Where to Stay in Portland: Complete Guide for First Timers

Wondering where to stay in Portland? You’re in the right place! We’re Matt and Alysha, two Portland locals who, prior to moving here permanently after living in a minivan for a few years on a road trip around the country, visited Portland ten different times (!!). We stayed in a range of different areas, and we’re here to combine our experiences as visitors and residents to help you choose the perfect place to stay for your particular travel style and budget.

Portland is one of the coolest cities in the country. Period. We might be a little biased, considering we live here, but the word is getting out thanks to Netflix shows visiting to explore the amazing food scene and the increasing popularity of outdoor adventure in the Pacific Northwest. 

If you’re planning a trip to Portland, the first (and arguably second most important question after “where will we eat?”) question you might ask yourself is around where to stay for your visit.

Portland is a relatively compact city – one of the things we love about it (no more 45 minute journeys to travel two miles!) – but each of the neighborhoods in the city center has a distinct look and feel to it. 

From the historic buildings of downtown Portland, to the modern high rises in the Pearl District and the leafy tree-lined streets in Northwest, we’re here to help you make sense of it all and find the best area to stay in Portland for your trip. 

In this guide, we’ll cover the best places to stay in Portland in our view. For each area, we’ll give you the pros and cons of staying there, and a couple of cool places to stay that we like based on our research. 

Alysha looking over the Willamette River at sunset in Portland

Why trust us? Before we moved to Portland, we had visited ten times in the past five years, and even spent six weeks living in Portland in February and March to make sure Alysha could handle the dreary winters.

Then, we finally made the decision to move here, after five years of saying “it’s not the right time.” We have a unique perspective because we have seen Portland both from the visitor’s perspective, and from the resident’s perspective (though we’re not truly “locals” in the traditional sense). 

We’ll use that knowledge and perspective to help you find the perfect place to stay in Portland. 

Disclaimer: Some of the links in this post, like hotel and vacation rental links, are affiliate links, meaning at no additional cost to you we make a little bit of money if you click through and book. That being said, we would absolutely never recommend something to you that we don’t stand behind 100%.

A Brief Portland Geography Overview

Before we dive into the best places to stay in Portland, let’s take a step back and quickly cover Portland’s geography. 

We like to think of Portland as split into quadrants.

The north/south divider is roughly Burnside Street, which runs east/west through the city.

The east/west divider is the Willamette River, which separates the more urban areas around downtown Portland from the more residential areas on the other side of the river to the east. 

In general, we think the best areas to stay are in the southwest quadrant (that’s where downtown Portland is), the southeast quadrant, and the northeast quadrant.  

We would NOT recommend staying in the northwest quadrant near St. John’s. Not because it’s not a cool area, but because it’s VERY residential, and it’s far from the other three quadrants (and probably requires a car). 

We also don’t think you should stay south of Powell Blvd in southeast Portland or north of Killingsworth in Northeast Portland. It’s just too far from basically everything. 

Here’s a map to help you visualize where these areas are situated in the city.

Where to Stay in Portland, Oregon: The 4 Best Places to Stay (for First Timers)

In this guide, we’ll start with an in-depth guide to four great neighborhoods for first timers that are central to the main sights in Portland. For each, we’ll give you pros and cons of staying in that neighborhood, and then give you some of the coolest places to stay in the area.

The intention here is to give you the information you need to decide where to stay in the city, and get your search started. 

Now, we’re well aware that a few of you are currently ready to throw your left shoe at the screen, saying “I don’t have time to read all of that, JUST TELL ME THE BEST PLACE TO STAY!” 

Here’s a quick summary of this guide if you’re short on time (though we’d recommend reading the section of the place you end up staying for tips and places to add to your list!). 

  • Our overall recommendation is to find a hotel on the Central Eastside, which is quickly becoming our favorite part of Portland. It’s close to the river, which means you can walk to downtown Portland and all the sights there (don’t miss Powell’s Books!) but it’s a little more residential and, as a result, quieter. We personally stayed at the Jupiter NEXT Hotel, a beautiful boutique hotel, but we also like some of the more affordable options in the area like the Kex or Lolo Pass.

