Alphabet District, Nob Hill

Alphabet and Nob Hill Shopping
Alphabet District, Portland, ORThe Alphabet District and Nob Hill sections of Northwest Portland are the places to live if you’re seeking a true urban lifestyle. Young singles, couples, and families choose this neighborhood for its wealth of shopping, restaurants, and transportation options. Out of state transplants are particularly prevalent. Although formally named the Alphabet District, this section of Portland is also known as Nob Hill after the famous San Francisco neighborhood.


The northwest section of Portland was planned and developed by Captain John Heard Couch. Couch was an accomplished seafarer who also started Oregon’s first newspaper, The Spectator. Couch’s naval background led him to believe that the intersection of the Willamette and Columbia Rivers would one day become a great commercial center, surpassing then-rival Oregon City. Couch’s decision to found the Lovejoy-Pettygrove land site was a key milestone in early Portland history. Couch is the one who laid out the streets of today’s Northwest Portland with the letters of the alphabet into what we now know as the Alphabet District. The streets were originally known as A Street, B Street, etc. from 1865 to 1891 when the streets were given their current names. Fans of The Simpsons television show will recognize the names of several streets in the Alphabet District like Flanders and Lovejoy. The main thoroughfare, Burnside, was perhaps an inspiration for Oregon native Matt Groening’s Mr. Burns?

Northwest Portland contains much notable architecture including the Temple Beth Israel, Trinity Cathedral, and family dwellings from some of Portland’s earliest elite residents. There are a large number of apartments here; many were built in the first half of the 20th century. Period details have remained largely intact on the older buildings. This neighborhood has the highest population density in the city. Home styles include many Victorians and luxury condos. There are fewer acres of parks here than other areas of Portland, but this area is closest to one of the largest urban parks in the United States, Forest Park. Proximity to the Oregon Zoo, the International Rose Test Garden, and the Japanese Garden are also benefits of living in Nob Hill and the Alphabet District.

Northwest Heights is the neighborhood in the hills just above NW 23rd Street. This cluster of houses is primarily owner-occupied (95%) and the public schools are exceptional. Home prices have risen almost 60% over the last five years. The incline up to these homes is steep and streets are narrow. No bus routes drive into these hills, so having a vehicle is essential.


The shopping districts along Northwest 23rd and Northwest 21st Streets are the most popular in Portland. People from around town and in the suburbs flock here for  and upscale shopping outlets like Eclectic Home, Gilt, and Williams-Sonoma. Many of Portland’s independent high fashion boutiques are located along NW 23rd.

Food & Drink

People from the city and suburbs flock to notable area restaurants like Papa Haydn St. Jack, and Ataula. If you’re looking to grab a drink after work check out Muse Wine bar, Fireside, and McMenamins Tavern & Pool are all great spots to catch up with friends and coworkers. Ken’s Artisan Bakery is a can’t miss spot along NW 21st. (Monday’s popular pizza night inspired Ken to open Ken’s Artisan Pizza on the eastside of Portland.) For dessert head on over to the famous Salt & Straw for some ice cream, but be prepared to wait as there’s usually a line. Within the neighborhood, but off the beaten path, those in the know visit Saint Cupcake for delicious cupcakes and World Cup Coffee & Tea for outstanding coffee. Neighborhood markets include Trader Joe’s, Zupan’s, and Whole Foods.


During spring and summer, sports fans flock to Providence Park, just off Burnside, for Portland Timbers and Portland Thorns games. Theatre lovers attend performances at Artist’s Repertory Theatre at SW 15th & Morrison. Cinema 21 shows art house and classic films like Singin’ in the Rain or this year’s Oscar Best Picture contenders.


Street parking in Northwest Portland is difficult, but not impossible. Off street parking is a valuable commodity for both homes and condos. At Northwest 23rd and Irving, a developer has proposed building an 87-spot parking garage. Chapman Elementary is rated as strong by the Oregon Department of Education. West/East Sylvan Middle School and Lincoln High School are also rated as exceptional. Multnomah County Library opened a branch at NW Thurman and NW 23rd in 2001. The library has many programs and materials for children including specialized events for teens, toddlers, and pre-school students. The good news is that living in most of Northwest Portland without a car is more than feasible. Public transportation to and from here is fantastic. The Portland Street Car, MAX Light Rail, and several bus lines serve the neighborhood. Getting to downtown Portland takes mere minutes. Driving to the Portland International Airport clocks in between 20 and 30 minutes depending on time of day. The neighborhood benefits from being relatively close to area freeways without the noise and hassle of being too close for comfort.