Newcomer's Handbook Portland

Cultural Life

The average transplant to Portland is unlikely to name “cultural life” as his or her primary motivation for moving here. But Portland has an incredibly vibrant arts and entertainment scene—in some respects, arguably the best in the country for a city of its size—and it’s filled with big and small arts venues that offer high-caliber and occasionally world-class performances in practically any artistic genre you could name. It also tends to attract enough young artists of all kinds to give the local arts scene a surprisingly avant-garde flavor.

This chapter also covers Art Galleries and Museums, Literary Life, and Culture for Children.

What’s Going On?

The Willamette Week and the A&E insert in the Friday Oregonian, available weekly in paper form or online at wweek.com and oregonlive.com/entertainment respectively, offer the most complete listings of upcoming performing arts events, exhibit openings and closings, film screenings, dance clubs, and the like. The weekly Portland Mercury (portlandmercury.com) is a runner-up.

Tickets

As in most US cities, tickets to the majority of cultural events in Portland can (or must) be bought through ticket leviathan Ticketmaster (866-448-7849, online at ticketmaster.com, or at retail outlets, including many area Fred Meyer stores). For especially popular events, such as major rock concerts, you may have no choice but to buy from Ticketmaster. However, for many events and performances you can avoid paying the hefty extra Ticketmaster service fees by purchasing tickets directly at the box office of the event venue.

Several local venues use the ticket service TicketsWest (800-992-8499, ticketswest.com), which has retail outlets at most Safeway supermarkets, as well as Music Millennium.

Events at the Moda Center, the Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall, and several other performing arts venues are sold through ComcastTix (ComcastTIX.com). You may occasionally encounter one of several other online ticket services, including TicketWeb (ticketweb.com) and the “fair trade” ticket service Brown Paper Tickets (800-838-3006, brownpapertickets.com).

If you have your heart set on going to a sold-out performance, a ticket broker can usually accommodate you, but expect to pay a significant premium for the privilege. Look in the Yellow Pages under “Ticket Sales—Entertainment & Sports,” or check out online sites like craigslist.org, eBay (ebay.com), ticketsnow.com, or stubhub.com.

Concert Halls and Theaters

Most of Portland’s “high” cultural events—major theatrical productions, dance and classical music performances, and the like—take place at the five venues listed below, collectively the “Portland’5 Centers for the Arts.” Portland also has an impressive range of high-quality alternative performance spaces, and many events are held in the city’s churches and synagogues, in high school and college campus theaters and auditoriums, at neighborhood community or cultural centers, or in cafés and rock clubs. Some smaller theater companies have their own dedicated performance spaces.

  • Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall, 1037 SW Broadway, 503-248-4335, portland5.com/arlene-schnitzer-concert-hall; the “Schnitz” is part of the downtown Portland Center for the Performing Arts complex on Broadway. This ornate, formal concert hall, decorated in rococo finery, hosts Oregon Symphony performances; lectures; various classical, dance, and theatrical productions; and the occasional rock concert.
  • Brunish Theatre, 1111 SW Broadway, 503-248-4335, portland5.com/brunish-theater; this small, flexible space in the downtown Portland Center for the Performing Arts complex sees a diverse set of small-scale performances, primarily plays.
  • Dolores Winningstad Theatre, 1111 SW Broadway, 503-248-4335, portland5.com/winningstad-theatre; another star in the Portland Center for the Performing Arts constellation, this small Elizabethan-style theatre hosts a variety of theatrical productions, and is an especially popular venue for Shakespeare plays.
  • Keller Auditorium, 222 SW Clay St, 503-248-4335, portland5.com/keller-auditorium; formerly the Civic Auditorium, the Keller Auditorium provides a home for the Portland Opera, the Oregon Ballet Theatre, and most touring Broadway shows that come through Portland.
  • Newmark Theatre, 1111 SW Broadway, 503-248-4335, portland5.com/newmark-theatre, is an intimate, Edwardian-style theater.

Performing Arts

While the lists below include almost all the city’s professional performing arts companies, and many of its major nonprofessional organizations, they are by no means exhaustive.

Dance

  • Bobery (bobery.com), formerly Hot Little Hands, is a small dance company that gives infrequent but highly regarded performances, including presentations of original works.
  • BodyVox, 1201 NW 17th Ave, 503-229-0627, bodyvox.com, is a dynamic, innovative modern dance company that is based in Portland but frequently tours around the country.
  • Oregon Ballet Theatre, 818 SE 6th Ave, 503-222-5538, obt.org; this nationally recognized professional ballet company performs a series of shows every two to three months. The OBT’s Christmastime Nutcracker performances are wildly popular. The OBT also operates a ballet school.
  • Polaris Dance Theatre, 1501 SW Taylor St, 503-380-5472, polarisdance.org, is a contemporary dance company that also offers classes at its dance center in downtown Portland.
  • White Bird, 503-245-1600, whitebird.org, brings regional, national, and international contemporary dance companies to Portland.

Music

Symphonic, Opera, Chamber Music

Portland’s classical music resources are surprisingly good, and some of its professional performers are of national or international caliber. Besides offering many options for traditional classical fare, Portland is a center of the burgeoning alt-classical scene. Moreover, Portland attracts more musicians and singers than it can support professionally, so even nonprofessional groups put on performances of surprisingly high quality.

