Portland

World Facts Index > United States > Portland

Named at the toss of a coin, enjoying your visit here is a solid bet. Home to a rich cultural scene and varied outdoor pursuits, this is a medium-size city known for its friendliness. A temperate climate, thriving economy and close proximity to both the Pacific Ocean and the Cascade Mountains are among the many reasons Portland has garnered high rankings on numerous livable city lists. An eclectic place, where both sophisticated and alternative styles peacefully co-exist, visitors will find this city full of interesting things to see and do.

Westside

Multnomah

Just south of downtown, this area--with its angled parking and friendly neighborhood cafe--is bursting with history. Locals enjoy tasty cuisine and friendly conversation at Marco's Cafe. A low din of voices, often punctuated with children's laughter, gives this restaurant an appealing ambiance. Perfect for a leisurely stroll, you'll find book, gift, curio and collectible shops welcoming browsers along the movie set-like main street. For the novice and expert alike, complimentary wine tastings are held each week in a low-key atmosphere at John's Market Place. Multnomah Art Center, while not commercial, can be considered the neighborhood anchor. Once the local elementary school, it has been converted for use as a community center, focusing on classes in the arts, including pottery and weaving.

Downtown

Hotels, restaurants and shops are an easy walk, taxi ride or short hop on a Tri-Met "fareless (free) square" bus in this bustling downtown district. Often called the living room of the city, centrally located Pioneer Courthouse Square is the scene of cultural events including the annual lighting of the city Christmas tree. Major department and specialty stores are concentrated within the surrounding blocks and Pioneer Place mall offers upscale shopping out of the elements. Within walking distance and with a decidedly urban flavor is Portland's major public institution of higher learning. Covering 36 acres at the southern end of downtown, Portland State University provides both educational and cultural offerings to the public. Beginning at PSU, the tree-lined South Park Blocks provide a pleasant stroll to the Portland Art Museum or Oregon History Center. Just steps away, the Portland Center for the Performing Arts is the cultural heartbeat of the region and host to more than a million guests each year. Major freeways and transportation systems feed into downtown, making this district a convenient base for both the business and leisure traveler.

Waterfront

Fed by mountain snows and rain, the Willamette River separates the east and west side of the city. A collection of bridges allows walkers, bicyclists and motorized vehicles to cross back and forth above the water flowing to the Pacific. Of such commercial and historical interest, bridge tours are offered weekly.

Still in downtown, the Riverplace Hotel offers accommodations along the waterfront as well as shops, restaurants and a picturesque marina. Depending on the season, you might see dragon boats, cruise ships, barges, tugboats, fishing vessels, kayaks, sailboats and water-skiers, along with the military ships that tie-up every June during the Rose Festival. Some people also make their homes on the river in houseboats available for sale or rent.

Old Town

Remnants of this area's colorful past can be seen above and below ground. Film companies often use this district's 19th century architecture as a backdrop. Underground, a system of tunnels is the subject of tours.

A pair of lions stands guard at the entrance of Portland's Chinatown. In the spring, the sidewalk entrances to the Chinese restaurants are sprinkled with the pink petals of flowering plum and cherry trees. Dim sum carts wheel through narrow aisles as diners try to decide which delicacy to choose next. Currently under construction, the new classical Chinese garden will further cement China's place in the region's history and provide serenity amid urban hustle. Along the waterfront of Old Town, the Japanese-American Historical Plaza pays tribute to Americans who were interned during World War ll.

A don't-miss treat is the ever popular Saturday Market located under the Burnside Bridge. On weekends from March through Christmas, this decades-old outdoor arts and crafts market is alive with music, performers, food and original wares often sold by the artists themselves. Quality goods and reasonable prices round out the reasons to consider adding this activity to your list.

Northwest

Locals refer to this district as 23rd, the street that screams trendy. Sidewalk diners and espresso sippers watch the parade of shoppers who walk up one side and down the other, searching for treasures or just to be seen.

At night, thousands of tiny lights strewn about the trees and shops add a warm and festive touch. Several excellent restaurants and upscale shops call Northwest home. An old-timer in the neighborhood, Music Millennium, is still going strong and musicians are often a featured attraction. Rich's Cigar Store, after a century of service, still keeps the city in tobacco, newspapers and those sometimes hard-to-find magazines. While 23rd gets most of the attention, the area is also home to the Civic Stadium--soon to be alive with fans of a new baseball team.

The Pearl District

Buildings that once served the city's industrial needs are one by one being converted into urban living space. With homes above and retail businesses at street level, these efficient multi-use spaces are being filled as soon as they become available. Lofts are the among the trendiest living spaces here; the number currently under construction is a testament to the demand.

For those who chose to live or visit here, the Pearl District is an artist's haven. Home to a nationally renowned advertising agency, Weiden and Kennedy, and film and recording companies such as Will Vinton's Claymation Studio, this area is the heart of commercial art. Galleries abound and open their doors each First Thursday for the public to glimpse the vibrancy of local creativity.

