Sunday, December 14, 2008

The definitive "Why Portland Is awesome" post

Yes, I've already listed a bunch of reasons why I love Portland. I've posted pictures, related anecdotes, and generally rhapsodized about the place. Maybe I was exaggerating a bit -- after all, Portland is not perfect, and it has its drawbacks just like any place. But the way I felt there was no exaggeration. I felt home. The city is tailor-made for me. And ever since I've been back, I've felt a little homesick. So in the spirit of the holiday season, I feel compelled to post an exhaustive Compendium of Awesome, starring the fine city of Portland, Oregon.

Warning: reading this post may cause a sudden, burning desire to pack up and move to Portland immediately.

For the word nerd
For the foodie
For the music lover
For the nature enthusiast
For the film & TV buff
For the eco-conscious
For the artist
For the daytripper
For the conscious consumer

For the word nerd:
--Portland holds an annual literary festival called Wordstock. The book fair hosts readings, signings, and panels, and other events include a poetry slam competition, a live radio variety program, and an evening event called the Text Ball (with prizes for the most grammatically correct costume!).
--Powell's City of Books is the largest independent bookstore in the U.S. and covers an entire city block. It's open 365 days a year and holds over four million new, used, rare, and out of print books. You could spend a week in there and still find stuff to do.
--Beloved children's lit author Beverly Cleary is from Portland, and there's a Beverly Cleary Sculpture Garden in the city where children can play. On the opposite end of the literary spectrum, author Chuck Palahniuk is also from Portland.
--Dark Horse Comics, the largest independent comics producer in this country, is housed in Portland and has an amazing library of titles, including Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Angel, Firefly, Star Wars, Sin City, Hellboy, Aliens, and Predator.
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For the foodie:
--As I've mentioned before, James Beard, father of American gastronomy and author of 20 books, grew up in Portland. The prestigious James Beard Foundation Awards, held every May, honor the best chefs, restaurants, cookbook authors, and journalists (among others) in the country.
--Tillamook cheese probably wouldn't be around today without cows and equipment from Portland. The town of Tillamook is about an hour and a half away from Portland (one of many potential day trips from the city).
--Stumptown Coffee is an amazing independent coffee chain in Portland that buys and roasts its own coffee. The owner travels all over the world and forms relationships with coffee producers; he's even formed a non-profit that supports Rwandan coffee cooperatives. Stumptown offers Fair Trade Certified and organic coffees and takes pride in its sustainable business practices, both at home and abroad. I've ordered Stumptown coffee from their website, and it was freshly roasted and delicious.
--Portland boasts some of the best farm to table restaurants in the country. One example is The Farm Cafe, which uses locally grown produce and locally produced wines and spirits to create its constantly changing menu. The upside? Your food is fresher and more tasty, and you don't have to feel guilty about supporting evil corporate agribusiness.
--The abundance of wineries, breweries, brewpubs, and microdistilleries. There are even "brew and view" movie theaters that serve local microbrews and food that you can enjoy during the show. Oh, and Oregon Wine Country is about 25 miles from Portland. And there are at least 5 major beer festivals every year. There are more breweries in Portland (around 30) than in any other city in the country.
--Portland Farmers Markets are open April through December and provide a direct link between farmers and consumers. Portland (well, the entire Pacific Northwest) grows the most beautiful, fresh produce year-round, including some of the best berries in the world. Walking around Portland, you can find tons of wild blackberries that are safe to eat. We even found the most amazing apples growing wild on a tree in a residential neighborhood, free for the taking.
--Voodoo Doughnut and Wedding Chapel. The freshest, weirdest doughnuts you'll ever eat. Try a Maple Bacon Bar for starters and then check out their vegan selection to feel a bit more virtuous.
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For the music lover:
--Bands and musicians from Portland include The Decemberists, The Shins, Modest Mouse, The Dandy Warhols, Sleater-Kinney, Elliott Smith, Stephen Malkmus (of Pavement fame), M. Ward, The Kingsmen ("Louie, Louie"), Everclear (Art Alexakis), Spoon (Britt Daniel), Courtney Love, and Death Cab for Cutie (Chris Walla).
--Local music venue The Doug Fir Lounge is comfortable and stylish and has an attached restaurant and bar. We saw 3 bands for $5 there on our first night in Portland. They had free drinking water at the bar! And it was non-smoking, so you could actually breathe in there.
--The Oregon Symphony hosts outdoor concerts on the waterfront; the Oregon Zoo hosts a summer concert series.
--There's an annual Portland Jazz Festival.
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For the nature enthusiast:
--What isn't there for the nature enthusiast? You have mountains, old-growth forests, rivers, gorges... Portland even lies on top of an extinct lava field (the Boring Lava Field, which makes me laugh). There are great trails and hikes, and even in the middle of the city, you can find gorgeous wooded parks.
--Portland is known as the City of Roses; there are rose festivals a couple times a year and a huge test garden that holds over 550 varieties of roses. It's been in continuous operation since 1917.
--Portland boasts the most authentic Japanese garden in North America and the largest classical Chinese garden in the country.
--You can take an ecotour from Portland to the coast, stopping at scenic spots along the way, to go whale watching. A full-day whale watching trip won't even set you back a hundred bucks. Portland is also home to bald eagles and peregrine falcons; sightings of both are common.
--The Columbia River Scenic Highway takes you past magnificent landmarks like Multnomah Falls (look at it frozen!) and the Columbia River Gorge, not to mention stunning scenic overlooks and lush forests. It also features the greatest rest stop ever, Vista House, which is only 15 miles east of Portland.
