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Portland Tips

The information on this page was compiled by someone who's never even been to Portland. Thanks to all the contributors! See who they are and why you should take their advice.

Getting Around

The Marriott is convenient, but in case you want to go farther afield, the public transportation in Portland is excellent. Sarah writes: Tri-Met has busses and Max, the light rail system. Visit the Web site to look up schedules or plan a trip. You can enter in your departure and destination addresses and they tell you the best route and times.


Around Pioneer Courthouse Square

Pioneer Courthouse Square is described by Frommer's as doubling as "Portland's outdoor living room and the heart of the city". Before that it was a parking lot, and before that the Portland Hotel, an "architectural gem". Nowadays it seems to be the place where everything happens.

Johanna suggests a walk outside around the square: Portland has wonderful sculptures on almost every street in the downtown core. From the bronze animals around the courthouse to the infamous bronze lady from the "Expose Yourself to Art" poster. Also marbles, weird conceptuals, and much more. On several blocks around Pioneer Square inscribed in the brick sidewalks are sayings from the wise to the silly. There are also numerous fountains, a mural on the west side of the Oregon History Center building of Lewis & Clark that looks 3 dimensional. And if you get thirsty there are the public water fountains on many street corners called Benson Bubblers. In Pioneer courthouse square there's a fountain, sculpture, a weather machine that predicts tomorrow's weather at noon but is worth looking at even if it's not noon. Plus some faux broken pillars with chess boards on the top which usually have a crowd watching others play chess.

Sarah likes to visit to Pioneer Courthouse itself: It takes up one city block between 5th and 6th and Morrison and Yamhill. Enter from the Yamhill entrance (South), and ask to be allowed up to the dome (keep in mind that this is a federal building so your bag will be searched and you'll need to go through a metal detector). On the way up, stop on the second floor and see the old courtroom, still in use! This historical building is beautifully restored and the view from the top is great! I loved the historical photos, especially the one of the cow grazing on the corner of 5th and Morrison!

Washington Park

Washington Park is a huge urban park that includes the International Rose Test Garden (4.5 acres of roses), a Japanese garden described as possibly the finest outside of Japan, the Hoyt Arboretum with 900 species of trees, as well as the Oregon Zoo. Take the MAX to the Zoo, Forestry Center or Washington Park.

Andy likes hiking in Washington Park: The park has lots of clearly-marked hiking trails and should be especially pretty at that time of year. Hike Oaks Bottom Wildlife Refuge (on east side of the river- take bus 40 and get off after passing over the Sellwood Bridge) Bring your binoculars and see herons, several species of ducks, osprey and maybe a bald eagle or two!

One of Johanna's favorite places is the Zoo: From the north side of Pioneer Courthouse Square you can catch Max west to the zoo. Buy a ticket at one of the kiosks in the square, get it validated at the little machine next to it and wait for the train. A few stops and you'll go into a tunnel. Your stop is in the tunnel. The zoo train station is far below ground and has a core sample from the construction of the station which is very interesting. The zoo is famous for its Asian elephant breeding program and has two youngsters (5-6 years old). There are also amur leopards, Amur (Siberian) tigers, southern sea otters (including a youngster born at the zoo this winter), and much more. My favorites are probably the golden lion tamarins and the fruit bats.

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Further Afield

Sarah says: For a spectacular morning or afternoon, go to the Columbia River Gorge. The waterfalls are breathtaking, and the hiking is great! Eagle Creek Wilderness area is especially beautiful. You'll obviously need a car to get out there (take highway 84 east), and some sites have a $5 day use fee. Or, on a clear day, head out to Mt. Tabor for a hike with great views of the city. (take bus 14)

Phil raves about the Mt. St. Helens National Volcanic Monument: This one will take a whole day from Portland and requires either a tour company or a car. Over the twenty years since the eruption, new visitors centers have been built, ever closer to the mountain itself. It is really worth the 50 miles in from I-5 to the Johnson Ridge Observatory with stops along the way. Even the Web site is pretty awe inspiring.

Culture & Education

Sarah and Andy suggest a visit to the Oregon History Center in downtown Portland at 1200 SW Park Avenue. Collections include artifacts, photographs, maps, and more. They are also fond of the nearby Art Museum , which among other things has a large collection of native American art.

The Oregon Museum of Science and Industry has interactive exhibits, an Omnimax theater and the submarine Blueback (seen in The Hunt for Red October). It is just across the river from the hotel.

Phil is certain that the Portland Center for the Performing Arts will have something worth enjoying so you'll have to check their web page in August or September. Look for an event in the Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall which is a beautifully restored venue worth enjoying music in.


Everybody raves about the Saturday Market, open both Saturday and Sunday under the Burnside bridge. Melanie describes it as an art fair with great food! And the art and crafts are all local, too. Johanna notes that there are also lots of interesting shops in the area; you can get to it from the hotel by walking up Waterfront park about 14 blocks.

