From the theaters and museums of the Cultural District to parks that play host to festivals and farmers’ markets, Portland’s downtown and the central city put a wide range of entertainment within easy walking distance.
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Parks and Green Spaces
The long green lawns, riverside paths and refreshing fountains of Waterfront Park are a magnet for joggers, cyclists and Frisbee flingers; they also set the stage for a full slate of summer festivals, including the century-old Rose Festival (May-June) and the legendary Oregon Brewers Festival (July).
Nicknamed Portland’s Living Room, red-brick-lined Pioneer Courthouse Square is a hub of civic fun. The most-visited spot in town hosts some 300 events each year, including a farmers’ market on summer Mondays, free concerts, movies and a grand holiday tree-lighting party.
Director Park, located just a block from Pioneer Courthouse Square, is a former parking lot that was converted into a public square in 2009. The park features a café, ample outdoor seating and a fountain, and hosts occasional events in the summer.
Pearl District and Northwest/Nob Hill Parks
The aptly named Forest Park puts wilderness within minutes of Nob Hill. Take the Lower Macleay Trail in the adjacent Macleay Park for easy access. This eight-mile-long “forest in the city” supports more than 112 birds and 62 mammal species and contains 70 miles of trails popular with runners, equestrians, hikers and cyclists alike. Within the park, you’ll also find Washington Park which includes the International Rose Test Garden and the Portland Audubon Society.
Every evening in September, crowds of spectators enjoy picnics on the lawn while observing the swifts at Chapman Elementary School on Nob Hill. Thousands of migratory Vaux’s Swifts — small, swallow-like birds — pour into the chimney at Chapman Elementary School during this community ritual known as the Swift Watch. Portland Audubon Society volunteers are on hand to answer questions about the birds.
In the Pearl, Jamison Square draws scores of families thanks to its tide-pool-like fountain — a rocky waterfall feeds a shallow basin that empties and refills every few minutes, providing an ideal setting for splashing. This kid-pleasing park also features a convenient location on the Portland Streetcar line and impressive public art, in the form of modern “totem poles” designed by Kenny Scharf.
Downtown’s Portland Art Museum showcases a top-notch collection of Asian and Native American artifacts and frequent touring exhibits. And just across the South Park Blocks (a shady, inviting attraction in their own right), you’ll find the Oregon Historical Society, with its extensive collection of artifacts and exhibits tracing the region’s history back to its first inhabitants.
Jordan Schnitzer Museum of Art at Portland State University (JSMA) brings the university to its communities through showcasing world class contemporary artwork. Its galleries feature art by Northwest artists, faculty and students as well as exhibitions by national and international artists. Packed into a small gallery on two floors overlooking Southwest Broadway, the gallery offers accessible art experiences to PSU and the public.
The largest art museum in Oregon and one of the oldest in the country, the Portland Art Museum is central to the city's cultural district, housing a large and wide-ranging collection of artworks.
Antoinette Hatfield Hall houses the Newmark, Brunish and Winningstad Theatres and some of Portland's most beloved theater and dance companies.
This historic downtown performance space in the heart of the cultural center houses the Oregon Symphony and hosts many touring acts. Close to downtown parks and restaurants, the Schnitz (as locals call it) resounds with art and culture.
Surely one of Portland’s most-photographed features, the Broadway marquee of the Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall is crowned by a 65-foot-high “Portland” sign illuminated with 6,000 lights. Known as “the Schnitz,” this historic theater (part of Portland’5 Centers for the Arts, which also has a complex with multiple performance spaces next door) is home to resident companies like the Oregon Symphony and regularly hosts touring artists, from Jack Johnson to Wynton Marsalis. Several blocks south, Keller Auditorium is the home stage for the Oregon Ballet Theatre and the Broadway Across America series.
Pearl District and Northwest/Nob Hill Arts
If you have to choose one time to explore The Pearl, make it First Thursday. On the first Thursday evening of every month, the doors of many Pearl art galleries stay open late for this popular gallery walk, which attracts art lovers and people-watchers alike with free exhibits and refreshments. From April – October, the First Thursday Street Gallery fills three blocks of Northwest 13th Avenue (between Hoyt and Kearney streets) with work by local artists.
The Gerding Theater at the Armory, a striking monument to green renovation, houses Portland Center Stage, which presents dramatic works and workshops year-round. Drop-in visitors can check out the historic building and grab a bite at The Armory Bar inside.
Portland’s wildly imaginative — and often hilarious — BodyVox dance troupe performs in a 150-seat studio at its dance center, which opened in 2009 in Northwest. Younger patrons of the arts will enjoy Northwest Children’s Theater, which produces five major shows a year; recent kid-pleasing hits have included Annie, Pinocchio and Alice in Wonderland.
For art house movies, look no further than the historic Cinema 21, which features American independent, foreign language, documentary, and classic movies accompanied by microbrews and wine, while McMenamins Mission Theater, another favorite “brew ‘n’ view” cinema, is also located in Northwest.
Must-see Sights and Shops
Dating back to 1992, the Portland Farmers Market (three seasonal downtown locations) is a dazzling — and palate-pleasing — display of Oregon’s bounty, with dozens of growers and food vendors. And the market’s not just for folks with kitchen access; you’ll find a variety of prepared meals, from tamales to biscuit sandwiches.
Combining the vibes of an art show, a live street concert and an open-air bazaar, Portland Saturday Market, has been a beloved Rose City tradition since 1974. This central city market, located under the Burnside Bridge, is considered the largest continually operating arts-and-crafts fair in the United States, drawing up to 750,000 visitors during its annual season.
There’s a reason Powell’s City of Books is universally loved by locals and visitors alike. The iconic, independently owned bookstore is larger than most city libraries, occupying five floors and an entire city block. Among the nine color-coded rooms, on-site coffee shop and a huge assortment of locally made gifts, even Kindle converts can go gaga.
Designed by San Francisco architect Edward Foulkes for Oregon’s original newspaper baron, Henry Pittock, the Pittock Mansion is a city-owned landmark that offers picture-perfect views of the city and its surroundings, as well as a revealing glimpse of Portland’s past. Marvel at the opulent, baroque staircase during the 22-room tour, then stroll the rhododendron-lined gardens and savor knockout vistas of downtown’s skyline and snowy Mount Hood.
This year-round wonder taking up an entire city block houses an authentic Ming Dynasty style garden built by Suzhou artisans. Lan Su Chinese Garden offers a peaceful escape in Portland's historic Chinatown district.
High in the West Hills, the Pittock Mansion offers picture-perfect views of the city and interesting insights into Portland's history.
From modern splash pads to historic fountains Portland's central city and beyond are full of places to cool off when it gets too hot.
The Pearl District is the perfect spot for a leisurely pub crawl. Visit one of Oregon’s top breweries, Deschutes Brewery & Public House, which has 18 taps with organic and gluten-free offerings.
Be your own designated driver — make that pedaler — on the BrewCycle, a zany, human-powered contraption that holds up to 15 riders between pubs and breweries in the neighborhood.
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