  • Beaverton Symphony Orchestra, 503-819-4664, beavertonsymphony.org; this amateur orchestra focuses on the “great works” of classical music.
  • Chamber Music Northwest, 503-294-6400, cmnw.org; CMNW is not a performance group, but rather an organization devoted to bringing high-caliber chamber music artists to Portland to perform. It arranges events throughout the year, but the culmination of its efforts is a summer chamber music festival held at Reed College and the Catlin Gabel School.
  • Classical Revolution, classicalrevolutionpdx.org; with a rallying cry of “chamber music for everyone,” Classical Revolution is one of the best known of several alt-classical or underground classical ensembles in Portland. They give frequent non-stuffy performances.
  • Friends of Chamber Music, 503-224-9842, focm.org, brings several world-class chamber ensembles to Portland each year.
  • Opera Theater Oregon, operatheateror.wordpress.com, is a local alternative opera company that gives frequently rollicking and always unconventional performances, such as Das Rheingold rescripted as a Baywatch episode.
  • Oregon Symphony, 503-228-1353, orsymphony.org; the Oregon Symphony, now more than a century old, is one of the largest and most highly regarded orchestras in the country. In addition to its performances of classical standards and the occasional contemporary piece, the Symphony presents a yearly pops series with guest non-classical performers. Most performances take place at the Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall.
  • Portland Baroque Orchestra, 503-222-6000, pbo.org; one of the best orchestras of its kind in the world, the Portland Baroque Orchestra indeed plays Baroque music, including some obscure pieces. PBO uses only original period instruments or reproductions.
  • Portland Cello Project, portlandcelloproject.com, is another alt-classical group. PCP performs around the country and collaborates frequently with non-classical artists. Plenty of cellos? Yes. Talented musicians? Yes. Traditional performances? No.
  • Portland Chamber Orchestra, 503-771-3250, portlandchamberorchestra.org, is the oldest professional-amateur chamber orchestra in the United States.
  • Portland Columbia Symphony Orchestra, 503-234-4077, columbiasymphony.org, composed of both professional and semiprofessional musicians, performs several concerts from autumn through spring of each year.
  • Portland Opera, 503-241-1802, portlandopera.org; based in the Keller Auditorium, the Portland Opera is regarded as one of the top opera companies in the United States. While most of its productions are time-tested works, it also stages some innovative and contemporary productions, such as Nixon in China and Philip Glass’s Galileo Galilei.
  • Portland Piano International, 503-228-1388, portlandpiano.org, brings world-class pianists to Portland for recitals.
  • Portland Taiko, 503-288-2456, portlandtaiko.org; neither purely music nor wholly dance, this group’s performances incorporate elements from multiple disciplines based around the taiko, a traditional Japanese drum.
  • Third Angle New Music Ensemble, 503-331-0301, thirdangle.org, presents new chamber music.
  • Vancouver Symphony Orchestra, 360-735-7278, vancouversymphony.org; billing itself as “America’s Vancouver Symphony” (to avoid confusion with the organization of the same in Vancouver, British Columbia), the Vancouver Symphony is the leading orchestral group in Southwest Washington.

Choral

Portland is rich in vocal music groups of all ages and abilities. The following list provides a glimpse of some of the city’s choral groups that offer public performances.

  • Cappella Romana, 503-236-8202, cappellaromana.org, performs works of Byzantine complexity—literally. The group’s focus is music of the Byzantine and Eastern Orthodox traditions, and most of their singing is in Greek or Russian.
  • Choral Arts Ensemble of Portland, 503-488-3834, caeportland.com, performs a diverse range of choral music.
  • In Mulieribus, inmulieribus.org, is a female vocal ensemble that primarily performs pre-1750 works.
  • Oregon Repertory Singers, 503-230-0652, orsingers.org; both the quality and the sheer volume of this 60-voice choir will knock your socks off.
  • Portland Gay Men’s Chorus, 503-226-2588, pdxgmc.org, gives an eclectic series of performances each year.
  • Portland’s Singing Christmas Tree, 503-244-1344, singingchristmastree.org; a seasonal phenomenon, Portland’s Singing Christmas Tree is actually a group of human singers arranged in the shape of a conifer and not a caroling evergreen.
  • Portland Symphonic Choir, 503-223-1217, pschoir.org; this accomplished and well-respected choir offers a full program of choral performances each year. (The group’s annual Wintersong! celebration is a particular highlight.)

Contemporary

For all the diversity of the city’s arts community as a whole, Portland’s contemporary music scene gets the most national press. Portland is currently an alternative music hotbed; the city groans under the collective weight of scores of talented indie bands virtually no one has heard of. Some locally based bands like the Shins, the Decemberists, and the now-disbanded Sleater-Kinney have achieved international success, and plenty of up-and-coming acts like Blitzen Trapper, Blind Pilot, and Portugal. The Man are getting there, and the city’s alternative music pedigree stretches from proto-garage band The Kingsmen (immortalized by their one hit, “Louie Louie”) through Elliott Smith and Everclear. However, Portland is also one of the jazz, blues, and acoustic music hotspots of western North America, and the area boasts accomplished contemporary musicians working in almost every genre (or blending them—Pink Martini, which has legions of fans as far away as France, mixes classical, pop, and Latin influences, among others).

Given the range of the local music scene, it’s not surprising that the majority of Portland’s live music venues are at least moderately cross-genre, and some venues, such as the Crystal Ballroom and Mississippi Studios, take pride in presenting a diverse slate of acts. The venues listed below generally offer live music at least four or five nights a week. Many bars, restaurants, pubs, and nightclubs offer live music on a less-frequent basis, especially on weekends. A statewide smoking ban for bars and restaurants means that you won’t come home after a gig with your hair and clothes smelling like a Vegas ashtray.

