A 20-minute drive north from downtown Portland, St John’s is a hidden gem and that’s exactly what many residents of this neighborhood like about it. Tucked away under the St. John’s Bridge, it used to be a small town, and it still feels that way—the kind of place where decades-old mom-and-pop stores still line a main street. St. Johns is an ideal neighborhood for families to have some old-fashioned fun together, filled with inexpensive pleasures, unique treasures, and plenty of space to run and play.
When to go: Any time. The annual St. John’s Bizarre and Parade takes place in May and there is an arts festival in late June. The popular Cathedral Park Jazz Festival (31 years and going strong!) happens in July.
What to do: All showings before 6:00 pm at St. John’s Twin Cinemas and Pub (pictured) are only $4.00 per person ($4.00!). Kids are welcome at any show before 8:00 pm. Plus, they have great snacks, including an excellent candy selection, Hot Lips pizza, and local beer.
LilyToad offers a wide selection of children’s clothing, toys, gear, and maternity wear. They have gently used goods and offer some locally made kids goods (clothing, toys, etc.) on a consignment basis. They are also a wonderful resource for information about local children’s activities.
Believed to be one of the Lewis and Clark landing sites in the Vancouver-PDX area, Cathedral Park is one of our city’s finest. The soaring trees and the gothic-arched bridge views make for a perfect picnic location. St. John’s is also home to 87-acre Pier Park, which has every amenity a park could have. An outdoor pool (with slides), skate park, athletic fields, playground, wooded trails, disc golf, and abundant sheltered picnic areas. Tip: Try to find the large dreamcatcher!
At Granny and Nonna’s Toys, they are inspired by their ten grandchildren to provide toys that are fun, educational, and safe for our kids and the environment. Find good, old-fashioned toys like an abacus or rubber ducky. They have kids’ craft projects, games, and lots of jigsaw puzzles for kids and adults. You’ll also find unique toys made from recycled materials like sawdust and the plastic from milk jugs.
What to eat: One of very few original St. John’s establishments, Tulip Pastry Shop has been family-owned and operated for over 50 years. Their maple bars have a devoted following. Or try their heavenly donuts made with angel food batter. Stop by the nearby St. John’s Library before or after enjoying a treat. It’s one of the smaller (and more lovely) local libraries.
You might know Girasole Pizza from the summertime concerts at Kruger’s Farm, where their cart is a mainstay. You can grab a wood-fired slice from their new brick-and-mortar location. They have a great kids’ play area, too. They offer an interesting morning menu on the weekends, including breakfast pizza and french toast kabobs that are the ideal size for tiny fingers.
Proper Eats caters to vegans and families. It’s the perfect place to stock up on picnic supplies like sesame noodles and fresh, organic salads and sandwiches. They have a just-for-kids menu too (you’ll find the usual suspects like grilled cheese and a kid-sized burrito). This unique spot also functions as a market, so you can get beverages and anything and everything you need for a picnic in a local park or nearby wilderness areas.
Visiting Patti’s Home Plate Café in downtown St. John’s is like stepping back in time. This place is definitely doing its part to “Keep Portland weird.” It’s an old-time diner, a costume shop, and a knick-knack emporium. There is even a counter where you can buy your favorite Avon products. Enjoy the jukebox with records that have been spinning since the 60s. The food is classic diner fare and you can’t go wrong with a BLT and a chocolate soda.
Good to know: St. John’s is close to both Sauvie’s Island and Smith and Bybee Lake Wilderness. Head to St. John’s for a pre or post-hike meal or grab some picnic fixins.
— Cheyenne Terbrueggen