For many years, Portland was a quiet town. Seattle’s bookish cousin, it hunkered down near the Cascade Mountains and mended its plaid shirts and logger boots. Now Portland tops the charts as one of the country’s most livable places. Portlanders love good coffee, good beer, and a well-grilled salmon fillet. Along with these cosmopolitan tastes, Portland has developed a unique character as a laid-back, independent-minded enclave for writers and artists, outdoors enthusiasts, and connoisseurs of pinot noir.
The city traces its history back to the explorations of Lewis and Clark and early pioneers from the Oregon Trail, who journeyed West in search of land. With its abundant natural resources, Portland soon became a port and frontier outpost. It gained its notorious nickname “Stumptown” as settlers felled trees for acreage. In the twentieth century, Portland grew into one of the West Coast’s major cities. Increasingly attractive for young families, Portland became known as a quiet, community-oriented place to raise children. 21st-century Portland offers a vibrant scene for young professionals, and attracts newcomers with its affordable and health-conscious lifestyle and high standard of living.
With bike paths and lush parks, Portland promotes an active lifestyle. An hour east is Mt. Hood, with hiking trails and skiing; an hour west is the blustery and beautiful Pacific coast. Waterfalls spill off the cliffs in the nearby Columbia River Gorge. The Dundee Hills, spotted with vineyards, specialize in pinot noir production and are an easy day-trip from the city. Even within the city limits, a vast network of trails wind through Forest Park, one of America’s largest urban parks. Portland provides ample opportunity to stretch, jog, cycle, and meander through a beautiful natural landscape.
Green in both its forests and eco-conscious citizens, Portland prides itself on environmental innovation. Throughout the summer, farmer’s markets sell fresh local produce. A tight urban growth boundary has kept the city small and accessible through public transit. In the European style, downtown Portland promotes walking, and the Pearl District is a popular pedestrian shopping area.
The Willamette River eases through downtown and meets the Columbia just north of the city. These two waterways have provided inspiration and commerce for Portland since pioneer days. Now spanned by many bridges, the Willamette is a gathering place for citizens. The annual Rose Festival carnival dominates the waterfront in May, and the Blues Festival brings thousands to listen to music on the grass in July. Even on blustery days, Portlanders jog and cycle along the waterfront Esplanade. This paved loop attracts dog-walkers, businesspeople on lunch, runners, and bikers.
The light-rail network, called MAX, zips commuters from the Beaverton and Clackamas suburbs into the city center. MAX also makes for an easy arrival at Portland International Airport. Visitors can hop the Red Line train just outside the terminal; twenty minutes later, the train snakes into downtown. From there visitors can catch the train to the Rose Quarter, home of the Trail Blazers, or PGE Park, future home of a Major League Soccer team. A trolley line connects downtown to the Pearl District and to NW 23rd, an old neighborhood at the foot of Forest Park. Bus lines connect to residential neighborhoods, as well as to Oregon Health Sciences University, the city’s prominent research hospital. The old Union Station, a red-roofed train station topped with spires and circled by birds, serves Amtrak trains to Seattle, Eugene, California, and beyond.
As the city has grown, art and music have flourished. Musicians play small clubs, and the most popular bands are not the sounds of national radio. Portlanders value originality and innovation. Young artists make up the “creative class,” a burgeoning population of young people with talents in art and design. Portlanders have always supported classical music, theater, and dance. Oregon Ballet Theater, the Portland Opera, and other cultural institutions provide rich context for independent artists.
Portland’s eco-consciousness also makes for a thriving foodie culture. Devotion to fresh, local ingredients means that Portland chefs seek seasonal dishes, and gives room for play and creativity. Paired with nearby pinot country and the most per capita microbreweries in any city worldwide, Portland’s food will satisfy any big-city palate with local innovation.
Notorious for its weather, Portland has a love-hate relationship with the rain. Portlanders know that their city will usually remain gray from November through late spring, and develop a fondness for the drizzle that keeps the city green and beautiful. The summer months are the best time to visit – warm, sunny days and light well into the evening. For visitors who hope to take advantage of Portland’s myriad outdoor activities, June, July and August are ideal. But Portland’s secret season is fall. The trees redden, the light thickens, and September eases in with sunlight and mild temperatures.
Despite its newfound hipness, Portland retains much of its original pioneer spirit – a slightly curmudgeonly and loveable oddness. Friendly Portlanders will probably greet you on the street – but they might be on stilts, or want to chat about newly painted bike lanes. Quirky Oregonians are your best ticket to touring Portland; many will eagerly take the opportunity to show off their city, and proudly display their Rose City roots.
Rather than hitting big sights, visitors to Portland can linger and explore. Find a friendly bar and watch the rain; take a walk along the river; attend a Blazers game. This is a place that values quotidian pleasures. We pride ourselves on our roses and our coffee. In fact, there’s a good chance that while you’re here, you might enjoy the perfect cup.
For more about Portland check out these Perfect Portland Articles.