  • If it’s your first time in Portland, you can’t go wrong with Downtown Portland or the Pearl District. Downtown Portland is about as central as it gets, walking distance to…pretty much everything. We’d recommend staying on the southern half of the neighborhood near Pioneer Courthouse Square (check out the stylish Heathman Hotel or the ever-hip Ace Hotel, which we’ve stayed at in Seattle and New York City). The Pearl is more upscale, and is a former warehouse district, so they’re all-in on the industrial-chic vibes. Stay at the Canopy by Hilton in the Pearl, which is a solid, stylish option at an affordable price.

  • For a balance between the location of downtown and the vibes on the Eastside, stay in the Northwest District. You’ll be walkable to downtown and Washington Park (home of the International Rose Test Garden), and right in the middle of some of the best food in the city. Stay at the Inn at Northrup Station, which is a little odd, but is the best hotel in this neck of the woods.

Where We’ve Stayed in Portland

In terms of starting this guide, it probably makes the most sense to start with our own personal experience. Before moving here, we came to visit many, many times, and have two specific hotel recommendations for you.

On our last trip to Portland, we stayed at the excellent Jupiter NEXT Hotel, and would completely recommend it. 

It’s clean, comfortable, has a great bar on the ground floor (Hey Love), free coffee in the mornings, and a super friendly staff. Plus, parking (though it’s not free). It’s on the Central Eastside, which is quickly becoming our favorite part of Portland. 

It is a boutique hotel, so it’s a little more expensive than some of the other options in the area.

If you’re budget constrained, there are two fantastic options nearby that we’d also recommend (though we haven’t personally stayed at either).

First is the Kex Hotel, a hip Icelandic hotel chain (though there’s only two hotels in the world, so does that count as a chain?) that’s literally two blocks away.

Second is Lolo Pass, a new hotel/hostel hybrid with both dorm rooms and private rooms. 

On our first ever trip to Portland years ago, we stayed at the Society Hotel and enjoyed it, especially given that we were traveling on a budget.

It’s in a relatively good location (more on that in a second), walkable to places in the Pearl District and downtown (which is why we stayed there), and they have a variety of room options from dorm rooms (if you’re on a serious budget) up to private rooms. They also have a cool rooftop deck too with nice views of the city. 

The downside is that the area it’s in, which is about two blocks north of Voodoo Doughnut, isn’t the greatest.

It’s loud and is a part of the city where there is a visible unhoused population that may make some travelers who have less experience living in cities uncomfortable. 

Downtown Portland: The Best Area to Stay for First Time Visitors

If you’re from out of town, you probably have some preconceived notions about downtown Portland that involve the words “riots” and “on fire” thanks to some pretty questionable media coverage about downtown Portland over the past few years. 

Every single time we mention Portland and how much we love it to people from out of town, they go on and on about how Portland is a disaster and how it’s completely unsafe thanks to the “rioters” and “looters.”

We’re here to tell you that it’s at best sensationalized, and at its worst a cynical deliberate mischaracterization. Though, that’s not to say that Portland is all sunshine and roses (it is in July and August, though!). 

It is untrue that downtown Portland is “dying” or “full of rioters.” In fact, I can safely say that we have seen exactly zero “rioters” in our entire time in Portland, both as visitors and once we moved here. 

However, it is true that, like many cities in the western United States including our former homes of Seattle and San Francisco, Portland is confronting two converging crises – a housing crisis (rents rose almost 40% from 2021 to 2022) and a mental health crisis. 

That convergence means that there is a visible unhoused population in Portland.

It is most noticeable in the northeastern part of downtown (north of W Burnside Street and east of North Park Blocks, near Voodoo Doughnut), and we’d recommend looking further southwest if you want to stay downtown.

That’s where the hotel recommendations below are located. 

