Portlandia and food carts might have put Portland on the national destination map, but there is so much more to the City of Roses than you might think. You could easily spend your entire weekend eating through the many restaurants, markets and food carts, or take a tour of the gardens tucked away throughout the city. Then again, maybe you want to dive into the little shops of the neighborhoods surrounding downtown and just over the bridges. Of course, a creature encounter must be included in your sojourn into the city as well. There is so much to do, you might need to add an extra day to your weekend escape, and we haven't even covered day trips yet!
Food isn't a necessity in Portland; it is an art form. Chefs have set up permanent food carts in communities throughout the city that are not only city sanctioned, but encouraged. Want a piping hot bowl of Pho on the go? There is a food cart for that. Korean tacos? Porchetta? Waffles? Burgers on a grilled cheese bun? Sushi? Bubble tea? Liquid nitrogen ice cream? Yup. Carts for those too. FoodCartsPortland.com has maps and descriptions of many of the food carts around town, as well as the latest news and openings. Keep in mind that not all food carts are open 7 days a week. Many downtown carts shut down on the weekends. If you have your heart set on a food cart crawl, do your homework and know which ones are open and when.
Portland's Saturday Market would be better described as a weekend market. The party gets started on Saturday morning and runs through Sunday. If you are anxious to grab a VooDoo Donut while in town, the market is just a few blocks away. If the line isn't too long at VooDoo (its been known to wrap a city block or more in the summer), you can plan on hitting both. Everything from jewelry and pottery, to gyros and cotton candy can be found at the market. Even if you aren't looking to buy, the people watching is worth the trouble of finding a parking spot, which really isn't bad at all if you are willing to park in a lot or walk from your downtown hotel.
If your kids are getting antsy for some creature encounters, take a ride on the miniature train through Washington Park to see elephants, frogs, crocodiles, monkeys, tigers, rhinos, birds and even a naked mole rat at the Oregon Zoo. Make sure you grab a zoo map, as it is easy to get lost in this labyrinth of animal fun. Creature encounters with the penguins and giraffes are available, as well as behind-the-scenes tours of the African and Northwest exhibits.
Portland's combination of warm summer sun and ample rainy days throughout the year create the perfect conditions for gardens to thrive. Since 1917 the International Rose Test Garden has delighted locals and visitors alike with dazzling colors and dizzying fragrances during the late spring and early summer months. Portland loves their roses so much they have an annual Rose Parade that thousands show up for to celebrate the city's emblem. Year round you can enjoy the Japanese Garden just up the hill from the rose garden, but it is the Lan Su Chinese Garden that is the real stunner in this town. The Chinese Garden was built in partnership with Portland's sister city in Suzhou, China. It is said to be the most authentic Chinese garden outside of China.
As if Portland didn't have enough to entertain you, there are also several options for day trips just outside the city. Across the border into Washington State you can visit Mount St. Helens, an active volcano that is still hissing and grumbling after she blew out the side of her top in 1980. Multnomah Falls is a luscious beauty that can be found as you drive east out of Portland, following the Columbia River Gorge. Coastal lovers won't want to miss a trip to Cannon Beach, the home of the famous Haystack Rock that played a roll in the 1980s cult classic movie The Goonies. No matter which direction you head within and outside of Portland's borders, you know you are going to find something delicious and exciting to explore.
Have you been to Portland with your family? What else would you add to this list?