A Portland Year
Portland’s events calendar starts off slowly in the damp, gray depths of winter, then builds to a crescendo in July, when the weather is reliably warm and dry. During the cooler, wetter months, most big events take place under cover; Portland is just not cold or snowy enough to support winter carnivals, and there is no ChillyDrizzleFest (yet). In contrast, summer celebrations tend to be outdoor affairs in parks and other open spaces. A sampling of Portland’s more distinctive annual events is listed below.
Most Portland neighborhoods and suburban communities have one or more community festivals—street fairs, art festivals, intentionally cheesy historical celebrations, and the like—that are popular with local residents and make for fun, inexpensive outings.
- Chocolate Fest, 503-228-1367, chocolatefest.org; this benefit for the World Forestry Center takes place at the Convention Center.
- Portland International Auto Show, 503-233-5044, portlandautoshow.com; a celebration of all things automotive, the Portland International Auto Show fills the Oregon Convention Center with current-year car models and accessories, sneak peeks of forthcoming models, and a few concept cars that may never see production.
- Portland Seafood & Wine Festival, pdxseafoodnadwinefestival.com; held at the Oregon Convention Center in the middle of the Dungeness crab season, this festival indeed focuses on Oregon seafood and wine, which go together like a horse and carriage.
- RiverCity Music Festival, 503-282-0877, rivercitybluegrass.com; acoustic bluegrass rocks—well, reels, anyway—the Red Lion Hotel in Jantzen Beach for three days in January.
- Portland Home & Garden Show, 503-246-8291, otshows.com, is one of many home and garden–related trade shows held every year in Portland. The Home & Garden Show fills the Expo Center in North Portland with display gardens, art, and the booths of eager contractors. This event is usually held concurrently with the Yard, Garden & Patio Show, 360-210-5275, ygpshow.com, sponsored by the Oregon Association of Nurseries, at the Oregon Convention Center.
- Portland International Film Festival, 503-221-1156, nwfilm.org/festivals/piff; this two-week filmstravaganza is Oregon’s biggest film festival. Now approaching 40 years old, PIFF typically screens over 100 films from more than two dozen countries, including some fresh-from-Sundance offerings.
- Portland Jazz Festival, pdxjazz.com/festival/; this multi-day festival, held at multiple venues in and around downtown Portland, features appearances by jazz artists of international renown, as well as dozens of free performances and educational events.
- Southeast Area ARTWalk, seportlandartwalk.com; more than 100 artists in a large swath of inner Southeast Portland show their studios and their wares.
- St. Patrick’s Day. Although it’s no Boston, Portland celebrates St. Patrick’s Day in style with a host of events scattered around the city. Fitness buffs can tackle the Shamrock Run (shamrockrunportland.com). The All-Ireland Cultural Society (oregonirishclub.org) hosts an annual family celebration at the Holy Rosary Church Hall (376 NE Clackamas St). As in other cities, bars and brewpubs all over town bedeck themselves in green and serve copious amounts of Harp and Guinness. Two downtown Irish-themed pubs throw the biggest bashes: Paddy’s (65 SW Yamhill, 503-224-5626, paddys.com) sponsors St. Paddy’s Blues & Brews, while Kells Irish Restaurant & Pub (112 SW 2nd Ave, 503-227-4057) hosts a massive three-day block party in heated tents (see kellsirishportland.com).
- 82nd Avenue of Roses Parade, rosefestival.org; the first sanctioned event of the Rose Festival season (see June), this small-town-worthy parade proceeds down part of 82nd Avenue, and is followed by a carnival and classic car show at Eastport Plaza.
- Hood River Blossom Fest, hoodriver.org; the Hood River Valley fills with fun events and the floral equivalent of leaf-peepers when the pear, cherry, and apple blossoms peak in the second half of April.
- The Trillium Festival, sponsored by Friends of Tryon Creek, 503-636-4398, tryonfriends.org, celebrates the emergence of spring in general, and the blooming of the native trillium in particular, at Tryon Creek State Natural Area in Southwest Portland. Festivities include a native plant sale.
- Wooden Shoe Tulip Festival, 503-634-2243, 800-711-2006, woodenshoe.com/springshow.html; flower-lovers and Dutch-o-philes from all over Northwest Oregon converge on 40 acres of tulips near Woodburn from late March to early May.
- Cinco de Mayo, cincodemayo.org; Waterfront Park in downtown Portland hosts this annual celebration of Mexican food, entertainment, and artesanía, sponsored by the Portland Guadalajara Sister City Association.
