Portland City Guide
The modest size of Oregon’s largest city is hardly relative to its influence within the world of sports. Most notably, the HQ of Nike is in nearby Beaverton, creating a gravity which has pulled in adidas and Under Armour, the latter because of Portland being “the quintessential foodie city with eclectic global offerings.” Exceptionally forested hills reach out the west of the city, while open spaces and calm streets network the town with a population of 600,000 on either side of the Willamette River.
To make the most of this Portland city guide, note a few patterns within this post, which follow in this sequence:
Exact hours aren’t indicated alongside venues unless very restrictive, and prices are also omitted in the knowledge that no listed facility charges more than $20 for day access. Instead, a full directory of telephone numbers is provided in the final Directory section, so you can call ahead to confirm your intended training time. The place names in the Directory link directly to the venue’s Google Maps profile – click on the venue’s name to generate directions with the actual app.
Orientation & Logistics
Portland’s layout can be simply visualised, with a hill to the west of the Interstate 405, which itself is 10 blocks west of the Willamette River and flatter ground the the east. The city itself is roughly divided into four quarters with Northeast, Southeast and Northwest being three of the major neighbourhoods with the last being the most popular for visitors to the city. The airport is on the north-east of town, less than 10 miles from Downtown.
Portland’s modest metropolitan area is easily navigated with public transport, which is well above average by US standards. TriMet operate two major types of service under the slightly hopeful tagline, “See where it takes you.” MAX is the name of Portland’s light rail and the most efficient for navigating the suburban area, paired with buses that handle the finer avenues. It’s the MAX Red Line that will get you to town from Portland International (PDX). TriMet’s tagline is reinforced by more levity, with its multi-trip, multi-load passes being the Hop Fastpass – pick one up at one of their many retailers.
Set inland from the Pacific at 45.5° North, the city’s latitude lends itself to warm summers and frosty but not icy winters, mild enough to allow for outdoor running and riding throughout the year. Open air pools are accessible during the summer when long days tempt an entire range of endurance training, considering sunrises as early as 5:22am and sets after 9pm during the Summer solstice. Winter sunlight is more constraining, with the sun rising only at 7:48am and setting at 4:30pm.
Portland’s commitment to road running and track is defined, with the likes of Nike and University of Oregon carrying the cultural baton for U.S. distance running for nearly half a century. Running groups are numerous, making their routes along flat roads and trail routes that leap out of the city to the west. This hallowed territory has also inspired a new generation to form new running groups, prompting legacy running clubs to keep up with social trends emanating from Portland.
Getting to know the Willamette River is the best way to orientate yourself in Portland, a waterway which strikes through the city from south to north. Vera Katz Eastbank Esplanade and the Willamette Greenway Trail on the other side are the paths to take, using SW Hawthorne Bridge and the formidable North Steel Bridge to cross the river in either direction and close a 5km box.
Two running tracks are worth checking out in Portland, one very reachable from hotels in Northwest, and another 1.5 miles to the south. Nearer the city centre is Lincoln High School which is accessible after school hours from 4pm. The track is in heavy use from noon to about 9pm during the spring months and there are games on the inner field most weekends. Checking the track and field and lacrosse schedules online is probably best way to see what’s happening.
Travel two miles south to find Duniway City Park, a black tartan track completed for the 2017 season thanks to cash from Under Armour. You’ll find plenty of fast runners at Duniway, including the prolific Nike-sponsored Bowerman Track Club. Track hours aren’t as restrictive as Lincoln High – Duniway is open all hours.
Claiming some elevation requires a slide to Portland’s western frontier, most easily done by heading up Thurman Street in Northwest. This strip heads through a few hundreds of neighbourhood before ending abruptly and dissolving into the renowned Leif Erikson Trail. Continue up this for as long as you like, accounting for your vertical metreage and shortage of public transit to get you back to the city (truly wild). A marked route and distance on Leif Erikson is a 9km out-and-back, measured by this Strava route.
As for the social groups and local events in Portland, expect running groups to be organised and determined. Bowerman Track Club might be seen as one model for elites, with Rose City Track Club being a more accessible group, itself formed during the 2017 season. You’ll find RCTC running throughout the winter, taking the top spots in races and even organising their own events – the Rose City Mile. Monthly 5k running races are organised by Portland Parks & Recreation for $5 entry fee, dubbed as the 5k Series Fun Runs.
Portland’s diverse western topography means that road cycling and gravel routes practically dock with the city center. A collection of cycling brands has blossomed in the shadow of Forest Park, a verdant slab of land which levers cyclists into its lap throughout the week. Other options are available for short week day rides, especially if you’re looking to get in a punchy ride around work.
To orientate yourself within Forest Park head for Skyline Boulevard which continues for over 25 miles to Dixie Mountain. Leaving from Northwest, route up NW Lovejoy Street, following your nose as you wind your way up into a leafy residential area. After less than a mile, Lovejoy becomes NW Cornell, which turns into NW Thompson Road before hitting an intersection to NW Skyline Boulevard.
At the intersection take a right on Skyline and pursue the road for 12 miles, bearing in mind that you can turn on right on any of Germantown, Newberry, McNamee or Cornelius Pass to shorten the route by reaching over to the return strip at a lower level along St. Helens Road. The return drag takes you along a main road with fast moving traffic – it’s flat with a wide shoulder, but busy nonetheless. Stay in the bike lane and be particularly careful as you roll through the final two miles in the industrial areas – the road has some debris.
