What distinguishes Portland, Oregon, from the rest of America's cityscapes? Or from the rest of the world's urban destinations for that matter? In a Northwest nutshell: everything. For some, it's the wealth of cultural offerings and never-ending culinary choices; for others, it's Portland's proximity to the ocean and mountains, or simply the beauty of having all these attributes in one place.
Strolling through downtown or within one of Portland's numerous neighborhoods, there's an unmistakable vibrancy to this city—one that is encouraged by clean air, infinite trees, and a blend of historic and modern architecture. Portland's various nicknames—Rose City, Bridgetown, Beervana, Brewtopia—tell its story in a nutshell.
Rich cultural offerings, prime historic and modern architecture, endless recreational activities, and a friendly feel make Portland alluring for just about everyone. But it seems that Portland's food scene is one of its biggest attractions these days. It's true that Portland's filled with amazing restaurants—though it's not necessarily the recipes that are causing all the commotion. Rather, it's the "locavore" movement—using ingredients that are raised, grown, or foraged within a reasonable distance—that's got diners and chefs excited. Often, diners experience savory fish, fowl, or pasta dishes made with seasonal fruit and vegetable accompaniments that have just been plucked from the vine or ground.
After you're done with a delicious meal, you may find yourself at one of the many unique coffeehouses or local breweries sipping on something satisfying. Dozens of options blanket the city. Stumptown Coffee Roasters is a local favorite for a cup of joe; for microbrew possibilities, check out a McMenamins, BridgePort, or Widmer brewery. These sites are frequented by locals, too, and make great hangouts to people-watch or as a pit stop for determining the day's or evening's activities.
Portland has a thriving cultural community, with ballet, opera, symphonies, theater, and art exhibitions both minor and major in scope. Whatever you choose, you can count on several things: relatively affordable ticket prices and crowds dressed in everything from tennis shoes to tuxedos. Portlanders are sometimes accused by outsiders of being "too casual" when it comes to showing up for performances. But it might be this "lower-brow" approach to arts and culture that is why many events are well-attended.
One arts attraction that pulls in locals as well as tourists is the Portland Art Museum. Its two large buildings house paintings by old-world masters, an impressive collection of Native American art (much of it from the Northwest)—and an expanding collection of modern and contemporary art. Across the street from the art museum is the Oregon Historical Society, which has more than 85,000 artifacts, including ancient objects from the earliest settlements. Exhibitions bring to life what their mission statement proclaims is, "preserving and interpreting Oregon's past in thoughtful, illuminating, and provocative ways."
If smaller galleries are more of your thing, Portland has plenty. Lots of galleries and studios are in the swanky Pearl District, on the fringe of downtown. Print art, fiber art, contemporary art, and photography as well as glass, video art, and 3-D art, are all represented here.