Portland, Oregon (credit: Thinkstock)
Consistently mentioned as one of America’s best cities, Portland is the largest city in Oregon and home to a diverse history, culture and population. Also known as “The City of Roses,” Portland ranks among the best cities for animal lovers, foodies, bicycling, walking and a host of other national distinctions. This travel guide provides recommendations for transportation in and around the city, top attractions and a wide selection of choices for dining and overnight accommodations.
The vast majority of visitors traveling by plane will arrive at Portland International Airport (PDX). It is a major hub for Alaska Airlines with service to many cities along the West Coast as well as other American cities such as Austin, Boston, Chicago, Dallas and Washington D.C. Among the other major domestic airline carriers serving this airport are American, Delta, Hawaii, JetBlue, Southwest and United.
Arriving passengers have several ground transportation options to Portland, including taxis, hotel courtesy shuttles, rental cars and public transportation. The pickup area is located at the terminal’s lower roadway next to the baggage claim and departure area.
Portland’s TriMet has a MAX light rail station at the airport, with the Red Line providing frequent service to city center and Beaverton. The duration of the trip from PDX to city center is approximately 40 minutes. Rental car companies serving PDX include Alamo, Avis, Budget, Dollar, Enterprise, Hertz and National. Some rental car companies are located at the airport while others are located off-site.
Amtrak provides three train routes into Portland’s Union Station — the Empire Builder from Chicago, Amtrak Cascades from Vancouver B.C to Eugene and the Coast Starlight from Los Angeles.
Union Station is located along the Willamette River, between the Pearl District and Old Town/Chinatown. Arriving passengers can make connections outside the station for taxi service, TriMet buses and the MAX Light Rail. The Greyhound station is located adjacent to the train station.
Interstate highways 5 and 84 are the primary routes into Portland. Highway 5 extends south from the Mexican border to the Canadian border while Highway 84 runs between Salt Lake City and Portland. The City of Roses is also served by Interstate 205, connecting Washington state and Oregon. Road information can be found online via the Oregon Department of Transportation. Visitors traveling by car are advised that people cannot pump their own gas in Portland, although a new state law passed recently allows motorists to pump their own gas in Oregon counties with populations of 40,000 or less.
Portland has one of the most efficient public transit systems in the country, making it a convenient and affordable way to get around the city. TriMet offers bus service, the MAX light rail and the WES commuter rail; of the three, the light rail is the most tourist-friendly. The MAX light rail operates five color-coded routes and all serve Pioneer Square in the heart of downtown Portland. TriMet publishes a list of ways to purchase tickets as well as transportation to some of the city’s most popular attractions. The most convenient method of purchasing passes is either online through the TriMet Store or with the TriMet Tickets App for the iPhone or Android phones. Transportation to other attractions can be found by using TriMet’s Trip Planner.
Gray Line of Portland offers tours of the city on the Big Pink Sightseeing Hop-On-Hop-Off Trolley. The tour allows visitors to enjoy 12 of the most popular attractions, including Pioneer Square, Washington Park, the Pearl District, Old town and the Oregon Museum of Science and Industry. Gray Line also offers a Columbia River Tour, which includes a stop at Multnomah Falls.
Where To Stay
Portland and its neighboring communities offer a wide selection of choices for overnight accommodations. The most desirable hotels are located in the heart of downtown Portland, which also serves as the center of dining, shopping and entertainment in the city. An impressive collection of other outstanding hotels can be found near the airport and the suburbs to the west in places like Beaverton and Hillsboro. An equal number of camping and RV sites can also be found in Portland, particularly along the Columbia River, from Jantzen Beach RV Park just north of the city to Memaloose State Park near the city of The Dalles.