Please remember that the people you see on the street are human beings, and many of them are suffering from untreated mental health issues. They’re humans. They’ve been utterly failed by our government and social safety net. They’re not a scourge to be cleaned up so we can feel better about ourselves.

Talking about other humans in a way that strips them of their humanity is disgusting. 

You may experience being yelled at, or see people using drugs in broad daylight, which is really, really sad. But, for the most part, they are not going to harass or hurt you. 

All that said, families with small children and solo travelers might feel safer in other parts of Portland.

Overall, downtown Portland is a great, central home base to use for exploring Portland, especially if it’s your first time in town and you want to do some of the main tourist attractions, like the International Rose Test Garden and Powell’s City of Books.

Plus, there are tons of hotels to choose from that serve a wide variety of budgets and styles. 

Like we mentioned above, it’s probably most pleasant to stay in the southwestern part of this area, south of Burnside and west of SW Park. 

Pros and Cons of Staying in Downtown Portland

Pioneer Courthouse Square and an outdoor showing of Encanto!

Pros of Staying Downtown:

  • Central Location: It’s central, located in between the parks to the west – Forest Park and Washington Park – and the cute neighborhoods on the eastern side of the river.

  • Hotel Selection: This area has the best selection of hotels in the city. And it’s not close. Whether you’re looking for a solid affordable stay, or you’re in the mood to celebrate a special occasion and want a swanky luxury hotel, there are plenty of options downtown. 

  • Good Transit Connections: MAX Lines (that’s the overground tram) and TriMet buses run through downtown, and will take you just about anywhere you need to go, including the airport. 

Cons of Staying Downtown: 

  • The Food and Drinks: All of our favorite places to eat and drink in Portland are outside of the downtown core, either in the Northwest District, or across the river in Southeast Portland or Northeast Portland. Plan on eating most of your meals outside of downtown if you stay here. 

  • The Visible Unhoused Population: While we don’t think this is necessarily a reason to avoid downtown Portland, it’s undeniable that seeing your fellow humans living on the street is a bummer. And you will see it if you spend any time downtown (which you should). 

Downtown Portland Highlights

Powell’s City of Books: The absolute best bookstore in the world. SUPPORT INDEPENDENT BOOKSTORES. Book lovers, I dare you to try and walk in here and leave with less than $100 in new reads. I’m pretty convinced that it’s impossible.

The PSU Farmers Market: This is, hands down, the best farmers market I’ve ever been to. It’s massive! Hundreds of vendors to choose from. If it tells you anything about how I feel about it, this was a staple of my bachelor party in Portland (it might also tell you something about how I enjoy spending my time). It’s open year round, rain or shine. Chai, kombucha, cider, bakeries, farm-fresh fruit and vegetables. Heaven on earth for foodies, and it’s all local!

The Portland Saturday Market: Less a farmers market, more of an arts and crafts market. This takes place on Saturdays down by the water (in Tom McCall Waterfront Park), and is well worth a stroll along the riverfront to check it out. 

Petunia’s Pies and Pastries: The best gluten free donuts in Portland. Go on weekend mornings early to get donuts! Other times, they have a variety of gluten free and vegan treats, like cakes, cookies, muffins, and more.

Coffee in Downtown Portland: As you might imagine, there’s a bunch of good coffee in downtown Portland. The Portland OG, Stumptown, has two locations. Never Coffee (fun seasonal lattes!) has an outpost. But my favorite is actually Courier Coffee, who used to hand deliver beans on his bike around Portland. Read more in our guide to the best coffee in Portland.

The Central Eastside: Industrial-Chic with Great Food and Drinks

The part of southeast Portland that is closest to the Willamette River, Portland’s Central Eastside is our personal favorite place to stay in Portland.

It’s central to both downtown, and the cool neighborhoods east of the river like Hawthorne and Division and Mississippi and Alberta, which is a perfect place to be. 

On our last trip to Portland before making our move here, we stayed here and loved it. It’s quieter and more low key than the other side of the river, but is still within walking distance of downtown in about 15 minutes over one of Portland’s many bridges. 