Normally city infrastructure demands that gravel riders get out of town to find worthwhile surfaces for cycling on stones, but in Portland planners have maintained a gravel section of trail half a mile from Northwest. This is found by going up Thurman to its natural end point and Forest Park’s NW entrance (same goes for trail runners). Those on road bikes should put on wider tyres, 28mm+, but a gravel bike is best option (below is the Barlow from local brand, Sage Titanium).
Hill intervals are also an option for those looking to get in an efficient workout without too much riding out of town. Washington Park is the place to head for climbs, with the options of Arlington Heights (1.9km, 7%), Kingston (2.3km, 4%) and the longer Zoo Climb (4.3km, 2.0%) each working their way through this raised terrain.
Depending on your levels of resilience, the weather in Portland may insist you train indoors and head to the city’s cycling studios. Two studios are worth noting. The first, C-Velo, requires you bring your or own bike and fix it up to a KICKR Power Trainer. Another studio is TEMPO cycling & pilates studio who provide the full setup with CycleOps Phantom 3 bikes. Each studio pays attention to performance and improvement, with cadence and power output being key metrics. TEMPO’s commitment to pilates also makes for a robust session to combine with cycling (a 30-minute cycling / 30-minute pilate session exists).
Those looking for riding buddies should look to Portland Triathlon Club or PDX Velo. Bike rental can be arranged through Bike Gallery who stock carbon bikes from Trek. Finally, a comprehensive index of road rides out of Portland can be found at pdxcyclingonline.com.
Portland’s emphasis on cycling and running displaces the demand on swimming, which is in short supply during the winter. The best public pool near the centre of town is in Northeast, Matt Dishman Community Pool, a 25m tub that has liberal opening times. Other pools can be found at L.A. Fitness in the Pearl District, as well as at 24 Hour Fitness (see Gym below). But perhaps the best option is to join Lewis & Clark Aquatics who swim at Zehntbauer Pavilion on the Lewis & Clark College, about 6 miles south of the city centre. Sessions start at 6am on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays, with a drop-in fee of $8.
During the summer, the open water and outdoor swimming scene in Portland is vibrant. Grant Outdoor Pool and Wilson Outdoor Pool are two 25 yard pools which open their lanes from May until September, with length hours allocated as being from 7am to 9am, seven days a week [2018 times yet to be confirmed].
In search of cooler water temperatures, Portland Triathlon Club start swimming in Vancouver Lake as early as mid-April – make contact with the club to arrange transport if you’re without your own vehicle. The Portland Bridge Swim might require more resilience, being a 17km tug through the Willamette, but does as much to inform swimmers that the Willamette River is swimmable. Poet’s Beach is the place to put in – a “pop-up” beach located under Marquam Bridge, but be sure to check latest water quality measurements before diving in.
Though numerous, CrossFit gyms in Portland don’t accept drop-ins so you’ll need to look elsewhere to find somewhere with barbells and pull-up bars. Fortunately, the warehouse-sized 24 Hour Fitness in the Pearl district of the Northwest takes the strain of any strength-orientated tourists. The gym has barbells, pull-up equipment, treadmills and a 20m indoor pool. Towels can be borrowed at the gym and showers are adequate though nothing to write home about.
Sleeping & Eating
Portland’s Northwest neighbourhood serves as the centre of gravity for discerning tourists who cluster around a few good hotels, retail stores and restaurants. Coffee culture is perhaps just ahead of the healthy eating scene, given that the likes of Stumptown Coffee Roasting already colonising other corners of the coffee world. But look beyond Portland’s signature craft beers and heavy meals and you’ll find a number of healthy options within a few blocks of the best hotels on the east of the I-405.
Three venues from Kure Juice Bar are worth noting, not just for vegetable juices and smoothies but for their salad bowls, snacks and well wishing at the break of dawn. Kure roughly surround a vegan eatery, Prasad, which also has a venue in the East side of town. Garden Bar have half a dozen venues around town, opting for a broad open salad bar layout (below).
Other meatier options can be found at QuickFish Poke Bar and its neighbour, Bamboo Sushi, offering a more eclectic range of fishy dishes. And if you’re unsure where to go with your breakfast, lunch or dinner, simply turn up to Pine Street Market in Chinatown where you’ll find a food court with a dozen options ranging from the healthy to the hearty.
Coffee options in Portland are of course numerous. Find Heart Coffee Roasters near to Lincoln High School if you’re doing a track workout. And of course Stumptown Coffee must be sampled during a visit to Portland, not least because of their impressive venues at Ace Hotel and in Chinatown on SW 3rd Avenue (no seating). Another coffee setup must be sampled in Portland, especially if you have athletic apparel that needs a clean – Spin Laundry Lounge which serves good coffee alongside their impressive washers and dryers, furnished with a workspace and Wi-Fi.
A number of trendy hotels have emerged in Portland’s Northwest District, including Ace Hotel’s. Rumour has it London’s Hoxton are inbound, but for now, an outstanding option is The Society Hotel, an independently owned hotel. An 18-bed bunkroom occupies The Society Hotel’s ground floor, sharing the hotel’s footprint with a spacious bar and seating area that looks out into the towns Chinatown neighbourhood. Private rooms occupy remaining floors with plywood interiors and clean finishes. Multi-sports athletes will appreciate the clearance beneath the beds, with plenty of room for spare stash, empty bags and muddy shoes. Dressing gowns are another, welcome piece of inventory, and an acceptable item to don when you wander down to the hotel’s basement hotel for breakfast or coffee.
Garden Bar (not linked, multiple venues)
Lincoln High School: no #
Stumptown Coffee (not linked, multiple venues)
Zehntbauer Swimming Pavilion: no number