Car Free Journey

Car Free Journey: Portland, Oregon

Written by Steve Atlas
 Above image: Forest Park’s Wildwood Trail. Courtesy of Portland Parks & Recreation, Portland OR


Are you a transit lover, walker, or bicyclist in search of a city that you can enjoy without a car? Then, Portland, Oregon is a city that you won’t want to miss. With its MAX light rail line, streetcar, park system, walkable neighborhoods and temperate climate, Portland is an ideal place to visit any time of the year.

Getting Here

By Air:

Portland International Airport is served by most major airlines. For information about airlines, schedules, and non-stop flights from Portland to other cities, visit To get downtown from the airport, TriMet’s (Portland’s public transportation system) MAX Red Line (MAX is the light rail system) runs between Beaverton, Downtown Portland, and the airport terminal.

By Train or Bus:

The Amtrak station and the Greyhound bus terminal are within a short walk of each other. They are served by the MAX Green and Yellow Lines, as well as local bus service.

For Local and Area Residents who need to Drive Here:

TriMet has several Park and Ride lots where you can park free and take TriMet rail or buses downtown and other destinations. For details about Park and Ride lots in Portland, go to

Planning Your Visit

The best place to turn for help is This is one of the best websites I have found for information about a city. You can also call Travel Portland’s Visitor Information Center at either (toll free) (1-800) 678-5263, or (503) 275-8355. While you are here, stop in at the Visitor Information Center: 701 S.W. Sixth Ave, Pioneer Courthouse Square. The Visitor Information Center is open Monday-Friday: 8:30 a.m.-5:30 p.m., Saturday: 10 a.m.-4 p.m., and Sunday: (May-Oct. only) 10 a.m.-2 p.m. The Center’s volunteer staff loves their city and gave me lots of helpful tips when I called, and told me that they have lots of maps and other guides to help anyone who stops in at the center.

Two other resources that will help you are the Portland Map:, and TriMet’s web site and telephone information center. Portland has a great public transportation system, and the TriMet web site and telephone information center are great resources for visitors who don’t want to drive. Visit, or call (503) 238-7433 (RIDE) between 8:30 a.m. and 4:30 p.m. Monday-Friday. A one-day pass (good for unlimited rides on all TriMet buses, MAX Light Rail, and the Portland Streetcar) is $5 for most riders, $2.50 for senior citizens (“honored citizens”). A 2 ½ hour Adult fare is $2.50, $1.25 for honored citizens.

Where to Stay

Downtown Portland has the largest number of hotels and other places to stay. However, unlike many other cities in the U.S., most neighborhoods are within a short walk of either a TriMet bus line or a MAX light rail stop. When checking out a place to stay, ask the hotel or other accommodation if it is within walking distance of a TriMet bus or MAX light rail stop.

A good base for your stay, located downtown on the Portland State University campus, is University Place Hotel—the only economy-priced hotel in downtown Portland ( or call (800) 845-4647 or (503) 221-0040). A moderate-price hotel is the Hotel Rose Portland ‎ (855) 819-2921. It is just across the street from the Waterfront Park Trail, a block away from a MAX light rail stop, and a seven-minute walk from the Oregon Maritime Museum. A high-end hotel, the Benson Hotel ( (503-228-2000) is a 6-minute walk from Pioneer Courthouse Square, and 14-minutes from Portland’s Pearl District.

What to Do

It can be overwhelming when you have a limited amount of time to visit, and there is so much to see and do. When my wife and I visited Portland, several years ago, we loved visiting Powell’s City of Books: a book lover’s paradise and the world’s largest used and new bookstore. Powell’s takes up an entire city block and stocks more than 1 million books. Nine color coded rooms house over 3,500 different sections, offering something for every interest, including an incredible selection of out-of-print and hard-to-find titles. The store is open 365 days a year from 9 a.m. until 11 p.m. For more information, visit or call (503)-228-4651.

You almost need a guide to explore and get to know this city. In today’s column, we will get a few suggestions from University Place front-desk manager Shelby Matson, learn about a few outstanding public parks, and get information from TriMet about what bus lines and MAX light rail routes are most convenient to several important attractions and other destinations.

