The Top 10 Reasons to Visit Portland, Oregon
By Jane Manchee
In days gone by, Stumptown / Rose City / Bridgetown – aka Portland, Oregon – had a reputation as an old growth water-logged town, trees shorn to their unsightly stumps, so close together people could hop from one to the other. Located at the confluence of the Willamette and Columbia rivers, it was too small to be taken seriously.
But there is so much more to be offered by this lush vibrant metropolis. It continues to grow in population and diversity, offering a place of opportunity and innovation in technology, gastronomy, artisan craftsmanship, medical research, and more. It lures entrepreneurs of every ilk.
Here are the top 10 reasons to visit Portland, a one-of-kind jewel in the beautiful Pacific Northwest.
Reason #1: Washington Park’s Many Attractions
Washington Park offers something for everyone, with 159 acres of forest and trails, museums, memorials, and gardens. In it you’ll find activities for young and old alike, such as:
The World Forestry Center – Discovery Museum: Learn about the forests of the world along with many hands-on exhibits like rafting Class VI rapids without getting wet, or maybe try smoke-jumping.
- The Portland Children’s Museum is a terrific place for kids to let off some steam and learn while they’re doing it.
- The Oregon Zoo has undergone major renovations in the past seven years, with new areas expanded and improved for the elephants and North America’s largest bird, the condor – not to mention the yet to be opened Polar Passage and Primate Forest.
- The tastefully presented Oregon Holocaust Memorial, and The Oregon Vietnam Veteran’s Memorial.
- The Hoyt Arboretum: Within the arboretum are towering sycamore, cypress, and Douglas fir, as well as multiple dedicated trails to a variety of species like the holly, the maple, or the hawthorn, to name but a few.
- The Japanese Garden offers a compact yet tranquil refuge to contemplate and enjoy the beauty around you.
- The International Rose Test Garden has hosted many bridal photo shoots during their spring/summer floral heights.
Reason #2: A Damn Good Read
If the outdoors isn’t your thing, Powell’s City of Books is not to be missed.
Covering a full block and four stories of new and used books, Powell’s stocks more than one million books in nine colour coded rooms with 3,500 sections.
They have a good selection of out-of-print and hard-to-find titles, too, and are one of the best ways to occupy a good part of your rainy day as you roam the aisles or slip into one of the many nooks to get lost between the covers of a good book.
Find out more by visiting their online store at http://www.powells.com
Reason #3: Portland’s Markets
Oregon is celebrated for it’s agricultural bounty stretching across the state.
Portland benefits mightily with a variety of vendors coming from all points in the state to sell their farm fresh produce, pastured meats, seafood, fruits, cheeses, baked goods, wines, flowers, and more at the six markets operating under the umbrella of the Portland Farmers Markets. Shop locally in eight open-air year round markets sprinkled throughout the city.
If you plan to visit Portland to shop, the Portland Saturday Market opens every weekend from March through Christmas Eve. Considered the nation’s largest open-air arts market, it’s filled with handmade arts and crafts, and can be found in Old Town at SW Ankeny and Naito Parkway. It’s fun to wander through and find that perfect something you didn’t know you needed.
Reason #4: The Missoula Floods
Consider this image: a 1,000 ft wall of glacial water barreling down the Columbia River and depositing rich fertile topsoil, gravel, and house sized erratic boulders, scraped off the land as it moved westward from Montana. Not once, but multiple times.
The Missoula floods of 15,000 years ago or more are credited with this phenomenon, much to the benefit of Oregon’s viniculture and agricultural industries.
To learn more, check out The Oregonian‘s excellent article here.
Reason # 5: Portland’s Foodie Scene
Food is Portland, and we’re known for our brunch scene. There are far too many choices to mention, but a few favourites are The Screen Door, Pine State Biscuits, Gigi’s Gourmet, Besaw’s or, an old standard, The Original Pancake House.
Dinner options range from Paley’s Place, The Imperial, PokPok, Han Oak, Ox, Toro Bravo, Tasty n Sons, Dan & Louis Oyster Bar, Kachka, Ava Gene’s, Andina, Broder, Mingo’s, Atuala, Departures… the list goes on! Choosing a restaurant is certainly a subjective endeavour, but here are Portland’s 50 best to consider.
And then there are the food carts… over 500 of them housed in numerous pods set up all around town. We love Cartopia located at SE Hawthorne Blvd and SE 12th Ave for the delicious sweet or savoury crepes from Perierra Creperie or Potato Champion’s crispy, twice-fried fries. Not to mention the heaters and covered eating areas, too.
VoodDoo Donuts with the famous pink box and novelty menu is located downtown at SW 3rd and Burnside, but are also available in multiple locations. One of our favourites is the Maple Bacon Bar. Blue Star Donuts is giving VooDoo a run for its money and is a popular alternative (go for the Meyer Lemon and Key Lime Curd… ambrosia!).
If you plan to visit Portland in September be sure to experience Feast Portland, the preeminent food and drink festival in the Pacific Northwest, if not the country, showcasing the creativity, energy and enthusiasm sweeping the American food scene.
Reason #6: Artisan Beer, Breweries, Brewpubs
We could write a novel on the number and variety of craft beers and brewpubs available in Portland and Oregon.