Arenas

Rock and pop superstars tend to play in the city’s sports arenas, both located in the Rose Quarter/Lloyd District area of Northeast Portland:

  • Memorial Coliseum, 300 Winning Way, 503-797-9619, rosequarter.com
  • Moda Center, One Center Court, 503-797-9619, rosequarter.com. (The Moda Center was long known as the Rose Garden, and you’ll still hear most people call it that. Do not confuse the Rose Garden arena with the International Rose Test Garden in Washington Park. More than one newcomer has made the mistake, and the potential for confusion is exacerbated on the occasions where the Washington Park rose garden hosts outdoor summer concerts.)

Cabaret

While many of Portland’s bars, restaurants, nightclubs, and performance spaces offer an occasional cabaret performance, the city’s only dedicated cabaret (as distinct from strip clubs that call themselves cabarets) is Darcelle XV (208 NW 3rd Avenue, 503-222-5338, darcellexv.com), which has staged female impersonator cabaret shows since the late 1960s.

Folk, Acoustic, Bluegrass, Celtic

  • Aladdin Theater, 3017 SE Milwaukie Ave, 503-234-9694, aladdin-theater.com; the Aladdin is one of the city’s most comfortable concert venues—it actually is a theater, with full seating, plus tasty food and good beer—and gets its fair share of big-name touring folk, rock, and country acts. The seating arrangement is ideal for enjoying folk acts and singer-songwriters, but renders crowd surfing and mosh pit formation impractical.
  • Alberta Street Pub, 1036 NE Alberta St, 503-284-7665, albertastreetpub.com, hosts acoustic, Celtic, and bluegrass performances most nights.
  • Biddy McGraws, 6000 NE Glisan St, 503-233-1178, biddymcgraws.com; despite the name, Biddy’s features more than just Irish music (although there is plenty of that).
  • Kells, 112 SW 2nd Ave, 503-227-4057, kellsirishportland.com, has live Irish music every night of the week.
  • White Eagle Saloon, 836 N Russell St, 503-282-6810, mcmenamins.com/whiteeagle; this purportedly haunted McMenamins tavern has live acts almost every night, along with some all-ages weekend afternoon shows.

Jazz & Blues

For complete information on local events and gigs, check out the websites of the Jazz Society of Oregon (jsojazzscene.org) and the Cascade Blues Association (cascadeblues.org).

  • Andina, 1314 NW Glisan St, 503-228-9535, andinarestaurant.com; this upscale and deservedly popular Peruvian restaurant in the Pearl District has live jazz and Latin music almost every night.
  • Jimmy Mak’s, 221 NW 10th Ave, 503-295-6542, jimmymaks.com, is widely regarded as Portland’s foremost live jazz venue, and is graced by occasional performances by living legends of jazz.
  • Tillicum Club, 8585 SW Beaverton-Hillsdale Hwy, 503-327-8147, thetillicum.com; this unpretentious restaurant/bar on the fringe of the suburbs hosts regular live performances, with an emphasis on blues.
  • Tony Starlight’s, 1125 SE Madison St, 503-517-8584, tonystarlight.com; if you can ignore the cheesy name, Tony Starlight’s offers a good selection of jazz performances, including traditional jazz and swing.
  • Wilf’s, Union Station, 800 NW 6th Ave, 503-223-0070, wilfsrestaurant.com; who would have guessed that a restaurant in an Amtrak station would have such great live music with an atmosphere to match?

Rock, Pop, Alternative

This category is a catch-all for all the diverse styles spawned from rock-and-roll or R&B—punk, pop, surf, rockabilly, hip hop, alternative, indie, metal, speed metal, death metal, and so on. As noted above, most “rock” clubs also host shows by other types of performers.

  • Alberta Rose Theatre, 3000 NE Alberta St, 503-764-4131, albertarosetheatre.com; this 1920s-vintage theatre, a former movie house, features a diverse slate of acts, including the occasional living legend blowing through town.
  • Ash Street Saloon, 225 SW Ash St, 503-226-0430, ashstreetsaloon.com; live music seven nights a week in a non-trendy, saloon atmosphere.
  • Crystal Ballroom, 1332 SW Burnside St, 503-225-0047, crystalballroompdx.com; the Crystal Ballroom (a bona fide, actual ballroom) is locally famous for its sprung floor and psychedelic wall murals. Many local, national, and international acts headline here. The cool kids hang out in Lola’s Room, one floor down.
  • Dante’s, 350 W Burnside St, 503-226-6630, danteslive.com; one of Portland’s most eclectic clubs, Dante’s hosts everything from cabaret to punk in a dark space with lots of red décor and a few open flames. (Get it?)
  • Doug Fir Lounge, 830 E Burnside St, 503-231-9663, dougfirlounge.com; worth visiting for the underlit floor alone, this hip Eastside bar hosts an impressive roster of shows, including performances by artists of national renown.
  • Duff’s Garage, 1635 SE 7th Ave, 503-234-2337, duffsgarage.com; this Southeast Portland venue presents bands running the stylistic gamut from roots rock and rockabilly to country, jazz, and blues.
  • The Goodfoot, 2845 SE Stark St, 503-239-9292, thegoodfoot.com; this Southeast pub hosts frequent live performances, including more funk and soul acts than most Portland venues.
  • Hawthorne Theatre, 1507 SE 39th Ave, 503-233-7100, hawthornetheatre.com, an all-ages venue in the Hawthorne District, has (almost) nightly live shows.
  • The Laurelthirst Public House, 2958 NE Glisan St, 503-232-1504, laurelthirst.com; this comfy pub/restaurant on the edge of the Laurelhurst neighborhood is more than just a clever name: local and some touring bands play here almost every night.
  • Mississippi Studios, 3939 N Mississippi Ave, 503-288-3895, mississippistudios.com; this intimate club on North Mississippi Avenue hosts everything from vintage jazz to alternative bands like Franz Ferdinand.
  • Roseland Theater, 8 NW 6th Ave, 503-230-0033, roselandpdx.com; the Roseland pulls in some big-name national and international acts. Depending on the evening bill, you could mix with punks, hipsters, teeny-boppers, Rastafarians, aging hippies, or all of the above.
  • Star Theater, 13 NW 6th Ave, 503-345-7892, starrtheaterportland.com, is a former movie house–turned strip club–turned music venue is a relative newcomer to the Portland gig scene, but some relatively well-known national acts have played here already.
  • Wonder Ballroom, 128 NE Russell St, 503-284-8686, wonderballroom.com; the historic Wonder Ballroom is yet another venue with a remarkably diverse slate of performers, including some national acts.

