The Best of Portlandia: Catherine’s guide to the perfect spots to snap a photo in the Alphabet District
The Alphabet District is Portland’s oldest neighborhood and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. It is roughly defined as the area bounded by NW Marshall Street, NW 17th Avenue, W. Burnside Street, and NW 24th Avenue (moving clockwise from the north of the neighborhood). It was founded in the 1840’s by Captain John H. Couch (pronounced Coo-ch) who decided that Portland should be Oregon’s largest city instead of Oregon City, which was the main settlement at the time. Captain Couch speculated on a land claim in 1845 in what is now part of the Pearl and Northwest District, and there he built homes for himself, and three of his daughters. Later, Couch subdivided his land and sold it to investors who built large homes and state of the art rental apartments.
The neighborhood gets its name from its streets which run alphabetically northward from W. Burnside Street (which divides north and south Portland on both sides of the river) to NW Wilson Street. It is a bustling place full of shops and restaurants; hiking trails and gardens; young professionals and families, and home to the NW Portland International Hostel.
Catherine, our Volunteer and Activities Outreach Coordinator, has a few places she’d like to share with you to capture that Kodak moment.
“When I act as a tour guide for friends and family that have never been to Portland before, I always take them to the Alphabet District. There are so many beautiful spots to photograph there – lush landscapes, beautiful flora, quirky statues, and old Victorian houses. It is a wonderland for photo ops.
Here, Catherine helps you by recommending her favorite spots to “say cheese!” in the Alphabet District.
Forest Park is best known for being one of the largest urban parks in the United States. It is easily accessible from the Hostel by foot, car, or bus. By foot or car: take NW Glisan Street west toward 23rd Avenue. On 23rd Avenue take a right and follow the alphabetical streets until you reach NW Thurman. On NW Thurman Street take a left and walk/drive to NW 28th Avenue until you reach NW Upshur Street. Follow NW Upshur Street to the MacLeay Park Entrance of Forest Park. Or pick up bus #15 from 18th Avenue and W. Burnside Street to the park entrance. Forest Park offers over 70 miles of trails to explore. It also boasts an impressive diversity of wildlife (as many as 62 mammal species have been observed) and flora that are characteristic of the Western Hemlock Zone. Catherine suggests snapping photos at the Stone House for a fun photo opportunity. Or she recommends keeping your eyes and ears open – “You might spot a northern flying squirrel, a woodpecker, or a bobcat to take shots of on the Wildwood Trail.”
Washington Park is one of the oldest parks in Portland. It is the site of many picturesque spots including the Oregon Zoo, International Rose Test Garden, Pittock Mansion, Hoyt Arboretum, Children’s Museum, and Portland’s Japanese Garden. It is also home to many wonderful smaller parks and play areas for kids, sports fields, picnic sites, an amphitheater, and great statues of famous Oregon figures. To walk to the base of the park, take NW Glisan Street west to NW 23rd Avenue. Take a left on NW 23rd Avenue and continue south on SW Vista Avenue. Then, take a right at the traffic signal on SW Park Place. Ahead you will find a staircase that will lead you into the base of the park. You can also take bus #63 to Washington Park from SW 18th and Salmon.
When you are ready to head out of nature there are a couple quirky public art pieces that Catherine recommends for that perfect photograph to remember.
The Hogs of 23rd Avenue – The statues of three lounging cast metal pigs are perfect for a silly Portland photo. The statues can be found on the sidewalk in front of the Nob Hill Bar and Grill on NW 23rd Avenue and Lovejoy Street.
Horse Rings – All over the Alphabet District you can find small metal rings anchored to the curbs of the streets and sometimes these rings will have small plastic horses attached to them. The rings are maintained by the City of Portland and represent a time when the only mode of transportation in the city (aside from walking) was on horseback or by carriage. In 2005 a group called the horse project started documenting the location of the rings around the city and attaching toy horses to them to remind residents about their city’s rich history. Watch where you step, or you might miss them!