Get to Know St. Johns
St. Johns is a unique area of Portland for so many reasons. Geographically speaking, the neighborhood stands out for being the broad pinnacle at the northernmost end of Portland, surrounded on two sides by rivers and with plenty of waterways throughout.
If you’re looking to buy a home in a distinct Portland neighborhood filled with a creative independent spirit, strong neighborhood pride and neighborly support for one another, look no further than St. Johns. Bonus: It’s on the water!
Once an Independent City
St. Johns is a historic neighborhood that is well chronicled by neighbors and their own heritage association.
St. Johns was a separate, incorporated city from 1902 until 1915 and an independent spirit still thrives in this well-defined neighborhood. Historically, many people chose to live in St. Johns for various reasons including affordability, proximity to water, being at the gateway to Forest Park and the friendly atmosphere. Some people also appreciate the independent nature of the area which still thrives to this day. With only one one side of the neighborhood abutting another neighborhood, St. Johns is certainly distinct.
The neighborhood is named in honor of settler James John who laid claim to land in the region around 1844. James John School, pictured above, was constructed in 1909 and first served as the high school and later the elementary school. In 1934 the building was set on fire and burned to the ground.
Visit the Beaches and Wetlands of St. Johns
One of Portland’s most popular swimming holes is Kelley Point Park in St. Johns, the majestic confluence of the Willamette and Columbia Rivers. Broad sandy beaches stretch along both shorelines, popular with dog walkers and water enthusiasts. Families flock to the park on hot days to beat the heat.
From the beach you can watch monolithic shipping containers and barges toil down the mighty Columbia, the largest river by volume in the United States. A series of paved and dirt pathways snakes through the park, making for a nice stroll. Just watch out during cottonwood season if you have allergies: the towering trees blanket the trails in thick snow as they shed their fluffy plumes.
Just down the road quietly sits Smith and Bybee Lakes, one of the largest urban freshwater wetland wildlife refuges in the United States. These nature preserves are an important ecosystem for wildlife. Birders: bring your binoculars; the region is teeming with a variety of birds. For an up-close view of the lakes, explore by canoe or kayak. Along the way, look for beavers, river otters, black-tailed deer, osprey, bald eagles and Western painted turtles. It’s hard to believe all of this is right here in the city!
St. Johns is Creative and Bustling
With a wealth of independent shops, restaurants and markets, St. Johns residents love to shop local. It’s easy to walk out the front door and stroll down to the neighborhood center for a cup of coffee or the farmers market. As a result, St. Johns attracts a lot of families and people who enjoy active living by design, with less reliance on the car.
The St. Johns farmers market is open Saturdays from 9am-2pm mid May through the end of October. It’s nestled in the heart of the neighborhood in St. Johns Plaza at N. Philadelphia and Lombard. At the market you’ll find the usual array of farm-fresh delights and baked goods, but more importantly this is where the neighbors gather in the summertime. It’s hard to get through the market without running into a slew of people you know, which is just how St. Johns residents like it.
The streets of St. Johns are lined with creative stores, from niche small shops to larger restaurants and breweries like Occidental Brewing and Stormbreaker Brewing. It’s fun to meander along the streets, peep through the windows and occasionally pop in for a snack.
The popular annual St. Johns Parade is a festive neighborhood affair that is not to be missed.
A Haven for Artists
St. Johns has long been a haven for artists, with lower rents than many areas of the city and large industrial spaces that provide crucial artistic workspace.
Along the river, Green Anchors offers eco-friendly workshop space to creatives who need a broad open area for the welding and fabrication necessary to build mobile tiny homes of all sorts. On a visit to the park, you’ll see people hard at work on all types of projects, from high end #vanlife Sprinter vans conversions to school buses turned into living spaces and tiny houses of all styles.
Green Anchors is also the home of the famed Love sign, a beacon of positivity that looms over the river. Fundraising efforts are underway to restore this gorgeous sign that glows at night.
The Portland Parks of St. Johns
We already discussed the incredible Smith and Bybee Lakes and Kelley Point Parks, just two of the many incredible parks in St. Johns. There are indeed plenty more.
Cathedral Park is perhaps the most well know, and certainly one of the most photographed parks in the city. The waterfront park is named for the gothic cathedral-like appearance of the St. Johns bridge overhead. The park is regularly the backdrop for wedding photos, teen portraits and band photos. There is a popular boat launch into the Willamette River, a designated dog park and a walking pier that spans onto the water. The par is also home to the annual Cathedral Park Jazz Festival, which takes place every July.
Pier Park packs a punch with an outdoor pool, a skate park, an expansive forested disc golf course, paved and unpaved walking trails, a community garden, playground equipment, a splash pad, sports fields and so much more. A cool modern bridge towers over the railroad tracks to connect Pier Park to the adjacent Chimney Park fenced dog park - a popular area with dog lovers, especially on the weekends.
Other parks and greenspaces dot the neighborhood, offering ample opportunities to connect with nature. Forest Park looms in the distance, just across the river. The nearby Ridge Line and Lief Erickson trailheads offer an easy access point into this forested wonderland, a true gem in our city.
Find Your New Home in St. Johns
There are so many features to love about St. Johns. Though it can seem remote due to the geographical shape of the neighborhood, it’s actually much closer in than many other Portland neighborhoods. If you love a collective spirit, creativity and proximity to nature, St. Johns is a wonderful choice.
Let’s go exploring! Our Urban Nest real estate agents would love to take you out house hunting (or simply browsing!) in the St. Johns neighborhood. Get in touch today to schedule a meeting with one of our friendly St. Johns experts.