Our most-often asked question on at the end of the tour (beyond “where should I eat?”) is, “what do I have to do when I’m here?”
One of my friends who is a somewhat famous writer of comics and children’s books and has traveled all over the world has a theory about the answer to that question. He says there is one or a few places in every city that you do, indeed, have to visit. (At the time we had the conversation, the answer was unequivocally “Voodoo Donuts,” not my favorite recommendation.) I protested. “But there are so many better places!”
“Maybe,” he said. “But say you visit Paris for the first time. One day, you get lost, you wander from arrondissement to arrondissement. You end up at a little cafe at the end of a windy street in a basement. You meet a local storyteller who talks with you late into the night over wine and coffee. You feel as if your life is changed, your perspective to the world has been totally shifted. You are a new person! And you go back home ready to tell everyone about how wonderful the city of lights is. And what does everyone ask you? ‘Did you go to the Eiffel Tower?'”
I’d argue that, after all, your life can change following an experience at my short list of “where you have to go.” But you’ll also have a “yes” to the answer your friends might ask.
Powell’s Books. Prior to Voodoo Donut’s mid-20-aughts rise to fame, Powell’s Books was the best answer to the question and, I’d argue, it’s moving back into first place. This largest independent new and used bookstore in the world has a whole city block dedicated to books and book-adjacent merchandise — you can find the best bookmarks and some of the best tote bags to carry books, in addition to a fine collection of socks and journals and local snacks. Best of all are the author readings, held several days a week in the storied Pearl Room. We introduce Powell’s on our Portland City Tour.
The Pittock Mansion grounds and viewpoint. It’s not the inside of the mansion that matters; it’s the grounds, which are open to the public free from 6 a.m. to 9 p.m. daily. In the summer, you’ll see people gathering both before official opening and after closing time for the gorgeous sunrises and sunsets; on clear days the tall conical mountains, Wy’East (Mt. Hood) and Loowit (Mt. St. Helens) are visible from the point, along with gorgeous views of downtown, the Willamette River, and the smaller shield volcanoes in the southeast and northeast edges of the city. We spend time at the mansion both on our Forest Park Experience hiking tour and the Portland City tour.
The Japanese Garden. The oldest Asian garden in Portland and (according to one ambassador from Japan) most authentic Japanese garden in the world outside of Japan, the Japanese garden is a 2.5 acre oasis that explores all five styles of traditional Japanese gardens, as well as bonsai seasonally, and an extraordinary tea room. While we don’t currently visit the Japanese Garden formally on any of our tours, we do introduce it both on our Forest Park Experience hiking tour and the Portland City tour.
Forest Park. With 5,200 acres of forested land, Forest Park is the biggest urban forested area within any major city in the country and is true magic, only a few steps away from coffee shops and sushi bars. Exploring the 82 miles (130 km) of trails can be a lifelong expedition, or a great way to fit in a couple of hours of rejuvenation before or after more hectic commitments. If you’re here for business, we can’t suggest this any more strongly. Of course, the Forest Park Experience hiking tour is a great introduction to some of the highlights of the park.