High-rise condos and apartment buildings draw locals to settle into the redeveloped neighborhood of South Waterfront, Portland. The car-free Tilikum Crossing illuminates West Hills and the Willamette River at night. The “bridge of the people” carries pedestrians, bicyclists and public transit vehicles on the city’s TriMet public transportation system.
South Waterfront, or SoWa, is also the home to Oregon Health & Science University and hospital system. The area is a convenient, ideal mix-use neighborhood for students and staff to settle in for a quick commute. It’s also the neighborhood to discover the green and sustainable buildings and businesses embracing the environmentally-friendly Portland lifestyle.
Where is South Waterfront?
South Waterfront is situated 2 ½ miles from the city center between Downtown Portland and South Portland. Along with sparkling views of the Willamette River, you’ll also see Toe Island, Hardtack Island and Ross Island that are currently only accessible by boat.
The neighborhood is sometimes referred to as John’s Landing, which previously sat at the community’s south end. Today, the area has morphed into the singular South Waterfront Neighborhood, although you’ll still hear the name “St John’s” thrown around in Portland.
The South Waterfront area began to take shape in the early 2000s to curb suburban sprawl, offer urban-centric living and bring a mixed-use community’s goals to life. The neighborhood ties the Willamette River’s beauty, South Waterfront Greenway, trails and green space into an urban setting. It’s common to see dozens of species of birds dotting the landscape of tall buildings and apartment complexes.
What to Do
Greater Downtown Portland attracts young professionals and urban dwellers looking to live close to all of the action. The significant presence in South Waterfront are young professionals and retirees looking to simplify their lives from suburban trappings. The South Waterfront Park runs 1,000 feet along the banks of the Willamette River and in addition to offering recreation, it helps prevent further erosion of the banks. Locals and visitors gather for views of Mt. Hood and Mt. St. Helens on a clear day.
A mix of eateries, fast food and high-rises can be found alongside green space and biking trails. The neighborhood’s retail and businesses spill into Downtown Portland for an energized, urban vibe.
Where to Eat & Drink
South Waterfront is a small community but still boasts its own neighborhood dining scene. The Caro Amico Italian Café was established in 1949 and features old-school favorites like chicken parmigiana and hand-tossed pizzas.
Bambuza Vietnam Bistro is known for its Pho and views overlooking Elizabeth Caruthers Park. Menu favorites include drunken crispy chicken and coconut curries. For something a little more laid-back and kitschy, locals gather at the pirate-themed Jolly Roger restaurant.
Sit down for cocktails at Muselet of old-fashioneds and aperitifs. They also serve up wine, beer and a happy hour menu with items like pork belly. For craft beers on-site or on the go, stop by The Growler Guys outpost in South Waterfront. Snack on inexpensive trail mix or stay and watch the game on the bar’s TV.
Moving to South Waterfront
Real Estate Snapshot
South Waterfront was Oregon’s first green community. Green buildings, energy and water conservation are priorities for residents. Despite all the development, the neighborhood is also home to South Waterfront Community Garden. Residents can join a waitlist to plant a garden of their own.
Moving to South Waterfront comes with a price tag for its convenience and waterside views. Expect to pay an average of $1,574 on apartments for rent in South Waterfront, which is higher than the average $1,484 rent around the rest of the city.
South Waterfront is primarily known for its tall apartment buildings hovering along the banks of the Willamette River. You can also find some older, shorter complexes at a cheaper price point. Although South Waterfront is welcoming to kids, you won’t find many families here or expansive yards and bungalows.
A new development is also in the works around South Portland. The City Council recently approved 176 new affordable homes in the neighborhood. New towers and condos are also expected to increase the density in the community.
Like the rest of Portland, residents can ditch the car altogether when they live in the South Waterfront. Cycle, walk or take public transportation across Tilikum Crossing bridge, where cars and trucks are not allowed. Or take a bike ride through South Waterfront Park, a 4.35-acre park along the Willamette River, including paved paths and public art.
When you can’t get to where you need to go, Uber and Lyft are plentiful. However, make sure to have a rental car option handy for day trips. Highway 43 runs through the South Waterfront and easily connects to Portland’s downtown neighborhoods or areas like Lake Oswego.
The Portland Aerial Tram is also a popular way to get around town. The highly anticipated tram connects from the waterfront to the OHSU campus with panoramic views. Anyone can, and should, ride it for the views alone.
Schools & Employment
South Waterfront has green space to offer kids, but it isn’t your typical family-friendly neighborhood. Parents send their kids to local schools nearby or private options. Higher education opportunities are plentiful at OHSU to explore careers in medicine. There’s also a large teaching hospital, research facilities and trauma center located on campus.
You can live, play and work right in South Waterfront. OHSU is also among Portland’s biggest employers and medical providers. The neighborhood is ideally located for students, staff and members of the greater OHSU hospital system. Retail, hospitality and service providers also pepper the business landscape around the South Waterfront.
Ready to move to the urban neighborhood wrapped up in nature’s beauty? Start apartment hunting in South Waterfront’s community by checking out all the available listings on RENTCafé and enjoy riverfront proximity to the best of what Portland offers.