Theater

Portland has many, many theater companies and ensembles; some go a year or more between productions. For a (relatively) complete list of area theater groups, as well as notices of upcoming events, visit the website of the Portland Area Theater Alliance (patagreenroom.org).

Here are some companies that produce plays on a more or less regular basis:

  • Action Adventure Theater, actionadventure.org; this nonprofit collective offers unique productions that are often semi-improvised.
  • Artists Repertory Theatre, 1515 SW Morrison, 503-241-1278, artistsrep.org; this accomplished professional nonprofit company stages a regular program of serious and comedic plays in its intimate downtown theater.
  • The Broadway Rose Theatre Company, 12850 SW Grant Ave, Tigard, 503-620-5262, broadwayrose.com; the Broadway Rose, a professional theatre company based in Tigard, focuses on Broadway musicals.
  • CoHo Productions, 2257 NW Raleigh St, 503-220-2646, cohoproductions.org; this award-winning company puts on an always-intriguing slate of plays at its intimate performance space in Northwest Portland (which it shares on occasion with other local and touring theatrical organizations).
  • defunkt theatre, Back Door Theater, 4319 SE Hawthorne Blvd, 503-481-2960, defunktheatre.com, produces innovative, intriguing, and sometimes edgy plays.
  • Do Jump! Extremely Physical Theater, The Echo Theatre, 1515 SE 37th Ave, 503-231-1232, dojump.org; when this genre- and gravity-defying troupe of “actorbats” performs, the result is part theater, part dance, and part circus. (DoJump! also offers lessons in theater and what can best be described as creative movement.)
  • Hand2Mouth Theatre, 210 SE Madison St, Ste 11, 503-235-5284, hand2mouththeatre.org; this lively company produces somewhat barebones but well-executed original productions.
  • Hillsboro Artists Regional Theatre, 185 SE Washington St, Hillsboro, 503-693-7815, hart-theatre.org; this community theater puts on several productions each year in western Washington County.
  • Imago Theatre, 17 SE 8th Ave, 503-231-9581, imagotheatre.com; known best for its imaginative, long-running production Frogz, Imago focuses on physical theatre and oddball costumes and sets. Most of their original productions delight both children and adults.
  • Lakewood Theatre Company, 368 S State St, Lake Oswego, 503-635-3901, lakewood-center.org; Lakewood Theatre Company has an active calendar of generally noncontroversial productions.
  • Miracle Theatre Group, 425 SE 6th Ave, 503-236-7253, milagro.org, is a group of three Latino arts and culture organizations—Miracle Mainstage, Teatro Milagro, and Community Artes—that present English-language, Spanish-language, and bilingual productions.
  • Northwest Classical Theatre Company, The ShoeBox Theater, 2110 SE 10th Ave, 971-244-3740, nwctc.org; the Northwest Classical Theatre Company focuses on the plays of Shakespeare and other established playwrights.
  • Playback Theater, 503-719-6328, playbacktheaterpdx.com; you tell your story, the actors and musicians play it back for you.
  • Portland Actors Ensemble, 503-467-6573, portlandactors.com; this troupe is best known for its free summer Shakespeare-in-the-Park performances in Portland public parks.
  • Portland Center Stage, Gerding Theater at the Armory, 128 NE 11th Ave, 503-445-3700, pcs.org, is one of the Northwest’s largest and most respected theater companies; its productions range from classic dramas to contemporary comedies (and vice versa).
  • Portland Playhouse, 602 NE Prescott St, 503-488-5822, puts on some pretty edgy shows in a small former church in Northeast Portland.
  • Profile Theatre, 1515 SW Morrison St, 503-242-0080, profiletheatre.org; each season, Profile Theatre produces a series of plays from a single playwright. (The 2015 season honored American playwright Sarah Ruhl.)
  • Theatre Vertigo, Shoebox Theatre, 2110 SE 10th Ave, 503-306-0870, theatrevertigo.org, takes on a diverse mix of old and new works.
  • Third Rail Repertory, 503-235-1101, thirdrailrep.org, is a permanent ensemble that stages serious (and tragicomic) plays with a high level of professionalism.
  • Triangle Productions, 1785 NE Sandy Blvd, 503-239-5919, trianglepro.org, now celebrating its 25th season, continues its mission “to entertain and educate through the celebration and presentation of contemporary live theatre, and to promote diversity and tolerance through the presentation of accessible, high-quality productions addressing a broad range of social and political issues.”