Johanna also goes along with everyone in declaring Powell's City of Books a "must see", but she adds the following practical advice: "I recommend taking a small amount of cash with you and no credit cards. It will strain your suitcase otherwise. It's an energetic walk., about a mile." Phil warns: "…they hand you a map at the door. Don't think (like I did at first) that you can find your way around without it, just accept it humbly and be grateful..." Powell's occupies a city block and houses over one million new and used books.

Note that there's a new streetcar system that will be open by then that will run from about 6 blocks from the hotel to Powell's and up to NW 23rd a cute shopping district and home to many of Portlands best restaurants.

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Food & Drink

Portland is a great city for dining! In addition to quality and variety, there's a good selection of vegetarian, organic, and healthy food.

For mornings, consider one of Jacqui's favorites. They include: Café Lena for breakfast (2239 Southeast Hawthorne Blvd); Marsee Baking for pastries (several locations), and Pearl Bakery for the breads (102 NW Ninth Ave). Torrefazione Italia (1430 NE Weidler or 1140 NW Everett) is the place to go for cappuccino. For a natural breakfast that doesn't skimp on taste, she suggests the Bijou Café (132 SW Third Ave).

Johanna has lots of favorites: Higgins (1239 SW Broadway) is conveniently only a few blocks from the hotel (and it's all downhill on the way back!). They focus on using the finest local ingredients from nuts to cheeses to produce to fish and beef. Also a good selection of wine and beer. The smallish menu changes regularly.. Reservations are recommended, and there are always several vegetarian options. (Jacqui says they have great brunch, too).

Johanna's tip for the adventurous is to try Bistro Montage. They're across the Morrison Bridge (that's the 2nd bridge to the north from the hotel) and under it on the north side. They're pretty good Cajun. It's got great wall décor, good wine, very limited beer (Rainier red and green), and amusing service. My personal favorite order is one oyster shooter, green salad with raspberry vinaigrette, crayfish and andouille jambalaya and a tumbler of some very good reasonably priced French red wine. My husband often opts for the "Green Eggs and Spam" an omelet with spam inside and basil pesto on top served with potatoes. Dessert is good too, especially the pot du crème. No reservations and no credit cards but they do have an ATM so you can get cash if you forget. There is often a line, but usually not bad.

Johanna also recommends a Portland landmark that is famous for it's bathroom: It's where I take most of my friends who come in from out of town to visit. Again an adventurous spirit is best. The name is Rimsky-Korsakoffee House (707 SE 12th Ave.) and it only serves dessert and coffee (and tea). It's open from 7pm to midnight. They almost always have live classical music. My favorite is an ice cream sundae called Rasputin's Vice which includes Irish cream ice cream, coffee candies and raspberries. It's in an old house and fairly small so groups of 6-8 are good, larger might be difficult. It's cheap, cash only and take a cab (not very far).

Andy recommends the following places, without elaboration, for those who are serious about beer: The Rock Bottom Brewery, and the Black Lab. The Baghdad Theatre gets a special mention. It's on Hawthorne - bus 14 - about a 10 minute bus ride from downtown, and the bus stops right outside the café. It has great beer, and you can bring food and beer from the cafe into the old cinema! Movies are cheap here too!

For the very serious about beer, you might want to visit the site of the Oregon Brewers' Guild. Send them three bucks and they'll send you a 30-page guide! McMenamin's is a local chain of brew-pubs and inns that varies a lot from one to the other. Melanie says to visit the Edgefield Brewery if you can; it's out of town in Troutdale, but a good place to stay if you want to extend your visit a bit. It used to be a poor farm, and now it's an elegant lodge with high ceilings, big porches to sit out on, vineyards, and great food. It's also near the Momokawa sake brewery (that one is Ethan's pick, though he's not been there…yet!)

More Information

Portland is remarkably wired, there is a lot of info on the net. Here are two starting points: the :Portland Oregon Visitor's Association looks pretty official but seems to have good information. Fun In Portland is decidedly loony (check out the Webmaster) and offers a no-holds-barred take on the town.

The contributors …in alphabetical order…

Andy and Sarah have lived in Portland for a year and a half, and love it so much that they just bought a house. They are both naturalists and spend lots of time outside.

Ethan Benatan put the page together, but other that that knows nothing about Portland, so you don't need to take his word on anything.

Jacqui lived in Portland for years. She's Italian, so listen up when she talks about food.

Johanna is your conference chair and has lived in Portland for 13 years in the most recent stretch. Portland is one of her favorite cities and she loves good food.

Melanie has only visited Portland, but she really, really liked it. She enjoys creative cooking from all over the world.

Phil is your conference treasurer.


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Updated on June 16, 2001