If Pioneer Courthouse Square is Portland’s Living Room, Governor Tom McCall Waterfront Park is the city’s front yard — with a view. Hugging the Willamette River in downtown Portland, Waterfront Park offers abundant opportunities for family fun.
Whether you’re looking to splash in Salmon Street Springs on a hot day, explore Portland’s maritime history, discover Japanese American history in the Pacific Northwest or hike across the river to the Vera Katz Eastbank Esplanade, Waterfront Park is the perfect place to take in the beauty of the city and the river running through it.
History of Waterfront Park
Peek at photos of Portland’s Willamette River western waterfront before the 1970s, and you’ll see a very different riverbank landscape. What are now tree-lined walkways, sparkling fountains and lawns visited by gaggles of Canada Geese was once a six-lane highway called Harbor Drive.
Waterfront Park was created in part due to activism by community organizers who pointed out the lack of public space by organizing a series of picnics on the narrow pedestrian walkway between the freeway and the river in 1969. Then Oregon Governor Tom McCall created a task force that chose to replace Harbor Drive with a public park. (The park was later renamed for him in 1984.) This major victory for environmentally-minded Portland citizens and politicians is credited with planting the seeds of the green, the bike-friendly city we know and love today.
Waterfront Park Features
The 1.5-mile (2.4 km) park runs between Northwest Glisan Street (near the Steel Bridge) and RiverPlace Marina, where you’ll find waterfront restaurants, shops and great boat watching.
Japanese American Historical Plaza
Starting at the north end of the park, the esplanade (the wide paved walkway running along the riverfront) passes by the Japanese American Historical Plaza, located in the once Portland’s Japantown area.
Dedicated in 1990 to honor Japanese American history in the Pacific Northwest, the monument serves as a memorial to the 120,000 Japanese Americans forced into internment camps during World War II. The Plaza also celebrates Portland’s relationship with its sister city of Sapporo, Japan, and features a Bill of Rights Memorial; 13 engraved stones of basalt and granite; poetry by Oregonians of Japanese descent; and 100 ornamental cherry trees that bloom each spring.
Many of the best Portland goods and restaurants are popping up in a surprising place: Japan. (And vice versa!)
Connect with Portland's rich Japanese-American heritage at sites around the city.
Portland's Japanese American community offers engaging activities all year long.
Portland Saturday Market
Travel south through the park, and you’ll find Portland Saturday Market, the largest arts and crafts fair in America, open every weekend from March through December since 1974. The nearby Bill Naito Legacy Fountain honors Portland’s immigrants and provides little ones with a cheerful splash pad.
Oregon Maritime Museum
Between Burnside Bridge and Hawthorne Bridge, wide lawns offer space for picnics and frisbee games. Naval history buffs will delight in the Battleship Oregon Memorial and the Oregon Maritime Museum, housed in a historic steam-powered, sternwheel ship-assist tugboat that is permanently moored in the Willamette River.
Salmon Street Springs
As you reach the Hawthorne Bridge, the grass gives way to a paved plaza, home to Salmon Street Springs fountain. On hot summer days, the plaza (which is ringed by benches) is crowded with joyful kids running through the fountain. Nearby stepped seating provides views of the river, along with the Portland Rose Festival Foundation headquarters, designed by famed local architect John Yeon. At the southernmost end of the park, you’ll find the “Bowl,” a sloped lawn serving as the outdoor amphitheater for annual concerts, festivals and dragon boat races.
Annual Events at Waterfront Park
No matter the season or the weather, Waterfront Park bustles with events, festivals and public attractions. Spring brings the park’s 100 Japanese cherry trees to life with photogenic pink blossoms, along with Portland’s annual Cinco de Mayo Fiesta and the kick-off to Portland Saturday Market.
Summer brings the Portland Rose Festival, CityFair and Fleet Week; the Portland Pride Waterfront Festival; Waterfront Blues Fest on Independence Day weekend; and the Oregon Brewers Festival (one of the nation’s oldest beer fests). Come autumn, Waterfront Park becomes the starting line of the Portland Marathon, and winter brings the Festival of the Last Minute (the Saturday Market’s holiday gift bazaar) and nightly viewings of the holiday light-bedecked Christmas Ship Parade. To discover more events at Waterfront Park, check out our full events calendar.
Portland Rose Festival
Portland Rose Festival features multiple parades, waterfront carnival rides, concerts, races, fireworks and plenty of roses.
Every summer, the Portland Pride Festival & Parade makes a name for itself — and LGBTQ+ community members — all over town.
Portland’s Waterfront Blues Festival
Every Fourth of July weekend, the Waterfront Blues Festival takes over downtown Portland’s Waterfront Park.
Oregon Brewers Festival
Portland hosts dozens of beer festivals every year, but none compares to the Oregon Brewers Festival. With offerings from 80 craft brewers, the event draws nearly 70,000 attendees to the downtown waterfront every July.
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