Discovering Downtown Portland

Discovering Downtown Portland

I’m usually not impressed by any city’s downtown. I usually have a “once you’ve seen one downtown, you’ve seen them all” type of attitude. In most downtowns in the U.S.A., you’re sure to find towering business districts, lots of people hustling and bustling about their busy lives, traffic, litter, and the like.

So while I kept hearing that Portland is a great city, I wasn’t expecting to really be impressed by its downtown area. During our trip to the city last December, we had the chance to really explore it during Portland Walking Tours ‘Best of Portland’ tour which revealed several reasons why downtown Portland lives up to the hype…

It’s Artsy & Quirky

At Pioneer Courthouse Square, also known as “Portland’s living room”, you’ll walk on bricks – over 72,000 of which have people’s names inscribed in them. Funds earned from Portlanders’ purchase of these bricks were used to construct the square and funds from current purchases are used for its maintainenance.

During our visit to the square, “elves” from the department store, JC Penney, were giving out 1,000 free poinsettias as part of a marketing campaign. If we hadn’t been traveling, we definitely would’ve accepted one.

Downtown Portland is unique in that there is a lot of art on display throughout, including a statue in Pioneer Courthouse Square called Allow Me, better known as Umbrella Man.  Crafted by artist John Seward Johnson II, Umbrella Man is the most photographed man in Portland.

Another cool feature found in the square is this tiny amphitheater echo chamber. When you stand on the center stone and speak towards the wall, your voice will be amplified as if you’re on a microphone. Pretty cool!

A unique sign post at Pioneer Courthouse Square

Near the square and throughout downtown, we also saw several bronze sculptures of animals native to the Pacific Northwest. These sculptures were designed by Georgia Gerber.

Artist Hilda Morris’ Ring of Time is on display in the outdoor foyer of the Standard Plaza.

Portlandia, a sculpture by Raymond Kaskey, was installed above The Portland Building in 1985 and it’s the second largest repoussé made of copper in the U.S. following the Statue of Liberty. Portlandia, whose design is based on Portland’s seal, extends her right hand to greet visitors to the building.


Around downtown Portland, you’ll find these four-bowl water fountains known as Benson Bubblers. The Bubblers serve fresh, non-recycled drinking water from 6 a.m. to 11 p.m. every single day. The water comes from the Bull Run watershed, a reservoir located 26 miles from downtown Portland that collects rainwater and snowmelt.


It’s Clean, Green, & Tech Savvy

Portland prides itself on being an environmentally friendly city. During our walk with the eco-friendly Portland Walking Tours, our guide pointed out these nifty recycling bins which are placed next to public trash cans. These bins instruct people which slots they should discard their newspapers, plastic, and glasses in. They’re also designed with magnetic swinging doors which make it easy for trash foragers to collect glasses and bottles.

While out and about in downtown Portland, if you need to use the restroom, feel free to do so in the Portland Loo. These public restrooms are open all day everyday and are cleaned twice daily.

Also, if you’re nowhere near home and you need to charge your environmentally friendly electric vehicle, no need to worry – Portland to the rescue! Simply stop at one of the city’s charging stations and get to charging! Note that while it’s free to charge, you still have to pay $1.60 per hour for your parking space.

Charging station outside of World Trade Center Portland

If you don’t have a car or you opt to take public transportation, another cool thing about Portland are the digital displays that provide real-time TransitTracker arrival information and details about service delays, disruptions, and emergencies so you never have to wonder when (or if) your bus or train is coming.


It Has a Pioneering History

While indigenous populations have lived in present-day Oregon for thousands of years, the first Europeans to visit the area were from Spain followed by the British. After the Louisiana Purchase in 1803, President Jefferson commissioned the Lewis and Clark Expedition to explore and map the western region of the country and to establish an American presence in the area before the Europeans got a chance to do so. Sacagawea was a Shoshone Indian woman who served as an interpreter and diplomat during the expedition.

A mural on the Oregon Historical Society’s building depicts the explorers and Sacagawea.

