Monday, September 25, 2006

Destination: Portland, Oregon

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

Washington Park
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.

Getting Around
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.

Side Trips

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.

Your Opinions
Have you been to Portland or do you live there? What are memorable Portland experiences for you?


Susanne said...

Great tour! I've never been there but now it makes me want to go!

Tammy said...

Oh, Jennifer- you did a fantastic job with this write-up on my near-by city! I have lived in this area since I was a teen, so I know a good review on it! ;)
Do you remember when you read one of my first posts about driving in the city? Well, I know I said I didn't like Portland but that was basically because I don't like driving in cities...period. And I guess there's a liberal attitude which is evident in the atmostphere that I don't care for...but there's no getting around that it's a city planted smack in the midst of beauty!
I guess I would add a side trip to Mt. Hood. Yes, it's a little bit of a drive, but since it's such a landmark, it's worth it if someone was visiting from far away and staying awhile. (I can't believe it took me this long to finally go to Mt. Hood in the summertine- gorgeous!)

Loved reading of those places you mentioned...Haystack Rock and Multnomah Falls.

As for shopping, there's our share of "big malls" too...Lloyd Center (ice skating rink) Washington Square in Tigard, and several others. I'm not a big mall shopper anymore, but they're fun to visit at Christmastime.

Guess I'm just a country girl at heart, though...I gravitate towards all the surrounding areas of great state parks and farmlands. (We have some wonderful parks!)

But this was a great Portland review, Jennifer! :) thumbs up!

Katrina said...

Wow Jennifer - very comprehensive! I have to say, I've never felt particularly drawn to the northwest (no particular reason), but now I'm thinking that between the coffee and the bookstore, Portland might just make for a fun visit. :) Oh, and I'll be showing Camden that light rail link - he loves all things train! Thanks for doing this.

Heather said...

I love a rainy day, but so many rainy days, and I'd become one of those depressed statistics.
Been to the northwest once. We didn't have rain the entire week. Absolutely lovely, especially the trees. I do want to visit again. I'd love to take this info and see as many book places and eat as much Thai as I can.

e-Mom said...

What a great post, Jennifer! Like Tammy, I feel right at home. We live a few hours north of Portland in (urban) Seattle, and we love the Pacific Northwest. Powell's books... I've heard about it, but I've never been. Now I must go! Thai food, coffee, does it get any better? We discovered the Advertising Museum in downtown Portland. I don't know if it's still there, but it's well-worth your time, if you go back to visit. We're skiers, and we've driven over to top of Mt. Hood (Timberline) but we've never hit the slopes. Thanks for the gentle nudge. Maybe we'll go this winter... I'm psyched! OK, I've just signed up for Powell's books "wildly successful, fearlessly creative" newsletter. I'll let you know what I think.

Blessings! *-)

kailani said...

Great write-up! I love layovers in Portland. In fact, I have one next week. We're not there long enough to enjoy some of your recommendations but I do love the shopping!

Kathleen Marie said...

My husband lived in the Washington-Oregon area from about 10 years and has often talked about taking me there for a vacation. It does sound wonderful! Thanks!

Jen Rouse said...

As a life-long Oregonian, I've always loved the Northwest. I'm a smalltown girl and growing up Portland was "the big city" we ventured into once or twice a year. However, we spent the last summer living in the SE suburbs while my husband was on an internship in Wilsonville, so we got to spend some more time in the area.

Some of my favorites: the McMenamins chain of hotels, movie theaters, pubs and restaurants. This locally owned business restores historic landmarks and makes them into quirky, fun places to visit. I highly recommend the Grand Lodge for an overnight stay and the Kennedy School for dinner and a movie.

For my 5-year wedding anniversary this August, my husband took me to the Portland City Grill. It was fabulous--the food, the atmosphere, the view out over the city. It's quite expensive, but if you're in town for an anniversary, a honeymoon, or any other special event, it's worth it.

Oh, and for booklovers, Portland is the home of Ramona Quimby, Henry Huggins, and other Beverly Cleary characters. There is an actual Klickitat Street, and it's in Portland, and you can visit it! (It's not far from the Kennedy School, as a matter of fact).

Also, true Oregonians don't really mind the rain. In fact, the first rainy day of the fall makes me happy just as the first sunny day of summer does.

Jennifer said...

I was just thinking as I drove around today that I forgot to mention "the joint!" It was a hamburger place in an old 1800's house--dark, live music sometimes, and great burgers. It was part of the McMenamin's chain, that Jen mentioned--Rock Creek Tavern (which I just read at her link burned down in 2002, but is now back in operation).

Such wonderful additions from all of you true Northwesterners. It really is a wonderful place to visit or live.

Dianne said...

Funny, I've never had a great desire to travel west of Chicago but Portland is one place I wouldn't mind seeing. You should submit something to a travel magazine - this is good stuff!

Dad said...

Great write-up. Reminded me of all our visits there with you (starting when "we" picked out the house.
Thanks for the shopping quote. Very accurate.