--Even though it rains half the time, Portland has one of the most temperate climates in the United States. It has a narrow range of temperatures year-round, which means that summers aren't too hot and winters aren't too cold. When it does rain, it's not always the dreary, heavy rain that we experience in Dallas; it's often light, misty rain, and it comes and goes throughout the day. Plus, without all the rain, it wouldn't be so green!
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For the film & TV buff:
--Matt Groening (The Simpsons, Futurama) is from Portland.
--Directors Gus Van Sant (Milk, Good Will Hunting), Todd Haynes (I'm Not There, Far From Heaven), and Todd Field (Little Children, In the Bedroom) are also from Portland. So are actors Clark Gable, William Hurt, Katee Sackhoff (Battlestar Galactica), and Lindsay Wagner (Bionic Woman).
--Mel Blanc (Bugs Bunny!) is from Portland.
--The movie Into the Wild was filmed in Portland.
--The city holds numerous film festivals every year and has a renowned film school.
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For the eco-conscious:
--Portland is often called the greenest city in the United States. City planners have been thinking green for over three decades and have established strict land-use policies and urban growth boundaries. There are hundreds of protected natural areas around the city and tough anti-sprawl ordinances. Sustainability is more than just a buzzword; it's actively practiced. Renewable energy, green buildings, effective mass transit...these all make Portland one of the most ecologically friendly cities in the world.
--Bicycling is not only safe in suburbia; urban cycling is typical, thanks to Portland's bike-friendly accommodations. It's often rated one of the most bike-friendly cities in the world, with over 260 miles of bike lanes and paths.
--Portland was the first city in the U.S. to make and enact a formal plan to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
--Freecycling thrives in Portland; it's a nonprofit movement that allows people to give away their unwanted items instead of throwing them away. It's completely free and legal, can save you money and time, and best of all, it keeps unnecessary waste out of landfills.
--Portland has 92,000 acres of green space, including the country's largest wooded city park (Forest Park, with over 70 miles of trails) and the world's smallest city park (Mill Ends Park, which is two feet across and was originally supposed to house a utility pole).
--Zipcar is available in Portland; the service allows you to reserve a car (including ZAP electric cars) by the hour or the day. Cars are parked all around the city; once you reserve one by phone or online, you just walk up to it, hold your ZipCard up to the windshield to unlock the doors, and drive away! They're located in 13 cities, from San Francisco to Boston to New York to Vancouver, and you can use your card in any of those cities if you're a member. ZipCar pays for gas and insurance, too.
--In addition to bicycling and public transit accommodations, the city is very pedestrian friendly, with compact square blocks and an easy to navigate grid that relies on natural boundaries to divide the city in a logical way. It's so easy to get around there; after a few days, I felt like a native.
--Benson Bubblers, the water fountains dotting the city landscape, reduce reliance on bottled water for many urban dwellers. There are 52 total fountains throughout the city.
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For the artist:
--In addition to a number of art museums, Portland boasts two monthly art walks: First Thursdays in the Pearl District, and Last Thursdays in the Alberta neighborhood. Galleries and shops keep their doors open late and serve appetizers and wine.
--For homemade, hand-crafted gifts, there's no greater place in Portland than the Saturday market (which is actually open on Sundays, too). Artisans and international food vendors descend on downtown every weekend from March to December to sell their wares, which include fine art, photography, candles, clothing, home accessories, woodwork and metalwork, pottery, ceramics, and even pet products.
--Parks, squares, and fountains around the city are enhanced by public works of art, including sculptures and murals. The bronze sculpture Portlandia is one of the city's most famous.
--Portland is a photographer's dream, mixing natural beauty with eclectic city landscapes at almost every turn.
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For the daytripper:
--Portland is 70 miles from the Pacific Ocean and about an hour from Mt. Hood. Cannon Beach is an hour and a half drive from the city. So is Tillamook (mmm, cheese).
--Timberline Lodge, where The Shining was filmed, is about an hour and a half from Portland.
--The desert of Warm Springs is a two-hour drive; so is the city of Eugene.
--Mount Saint Helens is just under two hours from Portland.
--Seattle is just over three hours away; Vancouver about five.
--The Amtrak Cultural Cascades route connects Eugene, Portland, Tacoma, Seattle, and Vancouver.
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For the conscious consumer:
--Portland does have a 9% income tax, but that's offset by its lack of a sales tax. Plus, it's deductible on your federal tax return. Car registration fees are much lower than they are here in Texas, and you only pay them once every two years.
--Cost of living is slightly higher than it is in Dallas (about 5-7% higher), but it's still one of the most affordable cities on the west coast.
--Public transit is free downtown (it's called Fareless Square). That includes buses, streetcars, and light rail. The light rail system extends all the way out to the airport; the fare from the airport to the heart of downtown is only $2.30.
--You can see second-run movies at the "brew and view" movie theaters for $3.
--Most places have free wifi.
--The outdoor summer symphony events are free.
--Some breweries, like Widmer, offer free tours of their facilities.
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I wasn't kidding when I said exhaustive! I'm very passionate on the subject, as you can see. :) Also, I like having all these lists on one page so I can visit it when Dallas is pissing me off. Like today, with the inexplicable return to 75-degree temperatures in the middle of December.

Viva Portland!


Louisiana Belle said...

You made a very good case for moving to Portland. If my familial ties weren't such a strong pull, I would move there in a heartbeat; it definitely appeals to the nature lover in me. :)

Mike - dogsivu said...

you made me homesick and i only lived there a few years!!! here's to getting back up there asap!
thank you very much for this post.