In Chapman Square, you’ll find The Promised Land, a sculpture by David Manuel depicting a family who arrived to the area via the Oregon Trail, a 2,000-mile wagon route that connected the Missouri River to Oregon’s valleys. The statue which features a Bible-toting son, has received flack because it doesn’t accurately depict or represent Oregon’s settlers and because it’s not inclusive of the other ethnic groups and religions that actually lived in and settled the area.


It’s Full of Foodies

Last but not least, Oregon’s awesomeness stems from its foodie culture. At SW 10th Ave. and SW Alder St., you’ll find a lineup of several food carts selling affordable cuisine from around the world. Whether you’re in the mood for Cuban, Thai, or Polish food, in Portland, you can find a food cart that has just what you’re craving. On this particular day, we chose Touch Down’s which offers excellent and reasonably priced BBQ fare. Yum!

When in Portland, I’d definitely recommend taking a tour with Portland Walking Tours so that you can see for yourself why Portland is one of America’s great cities!




Have you been to Portland? If so, what are your thoughts about the city?

  • Summar Connelly

    Hi there,

    We would like to request permission to use some images of the bricks in Pineer Courthouse Square in our Ōtākaro Avon River Corridor Regeneration Area – Public Exhibition of Design Options.

    We are a regeneration planning agency, working on regeneration plans in post-disaster Christchurch, New Zealand.

    We are looking for examples of innovative ways to remember the past residents that lived in the area, over 7000 homes were red zoned and demolished. We love your tribute to the people who make Portland a great place. We will happily credit any images we use.

    Please see our website for some background to the work we are completing following the recovery effort here in Christchurch.

    We look forward to hearing from you. We would really appreciate if you were able to give us some imagery to use.

    Summar Connelly
    Regenerate Christchurch
    Team Administrator | Corporate Services

  • Portland is probably the American city I want to visit the most. I want to explore Oregon: the wine region, the coast and Portland. I think it would be a great city to spend time in.

    • Dana Carmel

      Definitely, Lance. There are so many parts of Oregon that I want to explore in more depth – especially the Oregon coast. Someday you’ll get there, and someday, I’ll get back there!

  • A

    I love Portland! I haven’t been there in several years now, but your pictures brought back lots of memories. And the weather looks great too! It was raining (of course) the whole time i was there 🙂

    • Dana Carmel

      Yes – it was overcast and a little drizzly while we were there too, but it’s so beautiful that the rain doesn’t really bother me!

  • Jen

    I’ve always wanted to visit portland, i’ve heard great things about it and your post has just confirmed it! someday!

    • Dana Carmel

      Hopefully it’ll be someday soon! Thanks for your comment.

  • Walking tours are such a great way to get to know a city! I would love to try out a few of those food carts after all the walking.

    • Dana Carmel

      I should clarify that the food carts weren’t a part of this particular tour, but they did make a nice ending to ours! Plus, they were right around the corner from our hotel.

  • Thanks for the tour of downtown Portland. I love cities and can usually find some distinctly cool characteristic that I like. I have not been to Portland but, like you, I’ve heard so many good things about it. Love the artsy/quirky side you showed of it.

    • Dana Carmel

      Glad you enjoyed this post, Cathy. I hope that you’ll get to experience Portland’s artsy/quirky side for yourself someday soon!

  • I have never been but it looks like a great city. A walking tour is indeed the best way to discover a city.

    • Dana Carmel

      Yes – I agree that it’s always best to explore a city “on the ground”. Go to Portland when you get a chance!

  • There is a lot to like about Portland. It is another one of those cities on my list. Like you say – Clean, Green, Tech-Savvy, Foodie’s paradise, plus great outdoors close to the city. As far as the rain goes, I have seen so many great travel photos in the rain that I am going to pray for rain next time I travel.

    • Dana Carmel

      I like your spirit, Eduardo! You don’t let the rain deter you!