Another quintessentially Portland and internationally known landmark encompasses an entire city block and oozes with expressions of the human condition. Found in a paint-by-number fashion, a map of color-coded rooms leads to shelves dripping with murder and romance. This is Powell's Books, an ordinary building with an extraordinary inner life. The largest new and used bookstore in the world, plan to run in on your lunch hour and grab a copy of the latest must-have book or spend the day wandering the aisles, mesmerized by the sheer volume of words in print. Inspiration is easy to come by, perhaps the reason Portlanders consider it a great place to take a date. Coffee is available at the onsite Anne Hughes Coffee Room and people watching is as good as it gets.

City Parks

One of the best things about living in Portland is the close proximity to the ocean and mountains. Places to get away from it all or participate in outdoor pursuits are bountiful. How can the person who is stuck in the city find a little slice of nature? With over 4,600 acres, Forest Park is the largest city park in the United States. Only minutes from the downtown core, this wilderness is home to abundant flora and fauna; even Thoreau would find solitude here. Hiking, biking or just lazing among the trees, this park offers open spaces and a respite from city living.

With 546 acres, Washington Park encompasses several major attractions. The Oregon Zoo, formerly the Washington Park Zoo, is a favorite with families and holds outdoor concerts in the summer. Many people combine a zoo visit with a tour of the World Forestry Center and the Vietnam Veteran's Living Memorial. In the same vicinity, Hoyt Arboretum offers visitors a self-guided walk through hundreds of different species of trees. Leaving the forest setting, the International Rose Test Garden provides sweeping views of Mt. Hood in addition to fragrant scents and subtle color differences among the 10,000 plants. Just a short walk up the hill from there, the visitor will be quietly swept into another culture. The Japanese Garden's serene beauty invites contemplation. For a step back into another era, take a tour of the Pittock Mansion. Located atop a hill with magnificent views, agencies shoot ads from the sweeping grounds of this stately setting.

Eastside

Sellwood

An antique lover's nirvana, Sellwood is home to a wide assortment of locally owned shops, specializing in collectibles such as furniture and jewelry. Spending an afternoon here can take you back in time and, for some, invoke childhood memories. Oaks Park is close by on the water's edge. Oaks Skating Rink and renowned pipe organ have entertained generations of Portlanders. In the summer, children's delighted screams can be heard as they enjoy the Oaks Amusement Park carnival rides. Oaks Bottom Wildlife Refuge sits next to the park, providing the perfect spot to glimpse a variety of birds.

Convention Center Area

Located on the east side of the river, across from downtown Portland, you'll find the hub of the city's trade and sports shows. The Rose Garden Arena is home to the Portland Trailblazers NBA Basketball team and serves as the venue for other sports events and concerts. The original home of the Trailblazers, the Memorial Coliseum is still going strong and provides a smaller, more intimate setting for the city's needs. Something happens every day of the week at the Convention Center and its central location offers show attendees numerous choices and flexibility in lodging, restaurants and attractions. Nearby Lloyd Center Mall gives visitors a chance to shop indoors at one of over 200 stores, ice skate at the Lloyd Center Ice Chalet, watch a movie or have a quick meal in the food court. Don't miss the collection of interesting shops and restaurants located just outside the mall on Broadway.

Travel a little farther south to visit the Oregon Museum of Science and Industry (OMSI). This interactive science museum attracts young and old alike. A popular OMSI attraction at the water's edge is the permanently berthed, partially submerged U.S.S. Blueback submarine, open for public tours.

Hawthorne District

In the shadow of a volcano, shop for vintage clothing, sip a local microbrew, or savor the flavors of food from vegan to Coney Island hot dogs. This neighborhood's eclectic aura defies exact definition. A little hippie, a little trendy, it is still non-corporate enough to leave space for interesting discoveries. Going east on Hawthorne Boulevard, visitors will discover Mt. Tabor Park--an extinct cinder cone, a simple volcano. This park is popular with runners, picnicking families, and groups of drummers adding their beats in geologic time. Another Portland landmark, nearby Laurelhurst Park is a great place to enjoy a romantic stroll or feed the resident ducks.

History of Portland

Bordered on the east by the stunning Columbia River Gorge and majestic Mt. Hood and on the west by rugged coastline spiked with timber, the only thing that's ever dictated anything to the people of Portland is the land itself. This is a place of snowy volcanic peaks; a city cut through the heart by a mighty river, and canopied by skies that weep at least as often as they shine. In spite of this rugged territory, or maybe because of it, Portland has always been shaped by its promise as a place where you might actually find whatever it is you're searching for. You can't help but feel that, in a land this rich, you're bound to stumble across it somewhere.

The first native people arrived here 30,000 years ago, hungry and crossing the Bering Land Bridge in pursuit of game. Slowly trekking from Alaska southward, they were surprised to discover that the new land not only held a much milder climate, but also seemingly endless stores of whales, salmon, fur animals and ancient forests. Thrilled with the bounty, but probably disagreeing about how best to use it, it's believed that several tribes splintered away from the original group, crafting a way of life that was all their own. In Oregon, coastal tribes opted for the abundance of the sea, while the hunting and gathering tribes slashed their way inland to ferret out game. Around 1750, some of these hunters and gatherers began to come face to face for the first time with white "mountain men": trappers and traders wandering the Oregon land. It's easy to imagine a tribesman and trapper eyeing each other suspiciously in a misty forest--a meeting of independent minds that was just a harbinger of things to come.