Comedy and Improv

GQ magazine has rated Portland the least funny city in America. Given that GQ, while unintentionally hilarious, is not a humor magazine, this rating should not trouble you and in fact is quite heartening. There is plenty of funny business going down in town. In addition to the listings below, the Bridgetown Comedy Festival (bridgetowncomedy.com) brings a raft of comics to town each spring.

Comedy Clubs

Many bars and clubs hold occasional stand-up and open-mike nights, but Harvey’s Comedy Club, 436 NW 6th Ave, 503-241-0338, harveyscomedyclub.com, and Helium Comedy Club, 1510 SE 9th Ave, 888-643-8669, heliumcomedy.com, are the best places to see actual and would-be stand-up comics, including some touring headliners.

Improv and Sketch Comedy

A combination of stand-up comedy and acting, improvisational theater uses audience suggestions to create a scene, which is then played for laughs. Sketch comedy is generally scripted, but often has a similar freewheeling feel. Most improv and sketch comedy groups perform on weekends only; call ahead or check websites as times and locations change frequently.

Film

Portland offers a variety of cinematic experiences, from first-run Hollywood blockbusters to art house and foreign films. Look in the daily or weekly newspapers (or on their websites) for movie listings and show times, or peruse portlandmovietimes.com.

Portland and its suburbs have an abundance of multiplexes that show mainstream releases: the main chain is Regal Cinemas (regmovies.com), which has more than a dozen multiplexes in the metropolitan area, but several other multi-screen cinemas are owned by other chains such as Cinemark (cinemark.com). A few independent or neighborhood theaters also screen first-run movies, including the Moreland (6712 SE Milwaukie Ave, 503-236-5257, morelandtheater.com), the St. Johns Cinema and Pub (8704 N Lombard St, 503-286-1768, stjohnscinema.com), and Cinetopia (three locations, one in Beaverton and two in Vancouver, cinetopia.com), which offer several comfy auditoriums (some with leather seats or pillow pits); each location has an on-site restaurant. In addition to movies in traditional formats, there is a four-story-tall screen at the Empirical Theater at the Oregon Museum of Science and Industry (OMSI, 1945 SE Water Ave, 503-797-4640, omsi.edu/empirical-theater).

Portland is also blessed with a wealth of second-run movie houses. While these are especially common on Portland’s East Side, they also exist in such suburbs as Milwaukie, Gresham, and Vancouver. A true Portland experience is watching a movie in one of the McMenamins “theater pubs” (movie line 503-249-7474, mcmenamins.com), which serve pizza and beer in the restored buildings—for example, the theater at the Kennedy School on Northeast 33rd Avenue, once an elementary school auditorium, is filled with sofas and armchairs. The ornate Bagdad Theater on Southeast Hawthorne was once a true 1920s movie palace (and is rumored to be haunted); its audio and video systems were recently upgraded, and it is currently the only movie outpost in the McMenamins empire to show first-run movies.

The cinemas listed below screen independent, foreign, classic, documentary, and other non-mainstream films. If nothing at the theaters catches your fancy, Portland is also home to one of the country’s best video rental stores, Movie Madness (4320 SW Belmont St, 503-234-4363, moviemadnessvideo.com).

Film Festivals

In addition to the following established festivals, Portland frequently hosts one-off film and video festivals and international film festivals with rotating venues.

Nightclubs & Discos

Many of Portland’s bars and nightclubs have live music on some nights. Some are hipster dives, others are simply bars with a DJ, and still others are full-fledged dance clubs. The Portland club scene changes almost weekly: once-hot spots fall out of favor, new clubs draw the city’s bright young things and/or suburbanites in baseball caps, owners get indicted or skip town. Here’s a current sampling of Portland nightclubs:

Visual Arts

Art Galleries and Museums

Given the vibrancy of Portland’s arts scene, it’s a bit surprising that the city has only a handful of art museums with permanent exhibits:

  • The Blue Sky Gallery, 122 NW 8th Ave, 503-225-0210, blueskygallery.org, formerly the Oregon Center for the Photographic Arts, exhibits photographic images from local, national, and international photographers.
  • The Museum of Contemporary Craft, 724 NW Davis St, 503-223-2654, museumofcontemporarycraft.org, founded in 1937, occupies a new space on the North Park Blocks, after moving from its longtime home on Lair Hill.
  • Portland Art Museum, 1219 SW Park Ave, 503-226-2811, portlandartmuseum.org; when Portlanders speak of “the art museum,” this is what they mean. The Portland Art Museum is the oldest art museum in the Northwest, and holds significant collections of European, American, and East Asian painting and sculpture, Native American art, and silver; the museum is also home to the Jubitz Center for Modern and Contemporary Art. In addition to its permanent exhibits, the museum holds frequent temporary exhibits and hosts traveling international exhibitions.

Most area colleges have gallery spaces that host rotating exhibits; the best known of these are Cooley Art Gallery at Reed College (3203 SE Woodstock Blvd, 503-777-7251, reed.edu/gallery/) and the Art Gym at Marylhurst University (17600 Pacific Hwy [Hwy 43], Marylhurst [between Lake Oswego and West Linn], 503-699-6243, marylhurst.edu/theartgym/). In addition, the Portland Institute for Contemporary Art (PICA) (415 SW 10th Ave, Suite 300, 503-242-1419, pica.org) sponsors frequent exhibits of contemporary art—broadly defined to include film, dance, drama, and other art forms.

