Portland, Oregon: Pints, Pedals and Parks

The City of Roses has something for everyone: microbreweries, biking trails, and plenty of green spaces and places.

Portland, Ore., is known for its independent spirit, green practices, handcrafted beer, cycling culture and idyllic setting, nestled between the Cascade mountains and the Oregon coast. The city’s distinct neighborhoods mean variety for visitors and allow Portland’s many personalities to shine through. Whether toting along the kids or enjoying an adults-only weekend, Portland is best enjoyed through some of its popular pastimes, specialties and unique neighborhoods.

Getting Around

Portland is an easy place to explore, with some of the smallest, most walkable city blocks in the country. This means it’s easy to navigate from one block to the next in the downtown core, and there’s a lot to see. If you’re going farther, hop on Tri-Met’s buses, Max light rail trains or the Portland Streetcar, which will take you across town and give you a view—sometimes for free; downtown Portland’s “Fareless Square” is an area in the Southwest core that allows riders to hop on and off the Max trains for free. Tri-Met also has convenient places to stow bikes on its trains, buses and the streetcar, should you decide to take part in Portland’s favorite alternative form of transportation, cycling!

Bike lanes are common fixtures on most downtown streets, and are being improved all the time. Because so many people cycle in Portland (more people commute to work via bicycle per capita than any other city in the United States), drivers are generally more considerate of cyclists, there is ample bike parking and there are spots to rent bikes when you want to see the city at a faster pace than a stroll. [Read more in our Biking Portland article.]

Tri-Met offers a public transportation system that Portlanders are proud of: it’s clean, efficient and less crowded than systems in bigger cities. It’s not so overwhelming that older children couldn’t navigate it themselves, and there’s ample seating and usually many children and parents aboard trains, especially those running out of the city toward Hillsboro and Gresham.

The Max also runs out to Portland International Airport (PDX), offering a convenient and low-priced alternative to most airport transportation.


Portland Neighborhoods

From Portland’s Northwest 23rd neighborhood with its upscale boutiques and coffee shops, to the Hawthorne District on the east side of the Willamette River, the neighborhoods of Portland can sometimes seem like totally different planets, let alone areas in one not-so-huge city. This is part of what makes Portland so interesting for visitors. Some neighborhoods are old, some are new and many are undergoing renovation, revitalization, and in some cases, gentrification.

Portland’s Pearl District is a great example of this. Long called the “Brewery Blocks” for its abandoned brewery warehouses, it now hosts condominiums, hip eateries and art galleries that Portland’s young professionals relish.

The most recent new neighborhood in Portland is the South Waterfront. Located on the southwest side of the Willamette, it now plays host to stylish high-rise condominiums and apartments, new restaurants and Portland’s aerial tram, which transports doctors and other hospital staffers from near the shores of the river up into the West Hills and Oregon Health Sciences University in space-age vessels that traverse the city like gondolas. Grab a gelato at Bella Espresso that’s imported from Milan, or cozy up to any of the new restaurants that seem to open weekly in the brand-new area.

Farther west, Northwest 21st and 23rd Streets have made a name for themselves as shopping and strolling meccas, where people dine on the sidewalks in summertime beneath trees with twinkling white lights. Be sure to check out Coffee Time, which has become not just a coffee shop, but a local gathering place. Stroll down 23rd and duck into the boutiques, like Frumoasa and Blake on your way to the Marrakech restaurant, where authentic Moroccan food is served to diners who lounge on the floor.

As a rule, neighborhoods on the east side of the river are funkier and more independent, and flanked with more industrial land. The Hawthorne District offers coffee shops, restaurants, bakeries, theaters and shopping with an independent edge. A favorite is the Por Que No taqueria, which offers funky Mexican food selections and usually has a line out the door. Streets like Southeast Main and Southeast Mississippi have seen great improvements and the rise of some fabulous independent restaurants in the last five years, such as Colosso, which serves re-imagined Spanish tapas and a mean cocktail.

