When To Go

In Portland and Seattle we like to say that summer begins on July 5th. It’s mostly true—or as true as anything can be in an age of rapid climate change. So if you are planning to spend your holidays in either city, and want to maximize your chances for sunshine and warm weather, July 5 through September 15 are the best months to visit.

The summers truly are splendid, and life in both cities moves outdoors as much as possible. The parks are verdant, the gardens are glorious, there are outdoor festivals galore, and you can sit outside comfortably all evening, until it gets chilly enough for a sweater. That’s the beauty of summer in Seattle and Portland—no matter how hot the day, the nights cool down (sometimes by 30 degrees) so that you need a blanket. And when it’s hot, it’s dry, not humid, because the hot air comes from the deserts east of the Cascades and flows down the Columbia Gorge and through the valleys to Portland and Seattle. The downside when it gets very warm and the winds stop blowing is inversion and air pollution. Ick.

Nobody but gardeners believe me when I tell them that Portland and Seattle actually have what is considered a Mediterranean climate. What this means is that it generally rains almost constantly in one form or another from mid-October through June, with plenty of clear days and periods of truly great weather along the way. From November through March, the temperature remains temperate, rarely dipping below freezing and usually hovering in the 40s. By April it starts warming up, though the precipitation persists, and by May and June temperatures rise to the mid-70s with (of late) sudden spikes into the 80s and even low 90s (all temperatures in Fahrenheit). Plants love this climate, and so do gardeners.

June is when Portland holds its famous Rose Festival, but I’ve often thought it should be called the Rain Festival because it always seems to rain during the two big parades. Why not celebrate what makes life out here so green?

But can I convince you to come earlier in the year? If you are a gardener, in love with the egregious excesses of spring, come to Seattle or Portland in late April through May. You will be dazzled by the exuberance of spring in the Northwest, as cherry trees burst into pink bloom; camellias open; rhododendrons, azaleas, magnolias, and dogwoods flower; and the tulip fields near Portland and Seattle rival—maybe surpass—those in Holland. Yes, the springtime weather is very changeable, and you will have rain, but you also won’t miss the floral fecundity of these two cities when spring is at its freshest and richest.

The heavenly summer weather often stretches out through September, sometimes into early October. This, too, is a fabulous time to visit because of the bounty you’ll find at the farmers markets and the cultural pleasures you’ll enjoy as the performing arts venues swing into performance mode.

As for winter—well, if you’re a skier or snowboarder, you know why winter would be a good time to come. The mountain (Mt. Hood) is generally ready to chairlift skiers up its slopes by mid-November—though I hasten to add that in recent years the snow has been arriving later and staying longer.

Travel Portland, 701 SW Sixth Ave. (www.travelportland.com; tel. 877/678-5263 or 503/275-8355), is in Pioneer Courthouse Square in downtown Portland. Hours are Mon–Fri 8:30am–5:30pm, Sat 10am–4pm, Sun (May–Oct only) 10am–2pm. Travel Oregon (www.traveloregon.com; tel. 503/284-4620), the state tourism office, has an information desk in the baggage claim area of the Portland Airport; open daily 9am–10pm.

City Layout

Portland is in northwestern Oregon at the confluence of the Columbia and Willamette rivers. (Contrary to what many people think, Portland is not on the Pacific Ocean but about 90 miles east of it.) The Willamette (pronounced will-am-met) River, spanned by eight bridges in the downtown area, cuts through the heart of Portland, dividing it into east and west. Burnside Street is the north-south boundary line, dividing the west side into northwest and southwest, and the east side into northeast and southeast. The west side rises steadily from the Willamette to about 1,000 ft. in the West Hills, while the residential east side of Portland is relatively flat, though it is punctuated here and there by the hilly remnants of several volcanoes. Just east of the city, the landscape changes to rolling hills that extend about 50 miles to the Cascade Mountains and Mount Hood, the most prominent peak in the Oregon Cascades (11,235 ft.). The Columbia River, to the north, forms the boundary between Oregon and Washington.

The Greater Metro area also includes Vancouver, Washington, just across the Columbia River to the north of Portland, although that is an entirely separate city. About 2.35-million people now live in the combined metropolitan areas, and the figure is rising by the day

Main Arteries & Streets

I-84 (Banfield Fwy. or Expwy.) enters Portland from the east. I-205, east of the city, bypasses downtown Portland and runs past the airport. I-5 runs through the city on a north-south axis. I-405 circles around the west and south sides of downtown. U.S. 26 (Sunset Hwy.) leaves downtown heading west toward Beaverton and the coast. Ore. 217 runs south from U.S. 26 in Beaverton and connects to I-5.


Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.