As long time Oregonians, we’ve been to Portland many times, sometimes for a long weekend, and more often for a night or two as we travel up and down the I-5 corridor in route to other destinations in the Pacific Northwest. I’m always delighted when we find ourselves in Portland when the roses are in bloom—from May till September, the city is lush with blooming roses, and there’s no better place to revel in their beauty than in the Portland Rose Garden.
At any time of year, though, Portland is an interesting and vibrant city. Green in both appearance and politics, Portland boasts more than 10,000 acres of parks and a liberal, environmentally conscious vibe. Throw in interesting neighborhoods, unique shops, independent bookstores, appealing museums, and beaucoup offerings of local and organic foods—we always find plenty to keep ourselves occupied when we’re visiting “The City of Roses.”
Our most recent stop in Portland was in late June on our way up to Lopez Island for the summer. We spent a delightful three days with Eric’s sister Peggy, and enjoyed a few of our favorite Portland attractions during our stay.
• Portland Rose Garden
Established in 1917 as a safe haven for hybrid European roses during World War I (rose fanciers feared that bombings might wipe out their favorite plants) the Portland International Rose Garden has since expanded to showcase more than 500 different varieties spread over 4.5 acres. The gardens serve as a testing ground for new rose varieties—Portland offers the ideal climate for roses, with warm, dry summers and mild, wet winters.
It’s a heady experience to stroll through at the height of bloom—as an avid gardener with only a dozen rose bushes, it’s overwhelming to think of the amount of deadheading required to keep 10,000 rose bushes looking their finest. The rhythmic ‘clip-clip-clip’ of volunteers pruning accompanied our morning walk in the gardens. The Rose Garden is open daily and admission is free.
• The Japanese Garden
Hike straight uphill from the Rose Garden and you’ll find yourself at the gates of what is considered to be the most authentic Japanese garden outside of Japan. Founded in 1963 as a symbol of healing after World War II, the Portland Japanese Garden offers a peaceful respite in the city.
A stone path meanders through a landscape carefully planned for contemplation, with gorgeous Japanese maples, moss covered rocks, waterfalls, burbling streams, a koi pond, lovely tea house, and Zen influenced sand and stone gardens raked into intricate patterns. Much of the beauty is found in the small details. If you go, don’t miss the guided tour—it’s helpful for understanding the underlying meanings of the garden elements (for example, stone implies strength, water suggests life force, and plants represent the tapestry of seasons and life).
• Northwest District
We like to get out on foot to explore neighborhoods, and Portland has plenty of interesting neighborhoods to wander. This time we found ourselves in the Northwest district, a neighborhood of restored Craftsman and Victorian homes and narrow streets lined with a variety of unique independent shops. We enjoyed a delicious lunch at Ken’s Artisan Bakery, browsed the shops (including a bookstore that featured titles like “A Brief History of Underwear” and “A Complete Guide to Things That Can Kill You”), mingled with the locals, and treated ourselves to gourmet ice cream at award winning Salt & Straw, which offers unusual flavors like pear and blue cheese ice cream (we opted for coffee and chocolate, our all-time favorites).
• Farmers’ Market
If you find yourself in Portland, don’t miss the Saturday farmers’ market at Portland State University campus. It’s one of the best that we’ve found anywhere. The market is a lively event with hundreds of purveyors displaying the finest of Pacific Northwest homegrown and handcrafted foods—we filled our shopping bags with pastured eggs, an assortment of berries, smoked salmon, artisan goat cheese, artichokes, and more. It’s a shaded, lovely venue and a fun place to shop while enjoying the musical offerings of talented locals.