Pros and Cons of Staying in the Central Eastside

Pros of Staying in the Central Eastside:

  • Central Location: Like the name suggests, this is a great central area between the main areas you’ll want to visit in Portland.

     
  • Public Transportation Links: Between the MAX line and the various bus lines that run through it, the Central Eastside is well connected to the rest of the city. Plus, you can always walk. 

Cons of Staying in the Central Eastside: 

  • Parking is Tough: As you get further east into the residential area, parking gets significantly easier. But in the area just across the river, not so much. If you have a car, make sure to check if your hotel has parking available (and we’d probably recommend a garage if you can). 

  • It’s Far From the Parks: Washington and Forest Park are on the other side of the river, past the downtown core. Not really a deal breaker, but definitely something worth considering if you’re planning on spending a lot of time over there. 

Central Eastside Highlights

Here are some of our favorite spots in this neighborhood. 

Schilling Cider: One of our favorite places for cider in the world (they also have a location in Seattle that we frequent…often). They have 50 cider taps, and a helpfully color-coded menu if you’re not sure whether you prefer sweet or dry. Get a flight! Plus, a 100% gluten free kitchen with gluten free corn dogs and loaded tots! Great outdoor patio too, perfect place to grab a drink on a warm summer afternoon.

Great Coffee in the Neighborhood: There are too many great coffee shops in this part of Portland to list here. But if we had to choose, we’d point you towards Roseline Coffee, Good Coffee, Coava Coffee (it’s their flagship location, which is gorgeous), and Push X Pull.

Smith Tea: Alysha loves tea, and Smith Tea is among the best tea companies around. On our latest stint in Portland, we learned that they have a facility near the river in Portland! It’s a beautiful space where you can try some of their tea – from nitro chai (we recommend), to a single origin tea brewed to perfection.

Food Carts: When in Portland, do as the Portlanders do and eat at a food cart AT LEAST once. There are two here in the Central Eastside, both about a block away from each other so you can peruse both before deciding which one to choose. Cartopia is kitty corner to Ladd’s Addition, and Hawthorne Asylum is a block or two away towards the river.

Explore the Breweries around Belmont & 7th: like the Cascade Brewing Barrel House, Rogue, and Living Häus, which are all basically on the same block. Although there are countless breweries in this part of the city. Unfortunately, I have Celiac Disease, so I can’t drink beer. Unless it is 100% gluten free, like the beer at Ground Breaker Brewing’s Gastropub, which is also nearby.

Northwest District / Slabtown: Tree-Lined Streets and Great Food, Drinks, and Shopping

Of the four areas in the downtown core, the Northwest District became our favorite pretty quickly once we moved here and spent more time exploring.

It has a lot of the things we like about the Eastside – lots of greenery and tree-lined streets, stretches of commerce with great food, drinks, and shopping, and great access to green spaces (Washington Park is right up the hill!). 

However, it also feels distinctly more urban, in the sense that parking is a nightmare and there are tons of people out and about at any time between 10:00am and 10:00pm.

In that sense, it’s a nice balance between the more residential areas on the Eastside and the hustle and bustle of downtown. Which earns it a spot as one of the best places to stay in Portland, especially if you don’t have a car. 

The two stretches we like are NW 23rd Street and NW 21st Street, which are lined with a bunch of cool places to eat and drink (and shop). 

Pros and Cons of Staying in the Northwest District / Slabtown

Pros of Staying in the Northwest / Slabtown:

  • Charm Charm Charm! Tree-lined streets and local boutiques. What more could you ask for??

  • Access to Green Spaces: It’s a short walk (or drive) up to both Washington Park (where you’ll find the International Rose Test Garden and Hoyt Arboretum) and Forest Park from this area. 

  • Great Food, Drinks, and Shopping: Foodies will love this area, as some of Portland’s best food and drinks can be found in this slice of Portland. 

Cons of Staying in the Northwest / Slabtown:

  • Parking is Tough: Especially on weekends. Most streets have some combination of parking time limits (usually somewhere between two and four hours) and paid parking, sometimes both. 

