Where To Stay, Transportation, Sightseeing, The People & Nightlife Scene
It doesn’t take a long walk down the streets to realize this town has a lot of character.
Historic brick buildings, small shops, elegant stores and endless pubs, cafes and restaurants line well-defined blocks. It’s not a tease, cool-looking places that fail to deliver. Instead, there are places like Mary’s, a low-key strip joint where beers are a buck-75 and the the dancers put their own quarters into the juke box. On some afternoons, more business is transacted at Mary’s than at corporate offices.
The rest of Portland is just as simply entertaining. The bars and restaurants serve fantastic Portland home brews, it is perfectly safe to stroll the pristine streets well past dark and the people are friendly and open to talking with visitors.
It’s best to stay downtown. Most of the rooms are in the $180 a night range. Those on a budget can find a place at half that price just across the river in the Civic Center and Rose Garden areas.
Arrival and Orientation In Portland
Portland’s modern international airport is clean and convenient. It also provides a good preview of what to expect in town: friendly workers approach travelers inquiring if they need any assistance locating transportation or services.
W recommend renting a car except for short visits that don’t involve leaving downtown. There is public transportation running from downtown to the airport and due to airport taxes, it’s actually cheaper to have a car delivered to the hotel than to rent it from the airport.
For those getting a car at the airport, when exiting, be sure and take the quick-approaching 84W exit off the 205; otherwise you will wind up in the middle of the countryside wondering how you could have completely sidestepped the city. Assuming this is executed properly, follow the signs to “City Center” (there are none saying “downtown”). Do not waver from this plan. This will be your first challenge to driving in Portland (see “Getting Around,” below).
Central to Portland’s activities is downtown. It’s quaint and quite charming, consisting mainly of small-story brick buildings plus a few nondescript skyscrapers. Several hotels – many of them of the boutique variety – are scattered throughout the area.
Portland is a small city and its downtown area can be walked in about a half an hour. Small parks, trees, shops and cafes make taking one’s feet a rewarding experience. Indeed, walking through Portland is a bit like hiking the Appalachian Trail – around every corner there seems to be a new discovery.
Yet the best thing about Portland is that it is safe. A lone stranger can be downtown at any hour of the day or night and never have to worry about crime. Even the homeless teenage runaways that gather on certain streets pose no threat.
Getting Around – Portland Transportation
On paper, Portland seems perfectly simple to navigate. Downtown, streets are numbered in one direction and alphabetically named after famous Portland historical figures (Couch, Davis, Everett, and so forth) in the other. Burnside slices the downtown area into Northwest and Southwest quadrants before disappearing into the hillside.
Indeed, walking around is a snap. It’s when one gets behind the wheel of a vehicle that things suddenly become unraveled.
Most roads are one way, signage is confusing at best even to locals, lanes suddenly turn into on-ramps for bridges (more about the bridges later), and it appears to be illegal to even think about making a left-handed turn anywhere in the city.
It’s all too common in Portland to be going in one direction only to wind up on some freeway heading out of town in the complete opposite direction. And even though you didn’t intend on going there, well too bad, because the first exit is five miles away, at which point you will turn around only to repeat the process all over again, creating your own personal Oregon Trail.
The good news is that no matter how screwed up you get driving in Portland, you are only five minutes from where you wanted to be in the first place, so while correcting mistakes are not easy, the compactness of the town makes it quite forgiving. So just keep your cool and don’t get too frustrated. Consider yourself part of the crowd, because EVERYONE gets lost in Portland. By the way, it’s against the law in Oregon to fill up your own gas tank, so all stations are full service. It’s really quite nice.
Its much easier to leave the driving to someone else, and thanks to a clean and modern public transportation system, it’s easily accomplished here. The MAX light rail system and Tri-Met bus system provides free or cheap transportation downtown and to attractions outside of the city such as the zoo, Japanese Gardens and Hoyt Arboretum. Service will eventually be extended to the airport.
