July 31, 2012

What To See and Do in Portland

Portland was such an unexpected treat for us! We had heard very little of Portland before we came here and had almost no expectations. We spent a month here, and now Portland is one of our most favorite cities in the US. I posted here on the numerous reasons why Portland is so cool. In case you decide to check out Portland for yourself, here is where we'd recommend you visit (most of the items are free!). I'm grouping the places by neighborhood, in case you don't have time to visit them all.

The Waterfront (along the Willamette River, on both sides)

There are walking/biking paths that stretch along the river on both banks. This is a great place to take a stroll, catch a ride on the Portland Spirit, get great views of downtown Portland, admire the multiple bridges, and play in the Salmon Street Fountain. The Saturday Market is on the waterfront, on both Saturday and Sunday (check the website for hours). This is a huge, craft fair type market with booth after booth of very creative local artists selling their wares. On the east side of the river you will find the Sapporo Bell at the Portland Convention Center. This is a friendship bell given to Portland by their sister city Sapporo, Japan. The waterfront is also the site for many annual events in Portland, such as the Waterfront Blues Fest and the Oregon Brewer's Fest.

Downtown (West of the Willamette River, south of Burnside, north and east of Interstate 405)

At 1120 SW 5th Avenue you will find the Portlandia Statue, the second largest repousse copper statue in the United States, after the Statue of Liberty. While walking around downtown you are bound to notice the Benson Bubblers, the iconic water fountains; there are currently 52 of them around! Visit Pioneer Square, the heart of downtown to get more information on Portland at the visitor's center that's located there. A short walk away is the Cultural District, where you can find the Portland Art Museum, the Central Library, and walk along Park Avenue. On a Saturday morning you can stroll all the way south on Park Avenue and you will run right into the Farmer's Market. This is one of the best farmer's markets we've been to, so much selection and samples galore! Just south of there you can catch a ride on the aerial tram at the OHSU campus; we heard you can get great pictures of Portland from there. Finally, at the northeast corner of downtown you will find Jeld-Wen Field, the home of the Portland Timbers. 

Old Town (West of the Willamette, north of Burnside, east of Broadway and south of Union Station)

The famous Portland White Stag sign is located on top of a building in Old Town, and the best place to get a picture of it is from the south side of the Burnside St. Bridge (in my opinion). On the roof of the building next door is a water tower that also has a picturesque Old Town sign. Union Station is one of the reasons to visit Old Town, there you will find the Go By Train sign (Portland has numerous signs around town describing different ways of traveling, Go By Train, Go By Bike, Go By Tram, etc). What's left of Chinatown is also in Old Town, and you can walk through the gate at the intersection of 4th Street and Burnside. If you watch the Food Network or just like doughnuts, don't miss a stop to the famous VooDoo Doughnut shop, although be ready for very long lines of others craving a piece of the goodness. On Saturdays and Sundays the Saturday Market spills over from the Waterfront into Old Town, so it makes for a nice transition if you're coming from one neighborhood to the other.

Pearl District (West of Broadway, north of Burnside, east of Interstate 405 and south of Naito Parkway)

This is the hip and happening district of Portland. Here you will find old warehouse buildings that have been converted to classy condos (you can still see lots of the old printed signs on the sides of the buildings if you look closely), lots of street cafes and restaurants, art galleries and quaint parks. This is a great place to go on a Thursday through Saturday evening for dinner and drinks. On the first Thursday of every month is the First Thursday Art Gallery Walk, where most of the art galleries keep their doors open late and some serve free wine and appetizers. I think its super fun to walk around and pretend like I could afford the beautiful art on the walls...not to mention drink free wine. Powell's Books is located in the Pearl District. This is the largest independent new and used book store in the world, and even if you're not looking to pick up a book, its fun to get lost in the four floors of floor to ceiling isles of books. Finally, a visit to the Pearl District wouldn't be complete without a visit to Jamison Square Park.

23rd Street/Nob Hill (The length of 23rd street from Burnside to Thurman)

This street is sometimes called Trendy-Third street because of all the shops you will find there. You can catch a tram ride from the Pearl District to 23rd street, and then stroll up and down both sides of the street. The cross streets go in alphabetical order (Johnson to Kearny to Lovejoy), and that is because this street is part of the Alphabet District. This is also another great place to come on Thursday through Saturday evenings for dinner and drinks, as well as any day of the week shopping. On this street you will discover specialty stores, high end boutiques, local distilleries, cafes, restaurants and plenty of bars. The Salt and Straw ice cream parlor is a favorite with the locals.

Washington Park to Forest Park (The large green space directly west of Portland proper)

Washington Park is a gem within Portland. Here you will uncover a whole treasure trove of places to visit: the Oregon Zoo, the Hoyt Arboretum, the World Forestry Center, the Portland Japanese Garden, the Portland International Rose Test Garden, and the Oregon Vietnam Veterans Living Memorial. The arboretum, memorial and rose gardens are free to visit. Washington Park is just a small portion of the park networks, and just north you will find the Pittock Mansion and grounds, and further north the massive Forest Park. A 40 mile trail connects all of the parks, its called the Wildwood Trail, and is a great place to go for a hike or a jog to escape the city life for a bit. If you're in the mood for mountain biking, you can also do so in Forest Park on certain trails, check out their website for more info.

These are the main neighborhoods that we explored, that's not to say that there aren't many more that we didn't get to. We also attended the Last Thursday festival on Alberta street (happens every last Thursday of the month). This is also a craft fair like festival with block after block of artists with amazing things for sale. There are also numerous street performers, food trucks serving up yummy food and millions of peeps milling around. If you're in town, we would definitely recommend you stop by. Also, we attended the annual Mississippi Street Fair on Mississippi avenue, and had a great time. Finally, if you haven't been to a horse racing track, check out the Portland Meadows. You don't have to bet, you can just come watch the gorgeous horses race. Don't forget your wide brimmed hats!

We hope you enjoy Portland as much as we did! Feel free to email me if you have any questions or want more information on something! Have fun exploring!

To see my complete Portland album, click here.

Happy Portland!


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  1. Nice post! It was fun to see Portland through new eyes since we often forget all that is available.

  2. Well you know our feelings on Portland! I really enjoyed writing this post. :o)