Portland, Oregon: Worthwhile, Wonderful and Weird

Mount Hood dominates the Portland horizon on clear days and nights. Courtesy of travelportland.com

By Jeff and Virginia Orenstein

Note: For the latest on Portland’s COVID-19 status, visit travelportland.com/attractions/reopening/. Check with specific venues before you go for the latest news.

Portland, Oregon, officially nicknamed the Rose City and often called the bridge city, is one of North America’s truly unique urban areas.

Located on the Willamette River where it flows into the Columbia River, it is Oregon’s largest city and a center for architecture and culture that is known for its livability and diversity. Because it is a friendly and well-run city with a pleasant climate, it is a pleasure to visit.

Portland is a busy inland seaport that is about 80 miles from the Pacific Ocean and is justly renowned for being bicycle and pedestrian-friendly. It abounds with public art and boasts many museums and parks. There are also many microbreweries and distilleries.

A typical downtown Portland scene includes the ubiquitous MAX light rail system. Portlanders love it, and visitors should use it. Courtesy of Jamies-Francis and Travel Portland

Even though it has an unofficial slogan of “Keep Portland Weird,” there is nothing to fear for visitors such as yours truly who are “unweird.” It boasts “unweird” upscale shopping, great restaurants, lush gardens, amazing public transportation and a deserved reputation for being progressive, green, well-planned and tolerant.

While the city’s tolerant population and government celebrate the eclectic and even the weird, they also celebrate and embrace tourism and civic virtue. The town’s weirdness is mostly a good and entertaining diversion.

Before You Go: Do Some Pre-trip Research at:



The downtown Embassy Suites hotel is very different from most chain hotels and has a gorgeous lobby that shows its historic character. Courtesy of EmbassySuitesPortland

Getting There:
Portland is well-served by highway, train and air.

By air, Portland International Airport (PDX) is 10 miles from downtown. It is served by 17 airlines and the city’s light rail.

By train, arrive at Portland’s Union Station on Amtrak’s Cascades from Seattle, Vancouver or Eugene, or the Coast Starlight from Los Angeles or Seattle, or the Empire Builder from Chicago and points west.

By ship, the nearest ocean-going cruise port is Astoria, Oregon, 90 miles away. River cruises depart from Portland’s Embassy Suites Airport Hotel.

By highway, the city is on Interstate 5 and Interstate 84.

One of Portland’s two operating steam locomotives, Southern Pacific 4449, frequently pulls passenger trains on local and regional excursions. Here it is seen at its downtown home at the Oregon Rail Heritage Center. Photo by Jeff Orenstein

Must-Sees For a Short Trip:

Downtown shopping and dining

The Pearl and Waterfront Districts

Powell’s City of Books

Portland Farmers Market

Lan Su Chinese Garden

Portland Japanese Garden

Portland is a city of many bridges which carry public transportation, pedestrians, bikes and cars across its rivers.Courtesy of Travel Portland

If You Have Several Days:
Explore nearby Vancouver, Washington, just across the river.

Visit Mount Hood and/or the Columbia River Gorge.

Visit wine country in the Willamette River Valley. Yummy pinot noirs!

Visit the Oregon Rail Heritage Center, home of the only municipally owned operating steam locomotives in the U.S. It’s located across from the Oregon Museum of Science and Industry.

Ginny O’s Tips for Dressing the Simply Smart Travel Way:
Anything goes, especially tees, flannel shirts and jeans. Portland’s reputation for being eclectic is accurate. Business dress to unkempt and everything in between is common around the city. Be comfortable.

Portland’s popular and historic Union Station is a long distance and local transportation hub heavily used by residents and visitors alike. Streetcars and light rail connect incoming Amtrak passengers to the city. Photo by Jeff Orenstein

This Destination at a Glance:
Mobility Level: Low. The public transportation system is accessible and the city is walkable.

When to Go: Year-round. Rainy winters, summer crowds. Best is spring and fall.

Where to Stay: The Embassy Suites Downtown Portland. Not a typical Embassy Suites, this one is a refurbished luxury hotel dating to 1912. Great location and the only Embassy Suites that is a member of The Historic Hotels of America. Amazing happy hour.

Getting Around: Portland has fantastic public transportation. Use buses, streetcars, the aerial tram and/or Max light rail and forget the car. Downtown is also walkable.

Senior Advantage: Ease of mobility and superb museums. The pandemic quarantine and political demonstrations are history. Portland is a welcoming and fascinating place to
visit now.
Special Travel Interests: Gardens, bridges and public transportation that works.

Jewish Portland
Portland is the center of Judaism in the Willamette Valley and the entire state of Oregon.
It boasts 17 congregations (about half of the entire state’s Jewish congregations). Among its prominent Jewish institutions are two Jewish day schools, a Jewish Community Center, a Jewish Federation, a Jewish home for the elderly and the Oregon Jewish Museum. The Jewish Federation’s website, jewishportland.org, is a good resource for local Jewish resources and culture.

Although the Public Religion Research Institute noted that Portland is the least religious city in the country because 42% of city respondents identified as religiously unaffiliated, 2% of the city’s residents are Jews. It is estimated that there are more than 45,000 Jews in the greater Portland area, including a resurgent Orthodox community.

In the 19th century, its first Jewish immigrants came mostly from Eastern Europe and Germany. Later waves of Jewish immigration came from Turkey and Rhodes, in the early 20th century. The first synagogue building was built in the 1880s and burned down in 1923.

During the last century, Greater Portland’s Jews have become well-integrated into the community and most have achieved solid middle-class respectability and become part of the city’s social, commercial and political fabric.

Aaron and Jeanette Meier and Emil Frank, of the Meier and Frank department stores; “Soda Pop King” Louis Albert; and Sam Schnitzer of Schnitzer Steel are historical figures. Bernard Goldsmith became the first of the city’s five Jewish mayors, serving from 1869-’71, and the city’s most recent Jewish mayor was Vera Katz, who was in office from 1992 to 2004.

For more information, check travelportland.com/culture/jewish-community/. l

Jeffrey and Virginia Orenstein are husband and wife travel writers from Sarasota, Florida.


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