satisfying my wanderlust without being foolish
July 21, 2007 1:39 AM   Subscribe

Is it worth it to only go to Portland for a day and a half?

I'm thinking of heading down to Portland from Vancouver (BC) during an upcoming long weekend. I'll probably be going on Saturday and leaving on Monday (can't get Friday off early or take the day off from work). Is it worth it to only go for a little more than a day? I heard the train ride down will be over 8 hours. I've never been to Portland before (and I'd be going alone); I've heard it's a funky place to visit and relatively safe. I plan to stay in the Hawthorne district, most likely, although I would like to spend a lot of time downtown (such as Powells Books). I thought of Seattle as well, since it's much closer, but can't think of anyplace in particular I'd like to visit in that city. Thanks for any advice!
posted by elisynn to Travel & Transportation around Portland, OR (12 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
I loved Portland when I was there about a year ago. There are so many things to do. We stayed the the HI Hawthorne and found it central to pretty much everything. It's a pretty rad hostel with some great staff. Lots of neat cafes and shops around.

Powell's is relatively easy to get to and definitely worth a visit. I could spend weeks in there. We got separated and it took us about 30 minutes to find each other.

There's a great Japanese garden to visit. A Chinese garden (never visited this one, but it looks great!) and the Oregon Garden.

Rent a bike and explore. Make the most of the day and a half. You'll want to go back for much longer!
posted by comiddle at 6:13 AM on July 21, 2007

Powell's is mandatory, and the shops on Hawthorne (which include 2 more Powell's locations, one of which is purely 'Home and Garden' books) are nice; the Japanese Gardens and Rose Gardens up on the hill are great and the newer Classical Chinese Gardens downtown are beautiful. Add in some shops and restaurants downtown, then catch a concert or a film at a McMenamins (or even stay at one of their hotels, like the Kennedy School), and you've got more than enough to fill a day.
posted by foobario at 7:15 AM on July 21, 2007

My wife and I just did a mirror image of your trip. We took a train up from the Bay Area, spent just 24 hours in Portland, and came back. If you're a train lover, it will be a great trip.

I have heard (and experienced just once) that Amtrak delays North of Portland between Portland and Seattle can be considerable, so build a couple hours of buffer time into your schedule both ways.

Have fun!
posted by quarterframer at 9:24 AM on July 21, 2007

Sure. As long as you consider the train trip as part of the fun, it should be great.
posted by ottereroticist at 9:44 AM on July 21, 2007

Portland is one of the most beautiful cities in the States (have always wanted to live there), and is definitely worth a visit even if you only have a day. I would agree with other commenters that if you have any love of books Powell's is a must-see. Seattle is at the top of my list as well, but Portland seems to me more compact and amenable to a short visit than Seattle, which really requires at least a weekend -- really more like a week -- to really absorb, just because of its size.
posted by blucevalo at 10:20 AM on July 21, 2007

posted by Packy_1962 at 11:45 AM on July 21, 2007

for sure. have a beer at the laurelthirst. they have bands during happy hour 6-8 and at night, pretty much every night.
posted by snofoam at 12:10 PM on July 21, 2007

Absolutely. I've made several couple-days visits over the years. You can get around for free on the buses and MAX inside the Fareless Square, and if you're flying in you can include your MAX trips to/from PDX by buying the three-day Tri-Met pass.
posted by Rash at 2:12 PM on July 21, 2007

posted by Tube at 2:42 PM on July 21, 2007

I spent the first week of June at the Ace Hotel and recommend it unconditionally. I think there are districts way more interesting than Hawthorne- Albina/Mississippi, NW 23rd, the Pearl, heck even Sellwood. The Ace is steps from Powell's, has its very own Stumptown Cafe and an amazing restaurant (Clyde Common). I'd much rather be downtown and maybe spend a couple of hours on Hawthorne but as I say there are (IMHO) more interesting places.

"Relatively safe" is of course a subjective thing but I'd say Portland is no riskier than Vancouver.
posted by ethnomethodologist at 5:39 PM on July 21, 2007

You could go on priceline and bid for a 4-star downtown hotel. I've been able to get stays at the Benson for my parents for about $60/night. The Ace would definitely be a cool place to stay (but over $100 from what I've heard) -- there's a great restaurant and bar downstairs and, yes, a Stumptown coffee. Nearby Pearl and Chinatown is interesting with a pretty hoppin' evening scene. Around the corner from the Ace is an old hotel, family-run, called Mark Spencer -- the rooms there are clean and efficient and if you get an upper floor then you won't have as much evening street noise. Also, it has a small rooftop deck for hotel guest use only which has a nice view of the city.

I really think you should stay downtown if you have just a day and stay near the north edge of downtown -- that way you have the Pearl and all its eateries, Chinese Garden and Powell's and if you are up for a little walk, head over to NW 23rd and 21st (indie cinema on 21st and a Trader Joe's for cheap vittles) for strolling and window shopping.

Plus, this area is close to the train so you won't have too much difficulty figuring out how to get from train to your location.

The Hawthorne district is a nice area of town -- funky and upscale shopping, good eats and a pretty neighborhood. However, I think you'd enjoy the city experience a bit more just by staying downtown.

As for safety, this area does have it's riff-raff, homeless and vagrant population. Burnside has a number of missions and service organizations with assist this population so it's not too surprising. In the evening, this area is hopping with people out at clubs, venues and dining so that can sometimes be a little crazy. However, I don't think you're in too much danger. I've not heard of any violent crime in the neighborhood or anything really beyond panhandling. There are some pretty omnipresent OSPIRG save-the-world types with clipboards that I find more annoying.
posted by amanda at 5:57 PM on July 21, 2007

The Amtrak Cascades line is beautiful and very comfy and restful. The windows are huge, the seats wide and there are places to plug in laptops for power if the scenery isn't enough entertainment for you. They also show movies, but the screens are really small. When my SO and I did the reverse vacation (PDX -> Vancouver) the train was one of my favorite parts. On the return trip there doesn't seem to be any way around the transfer to an Amtrak bus on the Seattle to Vancouver, BC leg.

I always describe Portland as a great place to live but not a great place to visit. There's not much touristy stuffy going on here, and the real gems of Portland are best found in the company of a localite. Portland doesn't have any unsafe neighborhoods, at least not in any places a tourist would unexpectedly end up. However, it's a different kind of safe than Vancouver, BC, where I felt safe because there were always lots of people on the streets at all hours of the night. Portland closes up pretty early and public transportation ends a long, long, long time before last call. Also, you don't hail a cab, you call one on your phone. Portland is said to have a great public transportation system, but it totally sucks for anything late night.

The Hawthorne Hostel is pretty happening and you could meet a lot of interesting people there alone. Hawthorne is an okay place to explore and get a feel for where Portland's Little Beirut roots meet its gentrified future. The shops close pretty early, though. Definitely try a Terminator Milkshake at the Baghdad. Beer + Chocolate + Milkshake. Heck yeah.
posted by Skwirl at 11:11 PM on July 21, 2007

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