Among the remarkable cities lacing the Pacific rim of North America, Portland lies like a jade charm across the confluence of the Willamette and Columbia Rivers. Livable is the word most often used to describe Portland. Charming is another. A river and a thoroughfare divide the city into walkable quadrants, each with its own personality and attractions.
Rush hour finds as many cars heading into the city as out. With sidewalk cafes, museums, auditoriums and arenas; Portland is one place where the sidewalks don’t roll up at night.
The 2006 census counted only 3.7 million people in Oregon. About a third of them live in Portland, but nevertheless feel a strong connection to the rest of the state. On clear days, how could it be otherwise? Then, more than ever, Portland feels kissed by the Gods, virtually bursting with patriotic anthem.
“Purple mountains’ majesty from sea to shining sea” is graspable when Mt. Hood rises Fuji-like to the east, and the crashing Pacific surf pounds to the west. Throw in the wine grapes and grass-growing plains of Willamette Valley to the south, and a bickering brotherhood with luscious Washington to the north, and you’ve got , the Beautiful within a seventy-five mile radius.
To celebrate all this glory, Portland is chock-a-block with parades, festivals and concerts during the (hopefully) dry summer season. Portland Rose Festival kicks it all off after Memorial Day, but drop in anytime and you might run across the Oregon Microbrewery Festival, Waterfront Blues Festival, Summer Concerts at the Oregon Zoo, Hawthorne Boulevard Street Fair, or a Rose City Astronomers star watch party.
While outdoors, be sure to catch views of lopped off Mt. St. Helens
(she blew her top in May 1980), Mt. Rainier and Mt. Adams . The chiseled nib of lovely Mt. Hood can be seen from the International Rose Test Garden (the world’s largest), the exquisite Japanese Garden, and viewpoints throughout Forest Park, the 11-mile greenway
running along the ridge of the west hills. The ledges below these parks are crammed with interesting houses reachable via steep sidewalks, connecting bridges and hidden stairways.
Besides being called the Rose City, Puddletown, and Stumptown (from its lumbering past), Portland is nicknamed Bridgetown for the unique bridges that unite east and west Portland. Occasionally the city closes the downtown bridges to motor traffic and gives free run of them to bikers, hikers and runners.
Perhaps above all, Portland is about water. It drizzles, sputters and pours from the sky during 160-some days of precipitation, although the average rainfall here is the same as New York City, 29”. It burbles up from street bubblers, juts geyser-like from Salmon Street Springs, a water fountain playground. Parks sport shallow wading pools. If that’s not enough, the Columbia and the Willamette are home to scullers, jet skiers, dragon boat racers, stern-wheelers, barges and, during the Portland Rose Festival, a flotilla of impressive military ships.
In the nearby Columbia River Gorge, springs, creeks and waterfalls dot every few hundred yards, starting half an hour’s drive from Portland. A ribbon of water pours off a cliff at Multnomah Falls, the tallest water fall in North America. Further down the old highway 30 you’ll find Oneonta Gorge, a popular slot canyon which hikers wade through during the summer’s hot days, headed toward another waterfall.
Water and wine, microbrews and coffee, Portland is a thoroughly saturated town and if you can’t get wet enough outdoors you can try drowning yourself indoors at the espresso bars that forever spring up around town. The McMenamin brothers, two popular, prominent developers, continue to snap up and renovate unique and historical buildings, turning them into brew pubs, dance halls, inns and movie theaters where you can drink their wine and microbrews, lodge, or
watch second-run movies for two bucks.
The city that rains is also the city that reads, listens and watches. Crowds surprise touring authors with their enthusiasm. Oregon Public Broadcasting is revered. There’s a completely community owned and operated FM station.
Portland Arts & Lectures and Voices are just two of the lecture series’ that pack ’em in. Portland Opera promises nights of passion, no regrets in the morning, and the musicians live up to their motto. Oregon Ballet Theater has achieved national acclaim. For two weeks every summer the company practices in the leafy park blocks, stretching through the city’s core, for all to watch.
Portland is the home to legions of artisans; the climate is perfect for staying indoors and quilting or writing, although it may take some work for visitors to track them down.
Craftsmanship is also found in the city’s food and drink. Pacific Northwest cuisine includes wines (especially award-winning pinot noir and pinot gris), berries, apples, pears, filberts, salmon, clams, mussels, and Dungeness crab. Even the beer is brewed from local hops and grains. Add the ranching that goes on in two-thirds of the state and you’ve got fixings for every taste. Ethnic populations lend spice, and local chefs compete for innovative ways to present the best of the lot.
The Native Americans called the Willamette Valley the Valley of Sickness because it’s where they came to heal. That’s no less true today. Whether it’s to be soothed by all the water and a thousand shades of green or to see a practitioner, it would appear from the massage schools, acupuncturists, Oregon Health Sciences University, Western States Chiropractic College, and the National College of Naturopathic Medicine, that Portland is the perfect climate for all kinds of medicine.
Nobody takes Portland ‘s expansive beauty and livable charm for granted. It has spurred a healthy sense of civic responsibility; a desire to avoid gangs, gridlock and other boom town crises. Ballot initiatives are debated vociferously. Locals see the fruits of their clout in an urban growth boundary, light-rail, and more.
Portland was built at the last stop on the Oregon Trail and people continue to stop here, take an appreciative gander, and resolve to stay for good. Native Portlanders are resigned to the fact that
you may be unable to leave. They don’t expect you to slam the door shut behind you, but ask that if you choose to stay, you walk softly and carry an umbrella.