During my senior year of college, in the course of searching for jobs and mulling over where I wanted to live post-graduation, I developed a mysterious obsession with Portland, Oregon. Had I ever been to Portland? Nope. But had I read and re-read Portland’s Wikipedia entry, with its references to Portland’s environmentally-conscious culture, its many independent coffeehouses and microbreweries, and its temperate oceanic climate? You betcha, and it was enough to convince me that I would be insanely happy if I could only find a job and move to Portland. Obviously, life took me elsewhere, and I didn’t get to test out this theory until I visited Portland this past weekend. I’m happy to report that the city lived up to all my expectations!
Portland is a lot like a smaller version of San Francisco, with a quirkiness that is proudly acknowledged in the famous “Keep Portland Weird” slogan. Simultaneously, there’s a feeling of health and wholesomeness, engendered by the trees lining every street, the abundance of vegan and gluten-free options, and the friendly, smiling people. At one point we walked past one of the many fountains filled with happily splashing kids, and I felt like I’d been transported back to an era of classic 1950s-style Americana.
A few general tips if you ever visit Portland:
Today I’ll write about things to do in Portland, and tomorrow I’ll write about places to eat and drink.
International Rose Test Garden: This stunning rose garden is located on the far west side of the city inside Washington Park, which is also home to a Japanese Garden and the Portland Zoo. The Rose Garden spans 4.5 acres and is filled with over 7,000 rose plants of approximately 550 varieties, including hybrids from all around the world. Walk to the highest end of the garden and look east for a beautiful view of Mount Hood through the trees. The garden is open 7:30am to 9:00pm daily, and admission is free.
Powell’s City of Books: This independent bookstore in the Pearl District (just north of Downtown) spans a full city block and is three stories tall, giving The Strand in Manhattan a serious run for its money. The store sells millions of new and used books, including rare and out-of-print books, and we easily spent over an hour wandering through the aisles (check out the store directory below to see why). Be sure to visit the Blue Room, where the 12-foot tall shelves filled with classics will remind you of just how any great books you haven’t read yet.
Saturday Market: This outdoor arts and crafts market by the waterfront is the largest open-air market in continuous operation in the United States. If you’re looking for some quirky Portland souvenirs, this is the place to go. There are a lot of the typical wares found at crafts fairs, such as soaps and candles, but it’s worth wandering through the stands to locate some of the more unique products, such as the jewelry and housewares made out of utensils, or the purses made out of old board games and book covers. Despite the name, the market is actually open on both Saturdays (10 to 5pm) and Sundays (11am to 4:30pm), from March through December.
Oregon Brewers Festival: Every year over the last weekend in July, dozens of breweries bring their finest ales to the Portland Waterfront for this four-day long beer festival, with over 80 brews on tap. Purchase a beer mug for $6 and tokens for $1 each, with one token buying you a (fairly hefty) taste of beer, and four tokens buying you an entire mug. Lines can get a bit long, but we discovered that this often didn’t correspond with the quality of the beer, so definitely check out some of the less popular brews. Some of our favorites included Beer Valley Brewing Company’s Jackalope Imperial Pumpkin Porter, Salmon Creek Brewery’s Oatus the Red, and Cascade Brewing Company’s Razberry Wheat.
Stay tuned for a second post tomorrow with details on where to eat and get your caffeine fix!