Top Portland Attractions

Must-See Sites for Adults

A visit to one of Portland's many local microbreweries is absolutely in order. Take a brewery tour at Widmer Brothers, or belly up to the bar at the Bridgeport Brewery’s in-town brewpub for some refreshment and some of the best beer you can find. If you’ve got your pooch in tow, check out the east side’s Lucky Labrador Brewing Co., where a casual atmosphere and great sudsy beer are offered on their dog-friendly patio. [Read more about Portland’s Breweries.]

On weekends, Portland comes alive with farmers markets, from the Portland Farmer’s Market on campus at Portland State University to the best-known Saturday Market, located underneath the Burnside Bridge in downtown. Buy artisan goods and organic food while browsing through art and listening to music as you navigate the adventurous crowd through the mazes of unique booths.

The Portland Art Museum is the oldest museum on the West Coast. Founded in 1892, the museum features more than 42,000 objects for your viewing pleasure with everything from an outdoor sculpture garden to a vast collection of Native American Art.

Visit the Pittock Mansion, home to the founder and publisher of Portland’s Oregonian newspaper. Henry and Georgiana Pittock lived on this 46-acre estate from 1914 to 1919, and the property has come to symbolize the original development boom of Portland when it was a young city. The castle-like mansion is furnished with period pieces, including antiques and fine art, and the grounds are a wonderful place for a picnic.

On a nice day, cruise the Willamette River on the Portland Spirit, which also offers lunch, brunch and dinner cruises. And no trip to Portland is complete without a visit to the venerable Powell’s Books, one of the largest independent new and used bookstores in the world. It takes up an entire city block and regularly hosts guest authors and other events. There’s also a rare book room, so you can finally find that first edition Palahniuk novel that you’ve been craving.

Must-See Sites for Families

Portland’s a great spot for families because it’s so good to its own resident families. The city’s classic spot for kids is the Oregon Zoo, perched in the West Hills and recently renovated and improved. The zoo offers kids a chance to see and learn about both exotic and regional animals, like the Stellar sea lions that swim at Stellar Cove, a large exhibit that educates about creatures of the Pacific Northwest. Admission: $9.75 for adults ages 12 to 64; $8.25 for seniors 65 and over; $6.75 for children 3 to 11; free for kids under 3. Tel. 503-226-1561, www.oregonzoo.org.

A spot for more hands-on education is the Oregon Museum of Science and Industry (OMSI). Here, kids can learn about scientific principles and discoveries in many active ways, view an IMAX movie or see the museum’s submarine, which is docked outside the museum facility located on the east side of the Willamette River. Admission: $11 for adults, $9 for kids 3 to 13 and seniors over 65. Tel. 800-955-6674, www.omsi.edu.

Finally, the Portland Children’s Museum offers more chances for kids to play with interactive exhibits as they learn. The museum features science exhibits, including one about how Portland was built, and fun attractions like a climbing wall. Tel. 503-223-6500, www.portlandcm.org.

Portland Green Spaces

Throughout the city, there are parks with plenty of space for kids to run and play, such as the famous Tom McCall Waterfront Park which runs along the west side of the Willamette River in downtown Portland. Depending on the time of the visit, there could be a festival or concert going on in the park, and many offer a chance for the whole family to enjoy some of Portland’s atmosphere and personality.

Try heading up into the West Hills near the zoo to explore Portland’s huge Forest Park or Washington Park, which plays host to the Rose Gardens, Japanese Gardens and breathtaking views of the city skyline from above.

[Read more about Portland’s green spaces in our Portland Parks article].

Outdoor Adventures

Mount Hood is about an hour out of town and a mecca for skiing, snowboarding, sledding, snowshoeing and even hiking in the summer. Skiers have a choice between Mt. Hood Meadows and Timberline, and deals abound in local newspapers and ski shops. Renting equipment from REI while in town can be a better deal than renting gear up at the mountain.

