Perhaps the headline in the San Francisco Chronicle says it best—“Newsflash: When we weren’t looking, Portland got hip.”
At some point in the past decade, Portland’s place in the popular culture firmament has vaulted from that of a friendly, flannel-clad, rain-scrubbed city solidly lodged in the nation’s second tier to being a major trendsetter in cuisine, wine, arts, design and up-to-the-second lifestyles.
Oregon ’s largest city, Portland is cosmopolitan and has a metro-area population of 2.1 million, although the city’s easygoing and quirky spirit makes it feel like a much smaller town. It’s extremely easy to feel at home here—many’s the tale of visitors coming to stay for a few days and finding a few pleasant years later that they forgot to leave.
Newcomers are drawn here to live out their dream of opening a publishing house, starting a coffee shop, founding a clothing design firm, or establishing a microdistillery. It’s Portland’s combination of youthful idealism and entrepreneurial zeal that really sets the city apart, and the city is currently one of the top West Coast destinations for “young creatives”—that is, college-educated 25–34-year-olds.
And then there’s the politics. Portland is famously liberal and irreverent. In fact, even as the city grows, its reputation as a center of unconventional lifestyles and alternative and populist politics increases, and “Keep Portland Weird” has gone from bumper sticker to manifesto as many of the city’s inner neighborhoods positively heave with youthful energy reminiscent of the hippie movement heyday of the late 1960s.
But there’s more to Portland than youthful tattoos and indolent coffee shops. Amid lush greenery rare in an urban environment, high-tech business ventures, top-notch cultural institutions (including a first-rate symphony, opera company, and art museum), and distinctive architecture lend an air of worldly sophistication. A latticework of bridges spanning the Willamette River adds a distinctive profile, while parks, plazas, and other public spaces give Portland a heart and a soul.
Such a happy medium is the result of progressive planning and a fortunate birthright. Patterns of growth in this onetime Native American encampment at the confluence of the Willamette and Columbia Rivers were initially shaped by the practical Midwestern values of Oregon Trail pioneers, as well as by the sophistication of New England merchants.
Rather than the boom-bust development that characterized Seattle  and gold-rush San Francisco , Portland was designed to be user-friendly over the long haul. During the modern era, planners added such progressive refinements as extensive mass-transit systems, strict limits on building height and spacing, and one of the most bicycle-friendly traffic systems in the nation.
Portland’s epic natural setting—at the confluence of two mighty rivers and dominated by ancient, densely forested volcanoes—sets the stage for another of the city’s great draws: access to outdoor recreation and rural scenic splendors. With the Columbia Gorge  and year-round skiing on Mount Hood  to the east and the Pacific coastline to the west, relief from urban stress is little more than an hour away.
Other nearby getaways include the Willamette Valley wine country  and the historic sites of Champoeg  and Oregon City . Closer to home, Portland’s Forest Park  is the largest urban wilderness in the country, and after a visit to Washington Park , you’ll know why Portland is nicknamed the “Rose City.”
The result is a small city with lots of personality; an urban area equally suffused with green space and creative energy. In 2006 a New York Times article declared Portland to be the most European city in the country, but most Portlanders were too busy biking, drinking hand-crafted ale, and buying local cheese at the farmers market to have noticed. Portland isn’t like other places in the United States, and for that its citizens are very thankful.