I could write about downtown for days. It has it all, and more: shopping, eating, celebrating, working and even occasional political rallying! The city center is always a buzz with people out and about visiting the retail stores, theaters, concert halls and museums. There is so much to do downtown that I’ll have to choose a couple of my favorites and do my best.
We’ll start off with Pioneer Square (SW Broadway and Morrison), also known as “Portland’s Livingroom.” This big brick plaza is usually booked out on weekends (year round) for a wide variety of events ranging from sand castle building contests and flower shows to brewer’s pavilions and live music. Stop by when you’re in the area to see what’s going on. I’m usually pleasantly surprised. Surrounding Pioneer Square, you will find downtown anchors like Nordstrom’s, Macy’s and many business-class and boutique-sized luxury hotels. Also nearby is the Pioneer Square Mall, which is made up of 3 or four mulit-story buildings connected by underground malls. Here you can find high-end stores like Sack’s and Tiffany in addition to mall favorites like the Gap, the Body Shop and a Cinema.
For restaurants, you’ll find just about anything you can think of. So, I’ll just mention a few of my favorites. The Lebanese restaurant, Abuo Karim (SW Pine at 2nd, 503-223-5058), has great food, service and atmosphere. On weekends you can usually enjoy their Mediterranean fare to the tunes of a live jazz trio. Huber’s (SW 3rd at Stark, 503-228-5686) is Portland’s oldest restaurant and is famous for their Spanish Coffees as well as their fantastic dinner menu. Stop in their old world lounge for their showy production of coffee cocktails but keep an eye on your watch if their magician is working the room. The Portland City Grill is located on the 30th floor of the US BankCorp tower, which is also known as “Big Pink” for its rose-hued granite and glass exterior. They have a fantastic happy hour menu with Asian and American appetizers for about 3-5 dollars each. Get there before 5 PM to grab a window table with views of the city, Mt. Hood and Mt. St. Helens.
On Saturdays and Sundays you should check out the Saturday Market, located at Ankeny and 1st Avenue. Browse through stall after stall of unique wares by local artisans. The Market also has two different outdoor food courts with tented eating areas and stages for live music. Don’t miss the kiosk selling elephant ears (fried bread coated in cinnamon and sugar).
Waterfront Park and Festivals
If you head one block east from the Saturday market, you’ll find the Willamette River and Portland’s Waterfront Park. The park starts at the Steele Bridge and ends more than 3 bridges away, a little south of the Hawthorne Bridge. This area is enjoyed by Portlanders and visitors year round for its running and bike paths on both sides of the river.
Waterfront Park also has a “season.” During the Summer months you can usually find something big going along the river. The season kicks off with the Cinco de Mayo festival which features carnival rides and other festivities. The next big highlight is the 9-day Rose Festival (in June), which also has a waterfront carnival as well as two parades, the evening time Starlight Parade (on the first weekend) and the Grand Floral Parade (on the second weekend). Other big events on the waterfront include Portland Pride and the Blues Festival, both of which feature large stages with live entertainment. There are several other festivals that happen annually celebrating local beer, wine and gourmet food in large tented pavilions along the river.
The park is also used as the launching and/or end point for all sorts of Portland events ranging from the Shamrock Run and the famed Bridge Pedal, when Portland closes down the majority of its 11 bridges to car traffic for thousands of bicyclists. You can also find fringe affairs like the “Urban Iditarod,” a race that features five-person teams dressed in costumes, decorated shopping carts and an ultimate goal that still eludes me. I’m not even sure anyone has ever “won” the Iditarod.