Hiking, mountain biking and rock climbing are favorite pastimes in the Portland area, and the wide-open Pacific Northwest provides lots of space and opportunity to try them. Many Web sites offer directions and reviews for trails, but you needn’t go far: Portland’s huge Forest Park is right in the city and offers spots for mountain biking and hiking. For rock climbing, most popular spots are a little further out of town and into the Columbia River Gorge, but there are rock climbing gyms throughout town to get practice or sign up for a lesson. Portland Rock Climbs is a good resource for anyone wanting to get involved with the sport.

Where to Stay

Hotels in Portland range from classic to artsy and family-friendly to romantic and couple-focused. Staying in a downtown hotel means that public transportation and activities are just steps from your door, and you can find great places to stay that cater to your every need.

Celebrating Oregon’s nearby wine country inside the city, the Hotel Vintage Plaza serves regional wines and honors their family guests with a special package called “Growing up Gourmet” that welcomes families with a bottle of wine for the parents and grape juices made from the same grapes for kids, plus a three-course gourmet dinner at the adjoining Pazzo Ristorante where the chef will let the family watch as they prepare an Italian meal. Complimentary valet parking is also included. Rates start at $384 per night. www.vintageplaza.com

Other top options include the Hotel Lucia, with its chic design aesthetic and room service provided by Thai restaurant Typhoon, or the Jupiter Hotel, which adjoins the Portland hot spot Doug Fir Lounge, and provides a party atmosphere well into the night on weekends. [For a green hotel stay, read our Eco-Friendly Portland Hotels article.]

Where to Eat

Portland’s food scene offers the work of great chefs, alongside lots of creative options for kids. If it’s just the adults on the town, head to Portland City Grill, on the 30th floor of the U.S. Bancorp Tower, which overlooks much of the city and offers a creative selection of entrées and a great happy hour in the bar with live piano music. Another classic restaurant with a great city view is the Chart House, which is perched in the West Hills and serves sophisticated seafood and steaks.

When the kids are in tow and fine dining isn’t going to be the way to eat, check out fun restaurants like Peanut Butter & Ellie’s Café, which makes toddler-friendly food and offers a play area where kids can scream and run around without fear of dirty looks.

Unfussy food like pizza is offered up in a special way in Portland, with local joints like Pizzicato, offering gourmet pies for the whole family. Street food in Portland is also very popular, with ingenious recipes that can be eaten in the park or while walking around town. Even local microbreweries allow kids into their restaurants, and the character-filled McMenamins chains, with artistically restored buildings and pub food that’ll keep kids happy while mom and dad kick back with a pint of locally-brewed ale or one of the company’s wines, grown and processed at its Troutdale, Oregon estate.

Top Coffee Shops

A staple in every Portland neighborhood is the coffee shops. While Seattle to the north is known for its native-born Starbucks, true Portlanders have their favorite independent coffee shop and many offer a place for art to be displayed and independent professionals to work and converse on weekdays. Here are the best ones to sample:

Portland’s Stumptown Coffee Roasters are the original indy-coffee spots in the city. They offer cozy spots in their cafés and knowledgeable employees who care about the coffee they bring to Portland. A newer local coffee roasting company is Cellar Door Coffee Roasters, which recently opened its café on the east side, near Hawthorne Boulevard. Finally, for the ultimate Portland coffee experience, swing through the Black Sheep Bakery’s bike-thru window in the morning for a cup of coffee and a vegan muffin. 

Whether it’s a romantic getaway or a family vacation, there’s something to keep everyone entertained, fed and continually exploring this city that’s known for its independent spirit. Join the laid-back vibe and stroll down green urban streets, or enjoy a frothy microbrew or cappuccino while people-watching in one of the city’s vibrant neighborhoods.


Additional reporting provided by Ashleigh Nushawg.

Destinations: Portland

Themes: Ecotourism, Family Travel, Outdoor Adventures, Urban Endeavors

Activities: Hiking, Cycling, Eat, Museums, Parks and Playgrounds, Sightseeing, Sleep, Rock Climbing, Pubs and Bars

User Comments

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