Weird, Wonderful Portland Worthwhile
Simply Smart TravelCity Escapes

Weird, Wonderful Portland Worthwhile

Portland is a center for architecture and culture that is known for its livability.

Jeffrey Orenstein

Jeffrey Orenstein, Ph.D., and Virginia Orenstein are husband-and-wife travel writers from Sarasota, Fla. Their Simply Smart Travel column appears in newspapers and magazines in nine states. They publish travel ideas, articles, photos and a blog at and at

Many bridges carry public transportation, pedestrians, bikes and cars across the Willamette River.
Many bridges carry public transportation, pedestrians, bikes and cars across the Willamette River.

Portland, Ore., nicknamed the Rose City, is one of North America’s truly unusual urban areas.

Located on the Willamette River where it flows into the Columbia River, Portland is Oregon’s largest city and a center for architecture and culture that is known for livability. Because it is a friendly and well-run city with a pleasant climate, it is a pleasure to visit.

Portland is a busy seaport about 80 miles inland from the Pacific and is justly renowned for being bicycle- and pedestrian-friendly. It abounds

Portland’s popular Union Station connects Amtrak passengers to the city via streetcar and light rail.

with public art and boasts many museums and parks. The city also has many microbreweries and distilleries.

Though the city has an unofficial slogan of “Keep Portland Weird,” there is nothing to fear for visitors such as yours truly who are unweird. It boasts very unweird upscale shopping, great restaurants, lush gardens, amazing public transportation, and a deserved reputation for being

progressive, green, well-planned and tolerant.

While the city’s tolerant population and government celebrate the eclectic and even the weird, they also celebrate and embrace tourism and civic virtue. The town’s weirdness is mostly a good and entertaining diversion.

Jewish Portland

Portland is the center of Judaism in the Willamette Valley and the state of Oregon. It boasts 17 congregations, about half the state’s total.

Among its prominent Jewish institutions are two day schools, the Jewish Community Center, the Jewish Federation of Greater Portland, a Jewish home for the elderly and the Oregon Jewish Museum. Federation’s website,, is a good resource for Jewish resources and culture.

Mount Hood dominates the Portland horizon on clear nights.

Although the Public Religion Research Institute found Portland to be the least religious city in the country because 42 percent of city respondents identified as religiously unaffiliated, 2 percent of the city’s residents are Jews. More than 45,000 Jews are believed to live in the greater Portland area, including a resurgent Orthodox community.

In the 19th century, the first Jewish immigrants came mostly from Eastern Europe and Germany. Later waves of Jewish immigration came from Turkey and Rhodes in the early 20th century. The first synagogue was built in the 1880s and burned down in 1923.

During the past century, greater area Portland’s Jews have become well-integrated into the community, and most have achieved solid middle-class respectability and have become part of the city’s social, commercial and political fabric.

Bernard Goldsmith was the first of the city’s five Jewish mayors, serving from 1869 to 1871, and Vera Katz was the most recent, in office from 1992 to 2004.


Before You Go

Do some pre-trip research at:


The Max light-rail system is ubiquitous in Portland, an easy city to get around without a car.

Getting There

Portland is well-served by highway, train and air:

  • Portland International Airport (PDX) is 10 miles from downtown. It is served by 17 airlines and the city’s light rail.
  • By train, arrive at Portland’s Union Station on Amtrak’s Cascades from Seattle, Vancouver or Eugene or the Coast Starlight from Los Angeles or Seattle or the Empire Builder from Chicago.
  • By ship, the nearest ocean cruise port is Astoria, Ore., 90 miles away. River cruises depart from Portland’s Embassy Suites Airport Hotel.
  • By highway, the city is on Interstates 5 and 84 and is roughly 2,600 miles from Atlanta.


On a short trip:

  • Downtown shopping and dining.
  • The Pearl and Waterfront districts.
  • Powell’s City of Books.
  • The Portland Farmers Market.
  • The Lan Su Chinese Garden.
  • The Portland Japanese Garden.

    One of Portland’s two operating steam locomotives, Southern Pacific 4449, frequently pulls passenger trains on local and regional excursions. It is housed at the Oregon Rail Heritage Center.

For a longer stay:

  • Explore Vancouver, Wash., just across the river.
  • Visit Mount Hood and/or the Columbia River Gorge.
  • Visit wine country in the Willamette River Valley and taste Pinot Noir and Pinot Gris.
  • Visit the Oregon Rail Heritage Center, home of the only municipally owned operating steam locomotives in the United States. It’s across from the Oregon Museum of Science and Industry.

Tips for Dressing

Anything goes, especially T-shirts, flannel shirts and jeans. Portland’s reputation for being eclectic is accurate. You’ll see business dress to unkempt and everything in between around the city. Be comfortable.

At a Glance

Mobility level: Low. The public transportation system is accessible, and the city is walkable.

When to go: All year. But winter is rainy, and summer is crowded. Spring and fall are best.

The luxurious past of the Embassy Suites Downtown Portland shines through in its lobby.

Where to stay: The Embassy Suites Downtown Portland. It’s not a typical Embassy Suites; it’s a refurbished luxury hotel dating back to 1912. It’s a great location, and it’s the only Embassy Suites among the Historic Hotels of America. Plus, there’s an amazing happy hour.

Getting around: Portland has fantastic public transportation. Use buses, streetcars, the aerial tram and the Max light rail, and forget the car. Downtown is also walkable.

Special interests: Gardens, bridges and public transportation that works.

Jeffrey Orenstein is a travel writer who lives on Florida’s Gulf coast. He and his wife, Virginia, enjoy simply smart travel and writing about it. Check out their travel ideas, articles and blog at, and like



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