Your first day in any new city can be both intimidating and exhilarating. Many people traveling to Portland have a very specific idea of what the city is supposed to be like, based on what they’ve read, heard or seen on TV (we’re looking at you, Portlandia). Here’s a few of the Portland quirks to know about, to help you start feeling like a local right away!
First time coming to Portland?
The city’s layout seems strange, but there’s a system to it:
Sure, the high number of one-way streets downtown are confusing at first, but there’s a method to the madness. If you’re ever lost in Portland, remember these rules:
Burnside St. divides North and South
The River (Willamette) divides East and West.
The higher the numbered street, the farther you are from the river.
If you look at a map of Portland proper, you’ll see what we’re talking about:
The Alphabet District in NW narrows the organized street layout even more with ordered names Burnside, Couch, Davis, Everett, Fladers… all the way to Yeon!
How to Sound Like a Local
There are some VERY specific pronunciations here that – if altered even slightly, will out you as a tourist immediately to everybody within earshot.
How to Pronounce “Oregon”:
OR-EH-GUN. Say it out loud. Many times. Forget everything you’ve ever heard. It’s not ORY-GUN, and for the love of vegan pizza it’s not AHR-I-GONE.
WILLAMETTE: This one’s easy to remember. Portland’s beloved river is not the “WILL-A-METTY”, just remember the rhyme, “It’s Willamette, Dammit”.
COUCH: Contrary to what you might assume, this downtown Burnside parallel street and furniture lookalike has offered teenagers an easy giggle on the Max whenever announced by the automated system for years. It’s pronounced “COOCH”.
There’s a Train from INSIDE the Airport Straight Into Downtown.
If you’ve ever been to London, New York City, San Franciso or any other relatively large city with an international airport: you know that landing in the city is only the first part of a long journey to your lodging. Luckily for visitors to Portland, you can catch the MAX, our local train system, from inside of PDX all the way into downtown. The trip is just over an hour, and drops you right at Pioneer Square, a central hub for MAX lines in every direction, and only a few stops away from, where you’re hopefully staying!
What to wear in Portland: literally anything.
Contrary to popular belief, Portland isn’t a walking Kinfolk cover. Don’t go crazy finding your perfect alpine hipster chic wardrobe to fit in here, because to be blunt: nobody cares what you’re wearing. You’ll see people in t-shirts and jeans eating at the nicest restaurants in town, company executives wearing a thermal jacket and slacks, and the occasional full kimono, sequin bodysuit or vintage ballgown – regardless of the gender of its wearer. People accept the unique weirdness of everybody else here, so nobody makes a big deal about these things.
Wear what you usually wear, bring layers depending on the time of year, and don’t overthink it too much.
(You can skip some potentially hostile looks & tense conversations by leaving your fur coat at home though.)
The food & drink scene here is overwhelmingly great.
There’s too many good restaurants, food carts and bars here. We mean it. You’ll never get to them all. Don’t sweat it, just go to as many as you can, and don’t worry about missing out on anything. If you aren’t sure of where to go, ask somebody nearby what their favorite spots are in the area, and they’ll rattle off a long list of places that might blow your mind: all within walking distance, and reasonably priced.
Public Transit Is Super Simple
Portland is blanketed by an affordable & efficient public transit system called Trimet. The general rule of thumb for getting around:
MAX will get you far, fast.
Busses will get you to somewhere specific.
Streetcar will get you from downtown to the Pearl (and vice-versa).
You will recycle.
This isn’t even a conversation. Don’t even think about throwing your glass bottle in the trash. We recycle here, and will absolutely speak up when we see somebody about to commit a minor crime against the environment. Luckily, if this isn’t something you’re used to: most places will have clearly marked bins and instructions for what goes where. Take a minute to separate things properly, and enjoy the sweet mental high-five mother nature is sending your way.
There’s More Parking Than You Think
Street parking is gonna be a bit of a scramble in many places in town depending on the time of day, which usually leaves you the options of parking in a lot, or relying on public transit, ridesharing, and your two entirely-capable feet. If you find yourself with a car in Portland, keep these two things in mind:
Street Parking is free on Sundays until 1pm.
Street Parking fees starts at 8am, and end at 7pm.
Old Town’s nightlife district will tow your car after 10pm on Friday and Saturday. There’s a several-block radius downtown of clearly marked spots that are cleared out after 10pm to allow for a safer pedestrian experience on the weekends. If your car is parked in one after 10pm, you may return to find it missing, and pay a hefty fine to get it back.
Move it! Once you’ve stayed the length of the posted time, you have to move your car. If the spot is a 90-minute spot, you best believe you’ve gotta find a new one after 90 minutes. The parking wardens have been known to mark your tires, and can fine people who just replace the ticket instead of moving their vehicle. However, unlike most cities: you can stay parked in the same zone, so feel free to just roll into the spot in front of you.
Lots are good. The parking structures and day lots with the Smart Park logo are city-owned, cost the same as meters, and are potentially even cheaper than street parking for longer periods of time.
You can always get a meal at a bar.
Due to OLCC laws, all bars in Oregon are required to serve at least 5 “substantial food items”, which would constitute a meal on their own, as well as side dish options. If you’re at least 21 and hungry, you will always have options here. Not to mention, some of the best food in town can be found at some of Portland’s iconic bars. Check out the late night menu for incredible happy hour options like a $4 burger and fries.
The great outdoors are almost literally in every direction outside of the city.
The coast to the west, the mountain to the east, beaches to the north, and forest everywhere in between, Oregon sports some of the most photogenic hiking, camping and adventuring landscapes you can imagine, all you need is to hop in a car and just drive, and chances are good you’ll find yourself surrounded by nature.
No car? There’s over 5,000 acres of forest and trails pretty much right in the city.
At the north end of the Pearl District, you’ll find a couple trailheads leading into Forest Park. This massive expanse of urban forest reserve is covered in well-kept trails that make for a great daytime adventure spot, and can lead you up to some of Portland’s iconic landmarks like the Zoo, Japanese Gardens, Hoyt Arboretum, and Pittock Mansion.
We’ve got your back.
We love meeting travelers on their first trip to Portland. Whether you need a place to stay, somewhere to recharge and read a map, or just a cup of coffee and a few tips about the city: our front desk is here 24/7 and we can’t wait to meet you.
– The Society Hotel