Shelby Matson’s Tips for Visitors with limited time to see Portland

University Place’s front desk manager Shelby Matson offers these suggestions:
“If you want a short excursion away from downtown, visit the Japanese Garden and Oregon Zoo (both are located in Washington Park). You can get there on the MAX Red or Blue light rail line.”
Using her hotel, University Place, as a base, Shelby suggests this short walk around downtown Portland: “Walk to the West Side River Walk, just three blocks from the hotel. It’s about a two-mile walk along the Willamette River to downtown Portland. Stop to sample the coffee shops and bakeries, while you and your children (especially in summer) splash in the fountains. Leave the West Side River Walk at Morrison Street.

“Walk along Morrison Street until you reach Second or Third Street. If it’s breakfast, enjoy a homemade meal at Mother’s Bistro. If you want a special lunch or dinner, visit Departure (inside The Nines hotel). The restaurant’s famous chef creates a seasonal array of locally based foods. Both the food and service are great. Continue along Morrison to Pioneer Courthouse Square. Along the way, you will pass Pioneer Place shopping center. Pioneer Courthouse Square is a great place to hang out with its restaurants, outdoor concerts and its location in the heart of the city. Locals often call this square “Portland’s Living Room.” While you are here, take a few minutes to visit the Visitors’ Center and get maps, brochures, and lots of advice from locals.

“After you (reluctantly) leave Pioneer Square, continue along Morrison until you reach Park Ave. Then turn left and go north toward the (University Place) hotel. A wonderful and unique treat is the “Park Blocks” which are park-like areas (that parallel the street) with places to sit and walk. I usually prefer the park blocks to walking on Park Ave. itself.

“Park Ave. has a wealth of attractions and other places to enjoy. Director Park has several statues of elephants. If you enjoy seafood, consider a stop at the Ringside Fish House. If possible, time your walk to when the Portland Farmers’ Market is open. The Northwest Film Society (showing classic and other films) and Oregon Historical Society are along Park Ave. If you enjoy art, explore the many galleries along Park Ave. If you have more time, consider a visit to the Portland Art Museum.

“I would try to visit three neighborhoods outside of downtown Portland. The Hawthorne District (take TriMet’s 14, 70, or 71 bus line) is well known for its handmade crafts and goods, its “hidden treasures,” and a wealth of second-hand thrift stores. As you walk up and down Hawthorne Ave., its hipster vibe gives a sense of being in an eclectic, crazy and fun place.”

“If you have time, take the Portland Streetcar to NW 11th Street and explore the Northwest District (11-12 blocks away) and the Pearl District. The Northwest District, especially along NW 23rd Street, has a wealth of art galleries. If you, like me, are an ice cream lover, don’t miss Salt and Straw with its homemade ice cream made with unusual ingredients like dandelion, bacon, and vinegar. For a contrast, take a walk in the Pearl District (along NW 11th Street) to explore its high end shops, and enjoy a wealth of holistic experiences.”

See Portland by Water

The Portland Spirit ( (503) 224-3900) offers several sightseeing and meal cruises along the Willamette River between April and November.

Portland’s Bureau of Transportation Welcomes Walkers and Bicyclists

Portland’s Bureau of Transportation (PBOT) has several suggestions for any of you who want to bike:

For walkers, PBOT has this advice:

TriMet staff members have these additional tips: “Everything is very walkable. Walking or biking across the new Tilikum Crossing, Bridge of the People, provides a fabulous view of downtown and the eastside of town. The one-of-a-kind bridge opened in 2015 as part of TriMet’s MAX Orange Line. It carries MAX light rail and Portland Streetcar trains, TriMet buses, cyclists and pedestrians, but no cars.

“Another popular destination is the Pearl District. People can walk on both east and west sides of the Willamette River from the Rose Quarter area along the East bank Esplanade, across either Morrison Bridge, Hawthorne Bridge or Tilikum Crossing into downtown Portland and walk along the waterfront at Tom McCall Waterfront Park and cross on the multi-use path on the lower portion of the Steel Bridge. (you can actually walk either direction, and can start at the Steel Bridge and head downtown first).

