July 08, 2012

Why Portland Rocks

On our trip we have come across two cities that we had no expectations for, and but where we came away very pleasantly surprised: Austin and now Portland. Portland has smitten us with its waterfronts, bridges, expansive downtown and multitude of walkable city districts. We have been here just over a week, and have put only a small dent in the long list of things we want to explore in this city.

Portlandia statue in downtown Portland
Walking around downtown Portland
One of the reasons we really like Portland is its walkability. There is something to be said about walking down city streets, surrounded by thousands of people. In Portland it is extremely easy to get from one place to another. Public transport is readily available and there are plenty of options to choose from (streetcar, bus, and tram). Public transport is also free within a large range of downtown, which makes it even easier to get around and explore. There are sidewalks, and there are so many people out walking about at any given point in time that I felt safe walking just about anywhere.

Waiting for the tram on Pioneer Square
There are a number of distinct neighborhoods (Downtown, Pearl District, Old Town, Alphabet District, etc), and all are within walking distance of each other. Portland utilizes the mixed use city building model, so there are cafes alongside residential homes, tucked in with boutique stores and bakeries. It is easy to imagine taking a stroll from your home to the tavern three doors down, or the restaurant around the corner.

Old Town
23rd Avenue in the Alphabet District
Pearl District
Portland also reminds us of Boston, but bigger. There is a nice mix of architecture throughout the city that puts modern condominiums next to handsome churches and timeworn warehouse buildings, where their logo prints are still visible on their walls. Portland also feels more accepting than Boston. Here there are so many different personalities visible in the people, many different clothing styles are fashionable and I don’t feel like I have to wear a specific type of clothing to go out to a dinner on the town to fit in. Dogs are welcome on restaurant patios as well as in public transport, not to mention the city parks. There are lots of off leash locations around the city (32 of them!).

Signs of the past in the Pearl District
Portland has a very visible exercise culture. There are bike lanes on most streets, miles of running and biking paths, as well as loads of hiking trails within the city. Water sports are readily accessible. Kayaking and canoeing are easy to do in the city with all the rivers and lakes nearby, as well as swimming and windsurfing. You can ski and snowboard year-round on Mt. Hood, and the ocean is just an hour’s drive away. Portland also has the highest proportion of bike commuters per capita of any major US city, with 8% of its workforce commuting to work by bike (that’s about 10 times the national average). And, like Austin, the Yellow Bike Project is alive and well here. The whole idea was actually started in Portland, and has now evolved into the Create-a-Commuter program.

Finally, Portland’s location is not bad either. Like I mentioned earlier, the coast is only an hour away. Several mountain peaks are also a short drive away, and on a clear day you get amazing views of Mt. Hood and Mt. St. Helens from the city. The wide Willamette River flows right next to Downtown, and empties into the huge Columbia River, which separates Portland from the state of Washington on the north side. If you follow the Columbia River inland, you will find yourself at the Columbia River Gorge, with over 90 waterfalls along the drive, and at Hood River, the unofficial windsurfing capitol of the world.

The only downside we’ve found so far is the weather. We’ve come to Portland during its best time of the year, from July to October, when the sun shines and the rain takes a break. From all the locals I’ve questioned, it seems to be the consensus that after October, its non-stop rain and drizzle, and there are stretches in time when the sun doesn’t come out for weeks. The little bit of rain we caught when we first got here was actually pretty pleasant, and now that the sun is out, I’m kind of missing the cooler weather that comes with rain, so maybe the rain wouldn’t be so bad? I guess we won’t know unless we move here… :o)

Allow Me statue on Pioneer Square
To see more pictures of Portland, click here.

Happy Portland Discovering,


P.S. Did I mention that Portland has 49 breweries in the city, more than any other city in the world? How about that the metro area has the largest craft brewing market in the US? Yeah.

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