Portland’s art scene really thrives in its galleries, some of which have received national acclaim. The city has scores of art galleries showcasing everything from traditional to cutting edge art; they reach critical mass in the Pearl District and Northwest Portland. A fairly complete list of galleries is available at the Portland Art Dealers Association website (padaoregon.org), and the local arts & entertainment papers include listings of galleries and their current exhibits.

Art Walks

Several neighborhoods with a high concentration of galleries host evening art walks, when galleries stay open late and various forms of live entertainment usually take place. On First Thursday (the first Thursday of each month), Pearl District galleries welcome the art-loving throngs, although the focus of this neighborhood tradition has shifted somewhat from art to bar-and-restaurant hopping. See firstthursdayportland.com for details. The Alberta Arts District hosts a similar Last Thursday (lastthursdayonalberta.com), which is just as much a “scene” as First Thursday, but of a very different and more bohemian kind.

Other neighborhood art walks include First Fridays in the Central Eastside (facebook.com/1FPDX) and Multnomah Village; Mississippi Avenue’s Second Thursday; and Hump Day (humpdaypdx.com) in Inner Southeast on the second Wednesday of each month. Far less frequent is the annual two-day Southeast Area ARTWalk (seportlandartwalk.com), which includes the Hawthorne and Division/Clinton Street districts. Several suburban communities also sponsor semi-regular art walks.

For a different kind of art walk, the Regional Arts and Culture Council and the Portland Visitors Association produce a self-guided walking tour of Portland’s outdoor public art; visit racc.org/public-art/ to download a copy or call 503-823-5111 to have a copy mailed to you.

Museums

For art museums and galleries, see the preceding pages.

Culture and History

In addition to the museums listed below, many of the older communities in the Portland area maintain small museums of pioneer life or have historic houses that are open to the public.

  • Clark County Historical Museum, 1511 Main St, Vancouver, 360-993-5679, cchmuseum.org; nearly a century old, this museum houses exhibits of Clark County’s rich history, ranging from Native American societies to the coming of European traders and pioneers through the development of modern Vancouver.
  • Fort Vancouver, 1501 E Evergreen Blvd, Vancouver, 360-816-6200, nps.gov/fova/; years before Portland was a gleam in its coin-tossing founders’ eyes, Fort Vancouver served as the administrative center of the British Hudson Bay Company’s fur-trading empire, which stretched from Alaska to California.
  • Museum of the Oregon Territory, 211 Tumwater Dr, Oregon City, 503-655-5574, clackamascountyhistory.org; Oregon City was the original capital of the Oregon Territory, and this museum’s high points are the exhibits that reveal everyday life during Oregon’s territorial and early statehood periods.
  • Oregon Historical Society, 1200 SW Park Ave, 503-222-1741, ohs.org; this vast repository of artifacts and documents also presents permanent and temporary exhibits about Oregon history, including the large and elaborate “Oregon My Oregon” exhibit. Entrance is free for Multnomah County residents.
  • The Oregon Jewish Museum, 1953 NW Kearney St, 503-226-3600, ojm.org, focuses on the history and experience of the Jewish community in the Pacific Northwest from pioneer days to the present; the museum also houses the Oregon Holocaust Resource Center.
  • Oregon Maritime Museum, Waterfront Park at Pine St, 503-224-7724, oregonmaritimemuseum.org; housed on a retired sternwheeler floating on the Willamette River downtown, the Oregon Maritime Museum highlights Portland’s rich past (and present) as a major port and maritime center.
  • Oregon Nikkei Legacy Center, 121 NW 2nd Ave, 503-224-1458, oregonnikkei.org, highlights the history and contributions of Japanese-Americans in the Pacific Northwest.
  • Oregon Rail Heritage Foundation, 2250 SE Water Ave, 503-233-1156, orhf.org, preserves historic locomotives and rolling stock at the Brooklyn Rail Yard; the foundation runs Oregon Pacific Railroad cars to and from Oaks Park on summer Saturdays.
  • Pittock Mansion, 3229 NW Pittock Dr, 503-823-3623, pittockmansion.org; this chateauesque mansion near the summit of the West Hills was built in the early twentieth century for an Oregon pioneer-cum-newspaper baron.
  • Portland Police Museum, 1111 SW 2nd Ave, 16th Floor, 503-823-0019, portlandpolicemuseum.com; housed on the 16th floor of the city’s justice center (i.e., jail building and police headquarters), this museum showcases the history of the Portland Police Bureau and the experiences of individual officers. Exhibits include the original jail cell from the St. Johns Police Station.
  • Washington County Museum, 120 E Main St, Hillsboro, 503-645-5353, washingtoncountymuseum.org; this museum of Washington County history is located in the Hillsboro civic center complex.

Science and Technology

  • Evergreen Aviation & Space Museum, 500 NE Captain Michael King Smith Way, McMinnville, 503-434-4185, evergreenmuseum.org; the museum’s extensive collections are in turmoil because of the bankruptcy of Evergreen International Airlines, but for now this museum’s big attraction—and it is truly a big attraction—is Howard Hughes’s Spruce Goose, by some measures the largest airplane ever built.
  • Oregon Museum of Science and Industry (OMSI), 1945 SE Water Ave, 503-797-4000, 800-955-6674, omsi.edu; housed in a large facility on the east bank of the Willamette River, OMSI has several galleries devoted to science and technology. Most of the exhibits are interactive, and many are tailored to children. OMSI also gives tours of the USS Blueback submarine, which is permanently docked outside the museum, and hosts frequent visiting exhibits.
  • Rice Northwest Museum of Rocks & Minerals, 26385 NW Groveland Dr, Hillsboro, 503-647-2418, ricenorthwestmuseum.org; modestly housed in the founders’ former home in an out-of-the-way corner of Hillsboro north of Highway 26, this is nonetheless one of the nation’s finest museums of rocks and minerals.
  • World Forestry Center Discovery Museum, Washington Park, 4033 SW Canyon Rd, 503-228-1367, worldforestry.org; this mostly hands-on museum focuses on forestry and the ecology of forests around the world generally and in the Pacific Northwest in particular. The smokejumper harness exhibit and the “raft ride” are particularly popular with children.

