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Portland, Oregon

bridge at portland japanese garden

Pioneer Courthouse Square is the heart of Portland's downtown area, often called the city's "living room." Attractions here include the city's tourist information center, a weather machine (which plays a fanfare each day at noon to announce the day's weather forecast) and various works of public art, including several large chess boards where locals sit and face off. Hundreds of concerts, festivals and other events are held on the square each year.

Get an insider's view of the city with Portland Walking Tours. The company offers several leisurely and informative walking tours each day, including "Best of Portland," the foodie-friendly "Epicurean Excursion" and "Underground Portland" (which covers Portland's seamier, spicier side). We also like the "Beyond Bizarre" tour, dedicated to ghost stories and supernatural sightings.

The Portland Art Museum -- the oldest art museum on the West Coast -- has a wide-ranging collection with special emphasis on Native American art, English silver and works by Northwestern artists. The museum also regularly hosts visiting exhibitions. It's open Tuesday through Sunday, with extended hours on select weeknights.

The exquisite Portland Japanese Garden is worth a visit any time of year, but it's particularly stunning in the spring, when azaleas, magnolias, dogwoods and rhododendrons burst into bloom, and in the fall, when Japanese maples blaze with fiery color. Highlights of the garden, considered to be the most authentic example of Japanese gardening techniques outside of Japan, include a traditional teahouse, a Moon Bridge over a serene pond, and the aptly named "Heavenly Falls." On clear days there's also a striking view of Mount Hood to the east.

The landmark Portland Building, located at 1120 SW 5th Avenue, is one of the world's first postmodern buildings. Designed by Michael Graves, it represents a break from modernist schools of architecture with its small windows, multi-colored facade and decorative concrete ribbons on one side. (Architecturally significant it may be, but we'll let you decide how attractive it is.) Looming over the main entrance is Portlandia, a hammered-copper statue of a woman -- the second-largest of its kind in the United States, behind only the Statue of Liberty.

Home to more than 10,000 rose plants in several hundred varieties, the International Rose Test Garden blooms into a riot of color during the summer months (usually from late May through September). The garden serves as a testing ground for new varieties of roses. Be sure to stop by the Shakespeare Garden, which includes roses named after characters in the Bard's plays. The International Rose Test Garden is free and open to the public all year round.

Learn about Portland's past at the Oregon Historical Society, located just a few blocks from the Portland Art Museum. Exhibits, which change regularly, focus on various aspects of Oregon's history and culture. Be sure to check out the eight-story mural on the exterior of the building, which captures scenes from Oregon's pioneering history.

Enjoy a shady stroll along some 12 miles of trails at the Hoyt Arboretum, another free, year-round attraction. More than 2,000 species of trees and plants are represented here. In the summer, wildflowers bloom in the meadows, and even in the winter there are plants to see -- check out the Winter Garden at the north end of the Magnolia Trail. Maps of the arboretum are available at the visitor center.

Kids (and parents!) will love their visit to the Oregon Zoo, where they can meet Samudra, Rose-Tu and other members of the zoo's popular Asian elephant program. Don't miss the Africa exhibit, home to hippos and giraffes, or the creepy-crawly Insect Zoo.

Delve into Portland's lively arts scene at one of numerous venues around town, many overseen by Portland'5 Centers for the Arts (see Portland5.com for listings of concerts, poetry readings, dance performances, lectures and more). Or check out the work of Portland Center Stage, a theater company that performs at the Gerding Theater at the Armory.

Program a robot, walk through a giant ear, excavate dinosaur fossils and learn why human beings age at the Oregon Museum of Science and Industry (OMSI). This hands-on museum offers a wealth of intriguing exhibits for kids and adults, as well as a planetarium, U.S. Navy submarine and IMAX theater.

Join the locals for a stroll, jog or bike ride along the Willamette River at Tom McCall Waterfront Park. (You can rent a bike at Waterfront Bicycles, located at the corner of Naito Parkway and Ash Street.) The tree-lined path offers memorable views of Portland's skyline on one side and its many bridges on the other.

The elegant Lan Su Chinese Garden offers visitors a glimpse of what a traditional scholar's garden might have looked like back in the time of the Ming Dynasty (1368 - 1644). Visitors can walk through buildings such as the Hall of Brocade Clouds, where a scholar would have received and entertained guests, and Reflections in Clear Ripples, a lounge where the scholar's family would have gathered. The buildings surround a central lake fringed with hundreds of native Chinese plants. Be sure to stop for a cup of tea -- poured and served in accordance with traditional Chinese rituals -- in the Tower of Cosmic Reflections.

At the Portland Children's Museum, kids can "drive" a TriMet bus in the Vroom Room, go shopping at the Grasshopper Grocery or create a lasting masterpiece in the Clay Studio. The museum is designed for children ages 12 and younger.

The opulent Pittock Mansion, richly decorated and brimming with antiques, was built in 1914 at the behest of Henry Pittock, owner of the Oregonian newspaper. The mansion is located in the hills overlooking the city and offers jaw-dropping views of the Portland skyline and the Cascade Mountains beyond.

Southwest of Portland is the Willamette Valley, home to more than 500 wineries. (Visit WillametteWines.com for a map of the wineries and a guide to which ones offer tastings and tours.) The region also offers a number of wooden covered bridges, farmers' markets, waterfalls and hiking trails, making it a great place for a day or weekend excursion from Portland.

For true outdoor adventure, head out of town to Mount Hood and the Columbia River Gorge. The region offers attractions all year round, from winter skiing on Mount Hood (Oregon's highest peak) to camping, hiking, mountain biking and white water rafting in the warmer months. Multnomah Falls -- the second largest waterfall in the U.S. -- is one highlight of the region, as is a winding scenic drive along the Columbia River Gorge, which stretches for 70 miles.


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