out and about in Portland, Oregon

cherry blossoms and bridges, Waterfront Park, Portland

An old friend far away said the other day, after I'd mentioned some of the things I've been doing lately for socializing and inspiration, that I have "such a cool life." She was referring to my attending the Portland Art Museum's free night, the fourth Friday of each month; book readings at Powell's down the street, like Lorrie Moore's last week; an occasional free Pink Martini concert over at Pioneer Courthouse Square; monthly Willamette Writers speaker meetings at the Old Church. Her statement took me aback because I tend to believe the opposite, that my life should be larger, more interesting, making me reflect on how perception is relative, how things appear from a distance, from the outside, versus up close. I mean, seriously, this friend lives in London, which dwarfs Portland with over 240 museums showcasing a long, rich history of conquest, empire, and postcolonial tensions, and where many of its world-class museums like the Tate Modern and the National Gallery are free, while our provincial Portland museums and private gardens charge anywhere between $10-15 dollars per adult—unless one slips in during the rare and crowded free days. Who's jealous of whom here?

tethered lion, NW Portland

Oregon grape blossoms, March 2014

spilled gumdrops (DOTS), downtown Portland sidewalk

I'm a natural homebody: I must force myself to take to the streets. Living downtown has made such things easier because now I'm closer to the central action here in Portland, one of the most hipster cities in America, its influential quirks lampooned on TV. So, yes, I've been making more of an effort to expand my little life in the provinces. Now that the weather is warming, that effort will extend into the outdoors.

phone pole with staples, March 2014, NW Portland

thorns, SW Portland

green graffiti, SW Portland

Burnside Bridge and cherry blossoms, March 2014

On Sunday afternoon, after a morning meeting and then a little thrifting and some walking errands, I decided to spend a couple hours outside. The weather was insanely nice for April last weekend, low 70's, with clear blue skies, the warmest of the year so far. I sat outside the art museum against a wall in the sun, under a hat, in sandals, then in bare feet, typing an e-mail with my thumbs, actually growing hot for the first time in six months, wearing a black linen shirt and dark jeans. (I love that I have museum grounds as my backyard.) I decided not to feel guilty for not tackling other, more pressing things on the to-do list. Sunny, warm weekends are infrequent in this temperate rainforest climate, so Portlanders must seize the day. The sun kept dropping. I picked up and moved along the wall to follow it, knowing the rain would return soon enough, until I was sitting on a South Park Blocks bench, listening to pigeon coos. I should do a little nothing more often.

Here are more things I aim to do in future springs and summers:

Tom McCall Waterfront Park cherry blossoms, March 2014

What do you do in and around Portland, Oregon?


  1. I try to arrange at least one sunny summer day with a friend to have lunch and sidewalk shop on NW 23rd. My husband and I try to hit up at least one of the outdoor movies or concerts put on by the parks dept. each summer. My favorite beach getaway is Astoria and Long Beach, Washington. I love to go the library when I'm feeling poor and take home a big bag full of DVDs and books for free, if only for a while.

  2. Hi Melissa! Yes, NW 23rd is nice, though I spend more time on NW 21st, for some reason. Favorite shops? I forgot about the park movies—good idea; looks like the 2014 schedule will be available by May 12th. I've been to Astoria a couple times but haven't done the full tour, so that'd be another good trip. And I haven't been to Long Beach, WA, before. What are your favorite things to do and see there? Yes re the library. Have you tried the library's phone/tablet video streaming service, Hoopla, yet? I haven't because I don't watch movies on my phone and I don't have a tablet. They seem to keep expanding their e-book selection, too, but I'm still picking up the paper ones. Thanks for adding to the list!

  3. My favorite shops on 23rd are Paper Source, Blush Beauty Bar and Kiehl's, but mostly I just like to enjoy the pretty street, the sidewalk bustle, lots of cute dogs and maybe splurge on lunch at Jo Bar.

    The best thing in Astoria is the fish & chips at the Bowpicker. It's a boat dry-docked in a parking lot across from the Maritime Museum where they fry the best halibut fish & chips you will ever eat. They have weird hours & there's always a line, but damn it's good.

    I like to antique in Astoria & the Long Beach peninsula - there are so many little shops, you can spend all day. There's a shop called Long Beach Peninsula Trading Post that has an upstairs "loft" full of random sale stuff, where I've found the occasional treasure. I love that Long Beach, WA is touristy, but really small and cute. Plus there's Jake the Alligator Man and the other junk at Marsh's Free Museum. And there's a combination tanning salon/scrapbooking store/fudge & espresso shop. All of that in one place -- it cracks me up. Oh - and don't miss the North Head Lighthouse at Cape Disappointment State Park. The view is amazing and we saw deer and banana slugs on our last visit.

    I haven't tried video streaming from the library ... or ebooks either, sadly. I have a Kindle that I mostly use for travel & it's full of free or very cheap books from Amazon/Amazon Prime. At home we use Hulu, Netflix and Amazon Prime for streaming to our TV, so no lack of content, just time! But for me, nothing replaces that thrill of going to the library and finding a pile of good stuff to borrow. It reminds me of being a kid, too, I think.

  4. I will definitely check these things out the next (or first) time I'm in these areas. Thanks for all the tips, Melissa.

    And I, too, love a big pile of library books, which provides the rewards of consumption (new-to-me physical things and inspiration) without all the negatives (spending money, taking up permanent space). Strangely enough, I also actually read more when they're library books than when I've bought books, though I almost never buy anything but reference books anymore. I read a lot when commuting, but the last couple nights I've been into such a good novel (James Salter's Light Years) that I haven't turned Netflix on at all, and that's something I should do more often.


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