Contributed by: LauraDenise White, Consulting Archivist for the Digital Manuscripts Collection at the Genealogical Forum of Oregon
One of the greatest things about the Portland metro area, especially central downtown, is the accessibility of everything from over a dozen places to get a quick breakfast scone, coffee, or tea before jumping on a bus or Max train at the Portland Transit Mall for your morning commute, to food carts, Powell’s City of Books, countless tucked away brew pubs, three movie theaters (Fox Tower 10, Living Room Theaters, and Pioneer Place, two local farmers markets (one Wednesday, the other on Saturdays), the Oregon Historical Society with the Portland Art Museum across the street, slow and fast sushi joints, and skyscraper rooftop restaurant lounges, not to mention the west side river plaza, all within a seven block radius. (See below for a full list of Portland’s downtown hot spots.)
(Fun fact. Did you know that Portland city blocks are half the size of typical city blocks? This means that in New York, for example, 10 blocks would be a full mile hike, but 10 blocks in downtown Portland equals just a half mile, accomplishable in 10-15 minutes, depending on your walking pace ambitions.)
As the SAA Hosting Committee, we know how intimidating a new and strange city can be, especially if you’re trying to find parking while tentatively navigating the confusion of one-way streets in a foreign downtown metro area. So if you’re trying to decide whether to take advantage of one of the SAA conference block of rooms at the downtown Hilton Hotel, we’re happy to proclaim that Portland is easily the best no-car-needed city you’ll ever find, especially if you’re staying in the heart of downtown.
Let’s walk through what a typical day might look like for an SAA Annual Meeting attendee, let’s call her Midge, staying at Portland’s downtown Hilton. Let’s say Midge wakes up Wednesday morning to the beautiful view outside her Hilton hotel window overlooking the pink and orange sky fading gently behind the stark steel blue edges of the majestic Mount Hood as it stands at attention over the sleepy city of Portland with the Willamette’s hushed current reflecting the sky’s colorful ode to the first lights of the new day. Not bad, really. Midge has done quite well for herself it would seem.
Let’s then say that Midge has until 11 o’clock this unrealistically gorgeous morning before her first scheduled SAA conference meeting of the day. Given her overabundance of free time, she finds herself heading out from her downtown Hilton hotel room on SW 6th Avenue (between SW Taylor and SW Salmon) at 8 a.m., and makes her way two blocks west, just past the downtown Portland Transit Mall, to pick up a coffee at City Coffee (corner of SW 4th and SW Salmon). She then continues another four blocks west past the World Trade Center to the waterfront park trail, which she then leisurely follows south for three blocks before turning east again to emerge back onto the now somewhat busier city streets.
Finding herself now on SW Jefferson, she meanders farther east again, aiming for the Wednesday morning farmers’ market (open 10am to 2pm) she read about on the SAA Hosting Committee’s blog. On the way, she notes the ridiculously close and convenient location of the Oregon Historical Society (on the corner of SW Jefferson and SW Park Ave*) where the SAA social scheduled for Thursday evening would be held. After picking up some fruits and a mini packet of Mio’s Delectables at the farmers’ market, Midge walks north along the length of the park blocks, past the Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall, then the Barlow Artisanal Bar, and Regal Cinemas Fox Tower 10 on the edge of Director Park.
Let’s say that after her full morning of exploring the blocks around her hotel, Midge takes a right at the northeastern corner of Director Park, and walks east on SW Yamhill for just one more block until she finally finds herself at the Pioneer Courthouse Square Max stop, part of the Portland Transit Mall. She also notes at this point that her hotel room is situated one block south of the eastbound Max stop. If it were any closer, she’d feel downright lazy.
With service every 10 minutes, she remembers she can take either the blue or the red lines for an 11-minute ride to the front door of the Convention Center, or she can take either the green or the yellow lines from across SW 6th Ave on the northeastern side of the Pioneer Square’s block to reach the same front door of the Convention Center in just under 15 minutes. Validating one of her $5 All-Day Trimet passes (these are available in packets at the Visitor Information Center in the middle of Pioneer Courthouse Square, and are good for all buses, trolleys, and Max trains in Portland) at one of the metal machines at the stop, our lovely Midge then hops on the next available train and settles in to enjoy her ride over the Willamette river.
Later that evening, let’s say Midge and a few of her colleagues grab a table for sushi at Shigezo (calling ahead to reserve a table for larger groups is advisable, but not absolutely necessary as a rule) on the west side of SW Salmon and SW Park, after which they stop at Departure Restaurant and Lounge to sip cocktails from the rooftop of The Nines Hotel on SW Morrison and SW 6th while watching the sunset over the West Hills.
Here’s a complete list of hot spots downtown we recommend you take advantage of while staying at the downtown Hilton.
Imperial and Portland Penny Diner
Try the Imperial for a sit-down gourmet brunch, and the Penny Diner next door for a quick lunch sandwich to go. Located at SW Broadway and SW Stark.
Kure Juice Bar
If you’re looking for a healthy but light breakfast or snack, this is a crazily great place to grab a smoothie or one of their famous acai bowels.
Located on the corner of SW 5th Ave and SW Taylor, this lunch spot is complete with eclectic salads, bowls, sides, and shares.
Qdoba Mexican Eats
Whether you have an hour to sit and mull over your tacos and burrito bowl, or just a few minutes before the Max train or bus across the river, this is the perfect lunch spot, located on the corner of SW 5th Ave and SW Taylor, just across the street from Veggie Grill.
By the slice pizza! Located on SW Taylor just west of SW 5th Ave.
Portland Transit Mall
Located along SW 5th and SW 6th Avenues. The rest of Portland is at your fingertips, literally right outside the downtown Hilton’s front door for heading to any of the SAA Repository Tours in NW or NE Portland, and one block east on SW 5th for any tours in SE Portland, like the Genealogical Forum of Oregon’s Manuscripts Collection, just a 10 minute bus ride on the #4 heading to Division Street.
Barlow Artisanal Bar
Take a journey back to the 1920’s at this glittering corner bar, across the street from the Arlene Schnitzer Hall.
With over 100 beers to choose from, and just a block and a half from your room at the downtown Hilton.
Steak, seafood, wines and beers in an upscale but relaxed atmosphere. Located on the corner of SW 10th Ave and SW Adler Street, just six blocks from the downtown Hilton.
Family owned Lebanese cuisine, with wonderful outdoor seating. Located on SW Morrison, just west of SW 10th Ave.
Luc Lac Vietnamese Kitchen
The best Vietnamese in the city, located on SW 2nd Ave just north of SW Taylor Street. This one’s counter service, so it can be a few minutes’ wait, unless you want to order food to-go on the north side of the bar in the middle of the restaurant where you can have a beer or cocktail while you wait.
Nothing’s more fun than a sushi train, great when you need a quick lunch or dinner. Located at SW 6th and SW Washington.
*SW Park Ave is synonymous with SW 8th Ave, and in the same vein of rational thinking, SW Broadway is synonymous with SW 7th Ave