Set in the lush Willamette Valley, about a 90-minute drive inland from the Oregon Coast, Portland is a compact, easy-to-get-around city that makes a great base for exploring the area’s beautiful natural scenery. That said, this compact city has plenty to offer within its metropolitan area, from a thriving culinary scene to some of the nation’s finest city parks.
Park of Roses
Not surprisingly, many of Portland’s top attractions are outdoors. Check out the city’s Washington Park, set on a hill overlooking downtown Portland and home to International Rose Test Garden, which features some 10,000 colorful rose bushes. The nearby Japanese Garden is considered the most authentic garden of its kind outside of Japan.
Not far from Washington Park, the historic Pittock Mansion makes a popular pit stop, particularly for those interested in seeing beautifully preserved interior design. Don’t leave town without visiting the Lan Su Chinese Garden, a Ming dynasty-style garden housing some 400 plant species.
A River Runs Through It
There’s no shortage of water in Portland, and the Willamette River runs right through town, separating the west and east sides, and plenty of operators offer kayaking and stand-up paddleboarding classes right in the river. For summertime swimming, head up to Sauvie Island, a huge island situated in the Columbia River just a short drive north from downtown; you’ll even find proper sandy beaches here, not to mention swimmable (if chilly) waters. For fishing, head up to the Clackamas or Sandy rivers (just make sure to get a permit first); steelhead, trout and chinook salmon are among the most popular species found in the waters here.
Riding and Rambling
The Portland metro area is full of great places for active travelers. The city itself is known as a mecca for bicycle lovers, with lots of well-demarcated bike lanes all around town. For longer trips, the Springwater Corridor connects southeast Portland with the city of Boring and is popular with cyclists (though it gets plenty of hikers and joggers, particularly in the sections closer to town). Hiking is also huge here, with miles upon miles of hiking trails in the city’s enormous Forest Park. The Columbia River Gorge region, just northeast of town, has lots of trails to choose from.
Portland is known for its hipster vibes, and the stereotype is not too off the mark. Many of the city’s eastside neighborhoods are filled with cool bars, coffee shops, tattoo parlors and record stores, and the indie rock scene the little town has to offer is known around the world. It’s also a haven for book lovers, unsurprising given the many rainy days the city sees, and Powell’s City of Books, the world’s largest new-and-used independent bookstore, is headquartered here. Portland is also a haven for outdoorsy folk, with its easy access to beaches, mountains and deserts, not to mention myriad hiking trails right in the city limits.
Party Time in Portland
Unsurprisingly, Portland offers all sorts of wacky events, from the summertime Adult Soapbox Derby in August to the festive SantaCon in December, a pub crawl in which people dress up like Old Saint Nick. Feast Portland in June is another massive hit for food lovers and showcases some of the city’s most exceptional culinary talents.
All That Jazz
Music lovers won’t want to miss summer outdoor celebrations such as Cathedral Park Jazz Festival or the Waterfront Blues Festival, while book lovers may want to come in the fall to experience the annual Portland Book Festival (formerly Wordstock) in November.
Coming Up Roses
However, the city’s most important event may be the Portland Rose Festival held each spring, featuring daytime and nighttime parades, a carnival-style fair and a Fleet Week, all right in the city center. Enjoy fantastic food and drink, as well.
Portland’s Back Pages
Portland started in the middle of the 19th century as a port city, owing to its strategic location near the confluence of the Willamette and Columbia rivers. However, the area had already been inhabited for centuries by members of Upper Chinook tribes. Much of the downtown area was destroyed by fire in 1873, so many of the historical buildings you’ll see today, particularly in Portland’s Old Town, date back to the turn of the 20th century. Travelers wishing to learn more about local history may want to pay a visit to the Oregon Historical Society’s museum or the Oregon Maritime Museum. The state’s history never fails to fascinate.
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