Walking tours are a fun way to become acquainted with a city. I’ve been on tours in places such as San Francisco, California and Sienna, Italy and now … Portland, Oregon.
I found the “Secrets of Portlandia” free walking tour through Trip Advisor. It is currently ranked #2 of 297 activities in Portland! I was impressed that a walking tour was rated so highly. I figured the guide must be entertaining.
And he was! There are so many quirky and interesting facts about Portland that I would have never learned if I did not take the tour. And the guide, Erik, shared it in such a funny way. I agree with many reviewers before me: Erik’s tour is a must-do for any Portland sight-seers who visit during the season.
Walking tour season is May through mid-October. I caught Erik before he closed shop and headed to Hawaii for a few months. And he deserves the break! He is the lone tour guide … who gives a 1.5 hour tour EVERY DAY – with no sick days or weekends off.
Of course, his time off in Hawaii is not purely a break. His brother lives there. Erik said he will work on comedy sketches and prepare for his trip to South America to film more of his original culinary show, Grandma’s Cookin’. Between several jobs, he is able to follow his passions of traveling, entertaining, and showing off cities he loves. And he’s made it happen for himself. In a city with a generally poor employment rate in past years, Erik said many of his friends have had to become creative entrepreneurs.
In fact, the recession was the catalyst for the food cart revolution in Portland. That recession and the accessible financial model of food carts encouraged unemployed people to start their business. Now there are 700-something carts in operation in the city, making Portland #1 for this kind of gastronomic experience.
So here are some other things I learned about Portland …
• Pioneer Square, lovingly nicknamed “Portland’s Living Room” is considered one of the top squares in the world. Oregonians get together for fun things there … like a gathering earlier this year of 1,600 natural red-heads (in hopes to beat the Guinness record).
This is where the tour begins.
• There are 20 original “Benson Bubblers” drinking fountains around the city. In 1912 Simon Benson, a lumber mill owner, installed these fountains in front of nearby saloons. I’m told that Simon realized his workers were keeping hydrated at work by drinking beer … which resulted in many on-the-job accidents. The saloon owners were not happy about the water fountains, but more lumber workers kept their fingers.
• There are 70 microbreweries in the city and 400 in the surrounding areas. This is definitely a city for beer-lovers.
• The 34-foot tall Portlandia Statue, installed above the Portland Building in 1985, is the second largest of its kind, after the Statue of Liberty. It’s not as famous as it probably could be because the sculptor has disallowed any reproductions for commercial purposes. In fact, I am not going to post the picture here for that reason. You can see it at the Wikipedia article here. I like Erik’s story about how someone in the 80s hung a huge plastic foam yo-yo from the finger of Portlandia. Apparently the sculptor demanded its removal. Too bad.
• In 1993 Portland became the first local government in the U.S. to adopt a greenhouse gas-reduction plan. Amazingly, Portlanders are responsible for 26 percent fewer carbon emissions per person than they emitted in 1990 … versus the national rate which has risen 12 percent over that same period. Wow. Each morning when I woke up in my hotel, I looked out the window and saw countless bicyclists on their way to work. Public transportation options are excellent, too. I applaud the leaders of Portland for setting standards and making it easier for residents to be environmentally-conscious.
• Portland boasts the records for largest and smallest urban parks in the world. Forest Park covers more than 5,100 acres. Mill Ends Park is a small circle 2-feet across. That little “park” has a funny story and long-running history behind it (which involves a leprechaun and a fierce competition with the Brits) that deserves a blog post of its own. You can read a short article here.
There are so many other fun things to learn about Portland. I definitely recommend the Secrets of Portlandia Walking Tour for all those visiting this Oregon city during the warmer months.