Things To Do In Portland
Fans of the Independent Film Channel series Portlandia may expect to see some of the characters from the show if they visit this beautiful Pacific Northwest city – and they would not be disappointed. Portland, Oregon is a quirky, vibrant, eccentric, ever-evolving, city that has something for everyone – no matter how conservative or unusual you might be. Where else but in Portland would you find a Chocolate Fest, the Northwest Coffee Beer Invitational, the Base Camp’s Collabofest (beer brewing) and the Wizard World Comic Con all happening in the same week? People in Portland tend to be weird, and they are proud of it. They even have a “Keep Portland Weird” campaign to make sure they don’t become too…normal.
Portland is known as the “City of Roses” because of the famous and fabulously beautiful roses that come from this area. The climate, with dry hot summers and cold, wet winters seems to be ideal for growing these sometimes fussy plants. But Portland could also be known as Beer City, having more breweries than any city in the world. There are over 60 breweries in Portland alone, and when you start looking at the nearby cities…its beer heaven. There is even a movement afoot to change the nickname of the city to “Beervana” but that probably won’t happen.
When to Go:
The best time to visit Portland really depends on the type of weather you are willing to tolerate. Winters in Portland (November through February) tend to be cold, wet, with occasional snow. So - wet and cold. Summers (June through September) are dry and warm, but temperatures can really soar in August to over 90ºF (21ºC). In August, there can be weeks of temperatures of 100º F or more. So it can be beautiful, but hot. Spring is a very beautiful time in Portland (March, April, May and early June).
The roses are out, and the city lives up to its nickname. It may rain a lot, but that is the price one has to pay for beautiful flowers and really great beer. Fall – September, October and early November - can be a great time to visit as well. Temperatures are moderate, and all kinds of beer-fests are going on all over the city. Since the Portland Saturday Market operates from March through the end of December, you will probably want to make sure you are there at a time when you visit that interesting and exciting place.
Here’s a list of Things to Do in Portland:
Before we jump into the list of great places to visit in Portland, you should know about the bridges. The City of Portland is built on both sides of the Willamette River, and there are no less than ten major bridges that cross over river. And in September of 2015, there will be eleven major road bridges. This, of course, does not count the rail bridges, and other “lesser” bridges and overpasses throughout the city.
The bottom line is, if you get on the wrong bridge, you can end up on the wrong freeway, or the wrong section of the City, or even in the wrong state (Washington State begins in the middle of the 1-5 bridge as you cross the Columbia River). And, unless you are planning to attend the event, do not even try to drive in the Portland on the day of the Bridge Pedal (a bicycle event in August, when 20,000 bicyclists take over the bridges gridlock is the order of the day!). But do not despair: a brilliant solution to your transportation needs is at hand!
Public Transportation in Portland is absolutely fantastic, and so user-friendly that the whole systems should be exported. The TriMet Bus system is integrated with the MAX Light Rail, the WES Commuter Rail, and the Portland Streetcar. Fares are based on time, not routes – so you buy a two-hour ticket or a day pass. And when you buy at ticket for one system, it is good on all the systems. So you can come into town on the light rail, jump off, grab a street car to the next stop, and take the light rail to the zoo.
The Streetcar, for example, goes to a lot of the best Portland attractions. So, if you are worried about driving, or the bridges, you can leave you car in the parking lot of your hotel and take public transportation all the way. And you can always take your bike with you as well – on any of the busses or trains. Portland is a very bicycle friendly city. But wait! There’s more! Starting in March 2015, you can buy tickets for two and a half hours, so you have (or will have, depending on when you read this) even more time to use the system.
Since Portland is the “City of Roses” it seems only right that we start with the many beautiful public gardens that can be visited in this beautiful city. The International Rose Test Garden at Washington Park are free to the public and is open daily from 7:30 to 9:00 pm. You can take a self-guided tour, and guided tours are offered in the summer months. Some of the most beautiful roses in the world are found here, and, on a beautiful spring or summer day, it seems like most of the city is here, taking in the sun and the smells. If you are lucky, you might even happen across a wedding as the garden Wedding Site tends to be a popular venue for that particular event.
