New York and Paris and Los Angeles are great, but sometimes the weary traveler just wants a beer and a pizza and some minor-league baseball and really sensational outdoor recreation and gardens, so you go to Portland, Oregon. The Rose City might be getting more crowded, with rush hours on I-5 that rival behemoth Seattle to the north, but for the most part it continues to be that mid-sized, west coast city of your dreams, and a great place to visit.
There are some things that I never miss in Portland. There are a half-dozen superb, small hotels in the center of the city (the Hotel Vintage Plaza and the Heathman Hotel are two of my favorites), but I like to stay at Portland's White House, a bed-and-breakfast in a beautifully restored mansion in the Irvington neighborhood, just across the river from downtown. The wonderfully efficient MAX light-rail train is a few blocks away and easily takes you to many of the attractions of the city.
Downtown and in the Pearl District, the urban center of shops and restaurants and bars, are must-see things like Powell's Books, one of the great bookstores in the country, which occupies an entire city block, puts used books next to new ones on the shelves, and has a fine café for coffee and reading. The Classical Chinese Garden in Chinatown has a teahouse and tranquil paths (although outside is one of the city's seediest neighborhoods, and not one that families will want to walk with their kids, except if they're very tough families). At Washington Park there is a terrific zoo, Rose Garden and Japanese Garden, all with great views of the city. And Tom McCall Waterfront Park alongside the Willamette River is a long, grassy park with a path for jogging and cycling.
They're all great to see, but the one place that I always find myself returning to in Portland is the Kennedy School, a decommissioned neighborhood elementary school that has been transformed into a bed-and-breakfast, restaurant, theater and neighborhood meeting place in Portland's Northeast district. Here you can mingle with the locals over brewpub beer and excellent pizzas, take in a movie in the school's former auditorium, which has been furnished with old sofas and tables for the beer and pizza you can bring inside, or wander the halls of the old school and admire the artwork that covers the walls.
It is as Portland as Portland can be. Do you have any favorites to pass along in Oregon's Rose City?