Head three hours South of Seattle to experience the laid back vibe of Portland, Oregon, a small, yet quaint city that has become well known for it’s abundance of botanical gardens. Whether your looking to pick roses for your loved one or explore one of the areas favorite art galleries, when you’re in Portland, you know you’re in for a real treat. Consider taking a day trips to a Pacific Ocean beach or the waterfalls in the Columbia Gorge. Here’s a post about some of the best parks in Portland. Portland is just a 3 hour drive to Seattle (170 miles) and a 10½ hour drive to San Francisco (630 miles).
Top 10 Attractions
1. Portland Japanese Garden – Receiving hundreds of thousands of visitors each year, this garden is considered to be the best Japanese garden in all of North America. See five different styles of Japanese gardens scattered over 5 1/2 acres, along with a view of volcanic Mount Hood, which bears a strong resemblance to Mount Fuji. Seasonal highlights include cherry trees in the early spring, then in mid-spring there are the azaleas, in late spring a huge wisteria blooms, and in early summer, large Japanese irises color the pond. Come from April through October, on the third Saturday of each month, to see a demonstration of the Japanese tea ceremony in the garden’s teahouse. During these same months, there are daily free guided tours of the gardens. Admission is $9.50 for adults and $6.75 for children.
2. Portland Art Museum – This is the oldest art museum in the Northwest, and it has become well known for it’s collection of modern and contemporary art, ranging from European Impressionists to present works. See their collection of Native American art and artifacts, or their Northwest contemporary art, which includes a fascinating two-story wall of “artifacts” by glass artist William Morris. Other collections include European, Asian, and American art, and there’s a small sculpture court. You’ll want to consider returning for large special exhibits. Admission is $15 for adults and free for children.
3. Museum of Contemporary Craft – Founded in 1937, this is one of the country’s finest museums of contemporary craft. Throughout the year, works from the permanent collection share space with changing exhibits that might focus on an individual artist or a single theme. Cutting-edge ceramics and jewelry are always highlights of exhibits here, but you might catch a show focusing on crafts incorporating bamboo or an exhibition of artist-made books. From the museum, it is just a few blocks to the art galleries in the Pearl District. Admission is $4 for adults and free for children.
4. Lan Su Chinese Garden – This classically styled Chinese garden is the largest of its type outside of China, taking up an entire city block. The walls surrounding the garden in Portland’s Chinatown separate the urban 21st century from the timeless Chinese landscape within, which evokes the wild mountains of China and to create a tranquil oasis within an urban setting. The garden is centered around a small pond, which at one end has a rock wall meant to conjure up the sort of images often seen in Chinese scroll paintings. Numerous pavilions, a small bridge, and a winding pathway provide ever-changing views of the garden. With its many paved paths and small viewing pavilions, this garden has a completely different feel from the Japanese Garden. Try to visit as soon as the garden opens in the morning. Be sure to stop and have a cup of tea and maybe a snack in the garden’s tearoom. Admission is $8.50 for adults and $6.50 for children.
5. Oregon Museum of Science and Industry – Located on the east bank of the Willamette River across from the south end of Waterfront Park, this modern science museum has six huge halls, and both kids and adults find the exhibits fun and fascinating. This is a hands-on museum, and everyone is urged to get involved with displays, from a science playground for young children to physics and chemistry labs for older children. There’s plenty of pure entertainment at the OMNIMAX theater and the Kendall Planetarium, which features laser-light shows and astronomy presentations. The USS Blueback submarine (used in the film The Hunt for Red October) is docked here, and tours are given daily. Admission is $12 for adults and $9 for children.
6. Portland Classical Chinese Garden – This classically styled Chinese garden takes up an entire city block and is the largest of its type outside of China. The walls surrounding these gardens in Portland’s Chinatown separate the urban 21st century from the timeless Chinese landscape within. The landscape is designed to evoke the wild mountains of China and to create a tranquil oasis within an urban setting. The gardens are centered around a small pond, which, at one end, has a rock wall meant to conjure up the sort of images often seen in Chinese scroll paintings. Numerous pavilions, a small bridge, and a winding pathway provide ever-changing views of the gardens. With its many paved paths and small viewing pavilions, this garden has a completely different feel from the Japanese Garden. Be sure to stop and have a cup of tea and maybe a snack in the garden’s tearoom. Admission is $7 for adults and $5.50 for children.