Offbeat Museums

With the demise of the 24-Hour Church of Elvis, Portland lost its most beloved, or at least most famous, oddball attraction. Fortunately, the city continues to host a few offbeat museums.

  • The Hat Museum, 1928 SE Ladd Ave, 503-232-0433, thehatmuseum.com (by reservation only); the name of this museum speaks for itself.
  • Ping Pong’s Pint-Sized Puppet Museum, 906 SE Umatilla St, 503-233-7723, puppetmuseum.org; not just a museum of puppets, this unique establishment also hosts puppet live puppet shows.
  • Stark’s Vacuum Museum, 107 NE Grand Ave, 503-232-4101, starks.com/vacuum-museum; tucked away inside the headquarters store of Stark’s Vacuums is a museum of vacuums. The staff are used to visitors who joke that the museum’s exhibits suck.

Architecture and Walking Tours

Portland has traditionally been pretty conservative when it comes to architecture (the much-despised Michael Graves–designed Portland Building, an early exemplar of Postmodernism, notwithstanding). That conservatism is rapidly evaporating, and some remarkable new structures have risen over the last decade or so. (The federal courthouse downtown, capped by a soaring “wing,” is one example of this.) Moreover, much of the city’s historic architecture is both well-preserved and noteworthy. The Architecture Foundation of Oregon has produced a Look Around Guide to 41 different notable architectural sites in Portland; the guide is available for download at af-oregon.org. The Architectural Heritage Center (701 SE Grand Ave, 503-231-7264, visitahc.org) focuses on historical preservation; in addition to providing information about Portland’s historic structures and hosting architectural history exhibits in its gallery space, the Center is a great resource if you’ve bought a vintage home.

Portland is a great city for strolling, but if you’re looking for something a bit more organized and informative, contact Portland Walking Tours (503-774-4522, portlandwalkingtours.com); their tours focus on downtown and the surrounding neighborhoods, but they also offer tours of outlying neighborhoods on request. For a journey through the infamous Shanghai tunnels of Old Town, where (so the story goes) drunken bar patrons were unknowingly “crimped” to crew for free on trans-Pacific sea voyages, contact the Cascade Geographic Society at 503-622-4798 or visit shanghaitunnels.info.

Literary Life

With its gunmetal gray winter skies and frequent drizzle, Portland is a great bookstore town. Area residents flock to book groups, book signings, and fiction, non-fiction, and poetry readings (often given by well-known local authors). In addition to bookstore- and library-hosted events, Literary Arts (925 SW Washington St, 503-227-2583, literary-arts.org) sponsors lectures and readings by local, national, and international authors and poets; its Portland Arts & Lectures series usually brings several Pulitzer Prize winners to the city. The highlight of the local literary calendar is Wordstock (wordstockfestival.com), an annual festival that features lectures, writers’ workshops, and a book fair.

Bookstores

While the city has chain bookstores like Barnes & Noble, many residents are fiercely loyal to Portland’s independent booksellers. The largest of these is Powell’s Books (1005 W Burnside St, 503-228-4651, 800-878-7323, powells.com), the largest bookstore in North America, which sells both new and used books and occupies an entire city block in the Pearl District. (Powell’s also has two large satellite stores, at 3723 SE Hawthorne Blvd, and at Beaverton’s Cedar Hills Crossing mall, 3415 SW Cedar Hills Blvd, as well as a small store at the airport.) Most best-selling authors who come to Portland on book tours make an appearance at Powell’s, although smaller independent bookstores sometimes snag big-name writers for in-store readings and book signings.

The following is a selection of general-interest and specialty booksellers in Portland proper. Many of these stores, like Powell’s, sell used as well as new books.

General-Interest Bookstores

  • Annie Bloom’s Books, 7834 SW Capitol Hwy, 503-246-0053, annieblooms.com
  • Barnes & Noble Booksellers, five area stores, barnesandnoble.com
  • Broadway Books, 1714 NE Broadway, 503-284-1726, broadwaybooks.net
  • Powell’s (see above)
  • St. Johns Booksellers, 8622 N Lombard St, 503-283-0032, stjohnsbooks.com
  • Wallace Books, 7241 SE Milwaukie Ave, 503-235-7350

Special-Interest Bookstores

  • A Children’s Place, 4807 NE Fremont St, 503-284-8294, achildrensplacebookstore.com
  • Green Bean Books, 1600 NE Alberta St, 503-954-2354, greenbeanbookspdx.com (children’s)
  • In Other Words, 14 NE Killingsworth St, 503-232-6003, inotherwords.org (women’s and feminist)
  • Laughing Horse Book and Film Collective, 12 NE 10th Ave, 503-236-2893 (progressive politics)
  • Monograph Bookwerks, 5005 NE 27th Ave, 503-284-5005, monographbookwerks.com (fine arts)
  • Mother Foucault’s, 523 SE Morrison St, 503-236-2665 (literature, philosophy, theory, politics)
  • New Renaissance Bookshop, 1338 NW 23rd Ave, 503-224-4929, newrenbooks.com (New Age)
  • Reading Frenzy, 3628 N Mississippi Ave, 503-274-1449, readingfrenzy.com (independent presses)

Used Bookstores

For fairly complete listings of used bookstores and used book–related events in the area, visit the website of the Portland Area Used Booksellers Association (pauba.org).

