cafe mama

entering the mind of the married mom

My version of the 10 things you'll love about Portland - May 23, 2004

On Friday, About Portland published its guide for Portland newcomers. I thought it could use a rewrite: here are my 10 favorite things about Portland.

1. Walking and biking. Portland is a great place to walk and bike, and is known as one of the most bike-friendly cities in the world. It's possible to get from just about any point in Portland to any other point almost entirely on bike paths. Most of the neighborhoods are supremely walkable, with plentiful crosswalks and very few inner-city neighborhoods without sidewalks. Some of my favorite walks take me past lots of my favorite coffee shops, #8 on my list. Try a walk down Belmost or Division, from SE 20th to 36th, for some of the highlights.

2. Fareless square. I don't know of many cities that offer free rides on public transportation. Portland's Fareless Square now extends to the Lloyd Center and allows anyone to hop on a bus or Max train, for free, within downtown Portland and across the river to the Rose Garden or the mall. Portland's public transport system is always ranked at the top; how great that you can ride it for free?

3. Ladd's Addition. This is my current favorite Portland neighborhood, located between 12th and 20th, Division and Hawthorne in the cute Southeast. The roads are all diagonal, and five circles, planted with hundreds of rose bushes, keep traffic slow and pedestrians entertained. It's a quiet, sweet neighborhood with little surprises around every corner and lots of coffee shops within walking distance, plus a few of the city's top restaurants right on its borders. Ladd's Addition have everything, at a calmer, prettier, slower pace.

4. The riverfront. The city has been working hard to revitalize (or maybe, vitalize) the Willamette riverfront and it's working. My favorite spot for photos is under the Hawthorne Bridge on the east side - there are pretty docks, a great view of downtown, lots of beautiful trees, and always runners, walkers and bikers taking advantage of the unobstructed views and traffic-free trails. You can run for miles without leaving the river banks. Now that's a public work.

5. OMSI. The Oregon Museum of Science and Industry has something for everyone: great exhibits for all ages, play areas for toddlers, an Omnimax theatre, and even a submarine. It's a great place for play dates or for dates of the more romantic sort. And it's situated on another favorite...the Portland riverfront.

6. Powells. Well, not only Powell's, with its several Portland locations, but also other local bookstores that have to work twice as hard as normal bookstores to attract authors and hold events. I've seen some really great authors (like Anthony Swofford, Amy Tang, and Ariel Gore), lots of them local, and missed way more. Portland is a great place to hear authors read their work, one of my all-time favorite versions of adult entertainment.

7. Going underground. Portland has a famous collection of underground tunnels, passageways, and rooms known as the Shanghai Tunnels. While two local groups are in constant conflict over the real story, the rumors and anecdotal evidence that thousands of lumberjacks, farmers, fisherman and sailors were drugged and kidnapped in the tunnels are convincing. The Northwest Paranormal Society has a great tour. How can you not love these tales of deceit, kidnapping, intrigue on the high seas, and oh yeah, ghosts?

8. Coffee shops and other caffeinated spots. How can I count the ways Portland coffee shops charm and impress me? From the local favorite, Stumptown, with its three convenient locations and perfectly roasted coffee delivered all over, to the cute holes-in-the-wall like Tiny's on 12th and Hawthorne and the Ugly Mug in Sellwood, to the local meeting places for radical and high school students alike, like the Red & Black Cafe on 21st and Division and Palio's in Ladd's Addition, to the family-friendly places that treat you right, like Haven on 35th and Division and Urban Grinds in NE 22nd and Oregon, I love them all. You will, too. Not a coffee drinker? You won't be disappointed. In addition to the plentiful excellent tea choices at the coffee shops - most offer a selection of loose teas in addition to bagged teas - there are some great tea shops too. Check out The Tao of Tea on 34th and Belmont, you'll be truly amazed.

9. Wine country. Ever been to a winery for a wine tasting? Sure, you Californians have done it in style with limos and trips to the big names. Oregon does it a lot more close to you and me, with dozens of wineries within a 30-minute drive of the city, many small and amazingly prestigious. On Memorial Day and Thanksgiving weekend, the local wineries have a tradition of opening for fantastic celebrations of local wine and food - even the ones that don't typically open for tastings. It's a rare chance to sample some of th world's best wine (that's right, Oregon wines win many huge awards, especially the delicious Pinot Noirs and Johannisberg Reislings) and meet the winemakers. I think it's better than California - more personal, less expensive, and with those great Oregon varietals.

10. NPR land. Portland is known as the biggest and most loyal audience for public radio and television. This means that, not only do we have a full line of great programming, with great reception almost anywhere, but also the biggest and brightest NPR stars visit frequently. I've been lucky to see a live taping of Wait, Wait Don't Tell Me and a cool night with one of my favorite NPR luminaries, Ira Glass. If Oregon's NPR audience keeps growing and giving, they'll keep coming back.