Portland is not on the A-list of glamour cities, but Portlanders tend not to care if other cities have taller buildings or a bigger this...

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Portland is not on the A-list of glamour cities, but Portlanders tend not to care if other cities have taller buildings or a bigger this or that. Over time, the city has followed its own path.

Portland doesn’t try to be more than it is. Therein and elsewhere lies much of its affordable charm. There is plenty to do that is free or reasonably priced (adult prices are given below; young children are often free or discounted and there are senior discounts). And Oregon has no sales tax.

Here’s a look at what to do:


Among the city’s top sights:

The Japanese Garden overlooks the city in Washington Park. A short walk from the Japanese Garden ($8 admission) is the world-famous International Rose Test Garden (free). Portland is called the Rose City for a reason.

Also in Washington Park is the Oregon Zoo, served by an underground station on the light rail, and the kid-friendly Children’s Museum and World Forestry Center. Get information on these and other Portland sights at www.travelportland.com.

Powell’s City of Books, 1005 W. Burnside, claims to be the world’s largest independent used and new bookstore. Entry is free and it does seem like a city. You even get a map. The exit fee depends on your self control, www.powells.com.

Local craftsmen show their wares downtown at the Saturday Market near the Burnside Bridge, www.portlandsaturdaymarket.com/ (open on Sundays, too, until Christmas).

The Portland Aerial Tram runs from South Waterfront terminal up to Oregon Health & Science University. Round trip is $4 with a staggering view, www.portlandtram.org.

The Chinese Garden, in what’s left of Portland’s once-raucous Chinatown, is downtown. Artisans were brought from China to build it; www.portlandchinesegarden.org ($8.50).

The Oregon Museum of Science and Industry (OMSI), just across the river from downtown, is hands-on and kid-oriented with its own naval submarine, the USS Blueback, open for tours, www.omsi.edu, (adults $11, children $9, submarine tours additional $5.50).

Trendy 23rd Street in Northwest Portland has tempting shops, galleries and restaurants. The Hawthorne district in close-in Southeast is a bohemian-lite street of coffee houses, hole-in-the-wall restaurants and interesting shops.

And if you wonder about Portland’s past, visit the Oregon Historical Society Museum downtown with thoughtful exhibits and a gift shop good for books and more: www.ohs.org ($11).

Wine and beer: The state has nearly 400 wineries, and some near Portland grow Pinot Noir that has put the French in the shade. Many offer free tours and tastings. Start with www.oregonwine.org.

Portland has about 30 microbreweries. Many give tours and tastings, www.oregon.com/beer/beer.cfm. It has been written that you can get into a fist fight here over who makes the best India Pale Ale. Yet Portlanders aren’t all beer snobs. The city is a prime Pabst Blue Ribbon market.

If you prefer water, resort to one of the “Benson Bubbler” brass drinking fountains scattered around town by lumber baron Simon Benson in the early 1900s in hopes that his workers would forsake the keg and show up reasonably sober.

Night life: If you’re up for some rock or a quiet evening of jazz, the city is awash with clubs and bars with mostly local entertainment for a minimal cover charge, or none. Major plays and concerts frequently visit. For listings, pick up a free Willamette Week newspaper from a street box or the Friday arts and entertainment section of The Oregonian, or visit www.oregonlive.com/entertainment.

Food: Portland shines with scores, maybe hundreds, of good choices. A list of favorites invites the sin of omission. However:

Downtown there’s Dan & Louis Oyster Bar, 208 S.W. Ankeny St., where Portlanders have gone for fresh local seafood since 1907, or Fratelli, 1230 N.W. Hoyt St., for an interesting take on Italian food. There are endless pricier places in the Pearl District in the historic Northwest part of town.

Carts around downtown serve inexpensive spicy Indian curries, Mexican dishes, Middle East specialties and more. Line up for a take-away lunch with students, businessmen or maybe a judge, for a quick lunch.

In the 1970s, waves of Vietnamese boat people arrived. Vietnamese restaurants abound, especially along a section of Northeast Sandy Boulevard. Try the ubiquitous and inexpensive pho, the traditional noodle soup.


Accommodations are in many price ranges, often lower on the east (non-downtown) side of the Willamette River. Or consider bed-and-breakfasts. They aren’t always much cheaper but can be more fun than a cookie-cutter hotel room. Owners usually are helpful.

The Portland Perks program offers special rates at 35 hotels in the city plus free parking, continental breakfast and shopping discounts. Get details at www.travelportland.com.

Getting around

Tri-Met, the light rail, streetcar and bus system, is among the nation’s best. A day pass is $4.75; individual fares vary by zone. www.trimet.org. Amtrak often offers deal on Seattle-Portland trains, with four round-trips daily.

Kristin Jackson of Seattle Times Travel contributed to this report.