- Friendly Bike Guest House
- Nordic Motel
- Northwest Portland International Hostel
- Traveler’s House
- Viking Motel
- Ace Hotel Portland
- Best Western Pony Soldier Inn
- DoubleTree Portland-Tigard
- Fairfield Inn and Suites
- Super 8 Portland
Although San Francisco is frequently mentioned as having more restaurants per capita than any other American city, Portland isn’t far behind. Much like San Francisco, the City of Roses also has a thriving street food scene and a diverse collection of foods to savor, including Brazilian, Cajun, Eastern European, Hawaiian, South American and Thai.
Top Five Attractions In Portland
Located in the hills above downtown Portland, Washington Park is the top family-friendly destination within the city limits. Spread over 400 acres, the public park is home to several of the city’s top attractions, including the world-famous International Rose Test Garden, the oldest of 11 public rose test gardens in the country, with over 7,000 rose plants from approximately 550 varieties. Other attractions to enjoy in Washington Park include the Oregon Zoo featuring nearly 2,000 animals from 232 species, the elegant Portland Japanese Garden and the Portland Children’s Museum.
Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area
Stretching more than 80 miles, the Columbia River Gorge is a breathtaking river canyon that’s a must-see attraction, particularly for first-time visitors to Portland. Within the 295,500 acres of the National Scenic Area are a vast number of hiking trails, a wealth of other outdoor recreation, several RV and camping sites and 75 amazing waterfalls. The most convenient way to see the Columbia River Gorge is by traveling along the world famous Historic Columbia River Highway either by car or by tour bus. Recommended stops along the way include Rooster Rock State Park, Benson Lake, Oneonta Gorge, Multnomah Falls and the historic ton of Cascade Locks. The Columbia River Gorge can also be enjoyed on a cruise, such as the Portland Spirit or American Cruise Lines. One last way to see the Columbia River Gorge is on board the Amtrak train from Portland to Bingen, Washington, with published round trips fares as low as $20.
Featuring more than 1.5 million different titles, Powell’s City of Books is often called the world’s largest used and new bookstore. The enormous bookstore occupies an entire city block in the heart of downtown Portland and features nine color-coded sections, a rare book room, a very popular coffee shop and an art gallery with new exhibits every month. Powell’s City of Books is located near several outstanding restaurants and popular nightspots like the Crystal Ballroom, the Roseland and the Splash Bar.
Located on 30 acres across the Willamette River from city center, the Rose Quarter is the premier spot in the city for world-class entertainment and professional sports. The Rose Quarter features the Theatre of the Clouds and two multipurpose arenas, most notably the Moda Center, home of the Portland Trail Blazers of the NBA. The venue is also the home arena for the Portland Thunder of the Arena Football League (AFL). The Moda Center also operates as a major entertainment venue with appearances yearly from some of the biggest names in entertainment. The other primary venue onsite is the historic Veterans Memorial Coliseum, the former home of the Portland Trail Blazers and current home of the Portland Winterhawks.
Founded in 1892, the Portland Art Museum is the oldest art museum on the West Coast and seventh oldest in the country. The museum’s permanent collection holds more than 42,000 works of art, including Asian and European Art, American paintings and sculptures and a sizable collection of Native American art. Museum highlights includes Van Gogh’s “The Ox Cart” (1884), Albert Bierstadt’s “Mount Hood” (1869), Renoir’s “The Seine at Argenteuil” (1874) and Monet’s “Waterlilies” (1914-1915). A current exhibition “Seeing Nature: Landscape Masterworks from the Paul Allen Collection” features 40 paintings from some of the world’s most famous artists, including Monet, Van Gogh, Edward Hopper, J.M.W. Turner and Edouard Manet.
One often overlooked attraction in Portland is Oaks Amusement Park, along the Willamette River in southwest Portland. First opened in 1905, the small amusement park is one of the oldest in the country. The park features a roller skating rink, a dance pavilion and several amusement park rides, including a Ferris wheel and a 1911 Hershall-Spillman carousel.
Randy Yagi is an award-winning freelance writer covering all things San Francisco. In 2012, he received a Media Fellowship from Stanford University. His work can be found on Examiner.com