“To find fun destinations along the new MAX Orange Line go to this link and click on Destinations. Hawthorne Boulevard is also a great destination and is located along the Bus Line #14-Hawthorne.”

Visit one of Portland’s Parks

Forest Park’s Wildwood Trail

Courtesy of Portland Parks & Recreation, Portland OR


TriMet staff members have these suggestions: “An abundance of wildlife can be found in Forest Park — the largest urban park in the country. Forest Park’s extensive system of trails, fire lanes and roads provide excellent opportunities for hiking, walking, running, and simply escaping the urban atmosphere. The 30-mile Wildwood Trail in Forest Park is part of the region’s 40-Mile Loop trail system that links Forest Park to pedestrian and trail routes along the Columbia River to Gresham, through southeast Portland, along the Willamette Greenway, and back to the Marquam Trail in southwest Portland. These locations can be accessed by transit. http://theinter Springwater Corridor is great:

Portland Parks & Recreation staff members have these tips:

  • Washington Park is the home of Portland’s world famous International Rose Test Gardens, the Oregon Zoo, Portland Children’s Museum, Hoyt Arboretum, Portland Japanese Garden, Vietnam Veterans Memorial and Oregon Holocaust Memorial. Washington Park also offers miles of hiking, walking and running trails.  The car-free traveler can access the park by numerous means including on foot, by bike, via TriMet buses and trains – the MAX light rail system has a stop in the heart of the park, next to the zoo and other attractions.  Summer sees the free Washington Park shuttle run seven days a week. For more on Washington Park and its attractions, please visit: and
    Washington Park will be the site of a large, multi-year reservoir project beginning in September, 2016. Please note that work on this project will affect your ability to get around Washington Park, with temporary road closures and other impacts. However, much of the park will still be accessible by foot, bike, public transit, etc. For more details, go to
  • Forest Park: At nearly 5300 acres, Portland’s Forest Park is the largest urban forested park in the lower 48 states. It is an oasis in the heart of Portland; a finger of the Coast Range which is home to more than 112 bird species and more than 62 species of mammals.  Forest Park has around 80 miles of trails; all of them open to hiking and some designated for off-road biking and/or equestrian use.  TriMet’s line 15 bus will take you to the Lower Macleay trailhead at NW 29th and Upshur ( (Lower Macleay is part of Forest Park).  From there, head up the hill along Balch Creek, past the Stone House; cross NW Cornell Road if you’re up for yet more vertical climbing and adventure, and head up to the historic Pittock Mansion.  You’ll enjoy amazing views and a look at Portland’s aristocratic past.

Lower Macleay Trail, Courtesy of Portland Parks and Recreation and Adam Sawyer

C:\Users\Steve\Downloads\Forest Park 04.jpg

  • Mill Ends Park: The World’s Smallest Park Having enjoyed the expansive wilderness and tranquility of Forest Park, why not try the other side of the coin at the world’s smallest park, Mill Ends Park. Located in an unused light pole fixture in the median at SW Naito Pkwy and Taylor, the park is about two feet in diameter.  Yet it is a formally designated city park, which has carefully maintained and regularly watered plantings.  You can run around the entire park and tell your friends!  Mill Ends history is rumored to be the home of an entire leprechaun family.  The park is beloved by locals and popular with visitors from all over Portland and the world.
  • Waterfront Loops:
    If you would rather admire the PDX skyline than escape from it, a waterfront loop is a great option. For those in the downtown area—or visitors staying in a downtown hotel—it is a good way to avoid stoplights and traffic. People-watching is solid on the Portland waterfront too. Once you learn your way around the paths and bridges on the Willamette River, it’s easy to switch things up with a figure-eight loop or add distance along the Springwater Corridor. Four, six, and 11 mile loops are available. For more details, visit the website

TriMet’s Guide to Reaching Popular Destinations by Public Transit

As a service to our readers, TriMet staff members have prepared this guide to show visitors what bus and light rail routes go to attractions and other popular destinations:

