Things to Do in Portland
Portland's most popular commercial area, "The Pearl", as it's locally known, is north of downtown between West Burnside Street, the Willamette River, NW Broadway and the Interstate 405 freeway. Once a lonely industrial district of decaying warehouses and rail yards, a boom in urban renewal in the late 1990s to the early 2000s prompted an allusion to the area's scruffy architecture as crusty oysters containing pearls. These "pearls" were initially artists' lofts and galleries, but the neighborhood now teems with upscale eateries, small performance venues and independent boutiques as well.
The Pearl's biggest attraction is also one of the most-visited spots in Portland: the flagship Powell's City of Books. Spanning an entire city block (between NW 10th and 11th Avenues, W. Burnside and NW Couch Streets), Powell's bills itself as the world's largest independent bookstore.
Designed for science fans of all ages, OMSI features five separate halls, eight hands-on science labs, a real submarine, an OMNIMAX giant-screen theater and a planetarium. Over 200 interactive exhibits focus on subjects like global climate change, chemistry, the human body, technology and more.
For older children, Turbine Hall encourages building, engineering and problem-solving, and for kids six and under, the colorful Science Playground offers art materials, a cave to explore, water and a huge sandbox in which to frolic. On the five-story-high OMNIMAX theater screen, you can see blockbusters and nature documentaries that have been formatted for IMAX, allowing you to virtually soar over mountains and swim to ocean depths.
The most popular landscape in Washington Park, the International Rose Test Garden was originally conceived as a means of capitalizing on Portland's nickname: "The City of Roses." This moniker was coined during the 1905 Lewis & Clark Exhibition, when city officials, eager for their young town to make a good impression on visitors, had many of Portland's streets planted with dozens of rosebushes.
Opened in 1917 during the height of World War I, the Rose Test Garden soon became a safe haven for European rose hybrids that would otherwise have been destroyed by battles and bombs. It's still a working test garden, with bulbs and cuttings sent here from around the world to be monitored for color, scent, disease resistance and more. Now one of the largest rose gardens in America, the Test Garden has over 600 rose varieties and more than 9,500 bushes.
Inner Northwest Portland – specifically around NW 21st and NW 23rd – is one of the most popular in the city center for shopping, entertainment, and dining. It also has a memorable nickname: the Alphabet District.
You might not notice the reason for the name immediately, especially if you're taking your time meandering from one shop-lined block to another, but the streets in the quadrant that run east-west are in alphabetical order – from Burnside, Couch, Davis, Everett, and Flanders on up through Wilson. There's an A street further east (Alder), but it doesn't continue up far enough to be part of this district. The Alphabet District is historically one of Portland's most desirable neighborhoods – there are beautiful Victorian-style houses in the residential blocks and sought-after condo buildings. One of the city's oldest independent movie theaters, Cinema 21, is on NW 21st Avenue.
More Things to Do in Portland
From 1909 to 1919, this 22-room French Renaissance-style estate was the home of Portland's original power couple, Henry and Georgiana Pittock; Henry's business empire included The Oregonian newspaper, and Georgiana championed women's rights and the city's then-burgeoning Rose Festival. The Pittocks' former property, set on 46 acres and perched 1,000-feet above downtown Portland, offers one of Oregon's most sweeping views of the city and the Cascade Range.
By the mid-1960s, the Mansion had fallen into disrepair, the Pittocks' remaining family members couldn't find a buyer, and it seemed fated for bulldozing; but local preservationists managed to raise the necessary funds to save it, and by 1974 it was named to the National Register of Historic Places. The Mansion now attracts over 800,000 visitors a year.
Roughly 30 miles east of Portland along the Columbia River Gorge is one of Oregon's iconic symbols – Multnomah Falls, the tallest waterfall in the state. The water actually falls in two stages, so there are technically two waterfalls.
There's a small bridge – the Benson Footbridge – that spans the top of the second waterfall, and offers an excellent view of the taller of the two waterfalls. There are lots of great hiking trails in the Columbia River Gorge, and some start nearby – including the Mark O. Hatfield Memorial Trail.
At the base of the falls is the Multnomah Falls Lodge, which has a restaurant, some snack vendors, and visitor facilities. The Multnomah Falls Lodge (built in 1915) and footpath are on the U.S. National Register of Historic Places.
About 16 miles east of Portland, the Columbia River Gorge stretches from Troutdale to Biggs on the Oregon side, and from Vancouver to Maryhill on the Washington side. An 80-mile canyon ranging from sea level to 4,000 feet, this National Scenic Area separates the two states in a wide, rocky and leafy ribbon which runs between the Columbia River and the Cascade Mountains.
In 1805, the Lewis and Clark Expedition used the Columbia and its craggy banks to reach the Pacific; these days, two smoothly-paved highways on the Oregon side would greatly simplify the explorers' epic journey. Interstate-84 parallels the achingly wide, cornflower-blue Columbia, wending past dense, dark forests and jagged, lavender-grey mountains. Beside the Columbia River Highway (which runs adjacent to I-84 from Troutdale to Dodson), the Gorge is webbed with hiking trails and more than 90 waterfalls, including the 620-foot-high Multnomah Falls.
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