At the confluence of the Willamette and Columbia Rivers, St. Johns was once its own city—even a century after it was annexed, some longtime locals will still tell you they live in St. Johns, not Portland. Early resident James John was not a saint, just a generous guy who donated land for the initial platting and, when he died, wanted his property to be the site of a public school. Today that school’s playground and turf mini-soccer field are enjoyed by neighborhood families. Locals can also picnic where the rivers meet in Kelley Point Park; score some of the New Haven–style pizza at Gracie’s; up their disc golf game at Huk Lab; sing karaoke onstage at the Fixin’ To; load up on housewares, locally made jewelry, and more at the Salty Teacup; and catch a movie at one of two homegrown cinemas sitting just five blocks away from each other (all in nonpandemic times, of course).
“The whole strip here, in downtown St. Johns, has retained a weirdness,” says Julian Rose, a Montreal native and former Moonstruck chocolatier who lives in Cathedral Park, the neighborhood that fills the hillside between that “downtown” strip and the Willamette. “Every time we go, there’s something funny. One time [at Marie’s, a bar on N Lombard Street] there was a group of pirates, for no reason—parrots and everything.” He’s a fan of Affogato for coffee and artisan ice cream, and the Beer Porch food carts for a quick bite. Just across the street from the Moonstruck HQ and chocolate shop is another go-to spot for Rose: the taproom at German-style Occidental Brewing, which has been closed in the pandemic but selling its beers through local stores as well as pickup and delivery. “It’s crowded by mostly locals,” Rose says. “We can sit with friends, and make new friends easily.”
And the famously soaring arched green St. Johns Bridge, opened in 1931. Says Rose: “From pretty much any angle it’s beautiful.”