- Mother’s Day Rhododendron Show, Crystal Springs Rhododendron Garden, SE 28th Ave at Woodstock Blvd, 503-771-8386; Portland has an ideal climate for rhododendrons, and their blooms are usually at their most spectacular during this annual show.
- The Portland Rose Festival (see June) gets under way in May. The kickoff event is the Rock ‘n’ Roll Half Marathon (runrocknroll.competitor.com/portland) which zigs and zags its 13.1 miles through downtown Portland and the close-in eastside.
- Lake Oswego Festival of the Arts, Lakewood Center for the Arts, 368 S State St, Lake Oswego, 503-635-3901, lakewood-center.org, is one of the largest art fairs in the region. In addition to an extensive art exhibition, a craft fair, and live entertainment, the festival usually highlights a specific art form or individual artist.
- Portland Rose Festival, 503-227-2681, rosefestival.org, is the biggest event on the Portland calendar. Seriously, some people in Portland live for this. The festival includes such diverse diversions as the Grand Floral Parade, the more lighthearted Starlight Parade, a raucous waterfront carnival, dragon boat races, fireworks, a children’s parade, a rose show and competition, auto races, an arts festival, the crowning of the Rose Queen and her court, and the arrival of ships from the U.S. Coast Guard and the U.S. and Canadian navies. The Rose Festival is so big, so all-encompassing, and so long-lasting, that virtually no one dares to schedule any other events in Portland in June, except for the…
- Portland Pride Festival & Parade, 503-295-9788, pridenw.org; the Portland Pride march, festival, and parade are boisterous events held at Waterfront Park in mid-June, after the Rose Festival detritus has been removed. The parade route winds through downtown and ends in the Pearl District; participants range from local politicians to “dykes on bikes.”
- Tigard Festival of Balloons, 503-612-8213, tigardballoon.org; if the Rose Festival has not exhausted your appetite for fun, skedaddle to the southwest suburb of Tigard for this festival of balloons—the big, hot air kind, not the kind that clowns twist into animal shapes.
- Chamber Music Northwest Summer Festival, 503-294-6400, cmnw.org, held on the Reed College and Portland State University campuses, is one of the largest chamber music festivals in the country; the festival program includes concerts, open rehearsals, and free lectures.
- Concours d’Elegance Car Show, 503-357-3006, 800-359-2310, forestgroveconcours.org, held on the Pacific University campus in Forest Grove, is the largest classic car show in the Pacific Northwest.
- da Vinci Days, 541-757-6363, davinci-days.org; science, technology, and weirdness intersect wonderfully in this annual celebration of creativity in Corvallis, about one and a half hours south of Portland. The kinetic sculpture race is a particular highlight.
- Fourth of July Fireworks. Fireworks shows take place in many locations around the metropolitan area, including over the Willamette River in downtown Portland, at Oaks Park, and at Fort Vancouver. (You may also find that neighborhood teenagers set off bottle rockets on an unofficial, and illegal, basis.)
- Oregon Brewers Festival, oregonbrewfest.com; a tradition among Portland beer aficionados, the Oregon Brewers Festival at Waterfront Park is one of the country’s premier showcases of craft and micro brews. Admission is free, but tasting will cost you.
- Oregon Country Fair, 541-343-4298, oregoncountryfair.org; love it or hate it, Oregon Country Fair is unlike anything else anywhere in the world. Part Renaissance fair, part hippie revival, and part art-and-entertainment extravaganza, the Country Fair is more an experience than an event. It takes place over three days in Veneta, just outside Eugene, about two hours south of Portland. Look for cars around town that proudly display parking stickers from multiple years of the event.
- Portland Scottish Highland Games, 503-293-8501, phga.org, are a celebration of Scottish music, dancing, and such uniquely Celtic athletic contests as the Caber toss and the Scottish hammer throw. (Stay behind the safety nets.) Events usually take place at Mt. Hood Community College in Gresham.
- Seattle to Portland Bicycle Classic, 206-522-3222, cascade.org/ride-major-rides/group-health-stp; the Cascade Bicycle Club annual ride is one of the most anticipated long-distance cycling events in the country. Up to 10,000 participants from around the world cover the 200-odd miles between Seattle and Portland in one or two days.
- Waterfront Blues Festival, waterfrontbluesfest.com, held at Waterfront Park in downtown Portland in early July, bills itself as the largest blues festival west of the Mississippi. The event benefits the Oregon Food Bank and features multiple stages and big-name blues artists from around the country.