  1. Which bus lines serve each neighborhood?
    1. Alberta Arts District: 72, 75, 12, and 71
    2. Belmont: 15, 75, 72, 71, and 70
    3. Central Eastside: 4, 6, 12, 14, 15, 10, 19, 20, and 70
    4. Division/Clinton: 4, 14, 75, 10, and 70
    5. Downtown: 4, 6, 12, 14, 15, 54, 56, 16, 17, 35, 43, 44, 45, 58, 94
    6. Hawthorne: 14, 70, and 71
    7. Lloyd District: 8, 17, 70, 77
    8. Mississippi/Williams: 72, 35, 85
    9. NW Portland/Nob Hill: 15, 16, 20, 77
    10. Old Town Chinatown: 4, 8, 16, 35, 44, 77
    11. Pearl District: 17, 77
    12. Sellwood-Moreland: 9, 75, 10, 17, 19, 34, 70
  2. Popular Destinations (not in Downtown)
    1. The Oregon Zoo – MAX Red and Blue lines
    2. The Japanese Gardens – MAX Red and Blue lines
    3. Portland Rose Gardens – MAX Red and Blue lines
    4. OMSI – MAX Orange Line
    5. Clackamas Town Center – MAX Green Line
    6. Historic Downtown Gresham strip – MAX Blue Line
    7. Lloyd Center – MAX Red, Blue, and Green lines
    8. Dark Horse Comics/Things From Another World – MAX Orange Line
    9. The Springwater Corridor – MAX Orange Line
    10. Sellwood 12th Ave Antique strip – MAX Orange Line
    11. Clinton/Division food strip – MAX Orange Line
    12. Guardian Games – MAX Orange Line to A or B Street Car
    13. NW 23rd food and shopping strip – NS Street Car
    14. Montavilla food Strip – MAX Green Line
    15. Mt. Tabor Park – MAX Green Line
    16. Uwajimaya – Bus 54 to Bus 56

Columbia River Gorge – Columbia River Gorge Express outside Gateway Transit Center. Not a TriMet run shuttle. Separate tickets required. A little outside Portland, is the amazing Multnomah Falls with a new shuttle service. Take TriMet to the Gateway Transit Center via MAX Blue, Green or Red lines or several bus lines and catch the shuttle.

Would you enjoy a one-day outing to the Oregon Coast?

You can visit Oregon Coast communities by Cannon Beach and Seaside (as well as nearby communities like Astoria) by bus, stay over for a day or two, and then return to Portland. For details go to However, the buses are now known as the Northwest Point. For schedules, fares, and other transit information for travel between Portland and the Oregon Coast, visit or call (541)-484-4100.

Unfortunately, our visit to Portland is now drawing to a close. For more information about Portland attractions (especially those we couldn’t include here), go to and click on Visitor’s Best Bets.

For More Information

Where to stay and What to do– There are two good resources:

  • or stop in at the Visitor Information Center: 701 S.W. Sixth Ave from 8:30 a.m.-5:30 p.m. Monday-Friday, 10 a.m.-4 p.m. on Saturday, and (May-October only) 10 a.m.-2 p.m. on Sunday. You can also call (1-800)678-5263, or (503)-275-8355.

For public transportation and what route to take to get to your destination:

Visit, or call (503) 238-7433 (RIDE) between 8:30 a.m. and 4:30 p.m. Monday-Friday.

Steve Atlas welcomes your questions, comments, and suggestions for places to spotlight in future Car Free Journey columns. Email Steve at

About the author

Steve Atlas

Steve Atlas, author of two published books about parenting, has written newspaper columns and magazine articles about travel, career change, home-based business, parenting, and sales skills. Steve's column, “Single Parent Hotline,” was a weekly feature of Gannett News Service for several years. He has also been a contributing editor to Selling Power magazine. Currently Steve’s primary interest is reducing dependency on private automobiles. In addition to being a public transit advocate and author (since 2008) of Car Free Journey, Steve’s e-book: "Car Free at the Beach", and several reports he has written about Car Free Living can be viewed at

1 Comment

  • I just got back from a trip to Portland and would like to recommend Tilikum Crossing to all car-free aficionados. Also known as the Bridge of the People, it is a cable-stayed bridge across the Willamette River. The first major bridge in the U.S. designed to allow access to transit vehicles, cyclists and pedestrians but not cars, it serves lightrail, city buses, the Portland Streetcar, and all non-motorized humans and non-humans.