7. International Rose Test Garden – Covering more than 5 acres of hillside in the West Hills above downtown Portland, these are among the largest and oldest rose test gardens in the United States and are the only city-maintained test gardens to bestow awards on every year’s best roses. The gardens were established in 1917 by the American Rose Society and are used as a testing ground for new varieties of roses. Though you will probably see some familiar roses in the Gold Medal Garden, most of the 400 varieties on display are new hybrids being tested before marketing. Among the various gardens here, which have blooms from late spring through early winter, you’ll find a separate garden of miniature roses and a Shakespeare Garden that includes flowers mentioned in the Bard’s works. After seeing these acres of roses, you’ll understand why Portland is known as the City of Roses and why the Rose Festival in June is the city’s biggest annual celebration. Admission is free of charge, though donations are accepted.
8. World Forestry Center Discovery Museum – Although Oregon depends less and less on the timber industry with each passing year, this museum is still busy educating visitors about the importance of forest resources around the world. Among the main exhibits are installations focusing on the forests of Russia, China, South Africa, and the Amazon. One exhibit lets you practice being a smoke jumper (firefighter), while in another area, you can go on a video raft ride. There are also interesting temporary exhibits staged here throughout the year, from photographic exhibits to displays of the woodworker’s art. Admission is $8 for adults and $5 for children.
9. Oregon Zoo – The Oregon Zoo is perhaps best known for its elephants and has the most successful breeding herd of elephants in captivity. However, in recent years, the zoo has been adding new exhibits and branching out beyond the world of pachyderms. The Africa exhibit, which includes a very lifelike rainforest and a savanna populated by zebras, rhinos, giraffes, hippos, and other animals, is one of the most realistic habitats you’ll ever see at a zoo. The Cascade Crest exhibit includes a mountain goat habitat, and in the Steller Cove exhibit, you can watch the antics of Steller sea lions and sea otters. Don’t miss the bat house or the Amazon Flooded Forest exhibit. In the summer, there are outdoor concerts in the zoo’s amphitheater. Admission is $10.50 for adults and $7.50 for children.
10. Elk Rock Garden of the Bishop’s Close – Set on a steep hillside above the Willamette River between Portland and Lake Oswego, this was once a private garden but was donated to the local Episcopal bishop of Oregon on the condition that it be opened to the public. The mature gardens are at their best through the spring and early summer. There’s also an excellent view of Mount Hood from the grounds. Admission is free of charge.
The Voodoo Doughnut – The eatery that Fox News calls “the most unique doughnut shop in America” is home to doughnuts with toppings like bacon and Captain Crunch and dishes like the “Mango Tango,” a frosted doughnut filled with mango jelly and topped with orange Tang, and the “Marshall Mathers,” a vanilla-frosted doughnut dipped in M&Ms. Their signature item is the Voodoo Doughnut, which is shaped like a voodoo doll and filled with raspberry jelly and frosted with chocolate icing. It also comes with a pretzel stick “stake” if you should feel the need to release your aggressions. Their “Portland “CrA”me” was declared by the mayor as the official doughnut of the city of Portland! They have been featured on The Travel Channel, Ripley’s Believe It or Not, ESPN, The Tonight Show, Good Morning America, and even in a number of books and movies.
BEAST – When we asked celebrity chef Phil Shen about the best restaurant in America, he said it was BEAST because of “its communal style seating and at-home ambiance, Beast is a must visit for an affordable fine dining experience without the pretentiousness. They have an amazing prix fixe menu that changes weekly filled with fresh ingredients. It’s worth the trip alone for their charcuterie plate and foie gras bon bon.”
Toro Bravo – This tapas restaurant consistently has a lengthy wait, so I highly recommend you get there as early as possible (they open at 5:00 PM). Favorites include a glass of cava and plates of sautéed padron peppers and bacon-wrapped dates. From prawn-studded paella and rabbit fideos (noodles), to plates of oxtail croquettes to seared scallops with romesco sauce and pitchers of sangria, you’re sure to fall in love with this place. It’s all inspired by the staff’s regular trips to Spain.
