I can enjoy a visit to a large city as much as anyone — seeing the Eiffel Tower, Sistine Chapel, Buckingham Palace or Statue of Liberty are as exciting and fun for me as for any traveler. But overall I’m more relaxed and comfortable, and derive greater pleasure from visiting smaller cities and towns than I do a huge metropolis. Such places are easier to get around in and lend themselves well to exploration on foot. They often have quality attractions not as well known or as busy as those in larger cities.
Such — sort of anyway — is the case of Portland, on the lush green banks of the Willamette River where it joins the mighty Columbia River not far from the Pacific Ocean. While the sprawl of the greater Portland area is home to nearly 2 million people, the city has a very compact downtown core that has a “small city” feel and is where we usually focus our visits.
To many Portland is probably best known for it’s basketball team, the Trailblazers, or its fine gardens, but I like the ambiance of the place. I find it a near perfect weekend getaway destination. Like so much of the coastal Pacific Northwest, Portland is often gloomy and gray but don’t let that keep you away. Even if it’s hazy you won’t be cold as the area has a pleasant moderated climate and you’ll likely enjoy how it moves at a slower, more relaxed pace than most cities. Give Portland a chance to work its charms on you!
Things we enjoy seeing and doing in Portland…..
1) Japanese Garden: Maybe the finest Japanese garden in North America, this is a beautifully manicured complex that’s worth visiting in any season, whether to see a dusting of snow, the blooms on the cherry trees in spring, colorful irises on the banks of a koi pond in the summer, or the bright fall colors. Amid the gardens there are tranquil pools framed by Japanese maples, and a waterfall. It’s an easy place to spend the better part of a day if you’re so inclined.
2) International Rose Test Garden: One of the city’s biggest attractions is its famous Rose Garden, for obvious reasons a summer-time attraction. The gardens have been in place for almost 100 years and mostly display new test hybrids; winning a prize here can ensure a rose’s success! The garden is situated on the hills west of downtown, near the Japanese Gardens. On a clear day, there’s no better place to be as you get lovely views of Portland’s skyline framed against the conical snow-capped dome of Mt. Hood while surrounded by thousands of colorful roses. The city’s Rose Festival in June is it’s biggest annual event.
3) Portland Saturday Market: Held at the northern edge of downtown, in the Skidmore Historic District adjoining the Willamette River, this weekend market (held every Saturday and Sunday except during the winter when it’s closed) is a place we always like to visit when possible. It features hundreds of kiosks and displays, many with very unique handcrafted merchandise. Items available for sale range from jewelry, paintings, furniture, blown glass, food, carved wood, to clothing and accessories. There are a large number of good food kiosks where you can grab a tasty snack or lunch. I’ve found the Saturday Market to be the most interesting place to shop in Portland — quite a feat in a city with lots of great shops! — and it’s rare that we leave with empty hands. A note of warning — the Skidmore district is safe during the day but is best avoided after dark.
4) Walk through the historic city: The core of the city is small enough to easily get around by foot. Downtown is fun to explore any time of year, but is especially nice on a summer’s eve. We enjoy the walking south on SW Broadway for a mile or so starting at Pioneer square, heading east a few blocks, then completing the loop heading north on SW Park Avenue through a beautiful tree-lined pedestrian walkway. This walk takes you past lots of restaurants, cafes and shopping, but also several nice attractions worth stopping to see:
a) Oregon Historical Society Museum: I’ve always enjoyed the tales of the legendary Oregon Trail and of the thousands of settlers who crossed an unknown and rugged country to homestead in the farming valleys of this region almost 150 years ago. The museum chronicles more than this time period, starting from prerecorded history to modern times. The OHS facility is easy to recognize by the memorable eight story tall mural on its external walls.
b) Portland Art Museum: Features a large collection of contemporary art beginning with the European Impressionists to the present. It also has an interesting and large collection of Native American art and artifacts.
5) Powell’s (City of Books) bookstore. One of the greatest bookstores in world, Powell’s is well worth a stop if you have a love of books and reading. Powell’s is slightly north of downtown in the Pearl district and has massive collections of all types of books, new, used and collectible. Unlike many bookstores, everything here is orderly and organized, but the place is huge, so grab the store map as you enter so you can navigate your way towards what interests you.
6) Day trips from Portland: Portland serves as an excellent hub from which to travel to other great places in the Pacific Northwest. Great side trips from Portland include:
a) Columbia River Gorge: The last 40 miles of the Columbia River, east of where the Willamette joins it, offers some of the most spectacular scenery in the United States, from wonderful rock formations to plunging waterfalls. The road through the Columbia River Gorge also provides access to scenic Mt. Hood, a classic conical volcano that stretches to 11,235 feet).
b) Oregon coast: It’s only an hour to the beautiful Oregon coast from Portland. A popular destination is Cannon Beach
c) Long Beach peninsula: situated in southwestern Washington state, this interesting region is rich in Lewis and Clark history. There is no closer major city from which to access it than Portland
d) Wine-tasting tours of Willamette Valley vineyards
e) Seattle. Only a few hours drive away, and a detailed topic by itself.
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