801 S.W. 10th Ave. The oldest public library on the West Coast, Portland’s Central Library was built in 1913. The library has more than 17 miles of bookshelves and terrific artwork, much of which reflects a “Garden of Knowledge” theme. Highlights include the ornately decorated stairs and a 14-foot cast-bronze tree in the children’s room. The tree’s bark is a sculptural relief of images that intrigue children: vines, musical instruments, toys, ballet slippers, animals, storybook characters and letters. Open Monday and Thursday–Sunday 10 a.m.-6 p.m.; Tuesday and Wednesday 10 a.m.-8 p.m.
2. Monthly Gallery Walks
One of the best times to explore Portland’s galleries is on the first Thursday of every month during the First Thursday Gallery Walk. On these nights, galleries and shops in Old Town, the Pearl District and downtown stay open late, inviting the public to mingle with the artists and explore new exhibits. The streets buzz with performers, sidewalk artists and enthusiastic crowds, and many galleries offer free appetizers and wine.
Complementing First Thursday is Northeast Alberta Street’s Last Thursday event, which falls on the last Thursday evening of each month. This event offers plenty of gallery shows, plus sidewalk vendors, live music and a street-fair vibe. Held on Northeast Alberta Street between 15th and 30th avenues. Participating venues include Ampersand, Antler, Appendix Project Space, Guardino Gallery, Screaming Sky Gallery, Talisman Gallery and others. First Friday in the Central Eastside District, just across the Willamette River from downtown is yet another Portland art event. Several First Friday shows and events are held in artists’ studios, cafés and other nontraditional exhibit spaces.
Northwest 29th Avenue and Upshur Street to Newberry Road For outdoor enthusiasts, winter and fall are a wonderful time to hike through Forest Park, the nation’s largest urban wilderness. This nearly 5,000-acre wilderness has miles of hiking, jogging and mountain biking trails that are relatively free of traffic during the cooler winter months. Autumn sees the park’s mostly evergreen forest dotted with vibrant fall color. This is the perfect time of year to escape to the quiet solitude of the woods — and all within a 10-minute drive of most downtown hotels. Open 5 a.m.-10 p.m.
Located in Washington Park, 4000 S.W. Fairview Blvd. Home to plants from all seven continents, this 185-acre hiker’s paradise contains more than 1,100 species of trees and 12 miles of trails. At the south end of the arboretum is the Vietnam Veterans Memorial. An interpretive center offers restrooms, maps and brochures.
Open 6 a.m.-10 p.m; the visitor center is open Monday-Friday 9 a.m.-4 pm. and Saturday 9 a.m.-3 p.m. The center is closed on Sundays and major holidays.
Located in Washington Park, 400 S.W. Kingston Ave. In Washington Park, you can explore one of the largest and oldest rose test gardens in the country — for free. This is the largest of Portland’s three rose gardens. Started in 1917, the International Rose Test Garden, just minutes from downtown Portland, has 7,000 rose bushes, spectacular views of the city and an on-site gift shop.
Free tours are offered from June through September on Tuesdays at 11:30 a.m. and 1 p.m., and on Thursdays, Saturdays and Sundays at 1 p.m. Open 7:30 a.m.-9 p.m. Gift shop hours vary.
6. Pioneer Courthouse Square
Bordered by Southwest Sixth Avenue, Broadway, and Yamhill and Morrison Streets. Located in the heart of downtown Portland, Pioneer Courthouse Square is affectionately known as the city’s “living room.” Once a grim parking structure, the square is now a thriving urban park and the single most-visited site in Oregon, attracting more than 9.5 million visitors annually. The square’s on-site resources include the Travel Portland Visitor Information Center and TriMet’s bus and light rail ticket office. The square is also one of Portland’s leading outdoor venues, hosting 300 events each year, from large-scale concerts to cultural festivals. The Portland Farmers’ Market operates in the Square every Monday from 10 a.m.-2 p.m., June-October. Open 5 a.m.-midnight daily, year-round.
Enjoy live music and samples of wonderful locally grown and prepared foods. During peak season, markets are held on most days of the week around the city. At the Saturday market, chefs demonstrate how to create dishes with fresh market ingredients. The flagship market is held on Saturdays in the South Park Blocks at Portland State University, March-December. On Mondays, the market comes to Pioneer Courthouse Square (June-October), and Wednesday’s market is held in the South Park Blocks of the Cultural District (May-October). Hours vary by location.
8. Public Art
You can’t visit Portland without encountering public art. In the central city, you’ll discover a surprising mix of artistic styles, materials and settings within any given 10-block radius. Public art is integrated into architectural façades, along the street, in the parks, inside public buildings and in the sculpture garden outside of the Portland Art Museum. There are even indoor exhibits — perfect for rainy-day sightseeing.
408 N.W. Couch St. Free to view but costing a quarter to operate, this coin-op art gallery is neither a church nor technically ever open (it’s on view in a Chinatown storefront). It does, however, offer fully legal weddings by appointment, complete with sidewalk procession and a serenade from “the king.” Confused? That’s sort of the point — this long-running Portland institution has been confounding locals for ages. Open all day, every day