Choosing a Portland Neighborhood: A Mom’s Guide to Southwest & Downtown


When we moved to Portland in 2014, I didn’t realize that there was such a thing as choosing a side in Portland, but it turns out I’m a southwest side girl. We started out in a corner of downtown Portland near my husband’s job at Portland State University, relocated to Johns Landing the following year, and then moved about two miles south to the Burlingame/Marshall Park area early this year. 

Despite their proximity to each other, each of our southwest neighborhoods boasted unique amenities, parks, and schools. Downtown is a hub of cultural activity, including the Keller Auditorium, Portland Art Museum, and the Pearl District. It’s also home to great food carts and restaurants. Johns Landing is conveniently located near the waterfront with coffee shops, restaurants, retail shopping, and watersports all within walking distance. Our current neighborhood has all the coziness and community of the suburbs, but we are still walking distance from a few grocery stores, our daughter’s school, and even my chiropractor’s office. Plus, my husband can catch a bus to downtown from the end of our driveway!


The Schools

Most downtown neighborhoods feed into one of two public elementary schools, Chapman and Ainsworth. Ainsworth has a Spanish-immersion program operating alongside its English-only classes. Downtown is also home to several private schools, including Northwest Academy and The International School. Students in the waterfront and inner southwest neighborhoods go to public elementary schools like Markham, Capitol Hill, Rieke, Maplewood, or Stephenson. Private schools on the west side include Catlin Gabel, Portland Jewish Academy, Crescent Islamic Montessori, Atlas Immersion School, the German International School, and St. Clare School

Robert Gray and Jackson are the southwest middle schools, and if your looking for public high schools, Wilson and Lincoln are your options there.

The Parkssouthwest

  • Jamison Square is a splash pad in the summer and a festive light display in the winter, making it a year-round destination for family fun.
  • Caruthers Park is a beautifully-landscaped spot located on the south waterfront and is rarely busy. It boasts a summer splash pad, and a Wednesday farmer’s market, spring to fall.
  • Lair Hill Park is a wide-open space conveniently located near downtown. With two climbing structures, swings, and a climbable sculpture, this park gives your little one lots of room to run.
  • Marshall Park is my favorite, hands down. Nestled in the woods with a babbling stream and a quaint stone bridge, I wouldn’t be surprised to see a fairy flitter by in this sweet hideaway. It has a climbing structure and a swing, as well as walking trails that trace across the hillsides above the playground.
  • Gabriel Park is located beside Southwest Community Center, and features swing sets, picnic tables, and sports fields galore.
  • Tryon Creek has trails for walking and hiking and a nature exploration center, making it a great destination for all ages. 

Dining and Date Nights 

  • Brody Theatre near Old Chinatown is the place for improv and sketch comedy.Punch Bowl Social southwest
  • Punch Bowl Social is located on the top floor of Pioneer Square Mall, and is a place to take the young’uns or feel young again yourself. My husband and I had a great date just eating off the happy hour menu and playing darts. There’s also duckpin bowling, shuffleboard, darts, and private karaoke.
  • The Original Old Spaghetti Factory has breathtaking views of the Willamette river from large, picture windows. My daughter loves dining in the old Sellwood streetcar that sits in the middle of the restaurant, and usually chooses this as her birthday dinner destination. It doesn’t hurt that the birthday club makes her meal free.
  • Living Room Theatres are great for a more grown-up cinema experience. With at-seat dinner and drink service and comfy seating, this living room might be better than my own!
  • PK Thai is famous (if only in my mind) for their Pad Thai and pumpkin curry, and the goldfish tanks keep my daughters entertained while we wait for our meals.
  • Casa Colima is a vibrant, colorful restaurant in downtown Hillsdale, and our family’s Mexican restaurant of choice. The staff is friendly, the food delicious, and my older daughter always stops for a picture with the gigantic bull out front.
  • Salvador Molly’s is the place we go when we’re in the mood for something interesting, but not quite sure what we want. With dishes inspired by Indian, African, and Latin American cuisine, Salvador Molly’s is sure to hit the spot. Plus, kids eat free with your purchase of an adult entrée!
  • IBU Public House has a play area for little ones, drink and food specials, and special events like Salsa dancing one Friday a month. 

Other Amenities

  • Southwest Community Center
    This community center has open-gym play for little ones, a pool with a windy slide for slightly bigger kids, and a hot tub for parents. With a full schedule of exercise classes and drop-in childcare during certain hours, it’s a great place to play or get a workout in.
  • Wilson Pool
    With a lazy river, water features, and a sizable shallow area, this pool is our go-to outdoor pool all summer long.
  • Hoot-n-Annie
    This gem in downtown Hillsdale is my favorite kids’ consignment shop. With equipment, toys, and nearly new clothing, I’m sure to find what I’m looking for.

If you’re looking for family-focused community and convenience to downtown, why not give the southwest a try?  

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Aside from being a writer, Kendra is a Birth Trauma Doula at KarysMa Birth, where she helps moms find their joy after birth trauma. A former middle school English and theatre teacher, she has an insatiable love for learning and a flair for the dramatic. Among the best moments of her life, she counts marrying her husband Steve during a dream rainbow wedding, planning a princess picnic on the beach with her eight year old daughter Karys, giving birth to her one year old daughter Saryn in the middle of a blizzard, and sitting on stage with Glennon Doyle. A Navy brat for the first 13 years of her life, Kendra settled in Virginia for eighteen years before she was finally ready to move again, relocating to Portland in 2014. You can find her work on Portland Moms Blog, The La Leche League Blog, and The Not Your Average Mom Project, as well as the hard drive of her computer.