  • I’ve always heard how lovely Portland is, now I see. It’s definitely a modern, forward thinking place. Thanks for the virtual tour. I love the idea of the bricks.

    • Dana Carmel

      You’re very welcome. You should definitely visit Portland someday!

  • Beautiful architecture! I like the idea of Pioneer Courthouse Square. It’s not only nice to look at but it serves a purpose too.

    • Dana Carmel

      Me too – Pioneer Courthouse Square is so vibrant! After visiting Portland, I realized just how much work downtown Los Angeles (home) needs!

  • My last visit to Portland was such a long time ago. I sort of remember that it was very green, as in there were lots of trees and parks.

    • Dana Carmel

      Jill, I think that Portland would be right up your alley for exactly those reasons! Lots of great places nearby to hike as well.

  • I quite like downtown, as long as I don’t see to many of them, too close together. I particularly like the variety of food available from around the world, sometimes at bargain prices. Would love to try those food carts.

    • Dana Carmel

      Oh yes – the food carts are a must!

  • Could you make it around Portland during a visit without a car? Is the mass transit comprehensive enough?

    • Dana Carmel

      Absolutely, Amy. Portland is a very metro-friendly city. We had a rental but kept it parked except for when we drove to the coast. Otherwise, we relied on public transportation which was very reliable.

  • Hi Dana,thanks for taking me along on your great walking tour. I haven’t been to Portland so it was nice to learn more about the area and see unseen images. I definitely love to visit Portland someday and will keep this walking tour in mind.

    • Dana Carmel

      Glad that you were able to vicariously tour Portland through this post. And you definitely have to prioritize Portland for stateside travel!

  • What a fun tour of our neighbor to the south! Isn’t it nice when it doesn’t rain and you can take photos with ease? Nice job on this one.

    • Dana Carmel

      Thanks, Jackie! We went to Portland after several days in Vancouver, BC where it pretty much rained around the clock. But the Pacific Northwest is so beautiful that the rain really didn’t bother me too much.

  • I’ve heard wonderful things about Portland and would love to visit although I’d probably spend more time exploring the craft beer spots the city is so famous for! As a fan of walking tours, I’d definitely enjoy this one.

    • Dana Carmel

      We went to one brewery while there called Rogue at the recommendation of a friend. But I’m not much into beer although I know that Portland has a big beer scene.

  • Beautiful pictures 🙂

    • Dana Carmel

      Thanks, Muza-chan!

  • It’s been several years since I’ve been to Portland. We didn’t do a walking tour but aimlessly walked around. I remember it being a clean and eco-friendly city then and glad to see it’s gotten even better. I’ve been hearing so much about Portland’s food scene and all the food trucks. That alone is a great reason to go back. Thanks for the virtual tour.

    • Dana Carmel

      Man – when I go back I think I’ll spend the majority of my time at the food trucks. There’s this really good Vietnamese food truck that sells the BEST pho ever!

  • This walking tour looks so informative and really covered a lot of ground. How long did it take? The last time I was in Portland, I was just a kid and we woke up early to watch Prince Charles and Princess Diana get married on the hotel TV. I’ve always wanted to return because it seems like my kind of town.

    • Dana Carmel

      It definitely covered a lot of ground. I believe it was about 3 hours. You definitely have to go back and experience Portland as an adult. It’s funny which memories we hold onto from our childhood.

  • It looks like you got a great deal out of the walking tour. I think they’re a terrific way to see the city. When I think of Portland I thing of it mostly in terms of the environment, bikes and food. It was good to learn a little bit more.

    • Dana Carmel

      I love walking tours as well. They’re a great two for one – great exercise and a tour rolled into one. Glad you enjoyed the post!


This site is protected by

Complete this form to join Time Card Express for FREE!
Enter your info below to join and get access to exclusive discounts on local tours and at boutique hotels and restaurants around the world!
We hate SPAM and promise to keep your email address safe.
By joining, I agree to the Membership Agreement and Privacy Policy and confirm that I'm 18 years or older.