If roses are not your passion, you can also visit the Rhododendron Test Gardens, the Lan Su Chinese Garden, the Bishop’s Close Garden, the Hoyt Arboretum, or the Portland Japanese Gardens, one of the largest Japanese gardens in the United States. Pioneer Courthouse Square should also be included in the list of Portland parks. Even though it is more like a town “plaza”, this is an urban park that hosts over 300 local events a year, including the weekly Farmers Market (Mondays, from June through October).
The Grotto is a Catholic sanctuary and park in the middle of the city. It covers 62 acres, and sees more than 175,000 visitors a year. There is a beautiful walk through the woods that holds over 100 statues and shrines. There is also a copy of Michelangelo’s Pietà. It is made of marble, of course, and is carved into the base of a cliff.
You can take an elevator to the top of the cliff where you will be greeted by a fantastic view of the surrounding area, including the famous - still active - volcano, Mount St. Helens. You do not have to be Catholic to visit this beautiful site. Admission is free, but if you want to see the view (and the upper gardens) at the top of the bluff, you have to buy an elevator token ($4 for most folks, kids- $2.50. Children under 6 are free – pick up one as you enter. Just joking). It is open year-round, but double check before you go as there are some closures for religious events.
Powell’s City of Books
According to several sources, Powell’s City of Books is the largest independently owned new and used bookstore in the world. This may or may not be true, but Powell’s is a huge store, and a great place to spend a rainy day (or evening) in Portland. The main store, which takes up an entire city block, is easily recognizable under its massive red and white sign. They have over one million books in the main store (and three annexes). They have so many books, in fact, that they have to color code the rooms in the building so you can find your way around. Even if you are not really a book-lover, you have to go to Powell’s. It’s a city institution.
Portland Saturday Market
In keeping with things that are quirky in Portland, the “Saturday Market” is held on Saturday and Sunday. So it’s not just a Saturday Market. It is the largest continuously operating, outdoor arts-and-crafts market in the United States, and it is a great place to visit. The Market operated from March through the end of December, regardless of weather. You can find handmade goods in any of the 251 stalls in the Saturday market, plus you can purchase (or just taste) all kinds of yummy Pacific Northwest and international foods.
It has long been an outlet for local artists and crafts people to sell their creations, and you are bound to find something there that is unique. Plus, there is always entertainment at hand in the form of live music and various street performers. Even if you spend the day just wandering around, looking at all the arts and crafts, and just munching your way from booth to booth sampling tasty and exotic food, you’ll have a grand time.
Beer and More Beer
As previously stated, Portland has more breweries and microbreweries that any other city in the world. At least that is what their Tourist Office says. And it’s probably true. The ready availability of local hops and grains, along with the very special Pacific Northwest water make Oregon a perfect place to brew world class beers. This means that there is a lot of completion and even free beer.
Yes – free beer! Many of the larger distilleries and breweries offer free tours and free tastings. Plus many of the smaller brew pubs and microbreweries host events and tastings. And then there are the Beer Festivals – too numerous to mention. You will want to contact the local brewery to find out hours and restrictions (like, can children go on the tour?). Portland is supposed to be the “craft brewing capital of the world.” Maybe you should do your own investigating to see if that claim is true!
Portland has many distinct neighborhoods, and therefore different shopping areas. One particularly attractive thing about shopping in Portland (and the entire State of Oregon) is that they have no sales tax. Tax free shopping! Yay! The Pearl District is the area with the most high-end stores and exclusive boutiques. The Downtown District, near and around Pioneer Courthouse Square, has all the familiar “mainstream” stores, and Pioneer Place is the downtown mall. Pioneer Place is a completely indoors shopping establishment, which is particularly nice on a cold, rainy day.
