My husband and I lived in Portland, Oregon for three years. We knew that it was not a permanent move, so we soaked up as much of the town and the area as we could. I hope that I offer the best of both worlds as both a resident and a tourist, since we viewed each Saturday as a new mini-vacation and an opportunity to explore the region. I think that Portland would make a great girls' trip (friends or multi-generational family trip), a couple's getaway, or a family trip. I hope to visit there again to show Amanda her birthplace and the places we enjoyed toting her around as an infant and toddler. Don't think a visit is in your near future? Perhaps you will still enjoy a virutal tour, by clicking the links, reading history, and looking at the pictures, or taking advantage of some of the buying opportunities that will give you a taste of the Rose City.
When to Go
Yes, it's true, it does rain a lot in Portland. From October to June, you are likely to get some rain. In fact, from November to March, it is likely that you will see mostly rain. However, if you don't mind a little damp cold, the Fall is beautiful and the rain is mostly harmless, coming down throughout the day in a light drizzle. I didn't worry about walking around as long as I had my rainjacket with hood. That said, from mid-July through most of September, you are guaranteed no humidity or rain, long hours of daylight and highs in the 80's to lower 90's (and warmer on occasion).
With all the cool and rainy weather, it's no wonder that the whole coffeehouse craze started in the Northwest. Whether it's Seattle's Best, Starbucks, or Coffee People, there will be someone to serve you on every corner (and maybe three choices on one corner) to get the chill out of your bones. This article explains some of the differences in personality of each spot and recommends some independent coffee houses as well.
The Northwest has excellent Thai. Our favorite spot was Thai Orchid. The Burnside location is convenient, but doesn't have much atmosphere. If that is crucial to your dining experience, try Beau Thai, which also serves great food. Beware about Thai food--if they say, hot, it's hot (and this is from a jalapeno popping Texan).
The downtown McCormick and Schmick's is where it all started. They specialize in fresh seafood, and specifically dungeness crab is a Portland speciality. The atmosphere sets the mood for a nice dinner out. If you like a little more lively spot, try Jake's, more of a Portland landmark, but with the same high standards. Try the crab cakes--no filler! For dessert, if they have the three berry cobbler, you must try it. Want a virtual experience? McCormick and Schmick's began branching out around the time we left Portland. We've been to a couple in different cities, and the atmosphere is much the same, giving us a taste of Portland. Check to see if there is a location in your area.
Activities and Sights
The International Rose Test Garden is best seen from May to September, during which time free tours are given daily by volunteers. Additionally, at the site you can download a pdf self-guided tour. If you visit, you will see 6800 rose bushes and 557 varieties. Washington Park is also home to a great playground (which is even handicapped accessible), the Japanese Gardens (which was beautiful but not very stroller accessible and not worth the $8 per person admission in my opinion), and the Oregon Zoo. My husband and I love to visit zoos if we have an extra day in a town. It's a nice way to have an educational visit and spend time out of doors if the weather so permits. Portland's zoo is beautiful. The Max rail system (see below) has a Washington square stop that would get you to all of these areas. If you live in an area without mass transit, a little ride can be a part of the fun, especially for the kids.
I am not a shopaholic, and in fact my dad doesn't think that shopping should be any part of a travel experience, beyond buying souveniers and local specialities, because "you can shop at home." As a busy mom, I've come to appreciate the opportunity that a lightly scheduled trip affords for shopping. So, whether you fall in that camp, or you just incorporate shopping into any experience that you have, Portland offers much to the shopper. For one thing, there is no sales tax in Portland. So if you've been eyeing an expensive jacket or pair of shoes, you could save enough in sales tax to buy your dinner. The Portland area has two outlet malls, Columbia Gorge, and Woodburn, both an easy drive of under an hour (in opposite directions). Portland is home to the headquarters of Nike, so a visit to Niketown in downtown Portland, to play or shop, might be in order.
NW 23rd/Nob Hill is a funky area on the outskirts of downtown. You could spend a morning strolling here, visiting bohemian boutiques and having some lunch. This link explains the area as well as many other fashion finds.
Powell's City of Books on West Burnside, downtown, bills itself as a booklover's paradise, and the largest new and used bookstore in the world, carrying more than a million volumes on their shelves. This is one of the places I miss most in Portland, and when I visit, I will definitely leave room in my suitcase to return with books from Powell's. One unique feature is that they shelve books together by title, so unlike other bookstores where these listings could be in three different sections, you would find a hardback copy, paperback copy, and a used copy of a particular book on the same shelf. I love bookstores and have visited many, but I'm not sure that any have compared with the City of Books experience. These people love their books. Their website is similar in feel to the stores, and I would indeed describe it as a virtual booklover's paradise, featuring new and used books on the same page as well. Do you want a monthly virtual visit to the mecca of all bookstores? Try subscribing to their email newsletter. I enjoyed it in Portland, and have continued to enjoy the author interviews, bestselling lists, employee recommendations, and articles from FUP. Store Cat, in a typical offbeat Portland fashion. Each month, one new subscriber wins $100 in free books. There's no spam, and once you sign up for this newsletter, you can also look at others, specifically addressing kids' books, used books (available in store or online), review a day, and more.
You could drive around all of these places, but if you do stay downtown, many of these sights would be a quick stroll or short taxi ride away. Additionally, the Portland Max light rail system is pretty thorough, even from the airport. Because the freeway system is easy to navigate, you could easily stay in Beaverton or other areas of NW or SW Portland (each address is signified by the quadrant of town it's located in, making it easy to get oriented), where you could probably find a less expensive chain, but I always love staying downtown in cities when I can for the extra dose of city charm and personality.
Are you or someone you love a train freak? Check out the light rail link. There are many pictures and explanations of train speeds and routes and lines that could boggle your mind and put you in mass transit heaven.
I could literally (and might) write an entire article about a driving trip within the Pacific Northwest, but here are a couple of easy day trips (or even half day) within an hour or so of Portland.
The Columbia River Gorge offers wonderful fall foliage and scenic drives. Don't miss Multnomah Falls, the second highest year round waterfall in the U.S. (at 620 feet). Stop off at Rasmussen Farms to buy some freshly picked fruit. Want a virtual experience? Order fruit boxes for yourself or as a gift. The spring cherries are excellent.
Cannon Beach on the Oregon Coast is a nice little town. There are shops, art galleries, ice cream shops (which is imperative to any vacation that we take). This site has many pictures for a virtual experience, including a sunset webcam (on the galleries page). Haystack rock makes for a beautiful coastline. I will say that as many times as we visited the "beach," we never went swimming. In fact, even in the heat of summer, it was so windy and cool that we usually wore a jacket.
The Oregon ski mountains are not large and covered with lifts, but due to the wet conditions, they have a fantastic base, and it is an absolutely beautiful skiing experience. Check out Timberline, including a webcam and updated conditions. The lodge there is an old-fashioned ski lodge, with roaring fireplace that is a great place to relax after a drive up to see the snow.
Have you been to Portland or do you live there? What are memorable Portland experiences for you?