The South Park Blocks
Southwest of Pioneer Square, paralleling Broadway, is the South Park Blocks Cultural District. Many of the city’s cultural institutions open onto the South Park Blocks, a delightful thread of tree- and statuary-filled greenways established in the 1850s and now running through the midst of downtown. The stands of American elms found here (and in the Pearl District’s North Park Blocks) are among the largest remaining in North America, most of the rest having succumbed to Dutch elm disease.
Strolling the lanes through the South Park Blocks, which are flanked by many of Portland’s most important museums, civic buildings, and early landmark churches, evokes memories of European parks, except that here the pigeons perch on statues of American presidents Lincoln and Teddy Roosevelt instead of Napoleon. What makes this very civilized scene notable is that Portland’s founders set this stage in 1852, when wilderness stretched in every direction for thousands of miles.
Portland Center for the Performing Arts
Backing up to the South Park Blocks are two units of the Portland Center for the Performing Arts, including the ornate Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall, home to the Oregon Symphony. This jewel-box concert venue was once a 1920s vaudeville hall, but you’d never know it after a 1980s makeover turned this neglected theater into the city’s premier concert space. Directly across Main Street is the Antoinette Hatfield Hall (formerly the New Theater Building and Performing Arts Center), with two theaters and a soaring lobby topped by a confetti-like glass dome.
The Schnitzer Concert Hall isn’t usually open for casual visits, so you’ll need a concert ticket to see its glittering interior, but the Performing Arts Center is open all day and during the evening when performances are scheduled; the lobby bar makes a nice spot for a drink.
Oregon Historical Society Museum
The Oregon Historical Society Museum (1230 SW Park Ave., 503/222-1741, 10 a.m.–5 p.m. Tues.–Sat., noon–5 p.m. Sun., closed Mon., $11 adults, $9 seniors and students 18 and older, $5 ages 6–18), holds the collection of the Oregon Historical Society. The museum tells the state’s rich Native American and settlement story; the gift shop and bookstore (same hours as the museum) is a good place to pick up quality crafts. Also opening onto the park is the multibuilding Portland Art Museum. The southern edges of the parks dissolve into Portland State University, an urban campus that boasts the state’s largest higher-education enrollment.
Twice weekly from spring to fall—on Saturdays and Wednesdays—the Portland Farmers Market fills the South Park Blocks with the agricultural bounty of the Willamette Valley. The farmers market is also a great option for a casual bite to eat—many food vendors purvey freshly prepared food in addition to selling fruits, vegetables, cheese, and meats.
by Judy Jewell and W. C. McRae from Moon Oregon, 8th Edition, © Elizabeth & Mark Morris and Avalon Travel