- Bite of Oregon, 503-248-0600, 800-452-6079, biteoforegon.com; no, it’s not a mouthful of soil. A fundraiser for Special Olympics Oregon, the Bite of Oregon features food from dozens of local restaurants, Oregon wine and beer, an Iron Chef Oregon competition, and musical and comedy events on four different stages at Waterfront Park downtown.
- Festa Italiana, festa-italiana.org; the latter half of this week-long celebration of local Italian heritage and culture transforms Pioneer Courthouse Square into an ersatz Italian piazza, complete with food court, wine garden, strolling musicians, and a variety of entertainment and activities for the whole family.
- Hood to Coast Relay, 503-292-4626, hoodtocoast.com; thousands of runners take part every year in this event, which is exactly what its name implies: a relay race from Mount Hood to the Oregon Coast.
- Mount Hood Jazz Festival, 503-661-2700, mthoodjazz.com; the area’s most venerable jazz festival features world-renowned headliners and lesser-known talents. Now more than three decades old, the festival takes place in Gresham. Posters from past festivals are local collectibles.
- Portland Festival Symphony, 503-481-1650, portlandfestivalsymphony.org; for over 30 years, the Portland Festival Symphony has presented free classical music concerts in Portland’s city parks.
- Providence Bridge Pedal, 503-281-9198, bridgepedal.com, is your chance to ride your bike over all 10 of the city’s Willamette River road bridges, including the Marquam (Interstate 5) and Fremont (Interstate 405) bridges. (The freeway bridges are closed to traffic in one direction, so you won’t be dodging speeding semis.)
- Street of Dreams, 503-894-9596, streetofdreamspdx.com; every year, the Home Builders Association of Metropolitan Portland creates a showcase of luxury (i.e., ridiculously expensive) homes with unnecessarily complex rooflines. More than 100,000 people tour the homes to gawk at new innovations in high-end building trends.
- Tualatin Crawfish Festival, tualatincrawfishfestival.com; this family-friendly festival honors the crustaceans that lurk in the Tualatin River. The event features live entertainment, food and craft vendors, and of course copious crawfish consumption. (The crawfish actually come from Lake Billy Chinook in Central Oregon.)
- Art in the Pearl, 503-722-9017, artinthepearl.com, takes place in the North Park Blocks over Labor Day weekend. In addition to art, the festivities include musical and theatrical performances, plenty of food, and hands-on activities for children and adults.
- Cycle Oregon, 503-287-0405, cycleoregon.com, is the highlight of the Oregon bicycle touring calendar. Each year, this week-long bike trek takes in a different scenic, rural, and (alas) hilly portion of the state; participants camp in small towns, which usually offer a hearty welcome.
- Musicfest NW, musicfestnw.com, features scores of mostly indie performers at Waterfront Park and other venues. Most acts are local, but some prominent national and international groups also make appearances.
- Oktoberfest. Most Portland area Oktoberfests actually take place in September, when the weather is more likely to be dry. The biggest such event is the family-oriented Mt. Angel Oktoberfest (855-899-6338, oktoberfest.org), held in the town of Mt. Angel, about 45 minutes south of Portland. Other Oktoberfest celebrations occur at Oaks Park in Southeast Portland, in St. Helens, and at brewpubs and German restaurants throughout the region.
- Oregon State Fair, 800-833-0011, oregonstatefair.org; while it’s not really a match for the state fairs of the Midwest, Oregon’s version, held at the state fairgrounds in Salem, features the same winning combination of agricultural displays, carnival rides, live entertainment, and deep-fried foods. It usually starts in late August and ends on Labor Day.
- Polish Festival, 503-281-7532, portlandpolonia.org/festival; billed as the largest Polish festival west of Chicago, this North Interstate Avenue classic includes Polish folk dancing, Polish beer, and food. Pierogi z kapusta and poppyseed cake, anyone?
- Susan G. Komen Race for the Cure, 503-552-9160, komenoregon.org; tens of thousands of people walk or run through downtown Portland each year in the Portland Race for the Cure, an event that raises funds for breast cancer research.
- Time-Based Art Festival, 503-242-1419, pica.org; the Portland Institute for Contemporary Art schedules 10 days of contemporary art from multiple genres—performance, music, visual arts, dance, and more—at a panoply of traditional and nontraditional venues.