  • Average Hotel Options: Similar to the Pearl, there really aren’t that many places to stay in this part of Portland. However, there are a few, and the ones that are here are pretty unique (and skew towards more affordable, which is odd considering the neighborhood, which is somewhat upscale).  

Northwest District Highlights

The highlights here are clustered around NW 23rd Ave, which runs north/south through the neighborhood.

Providence Park and the Timbers: Are you a soccer fan? The Portland Timbers play at Providence Park, and it’s one of the best atmospheres of any soccer stadium in the USA. Particularly when they’re playing the Seattle Sounders, their rivals from the north. Check their schedule here.

The Meadow: This is one of our favorite stores in Portland, and they now have three locations in Portland. The original is a few blocks from our house on Mississippi Avenue, and it is no exaggeration to say that every person on our Christmas lists got something from them (mostly chocolate). They sell a bunch of things, but mostly chocolate, bitters, and salt. They have an outpost on NW 23rd.

The food: There are a couple of outstanding spots to eat nearby, but the main one is Ken’s Bakery, which is one of the best bakeries in Portland. There’s also a Pine State Biscuits outpost at the northern end of the neighborhood. Plus Grassa, Life of Pie, and Pizza Thief. There’s too many of them!

Tea Chai Té and Barista: One of the better one-two punches in terms of tea and coffee, and they’re about thirty feet apart. Alysha would run into Tea Chai Té, and I would go get my coffee fix at Barista. Smith Tea also has a location on NW 23rd, and Prince Coffee just opened up a location here too.

The Parks: Just up the hill, you’ll find the International Rose Test Garden, Pittock Mansion, and the Hoyt Arboretum, home to some of our favorite hikes in Portland. It’s walkable from the Northwest District, though it’s up a hill.

The Pearl District: Modern, Trendy, and Adjacent to Downtown

I’m going to be honest, before we moved here, I thought the Pearl District was pretty “meh.” 

The location is great – it’s adjacent to both downtown and the Northwest District (it’s also close to Old Town, which is probably not a place you want to spend a whole lot of time). 

But as I’ve spent more time wandering around the Pearl District, I’ve come to enjoy it more and more every time I find myself there. 

It’s a little more upscale than downtown, and on the southern side of the neighborhood close to downtown, it’s a lot of warehouses and brick buildings that have been transformed from factories to shops, breweries, and restaurants over the past several decades.

If you ask Portland residents who have lived here for 20 or 30 years what part of the city has changed the most, I’d bet that the majority would say the Pearl.

As you get to the northern end of the neighborhood, it’s all modern high rise buildings with what I assume are luxury condos. 

Would I want to live in the Pearl District? Probably not – parking is tough, and it’s close enough to downtown that it gets lots of tourists coming through. 

Would it be a good place to stay for a few days in Portland? Most definitely!

Pros and Cons of Staying in the Pearl District

Pros of Staying in the Pearl: 

  • Close to Downtown, Northwest, and NE Portland: The Pearl is adjacent to downtown and the Northwest, which means you’re walkable to two great areas for food and drinks. It’s also an easy trip – though not walkable – to Northeast Portland (Mississippi Avenue in particular). We live in NE Portland, and it’s a relatively quick journey to get down into the Pearl. 

Cons of Staying in the Pearl: 

  • The Hotels are Strictly Okay: Unlike downtown and the Central Eastside, which have some cool hotel options, the options in the Pearl are pretty average, and are all big chain hotels (like Marriott and Hilton). 

  • It’s close to Old Town: Old Town, which is the area to the east of the Pearl District (around the Lan Su Chinese Garden) towards the river, is rough. There’s a large visible unhoused population living in tents, some of whom have serious mental health issues. The border is roughly North Park Blocks (here on Google Maps), but some of that bleeds over into the Pearl. 

Pearl District Highlights

Tanner Springs Park: A former wetland that is now a public park surrounded by concrete, this is an oasis in the middle of the most upscale part of the neighborhood. It’s a cool space and has some information about the effort to preserve this natural habitat in the face of ever-encroaching development.