It has since exploded in the past decade, and in 2016 there were nearly 1.8 million barrels of craft beer produced by 261 brewing facilities in 73 cities across Oregon.
Best bet to find your beer du jour is to explore the Oregon Craft Beer website to find what you are looking for in all things malt and hops.
Reason #7: Oregon Wine is Divine
The first vines were planted in Oregon as early as the 1840s, while the first winery, Valley View Winery, was established in 1850 – a full nine years before the state of Oregon was officially founded.
However, it wasn’t until the 1960s that real recognition of the state’s potential as a wine producer emerged when Californian winemakers like Richard Sommer and Charles Coury began to make their way north planting the first Pinot Noir grapes in the Roseburg area followed closely by the Willamette Valley region.
David Lett, founder of Eyrie Vineyards, is widely credited with the rebirth of the wine industry in Oregon, particularly with his stunning win in 1979 at the Gault -Millau Wine Olympiades in France. His 1975 South Block Pinot Noir not only placed in the top 10 but was also rated best Pinot Noir. At that point, European wine makers, particularly the French, sat up and took notice of this upstart state. Its combination of ideal climate conditions and the excellent terroir of both volcanic and marine sedimentary soils were recognized as appealing draws to eager winemakers. The 1980s saw more wine wins, elevated protection of agricultural lands, and increased marketing of Oregon wines with the inevitable influx of both European and Californian winemakers.
Today, Oregon wine country has 18 AVAs, over 700 wineries, and more than 1,000 vineyards growing 72 grape varieties. While many wineries are open year round, Memorial Day and American Thanksgiving are the most popular weekends when the majority of vineyards open their doors to the greater public.
Reason #8: Lan Su Chinese Gardens
Lan Su Chinese Gardens located in Oldtown / Chinatown is modeled after a 16th century wealthy Chinese family’s home and garden.
It’s the perfect place to catch your breath while strolling through the soothing gardens, observing the koi in the fish pavilion, and enjoying a traditional tea service in the Tower of Cosmic Reflection.
Springtime offers blossoming plum trees and an escape from the bustling city around you.
To learn more, visit their website at https://lansugarden.org
Reason #9: The Quirky and Weird
Shanghai Tunnels and Underground Portland tours will give you a glimpse of the seamier side of Portland’s past. Sins and sinners abound with bawdy tales of local lore. Learn the real meaning of ‘shanghaiing’ while walking above and below ground through Portland’s Oldtown.
If you have a further taste for the quirky, oddball side of life, then our motto, “Keep Portland Weird”, will appeal, as will the many nuttier attractions located here. There are also a variety of roadside attractions to be discovered should you venture beyond the city borders.
However, here in town you’ll find the Freakybuttrue Peculiarium where for $5 you can peruse scenes of mayhem, take selfies with sci-fi monsters, enjoy ice cream and snacks topped with bug larvae, or purchase a piece of memorabilia like original artwork, photographs, t-shirts, books, and mugs, etc. Pick up a souvenir oddity for that special weirdo in your life!
Stark’s Vacuum Cleaner Museum is free, open during regular business hours and a fun way to discover the history of the vacuum cleaner starting as early as 1905 up to the present day. Also worth seeing is Portland’s 37 ft tall Paul Bunyan statue which, over the years, has been decked out in Santa hats and Timbers scarves. Built for the Oregon Centennial in 1959 and on the National Register of Historic Places, he’s located in the N Portland Kenton area of town and has recently enjoyed a makeover thanks to fundraising efforts.
Reason #10: Getting Around Town
Don’t visit Portland without experiencing the city’s excellent public transit system. Called Trimet, it offers buses and the Max, which is like a streetcar/above ground train that travels from Portland International Airport across various points in town and beyond. If you prefer to go by train, use Amtrak or head to the Bus Station.
We have a tram that travels between the waterfront and our hillside teaching hospital, Oregon Health and Science University, that on a clear day gives you breathtaking views of the city and the Cascade Mountains. At the bottom of the tram line you can catch the trolley downtown or walk, bike, or take Trimet across the Tillamook Bridge, our newest span across the Willamette River over to the southeast side of town. Need a taxi? We have www.radiocab.net or www.broadwaycab.com for your traditional taxi services, as well as www.Uber.com ,www.Lyft.com. Or if you prefer to drive yourself around town try www.car2go.com, www.Zipcar.com, www.Reachnow.com.
You’ll find the city blocks downtown easy to navigate on foot and unusually smaller than in a bigger city. However, a true Portlander gets around on their bike, rain or shine. Personally, I’m a fair weather biker, but there are plenty of Portlanders who brave the elements everyday. I applaud their dedication and resilience. You can use a bike-sharing app like BikeTownPDX to explore, town or use this website to find all manner of bike rental businesses in Portland.
For a comprehensive look at bike events and where to ride in Oregon, the Travel Oregon website is chock full of good ideas. For the more adventurous spirit there is of course The World Naked Bike Ride. This annual worldwide event highlights the vulnerability of cyclists everywhere and decries society’s dependence on pollution-based transport. It’s also a lot of fun, and something of a free for all.
And hey, if it’s sunny this coming June 23rd, I just might go!
Contributor Jane Manchee is a Portland-based freelance writer. She is also Operations Manager of POW, the Portland Oregon Women’s Film Festival.