Odd as it may seem, it’s not unusual to meet Seattleites who take day trips to Portland. In these tight economic times, the cost of a hotel room is a strong inducement, at the end of the day, to point the car north and spend the night in one’s own bed.
Even so, it’s not a concept to be borne lightly: There’s the price of gas. And there’s the world’s most boring, three-hour drive to endure twice in one day.
Still, Portland is different enough from Seattle to get one thinking: What would I do there if I left Seattle at 7 a. m. and left for home at, say, 4 p. m.?
Approaching Portland, take Exit 302A toward City Center. Head for the area just north of Burnside Street at North Park. You’re more likely to find parking around here than most places in the city, and it’s a good place to start the day.
Downtown Portland is somewhat European in its walkability.
North Park — the beautiful, old, green promenade with majestic elms, big-leaf maples and black locust trees — separates the Pearl District from Chinatown.
Most visitors head for the Pearl with its galleries, clothing stores, cafes, restaurants and boutiques; Portlandia insiders will tell you the Pearl is passé. It’s still a nice stroll, especially if you wind up at the legendary Powell’s City of Books, 1005 W. Burnside St., which can swallow a book lover for the better part of a day.
Chinatown and lower Burnside Street, running down toward the Willamette River, the Greyhound Terminal and Union Station nearby, are a bit haggard in a 1950s, Beat sort of way. And Portland remains known for its strip clubs.
In Chinatown, The Lan Su Chinese Garden 239 N. W. Everett St. — with its giant pieces of wood and rock hauled from the home country — is a tranquil world behind high walls.
For one of
Portland’s classic walks, cross Steel
Bridge, turn south and follow the river. Downtown and its backing green hills rise to the west on the other side. It’s a great way to contemplate the city, something you can’t do when you’re flying past on the freeway.
The Hawthorne Bridge will deliver you back into downtown, where the University District (Portland State University), the Cultural District (which includes the Portland Art Museum, 1219 S. W. Park Ave.) and the South Park blocks all rub against one another. This is older Portland at its leafiest and finest. After exploring more of downtown
— including the Benson Hotel, 309 S. W. Broadway, where the bar is like a small chapel — head back to the open, green spaces of Tom McCall Waterfront Park, where Portlanders stroll, skate and bike and sprawl.
Portland’s famous food carts are clustered around town. Southwest 10th Avenue and Alder Street is one of the best sites, as is the cluster at Southwest Fifth Avenue and Oak Street.
After lunch, head up the hill to the International Rose Test Garden, 400 S. W. Kingston Ave., with its 7,000 rose bushes. There are grand views looking east over the river toward the Fuji-like snows of Mount Hood.
Washington Park contains the beautiful Japanese Gardens and Oregon Zoo. Also in Washington Park is the grassy, circular walk of the Viet Nam Veterans of Oregon Memorial — an unforgettable place.
All of this makes for a full day, without undue stress.
As you leave town, maybe cross the Hawthorne Street Bridge to the east side of the river: The Hawthorne District has that familiar, Pike-Pine feel of Seattle.
The low-key neighborhoods on the east side of the Willamette River, for those who live there, are the real Portland.
But that’s another trip.