Nob Hill (aka Northwest) is vaguely located between Northwest 23rd and 21st streets. This is a lovely area of funky shops and cool restaurants sandwiched between and around beautiful Victorian and Craftsman homes. It’s a grand area to visit on a beautiful sunny day when you have all the time in the world.
Old Town/Chinatown is another fun shopping area in Portland. Actually, it’s just a fun district. This was Portland’s original downtown, and now it is the entertainment district and the location of the Saturday Market. It has tons of stores and eateries as well, and is a good place to find locally crafted and locally grown goods.
Of course there are the usual shopping malls and Outlet malls in the area – but they aren’t as interesting or as much fun.
Portland has a vibrant nightlife. Everything you can think of is happening in this city –usually on a nightly basis. Of course there are many many “pub crawl” and “bar crawl” events throughout the year – many of them with themes. It would be wise to check local listing to see what silliness is going on this week so that you are not startled when a super hero or masked villain accosts you at your drinking establishment. With so many bars and microbreweries in competition, “Happy Hour” specials abound, with just tons of drinks and great yummies priced soooo low. From 4 pm to 6pm you can eat and drink like a King!
Comedy clubs are big in Portland, as are Karaoke venues. Live music can be found any night of the week – somewhere. Classic music and Performing Arts are usually scheduled at the Arlene Schnzer Concert Hall, where the Oregon Ballet Theater, Oregon Symphony, Portland Opera, as well as visiting tours, entertain the good people of the City. For the more energetic, or those looking to dance the night away, there are numerous dance clubs. Some are huge, some are small and cozy. If you’re into live music, DJ's, 80’s music, or line dancing, there is a dance place for you. And some “are all-ages”, so those of you too young to drink can have a good time as well.
Ah - food. You can find just about any kind of eating in Portland. From extremely elegant dining to food carts, this city has it all. Portland, and the State of Oregon, is what they call “hyper-local oriented" when it comes to food, meaning that they try, as much as possible, to feature fresh, local produce, and locally produced beer and wine. Even the more than 600 food carts (food trucks) in Portland will be serving up the freshest most flavorful food possible. (Note: CNN proclaimed that Portland has the best “street food” in the world. Quite an endorsement). But, if you don’t feel like finding a pod of street carts, you can find a great meal at a local microbrewery, or on a floating restaurant on the Willamette River. Or, go to the top of some of the more high-end Hotels in the city and find a restaurant with a commanding view of the Columbia Valley Gorge and the Cascade Mountains.
In March, Portland holds the Portland Dining Month event, where restaurants all over the city offer a three-course meal for only $29. With over 100 restaurants participating, foodies can find themselves in eating heaven! And you can feel good about over-eating, as a percentage of the money from the event is donated to the Oregon Food Bank. So you can have desert and not feel guilty. And, just when you thought it could not get any better, Portland has a ChocolteFest! Every January, at the Oregon convention center – three whole days of chocolate related actives and tastings. Does it get any better than that?
Miscellaneous Weird Events
Here is a quick list of some truly “weird” only-found-in-Portland events that happen each year. This is only a partial list. The city that prides itself in being “off-the-wall” comes up with new events all the time. It’s hard to keep up.
Year-round, you can participate in “Karaoke From Hell”. In April, you can attend the “Faux Film Festival” that mocks film and popular culture. In May, you could find yourself involved in the Hero/Villain Power Struggle at your local pub. Sponsored by the Alter Egos Society, local folks wear home-made costumes and take on roles to fight imaginary crimes.
In June, Pedalpalooza involves hundreds of bicycling events, including the World Naked Bike Ride, and Unicycle Polo. These events last for the entire month. You can also participate in the “Geek Olympathon” or the “Quiet Music Festival” in June. In August, you could take part in the Adult Soapbox Derby, and in December – what else – “Santacon” (where hundreds of Santas participate in the annual “Pub Crawl” – bringing cheer and beer to good little girls and boys).
You can also visit the Faux Museum, or The Freakybuttrue Particulaium, or the Hat Museum. Zoo – like a normal tourist.
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