Portland Geography 101: Navigation

Portland Geography 101: Navigation
Portland Geography 102: Portland’s Bridges
Portland Geography 103: Surrounding Areas
Portland Geography:  Popular Neighborhoods

This post is the first post in a series of posts that I will be starting focussing on Portland’s geography. Later this spring I plan on starting a continuing series of little mini neighborhood tour guides where I will be identifying parks, restaurants, cafes, and other aspects of each neighborhood.  But before doing so I thought it would be helpful to talk about the city as a whole.  Today’s first “lesson” is the layout of the city. 

View Larger Map

Portland is laid out in a grid pattern.  Once you understand the grid Portland is a pretty easy city to drive and you can find almost any place in town with just knowing the address and cross street.

The Willamette (Will-Am-Ette not Willa-Mette) river divides the city by east and west. Notice Burnside St. in the middle of the map above? Burnside splits the city between north and south.  Everything north of Burnside and west of the river is Northwest Portland; east of the river and south of Burnside is Southeast Portland, etc…

Also take note of the part of the river which starts to angle to the Northwest.  If you scroll up slightly on the map, you will see that parts of the city are north of the river, so of course this area of town is referred to as North Portland.  All in all pretty logical stuff.

Navigating Portland
With the above layout in mind Portland is pretty easy to navigate with the understanding of a couple of more rules:

1. All roads labeled street run east/west.
2. All roads labeled avenue run north/south.
3. All numbered roads are avenues.
4. All named roads are streets (with some noticeable exceptions).
5. The smaller the number of the avenue the closer you are to the river.
6. In NW Portland the named streets are in alphabetical order starting with the letter B for Burnside.
7. North Portland follows none of these rules.

Got all that?  Great, lets look at an example.  Let’s start with the Pearl District.  The Pearl District is in NW Portland.  Burnside St. and Quimby St. mark the southern and northern borders respectively and 15th Ave. and Broadway (our first exception think of it as 7th Ave.) mark the western and eastern borders. See map below.

View The Pearl in a larger map

Imagine you are looking for the Ben & Jerry’s Ice Cream shop on NW 10th Ave. and Everett St. and you are on NW 15th Ave. and Couch St.  With the above rules in mind, you know to walk 5 blocks east (towards the river) to NW 10th Ave. and 2 blocks north (alphabet) to NW Everett St.  Pretty simple stuff.

Things are little more complicated on the other side of the river, but generally speaking still pretty easy.  The big thing to remember is that the numbered streets increase as you move east away from the river and Burnside splits the city between North and South. Knowing these things you can still find almost anywhere in town with just an address.  For example if you want to go to a restaurant on SE 19th and Hawthorne, knowing nothing else, you know at the very least if you drive out Burnside to 19th Avenue and head south eventually you will reach Hawthorne and your destination.  It may not be the most efficient way to get around but you won’t get lost.

My one word of caution for driving around Portland pertains to the downtown area. Most of the streets downtown are one way streets.  And it is easy to find yourself on a oneway street and next thing you know you are forced onto a bridge heading across the river.  This can be a bit of an annoyance. So keep that in mind when driving around downtown.

Overall Portland is a very easy city to navigate and with the above rules in mind it is easy to find most any place in Portland.

facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmailby feather

14 thoughts on “Portland Geography 101: Navigation

    • There is a SW Alder street but it is not immediately before Burnside. The next street after SW Alder is SW Washington. Only the streets in NW are in alphabetical order and that starts on the north side of Burnside. I guess technically it starts with Couch. However, on the east side of the river the street before Burnside is Ankeny and those streets, in some places are also in alphabetical order but only for about 6-8 blocks depending on where you are.

  1. Pingback: Portland Geography 102: Portland’s Bridges | Portland Travel Tips

  2. “f you want to go to a restaurant on SE 19th and Hawthorne, … if you drive out Burnside to 19th Avenue and head south eventually you will reach Hawthorne and your destination.”

    This isn’t quite true. Not all streets are “through” streets, and 19th is one of them. Between Burnside and Hawthorne, 19th is interrupted by Summers Park. 21st through 25th are interrupted by Lone Fir Cemetery. Also, trying to follow this advice **South** of Hawthorne, through Ladd’s Addition, will get you hopeless lost.

    It’s not bad advice in general on the east side, but you need to know the big “through” streets – 12th, 20th/21st, 30th, 39th, etc. Generally the ones with traffic lights.

  3. Thank you☺ so much for this article. I currently working for Portland’s 911 center and geography here is difficult for me. I’m trying to utilize all tools available to learn the geography because I don’t live in Portland either. Can you tell when you will be posting more articles relating to navigating through Portland?

    • Thanks, I am glad you have found it helpful. I wasn’t planning on posting more navigation articles but were you looking for anything in particular?

  4. Pingback: Portland Geography 103: Surrounding Area | Portland Travel Tips

  5. Fabulous posting! Really great information for getting my bearings straight as I’m moving to Portland after being gone 25 years. Thank you!

  6. Here’s my suggestion for a follow-up navigation article-navigating downtown.

    I don’t know if that is what Kimberly was interested in, but as you alluded to, the one-way streets are just the beginning of the challenges while driving downtown.

    Many streets prohibit turns in any direction, others are divided-only allowing right turns or, conversely, in the transit mall area where usually only left turns may be made.

    Even with a gps, some routes can be especially tricky. My pet peeve is getting from Oak St in downtown onto Burnside headed west. Every guidance system I’ve seen has you make a right on 10th and then immediately left onto Burnside.

    This doesn’t take into account that the left turn lane on 10th is often backed up well past Oak and that plenty of northbound traffic plus the streetcar occupy the right lane.That route only further snarls traffic and brings about stess and road rage amongst even the most mellow of Portlandians.

  7. Hi there-
    Your explanation of how the main core of Portland works is exactly the basic info I am looking for.
    I have a question for you
    And I am super tech stupid,
    So if you are available by phone, I would love to verbally ask you about some other basic info and how to best map it out
    503 913 7391

  8. Pingback: Your Guide to Portland for Viewpoint Collaborate

Leave a Reply