Biwa – After returning from a nice stroll in the beautiful Japanese garden, who wouldn’t want to head to Biwa for a nice night out on the town? This basement Japanese restaurant in south-east Portland features a burger with house kimchi mayo and chasyu pork. If you like shochu, sake and drinking vinegars then Biwa’s mixed-bag menu is the thing for you, just pick and choose from–skewered and grilled trout, big steamy bowls of ramen with smoked pork shoulder, rib-sticking goat curry, fried and pickled mackerel salad, housemade miso and kimchi, and all sorts of sashimi.
Nuvrei – Located in the heart of Pearl District and its diverse selection of shops and galleries, is Nuvrei, a counter-service, 15-seat cafe with some of Portland’s best pastries and sandwiches. You may have to wait a while, but it’s worth it for their rainbow of French macaroons–flavors include: passion fruit, hazelnut, raspberry. to name a few–pretzel bagels, berry brioches, croissants, killer croque monsieur and many more. Take your treats to go if it’s nice out and picnic with them in nearby Jamison Square or Tanner Springs Park.
Nob Hill is home to hip jewelry and clothing shops that line 21st and 23rd streets. Specialty stores set in stylish lofts highlight the Pearl District, which is home to the world’s largest bookstore, Powell’s City of Books. Powell’s occupies an entire block in downtown, stocking over a million new and used books! They even have a Rare Book Room with autographed first editions and a number of other collectible volumes. The Washington Post called Powell’s “perhaps the best bookstore in the world.” If anywhere has what you’re looking for, it’s going to be Powell’s!
You’ll also find upscale chains like Tiffany and Nordstrom downtown, around Pioneer Square. Head across the river to Hawthorne, and discover vintage clothing stores and quirky boutiques. Stay the weekend to sift through homespun crafts at the Portland Saturday Market.
Finnegan’s Toys & Gifts in downtown Portland makes for the perfect place for adults to shop around and let the mind wander back into the days of their youth. We consider it to be one of the 9 Coolest Toy Store in America! This place is quite nostalgic like that! The Finnegan Toys claim to fame is that they have been, “making aunts and uncles cool since 1977” and it’s easy to see why! This store is just fun to be inside and kids will find the most unique toys to browse with science kits and building sets that range from a miniature sustainable home and wind turbine kit to a play-mobile pyramid. Finnegan’s also has stuffed animals, doll houses, instruments, ride-on-toys, art supplies—even Sea Monkeys! For the place that has it all, head to 820 SW Washington Street in Portland. It’s open Monday through Saturday from 10 am to 6 pm and Sundays 11 am to 5 pm.
The Ace Hotel – Housed in a 1912 building near the Pearl and just a block from Portland’s legendary Powells Books (the world’s largest bookstore), the Ace features funky vintage furnishings and Army surplus-chic decor, art-centric spaces, a fleet of rental bikes, record players in some rooms, a photo booth in the lobby, and an on-site coffeehouse. Each room has an original mural of it’s own. Rates range from $95 to $250.
Jupiter Hotel – A hipster’s haven with a techno beat, this mod motel is located in Portland’s uber-trendy “LoBu” neighborhood. Highlights include chalkboard doors, retro-modern furnishings, an adjoining club called Doug Fir, and a rave-party vibe that keeps pumpin’ until 4 a.m. When supermodels, European club kids, and rock stars have stopovers in Portland, I suspect that this is where you’ll find them. Rates range from $99 to $119.
Kennedy School – Fall asleep in class at the Kennedy School! This is the place where you can have a pint in a classroom, enjoy an aged whiskey and a cigar in detention, or enjoy a movie in the old auditorium! Since its 1915 opening, this historic elementary school has been a beloved fixture of its Northeast Portland neighborhood and it has since been turned into Portland’s most unique hotel. Here you’ll find 57 comfy guestrooms with private baths and telephones–some of which are fashioned from former classrooms complete with original chalkboards and cloakrooms–along with a restaurant, multiple small bars, a movie theater, soaking pool, gift shop and a brewery. Extensive original artwork and historical photographs cover the walls, ceilings, doorways and hallways. Kennedy School allows pets at the tables in front of the hotel, served by the Courtyard Restaurant, and in hotel rooms for a $15 fee.