The only drag about this otherwise fine system is that for some reason, the city planners and bar owners never got together before laying down the route system and the schedule. First, service stops around midnight. Second, if one desires to go from downtown to the widely-scattered pubs of the SE and NE areas, one must resort to taking a taxi or driving. Again, it’s not far, but it would be nice to be able to jump on and off a train at the door of your favorite pub. Fortunately, the safe and cheap buses run happily from downtown to the restaurant- and shop-heavy 23rd NW Street until midnight. There IS another alternative: McMenamins operates two different Cosmic Bus Tours to the east and westside locations of their pubs.
Navigating The The Many Bridges In Portland
“It’s just over the bridge.”
If someone in Portland gives you these directions, you might be eventually tempted to jump off. That is, if you could only locate the right one.
Because the Willamette River slices through the city, early planners decided it was necessary to connect the two parts of Portland with a bridge. You get the feeling that they really, really liked the idea and got a bit carried away with the it. If one bridge is good, it seems they thought, then two must be better. And if two is better, than three must be way better, and so forth.
So now, there are something like seven bridges spanning the Willamette, each going to essentially the same place. This being Portland, however, they all take a unique approach in getting there. Add Portland’s confounding road signage to the picture and newcomers, as well as veterans, wind up crossing bridge after bridge going back and forth over the river trying to figure out what side they should be on and scratching their head as to how they wound up where they are in the first place.
Good thing there are lots of pubs on both sides of the Willamette.
The People Of Portland
Friendly. Very friendly. So friendly, in fact, you begin to wonder what is their deal.
The fact is, the locals are just happy to be in Portland. They feel others should be so fortunate and they eager to spread their smiles to others. Meeting people here is a snap, especially in the modern martini bars and pubs.
The Nightlife & Party Scene In Portland
If there would be one word to describe the Portland party scene, it would be “cool.”
Then again,what else would one expect from the town that created the microbrewery?
The character of the pubs and clubs defines the essence of this town. It has pubs housed in brick buildings, a club located in the basement of another bar and others within the walls of innocent-looking restaurants that are hidden to the casual observer.
The party scene is not totally outrageous; Portland is largely too conservative for that. But it’s lively, entertaining and incredibly diverse It’s also easy to bar-hop in this city, as many of the places are within a five-minute walk of one another.
The dress code is pretty much up to the individual. Jeans with Nikes are widely accepted (well, okay, anything with a Swoosh on it is hip here) and only in a few places is high style really necessary. Then again, if dressing up is your bag, go all out. People on all ends of the wardrobe spectrum fit in here.
Drink ’em if you got ’em for most pubs is midnight and for clubs it’s 2:30 a.m. A few dance clubs quit pouring liquor and stay open on weekends until about 4 a.m.
Nike’s World Headquarters are located a few miles from Portland in the town of Beaverton. As a result, the Swoosh is everywhere, most of all on the people. They wear Nike shoes, Nike shirts, Nike watches, Nike sunglasses. Most of them work for the company, and they are only too happy to wave the corporate banner.
Anyone wearing Nike attire is readily accepted in Portland.
The Weather In Porltnad
Yeah, we just had to bring it up, of course.
There is a reason Portland is so green. It rains a lot here. Winters are especially damp.
Portland’s weather can also be wildly unpredictable, with it raining one moment, the sun shining the next, then raining again.
The good news is that summers are usually mostly sunny and although it definitely gets warm, it’s rarely blazing hot.
Portland Time Zone
Portland is GMT -8.
The Best Time(s) To Go To Portland
Portland shines brightest in the good-weather months.
During the summer, there is a waterside festival practically every weekend (we particularly enjoy the Oregon Brewers Festival the last weekend of July where breweries from all over the Pacific Northwest supply the spirits for the party). July 4 weekend is the Jazz Festival and The Portland Zoo hosts free outdoor summer concerts, often with big-name bands.
Portland’s biggest event is the multi-event Rose Festival. It starts the first of June and involves festivals, a parade, a spectacular and the most popular event, the air show.