it's broody music scene, but you can inject some Britpop to get you through the rainy winter (and fall, and spring, and part of summer...)

Portland is notorious for it's broody music scene, but you can inject some Britpop to get you through the rainy winter (and fall, and spring, and part of summer...)

Lovers of everything vintage will find plenty of places to explore in east Portland. Village Merchants is located on SE Division Street and sells everything under the sun, including clothing, housewares, furniture and more. A trip over to the Hawthorne District will take you to House of Vintage, a 13,000 square foot collective of over 60 dealers. They specialize in vintage clothing, shoes, and accessories.

Portlanders love their collections of vinyl, and the best place to stock up is Music Millenium on East Burnside. Opened in 1969, it is Portland's oldest record store and specializes in carrying underground music that you can't find elsewhere.


The neighborhoods on the east side of Portland each have a unique personality and there are  options for just about all price ranges. The one thing you will find very little of are high rise buildings. 

A Portland Foursquare home located in the Irvington neighborhood. It features some details not often found on craftsman homes, including dental molding and a balustrade.

A Portland Foursquare home located in the Irvington neighborhood. It features some details not often found on craftsman homes, including dental molding and a balustrade.

North, Northeast, and Southeast Portland are full of older neighborhoods featuring a beautiful mix of craftsman homes, tudors, cape cods, mid-century homes, mediterraneans, and even some victorians and an occasional prairie-style house.

One example is Mount Tabor which is the neighborhood surrounding Mount Tabor Park, which in turn surrounds Mount Tabor - a volcanic cinder cone. This is a fun park to explore and an even more fun neighborhood to walk around while gawking at all the pretty houses. 

Laurelhurst is another beautiful neighborhood full of vintage homes. Part of the neighborhood is in Northeast Portland and part is in Southeast (Burnside Street is the dividing line). The neighborhood also surrounds Laurelhurst Park, which is the first city park to ever be listed on the National Register of Historic Places. (The Laurelhurst neighborhood itself will likely be designated a historic district in the next year or so.)

Here and there around east side neighborhoods you'll find some infill, new construction modern homes. But, if you are someone that considers those an eyesore, there are neighborhoods that are designated historic districts (such as Irvington, located in Northeast Portland) where that type of development isn't allowed.

There are condos available all around the walkable neighborhoods, such as the Clinton-Division area (the neighborhood is called Richmond, but everyone refers to it by these street names). Clinton-Division is chock full of eateries and shops. Some of them are seriously wonderful, while others are mediocre. Fun will always be had while learning which are which.

If you are more budget-conscious, then there are up-and-coming neighborhoods found in North Portland and Southeast Portland that might be perfect for you, or you can venture further out to the suburb of Milwaukie. It's become highly desirable to first-time homebuyers and investors and is located along a stretch of the Max line.

The St. Johns Bridge

The St. Johns Bridge

In Southeast Portland, Foster-Powell is experiencing a lot of change and is definitely worth checking out. Once known as "Felony Flats", FoPo is revitalizing in many ways, including safety improvements, new food cart pods, a community market, brewery, and more.

The University of Portland is located in North Portland (NoPo for us locals), and is surrounded by some interesting neighborhoods that offer more affordable housing options. St Johns is located near it's namesake bridge, which will take you over the Willamette and immediately deposit you next to the amazing Forest Park, one of the largest urban forests in the United States.

Why West Portland is the Best!

We like salmon in case you didn't know.

We like salmon in case you didn't know.

Speaking of Forest Park... West Portland is known for this truly wonderful 5,157 acre park. Hiking, cycling, and even equestrian trails can be found here, along with an abundance of wildlife viewing.

Other reasons people love the west side of the Willamette include:
Some really good school districts, employment opportunities, a few great bars, classic Portland eateries, hills, hills, and more hills, and the diverse housing options.

Many Portlanders think of the west side as the "conservative" side of town, although that definitely depends on your definition of conservative. There are a LOT of tech companies there, and even more in the neighboring suburbs of Hillsboro and Beaverton. So, you're not going to find as many quirky artists living there, but that doesn't mean west Portland lacks for culture.

The highly popular and historic Arlene-Schnitzer Concert Hall (known locally as "The Schnitz") is located on SW Broadway. The Armory and Keller Auditorium are also great spots to get your theater on.

Unassuming looking from outside, inside the store earns it's name.

If you prefer culture in written form, then spots like Floating World Comics and Powell's City of Books are not to be missed.

And while some may not consider it "culture" or "art", the geek inside me contends that Ground Kontrol, a seriously awesome classic arcade, is one of the best spots to waste a few hours anywhere in Portland.


In some ways, housing on the west side is much more diverse than the east side. No matter what you prefer, whether it be a downtown condo, historic home near boutiques, sparkling new high-rise tower near the water, or a neighborhood home on a larger lot, you can find it somewhere amongst the hills of west Portland.

In Northwest Portland, there are neighborhoods that have become exceedingly popular for professionals of all ages. The Pearl District has become a destination for locals and tourists alike due to the many art galleries, eateries, and shops. Trendy businesses have set roots here including smaller software companies and advertising firms that employ many creative thinkers.

People that prefer a higher elevation and have a few extra bucks to spend will likely consider Arlington Heights. Perched amongst the hills of Washington Park (which includes Hoyt Arboretum, the Oregon Zoo, the International Rose Test Garden, and the Portland Japanese Garden), Arlington Heights is one of the most scenic neighborhoods in all of Portland. Walking around the many parks is not a bad way to spend the day, but try to tear yourself away from the natural beauty long enough to appreciate the 300 or so homes dotted amongst the trails.

The Portland Japanese Garden

The Portland Japanese Garden

The South Waterfront is one of the newest communities in Portland. Construction began here in 2004 and by 2010, nine high-rises were complete. Walking around the South Waterfront is like being in a completely different part of the world. Everything feels brand new as you stroll through the modern towers and over to the South Waterfront Greenway.

The Portland Aerial Tram connects it to OHSU (Oregon Health & Science University) located on top of Marquam Hill. OHSU employs around 16,000 people and matriculates a few thousand students. The South Waterfront area houses many of these employees, students, service workers, and others that enjoy this unique area of Portland.

People that prefer a little elbow-room and a bit of space between themselves and downtown flock further down into southwest Portland. Multnomah Village and the surrounding neighborhoods offer many parks, great schools, and somewhat more affordable single family houses with the option of larger lots.

Most homes in these areas aren't very walkable but the location near I-5 and a fast hop over to Hwy 217, I-405, and even I-205 make them ideal for car commuting just about anywhere in the Portland area. The highly affluent suburb of Lake Oswego is also nearby if pricey boutiques and exclusive golf courses are your thing.

which side of the river are you on?

Or, which side do you WANT to be on? Drop me a line and we'll chat about what neighborhood is right for you!

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