Beer and cider galore! 10 Barrel Brewing is one of the most famous breweries in Oregon, and they have a big brewery in the Pearl, complete with rooftop seating. Deschutes Brewery’s Public House is also in the Pearl, and they are in many ways one of the OG craft breweries in Oregon. For cider sourced primarily from the Pacific Northwest, head to small and cozy Cider Bite, who also have board games for you to play while you try some unique ciders.

And coffee too! Barista is the best of the bunch here, where you can get your coffee expertly made and you’ll get to choose from multiple coffees, including some roasted in house, some from other Pacific Northwest roasters.

A Quick Note About Vacation Rentals (Like Airbnb) in Portland

First of all, we used to love Airbnb, especially because we often need a kitchen when we travel because Matt has Celiac Disease, which means eating out can be tricky (that’s putting it lightly). 

However, between the fact that we’re in the midst of a full-fledged housing crisis in every major city on the west coast, the fact that Airbnb has gone from someone renting an extra room to corporations building huge vacation rental empires, and the sometimes exorbitant cleaning fees (even though you often have to do the dishes and the laundry yourself) we find ourselves having a harder time recommending it. 

We’ve fallen back in love with hotels as they’ve stepped up their game, and the prices of Airbnb have risen so that they’re actually more expensive (unless you’re traveling with a big group). 

However, we know that you might prefer a little more space or a different experience than staying downtown, and there are pockets of the city without any hotels to speak of.

So here’s our recommendation: for the best experience, stay in an Airbnb where the owner lives onsite, like a backyard bungalow or a studio over the garage. 

In our experience, those stays – where you’re able to make a small connection with the host and get some recommendations from them – are where Airbnb is at its best. 

Also, the best places to find an Airbnb in Portland are going to be on the east side of the river, in southeast Portland and northeast Portland (near Alberta and Mississippi).

Don’t stay in an Airbnb downtown or in the Pearl – it won’t be meaningfully different from a hotel stay and you’ll likely pay a hefty cleaning fee.


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8 Comments

  1. So helpful thank you. Family of four heading to Portland from NYC in August for a week or so and intend to travel along the coast up to Seattle. Very excited and looking forward to seeing this amazing City.

    1. Hey Joanna! Sorry for the late reply, but we’re glad you found it helpful. Hope you have (had?) an amazing trip to the Pacific Northwest!

  2. I very much appreciate your candor about the unhoused population. Living in Seattle and working in a Crisis clinic, we see it a lot. I tire of folks negative comments about Seattle and other western cities and the unhoused population. If we treat people like they don’t matter, they will be behave like they don’t matter. As you pointed out, the unhoused population is 100% a result of how our nation has managed mental health care, corporate greed, and ignored children and families in crisis.

    1. We agree with pretty much everything you said! It’s very sad, and we completely understand why people who are coming from other places are shocked. That’s why we make sure to mention it in most of our Portland guides and give practical advice on how to navigate it. It’s a hard issue to talk about because it’s so complicated, but it’s definitely relevant to people visiting Portland (or Seattle, or San Francisco, or Los Angeles…).

  3. Ruth Daines says:

    What an awesome article about Portland and all the places to stay. Your kind description and thoughts about the unhoused population were so thoughtful. It’s a situation that breaks my heart in every large city I’ve been too. Very difficult to see this happening all over the country. Thanks for taking the time to share all the info! We’re heading to the Pacific NW this month from South Carolina. We’re very excited to finally see all the beauty of Washington and Oregon!

    1. Thanks for the kind words! Hope you found a great place to stay and you enjoy your trip to the Pacific Northwest. It’s a pretty spectacular place (we’re not biased at all).

  4. Great article! I appreciate the level of detail while it still being easy to absorb the information

    1. Thanks Sarah! We put A LOT of thought into how to organize our guides to give the right amount of detail without making it (too) overwhelming, so we appreciate the kind words!

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