Libraries

Portland-area public libraries host frequent literary events and exhibitions. See the Getting Settled chapter for a list of library systems in the region.

Culture for Children

Portland has so many cultural opportunities for kids they may become surly, disinterested teenagers long before they can take advantage of them all. The Oregonian’s weekly A&E supplement lists events and activities of interest to families.

The following listing of child-oriented organizations and places represents only a small part of what Portland has to offer its young residents. In addition to organizations that are geared specifically to children, many of the “grownup” groups in town offer special performances for children. The Oregon Symphony, for example, puts on a Kids Concert series every year. Several museums that are not specifically “children’s” museums offer a wide range of child-friendly exhibits; OMSI and the World Forestry Center Discovery Museum have particularly extensive kid-oriented displays. And don’t forget about the children’s bookstores, listed above under “Special Interest Bookstores.” For more ideas on ways to entertain the young’uns, including family and holiday festivals, see A Portland Year.

Music

  • Metropolitan Youth Symphony, 503-239-4566, playmys.org; the Metropolitan Youth Symphony comprises several hundred young musicians (in several different groups) from throughout the metropolitan area, with an age range of six years through college.
  • The Oregon Children’s Choir & Youth Chorale, 503-534-0226, occyc.org, consists of three choirs divided by grade level; membership is by audition only, and the two older groups embark on summer tours to national or international destinations.
  • Portland Boychoir and Ovation!, 503-697-3872, portlandchoirs.org; a choir for boys ages 6 to14 and a training choir for girls ages 11 through 14 feed into Ovation!, a mixed vocal ensemble for high schoolers.
  • Portland Symphonic Girlchoir, 503-226-6162, girlchoir.com, comprises multiple ensembles for girls 5 to 18 years old.
  • Portland Youth Philharmonic, 503-223-5939, portlandyouthphil.org; the country’s oldest youth orchestra has come a long way from its roots as the “Sagebrush Symphony.” The organization now encompasses two full orchestras as well as a string orchestra and a wind ensemble. Membership is by open audition, and the musicians occasionally embark on national and international tours.

Museums and Outdoor Attractions

  • Bonneville Fish Hatchery off I-84, exit 40, west of Cascade Locks, 541-374-8820; the fish hatchery adjacent to Bonneville Dam (which can be an interesting destination for older kids in its own right) includes a sturgeon viewing pond with underwater viewing windows that allow visitors to peer at a variety of impressive fish, including Herman the Sturgeon, a 12-footer.
  • Kidd’s Toy Museum, 1300 SE Grand Ave, 503-233-7807, kiddstoymuseum.com; no, it’s not misspelled—this museum houses more than 10,000 toys from the collection of Frank Kidd, including many toys that would be too unsafe, well-made, and/or outright racist to be marketed today.
  • Oaks Park, 7805 SE Oaks Park Way, 503-233-5777, oakspark.com; this old-school amusement park (open summer only) and roller rink (open year-round) along the Willamette in Sellwood has entertained generations of Portland children.
  • Oregon Zoo, Washington Park, 4001 SW Canyon Rd, 503-226-1561, oregonzoo.org; the Oregon Zoo continues to expand its offerings. Besides the usual collection of animals from around the world—including a renowned herd of Asian elephants and an associated elephant museum—the zoo has several exhibits devoted to the fauna of the Pacific Northwest. The zoo also hosts frequent festivals and concerts.
  • Portland Children’s Museum, Washington Park, 4015 SW Canyon Rd, 503-223-6500, portlandcm.org; this is the city’s largest kid-centric museum, and it has a correspondingly large array of theme play areas/exhibits, including a dig pit, “market,” water play area, clay studio, etc.
  • Safety Learning Center and Fire Museum and the Historic Belmont Firehouse, 900 SE 35th Ave, 503-823-3741, jeffmorrisfoundation.org (open Wednesdays, the second Saturday of each month, and by advance arrangement); the city’s oldest working firehouse focuses on life safety education, but also includes the requisite fire pole, fire engine, and other hands-on firehouse accouterments.

Theater and Dance

  • Krayon Kids Musical Theatre Company, 503-656-6099, krayonkids.org, based in Oregon City, organizes musical productions cast entirely with kids.
  • Northwest Children’s Theater and School, 1819 NW Everett St, 503-222-4480, nwcts.org; based in the Northwest Neighborhood Cultural Center, Northwest Children’s Theater stages several youth-oriented productions each year and offers acting, theater, and film and video classes for children.
  • Oregon Children’s Theater, 1939 NE Sandy Blvd, 503-228-9571, octc.org; the Oregon Children’s Theater is Oregon’s largest nonprofit professional children’s theater company, and puts on several productions each year, generally in one of the large downtown theaters. The OCT offers acting and production classes and workshops for children ages four and older.
  • Tears of Joy Puppet Theatre, 503-248-0557, tojt.org; most Tears of Joy productions are designed (or at least suitable) for children, but a few of its performances are definitely adults-only.
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