Portland, Oregon Things to Do: See This, Skip That

PHOTO: A woman commutes to work by bike, the evening sun setting over downtown Portland, Oregon and the Willamette River.

Portland, Oregon's largest city, is easily one of the most attractive travel destinations in the Northwest. Here, environmental consciousness reigns supreme, with a healthy bike culture, booming libations scene and varied arts movement drawing steady crowds. And here's more.

Sip on Beer at the Movies, Skip the Soda

Crafted brews are a big draw in Portland, even at the movies. The city is home to several so-called "Brew 'n View" theaters, which showcase not only buzzed-about releases but the latest in hand-spun microbrews, as well. Look for any of the half-dozen-plus McMenamins theater-pubs, housed mostly in historic buildings, which feature comfy chairs, recent-run movies and plenty of sudsy options to fill your pint.

Visit with Books, Don't Just Read Them

Why not turn a few pages on Portland's literary culture? The Central Library on SW 10th Ave. opened its doors 100 years ago and remains the oldest public library on the West Coast. It features no less than 17 miles of bookshelves! And there's a wonderful array of artwork to enjoy, too, including an ornate 14-foot cast-bronze tree inspired by children's stories. Then there's Powell's City of Books, the largest independent bookstore on the planet. More than a million titles, including rare and out-of-print books. Can't decide on a tome? You can bring up to three into the onsite coffee shop to peruse before you buy.

Shop with Abandon, But Without the Tax

That's right: Portland shoppers don't have sales tax to worry about. Take time, instead, to visit the shopping district that's right for you. Downtown Portland, for example, is a retail shop haven, featuring both big-name department stores and an array of independent merchants, with Nob Hill specializing in locally-designed clothing boutiques and Mississippi Avenue in North Portland featuring slick music and antiques shops.

Get High, Enjoy the View

Portland's many open spaces, as well as the natural wonders that surround it, may best be experienced from up high. So ride the Portland Aerial Tram, which travels more than 3,000 feet from the South Waterfront District to Oregon Health & Science University. The windows that wrap around the dangling pods offer sweeping views of the downtown skyline, Mt. St. Helens and the Willamette River. Rides, which cost $4 roundtrip (free for kids under 6), run day and night.

Get in the Spirit, Don't Stop at the Wine and Beer

Oregon pinot noir is legendary, just like Portland's brewery scene. But don't overlook the city's budding artisan distillery movement, which puts out remarkable renditions of everything from grappa to vodka. Rogue Spirits, which offers tours daily, produces an array of rums while Clear Creek Distillery, with a tasting room open most days, uses local fruit to produce tasty liqueurs, brandy and whiskey. Keep in mind: Portland hosts the annual Great American Distillers Festival – tastings, seminars and bartender competitions – every October.

See the Galleries on Foot, Skip the Drive

Pick your travel dates wisely, art buffs. On the first Thursday of every month, galleries in Portland's Old Town and Pearl District stay open late, inviting the public to meander from exhibit to exhibit and mingle with the artists, themselves. Most offer free wine and snacks. And, from April to November, it coincides with First Thursday Street Gallery, which features artwork in an open-air setting along downtown streets. Want more art? Northeast Alberta Street features its own art walk on the last Thursday of each month while galleries in the city's Central Eastside District stay open late every first Friday.

See "Portlandia," Skip the TV Show The popular "Portlandia" sketch comedy show on IFC, starring SNL-alum Fred Armisen, launched its third season this year, but you don't have to be near a TV to experience it. Several businesses encourage visitors seeking out the haunts featured in the lampoon, like the Gilt Club on NW Broadway and the Ace Hotel on SW Stark St. Want to play scout? Once you're in the city, it's easy to find maps pointing you to myriad "Portlandia" filming locations.

Share a Car, Skip the Cab The green movement is alive and well in Portland, where biking is a way of life and where, in the late 1990s, the car share movement was born. Zipcar features a fleet of dozens of shareable cars in the downtown district alone; it requires membership, though, so visit the storefront at SW 10th and Yamhill for information and day-of car access.

Gabe Saglie is senior editor for Travelzoo, which features hotel, airfare and a bevy of local deals in Portland at www.travelzoo.com.

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