- Greek Festival, Holy Trinity Greek Orthodox Church, 3131 NE Glisan, 503-234-0468, goholytrinity.org/cGreekFest.html; a church in the Laurelhurst neighborhood throws this popular fundraiser every year. Look for very homemade Greek food, including scrumptious baklava and other pastries.
- Howloween, 503-226-1561, oregonzoo.org/Events/Howloween/index.htm; the Oregon Zoo gets spooky in late October. Activities include mildly scary storytelling and a kids’ scavenger hunt, but the highlight is the opening event, where the zoo’s elephants smash a giant pumpkin.
- Pumpkin Patches and Corn Mazes. Many Portland families make it an annual tradition to troop out to one of the many pumpkin patches outside Portland, pick a pumpkin or two from the fields, and even wander through a corn maze. Two of the most popular and well-established pumpkin patches are on Sauvie Island: The Pumpkin Patch, 503-621-7110, portlandmaze.com, and Sauvie Island Farms, 503-621-3988, sauvieislandfarms.com.
- Portland Marathon, 503-226-1111, portlandmarathon.org; the highlight of the Portland running calendar, the Portland Marathon’s course takes in both sides of the Willamette River. Weather can be crisp and dry or completely sodden. The related festivities include a wheelchair competition, a 2-mile run for children, and a 10-kilometer fitness walk.
- Portland Open Studios, portlandopenstudios.com; during the second and third weekends of October many Portland artists—painters, sculptors, glassblowers, metalsmiths, potters, and more—open their studios to visitors.
- Reel Music, 503-221-1156, nwfilm.org/festivals/reelmusic/; one of several film festivals presented by the NW Film Center each year, the Reel Music festival focuses on music on film, but it is not just a theatrical clone of MTV.
- Civil War. No, not a re-enactment of the War Between the States, but the annual game between the University of Oregon and Oregon State University football teams (and associated tailgate parties), which takes place alternately in Eugene and Corvallis. Either way, if you’re not going to the game, stay off Interstate 5 south of Portland on game day.
- Columbia Gorge Model Railroad Show, 2505 N Vancouver Ave, 503-28TRAIN, cgmrc.com; every November, the Columbia Gorge Model Railroad Club opens its clubhouse for public viewing of its enormous and incredibly detailed scale model of railroad operations in the Columbia Gorge.
- Macy’s Holiday Parade, 503-223-0512. For years, the Meier & Frank Holiday Parade sent a meandering line of floats, marching bands, and costumed figures (including Santa) through downtown Portland on the day after Thanksgiving. Following Macy’s purchase of the Meier & Frank chain in 2006, the parade continues under a new name.
- Wine Country Thanksgiving, 503-646-2985, willamettewines.com/event/wine-country-thanksgiving; more than 100 wineries and tasting rooms, many otherwise closed to visitors, open to the public over Thanksgiving weekend for tastings, tours, and special events. (A similar event takes place during Memorial Day weekend.)
- Wordstock, wordstockfestival.com, is an annual literary event that features renowned and up-and-coming authors, writing workshops, and a children’s festival.
- Festival of Lights at the Grotto, NE 85th Ave at Sandy Blvd, 503-261-2400, thegrotto.org/Christmas/; the Grotto (formally the National Sanctuary of Our Sorrowful Mother) decorates its peaceful grounds in Northeast Portland with a walk-through display of more than 500,000 lights. Other attractions include nativity scenes, puppet shows, choral events, and a petting zoo.
- Parade of Christmas Ships, christmasships.org; two brightly lit flotillas ply the Willamette and Columbia rivers every night for two weeks in December. Riverside restaurants are frequently booked months in advance.
- Peacock Lane, one block east of SE 39th Ave between Stark St and Belmont St, peacocklane.net. In mid-December, this street of modest English-style homes becomes a wonderland of dazzling holiday decorations, many of which are quite elaborate and have been trotted out every holiday season for decades. It’s best to walk down the street, both to avoid traffic snarls and to be better able to buy hot chocolate and other refreshments.
- The Holiday Ale Festival, holidayale.com, features winter ales and other holiday-themed brews. The event is held outdoors, at Pioneer Courthouse Square downtown (albeit under the shelter of a huge tent).
- ZooLights, 503-226-1561, oregonzoo.org/ZooLights; another bulb-related spectacle, the month-long ZooLights event sees the Oregon Zoo festooned with nearly a million lights. Light-peeping visitors are also treated to live performances and train rides.