Portland, Oregon, is too often overlooked by tourists living in the shadow of cities like LA, Seattle, Vegas, Chicago, or New York City. But Portland is one of America’s most unique (and liberal) cities, famous for its outdoor adventures, microbrewed beer, green living, parks, and boutique food.
My first trip here was a few years ago for Thanksgiving. While in Spain I made friends who lived in Portland and paid them a visit on my way to Asia. Then last year I came back and spent more time eating my way around the city. What started as “like” during my first trip turned into love on my second. And now, I can’t wait to return next month as part of my book tour. Portland has joined the very tiny list of cities I would actually live in.
What I really love about Portland is the high quality of life. It’s compact and easy to get around, there is good public transportation available, the locals are friendly, there’s delicious food, it’s environmentally friendly, and, most importantly, there’s great beer.
I think Portland has a lot to offer travelers. It’s a shame this city gets overlooked so often. But if you do make it here (and you should), here’s my list of top things to do:
See Pittock Mansion — This is a stunning Victorian mansion in the western part of Portland that dates back nearly a century. The mansion contains beautiful artwork and furniture collected by the original owners. You can explore the mansion by yourself or on a guided tour.
Explore the Portland Underground — The Portland Underground Tour explores a series of tunnels in the Old Town section of Portland. The tours focus on the history of the tunnels, where kidnappers sold their victims to work aboard boats leaving port. I love underground city tours; I find learning about how cities grow and build on top of themselves fascinating (Seattle’s and Edinburgh’s underground tours are especially interesting), and this tour is no exception. They also offer paranormal-related tours but I tend to stay away from those.
Wander Downtown Portland — The heart of the city is centered around Pioneer Square and is a great place to explore local shops, hang out in the square, and just wander around. There’s nothing really special about this area, but I like grabbing a drink, sitting in the square, and people-watching on a nice day.
Hang out in the Pearl District — A very hip and trendy neighborhood on the streetcar line. It is an excellent place to hang out and people-watch while eating at some of the best restaurants in the city. On the first Thursday of every month, all the art galleries open their doors for casual viewing, and many serve wine and cheese. The famous Powell’s Bookstore is also located in this area. (I’ll be stopping there as part of my book tour!)
Hike Forest Park — Located in the hills northwest of downtown, Forest Park is one of the nation’s largest urban parks, at 5,000 acres. There are many great hiking and biking trails to be found winding through this natural forest setting. Portland is famous for its proximity to nature, and this is one of the best places in the city to “get away from it all.”
Lan Su Chinese Garden — I love the peacefulness of Chinese gardens. This beautiful urban retreat is in the heart of Chinatown and features a pond, a teahouse, pavilions, and lots of gardens. If you are on a budget, you can peek through the ornate open windows and see much of the gardens without paying admission.
Enjoy Laurelhurst Park — A beautiful park designed by a horticultural expert from the same team that designed New York City’s Central Park, this has a great atmosphere in good weather, with lots of locals and visitors enjoying the duck pond, the bike paths, and the off-leash dog area.
Visit Washington Park — Washington Park is a classic urban park with a whole bunch of trails that take you between the stands of trees, around the hills, and through the canyons. The park contains memorials for the Korean and Vietnam Wars, the Holocaust, and the Lewis and Clark expedition, and also offers beautiful vistas of Portland and Mount Hood. It’s just another example of how “green” this city is.
Gorge at the food trucks — Portland is famous for its gourmet food trucks that dot all corners of the city. Around Alder St., you’ll find the main concentration of them, with trucks serving every type of food you can imagine. When I’m in town I tend to eat the majority of my meals at these food carts because the portions are so big, the food so damn delicious, and the prices reasonable. If you’re not eating here, you’re missing out on a huge part of Portland culture. You can even take tours of all the food trucks.
Drink some great beer — Portland is one of the beer capitals of America, with over 70 microbreweries in the city. They take beer seriously here, and Portlanders will tell you they have the best beer in the country. (That might be a stretch though.) Visit Deschutes for a wide selection of beers, as well as Widmer Brothers and BridgePort Brewing. Most of the breweries also double as restaurants, and some allow you to take brewery tours as well.
Portland is one of my favorite American cities, and I’m looking forward to the fact that I get to be there twice this year (once for my book tour and later for a conference). The city gets some attention in the US but not a lot overseas; despite its domestic recognition, I still don’t think enough people go visit. Make Portland one of your next destinations, especially in the summer, when the city really comes alive.