A guide to seeing Portland on a Budget: Nob Hill (NW 23rd Avenue)
When it comes to exploring a city, it’s easy to forget about your own home town.
By now you know that I’m a born-and-raised, all-natural, certified organic Portlander. I choose to live here not only to be near to my family, but because it’s one of the most interesting and beautiful cities in the country. Every day more and more people flock to the “Rose City” to enjoy everything we have to offer (but, to be honest, mostly for the beer).
It’s a bit of a small miracle that I’ve been blogging and travel writing as long as I have without ever once writing about my own home town!
For the past several months I’ve been in a routine of meeting up with two of my best friends every week for Happy Hour in a neighborhood known as Nob Hill. While I’ve visited this area plenty of times over the years, only in the past few months have I started to explore this party of the city.
Since I’m the only one without designated 9-5 work hours (don’t be jelly), I’ll usually make the drive into the city a few hours early and do a bit of shopping and general putzing around to enjoy being out of the house.
As a woman on a perpetual budget (travel expenses don’t pay for themselves, people!), I tend to gravitate towards the free and cheap options wherever I go. Today, I’m sharing my favorite budget-friendly things to do and places to eat in the Nob Hill neighborhood of Portland!
Whether you’re redeeming your miles to pay for a trip to Portland, or simply racking up more points on your card while you’re in town, this budget-friendly guide to Portland will give you lots of reasons to visit Beervana!
Before You Go
Here are a few things you’ll need to know about the area before you go:
- Don’t try to park a car in this neighborhood. Seriously, you will never find a spot. If you do, parking is usually free, but you won’t so don’t even bother.
- The streetcar isn’t the most practical or efficient mode of transportation in town, but it’s got lots of character and it’s just kind of fun to ride.
- Most of the little shops close around 6pm (even on weekends), so plan to come early if you can.
- Use NW 23rd Avenue as your basecamp. This street is so famous, most people don’t even know that the area is called Nob Hill because everyone just refers to the area vaguely as “up by NW 23rd.” Conveniently, this area is laid out in a grid with numbered streets running North to South, and named streets running East to West. All of the named streets are in alphabetical order with Alder, Burnside and Couch (pronounced like “cooch” – yes, really) beginning on the South side and Vaughn, Wilson, and York finishing off the district towards the North. I guess whoever named the streets weren’t creative enough to come up with an X or Z street. If you’re standing at the corner of NW 23rd and Hoyt and you want to get to NW 21st and Glisan, you’d just walk 2 blocks East and 1 block South.
Things to Do
Start your exploration by walking up and down NW 23rd avenue. Take some time to window shop and check out all of the individual establishments. You’ll see a few familiar chain stores, but the vast majority are stand-alone small businesses. Venture a few blocks off the beaten path to see historic houses and beautiful gardens; many are nearly 150 years old! This area is also great for people-watching. If you like the show Portlandia, you’re in for a real treat.
Take the time to walk over to NW 22nd and Thurman to visit the Peculiarium Museum. This place is about as Portland-weird as it gets. The museum houses oddities, art, novelties, and, uh, a snack bar which serves edible bugs. Admission is free, so do yourself a favor and stop in when you get the chance.
Shop ‘til you drop! If window shopping isn’t your thing, you could drop a few precious pennies in any of the unique and captivating shops on NW 23rd Ave.
Two of my favorites are 3 Monkeys, which sells eclectic resale, knick knacks, and vintage clothes, and The Meadow which sells artisanal salts, chocolate, and tons of fun liqueurs and bitters. If you haven’t heard, bitters are SO HOT RIGHT NOW (or, as my mom tells me, are back in vogue) so head in for a quick tasting. I just picked up a bottle of Peychaurd’s Aromatic Bitters to make Sazeracs this weekend.
While movie ticket prices seem to inflate even faster than my beer gut, you can still see a cheap flick (while drinking a beer!) in Northwest Portland at either The Mission Theater or Cinema 21.
The Mission Theater is a McMenamins Brothers establishment and serves the sweet nectar that is McMenamins brewed beer. Order like a local and ask for a Rubinator (half Ruby Red and half Terminator Stout).
Admission prices are typically between $2 and $4, and they show a mixture of blockbuster and second runs.
Like the Mission, Cinema 21 also has a full bar, but also boasts a balcony and a wide variety of independent and vintage films. Pick your poison!
If you’re one of those crazy brave people who like Karaoke, head over to NW 21st and Hoyt to visit Voicebox. They offer private suites for you and your friends to have dinner, enjoy a few cocktails, and belt out a few tunes. You’ll need to reserve a suite ahead of time, so don’t forget to plan ahead!
Where to Eat
It’s impractical to tell you about all of the amazing places to be fed and watered while you’re visiting Nob Hill, but I’ve picked out a few of my favorites for lunch, happy hour, dinner, dessert, and late night debauchery.
Stop into Escape from New York Pizza and enjoy a huge slice of pizza for under $4. EFNYP has been around for 30 years and was the first place to serve pizza-by-the-slice in Portland. There are only two things on the menu here: pizza and Caesar salad. It’s a cash-only joint so come prepared.
I’m a dive-bar type of gal so my two favorite places to hit up for happy hour are Nob Hill Bar & Grill and Crackerjack’s Pub.
Nob Hill is right on NW 23rd Ave, has a steady crowd of regulars day and night, and serves up $3 well drinks and dirt-cheap Pabst Blue Ribbon (for some reason PBR is a Portland favorite) during their 3pm-6pm happy hours.
Crackerjack’s is a bit more off of the beaten track which means your designated driver might *actually* be able to find a place to park. Monday through Saturday you can help yourself to $2.50 well drinks, $1.50 domestic draughts, and $4 wine from 4pm-7pm. The pizza by-the-slice is a great bargain, and there’s almost always room to hang out on their big patio.
If you’re looking for a fancy place to enjoy a cocktail, go read someone else’s blog.
I’m only going to talk about one place you should go for dinner over here because I think it’s underrated: Marrakesh Moroccan Restaurant. For $18 you get to sit on a big pouf, have your hands washed with rose water, and enjoy a 5-course meal. There’s even belly dancers on Friday and Saturday nights! I absolutely love this place, and I know you will, too.
I feel obligated to mention Salt & Straw because anyone coming to visit Portland will want to stop there, anyway. It’s like the new Voodoo Doughnuts around here. Just be prepared to wait in a looooong line. This is the shortest line I’ve ever seen at this place.
Another option is an oldie but a goodie: Papa Haydn’s. Dinner here is a bit pricey, but stop in to enjoy dessert and you won’t be disappointed. Go ahead and order yourself a cappuccino, too. You deserve it.
If you’re looking for a treat to take home, head over to Moonstruck Chocolate Café and pick out a custom box of truffles. They also make a mean mocha!
If you find yourself out late and in need of sustenance, walk over to Santa Fe Taqueria on NW 23rd. During regular hours you can enjoy a taco plate with beans, chips, and pico de gallo for just $5. After 11pm, everything on the menu is HALF PRICE. They offer a ton of different meat options, but I always get the Carnitas!
Phew! That is a lot of budget-friendly advice to dole out in one go. Take some time to do your research and make plans to come to Portland. You’ll be glad you did!