Although Oregon has been "discovered" many times over the centuries, in the early 1800s it was still home almost exclusively to Native Americans. The land was a prize all right, but getting here was one mighty arduous undertaking. It took the interpretative skills of the Shoshone woman, Sacajawea, to find a way across the nearly impassable Rockies for Lewis and Clark. Once this feat had been accomplished, word went out that fortunes were to be made, and westward flu became the new contagion. Two fur traders, Asa Lovejoy and William Overton, had it bad.

Arriving on the Willamette River in 1842, Lovejoy and Overton banked their canoe in a clearing on the river. It was a beautiful spot; the timber and game were plentiful, and the river provided passage to the Pacific. Like anyone of sound mind, they concluded it would be the perfect spot to establish a new town; with a 25-cent claim to the land, the new settlement began.

However, before the ink was dry on the paperwork, a quarrel began. The chief argument was over what to name the new settlement. Pettygrove, a native of Maine, wanted to name it Portland, but Overton, who was from Massachusetts, wanted to establish another Boston. With a toss of a coin, it was settled--Portland was born.

In 1859, Oregon became a state, and the little settlement on the river grew phenomenally. In spite of a couple of fires that nearly wiped out the town, people streamed into Portland and huge downtown buildings began to grow as swiftly and as tall as the trees they replaced. The first of Portland's famous bridges, the Morrison Bridge rose against the skyline in 1887. Such marvels of engineering must have made Oregonians feel as if it might be possible, after all, to impose their will on the land.

Unfortunately, the land was not all the newcomers were trying to dominate. White settlers and native people had been at odds for years by the 1890s. Treaties had been altered or ignored altogether, and the rush for land gobbled up the homelands of tribe after tribe. To most of the Native Americans, the concept of land ownership was as silly as the idea of owning a chunk of sky, yet still they were held to contracts so repressive that fighting seemed the only answer. Some of the most famous of these battles, the Nez Perce and Modoc Wars, have left a deep scar on our collective conscience. By 1900, virtually all the resistance movements had been crushed.

Today, Oregon tribes are at last experiencing an economic renewal--thanks to exciting gaming venues all over the state. Any of these beautiful casinos are well worth a visit, not only for the fun, but for the support they provide Oregon's original sons and daughters.

By 1913, Portland's population had climbed to 276,000 people. The new century brought "new fangled" ideas like the Meier and Frank department store, where you could visit floor after floor of merchandise. There were heretofore unheard of business concepts, like the Janzten Beach Swimwear Company'scandalous in those days. Suburbs began springing up; an American city as we know it was emerging.

Remarkably, it had only taken 30 years to change from the mud, blood and beer dominated early days, to the newer, gentler Portland. Simon Benson's sparkling water fountains (Benson Bubblers) and wholesome activities such as the sweet-smelling Rose Festival meant that taverns were no longer the only place in town to wet one's whistle, and that there were healthier alternatives of entertainment. Portland was one of the busiest ports on the globe, and it had happened in spite of the colorful types who promised to shanghai sailors for ship's captains. This "split-personality" Portland was developing a unique feature: all of her citizens, the shady and the brilliant, mingled like a stew to form a one-of-a-kind community. It may have been the first place in America where Puritan and Bohemian, Adventurer and Homebdy could all feel right at home. The multiplicity of personalities who still live here assures us that the one defining characteristic about this city is that such a characteristic simply doesn't exist. This town literally bubbles with eccentricity.

By the end of the 20th century, Portland had seen it all. There were economic hardships from a failing timber industry in the 70s, followed by a spark of growth from the silicon revolution of the early 80s, which ballooned into prosperity so great it ultimately led to Portland's being named America's most livable city. Even in this new century, nothing has tarnished the magnetism of the Oregon Trail. Volcanoes, wind and rain are all part of the allure here, and the streets' ambiance, hazy or sun-bathed, somehow becomes the characters that walk them. Portland is a city that sparkles.

Dressed in magnificent architecture that still manages to create small, friendly blocks for strolling and saying hello to strangers, and adorned with a glistening necklace of a river and the snowy tiara of Mt. Hood, Portland remains the true beauty she was when Overton and Lovejoy fell in love with her all those years ago. You're bound to come away bewitched as well.

The Weather

  Jan Feb Mar Apr May Jun Jul Aug Sep Oct Nov Dec
Avg. High 45 51 56 60 67 74 78 80 74 64 52 45
Avg. Low 34 36 38 41 47 52 56 56 52 44 38 34
Mean 40 44 47 51 57 64 68 68 64 55 46 40
Avg. Precip. 5.4 in 3.9 in 3.6 in 2.4 in 2.1 in 1.5 in 0.6 in 1.1 in 1.8 in 2.7 in 5.3 in 6.1 in

 

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