Portland Excursions: Gardens, Concerts, Zoos and Museums

The Portland Japanese Garden “is a place to discard worldly thoughts and concerns and see oneself as a small but integral part of the universe” (from the brochure).

A former Ambassador of Japan to the United States declared it to be “the most beautiful and authentic Japanese garden in the world outside of Japan.” And it’s the leading tourist attraction in Portland, according to Trip Advisor. With eight separate gardens showcased across 12 acres, this lovely landscape incorporates the three primary elements found in all Japanese garden designs: stone (“bones” of the landscape), water (life-giving force), and plants reflecting all four seasons. The hope is to inspire peace, harmony, and tranquility.

The Japanese Garden was at the top of our “to do” list for Portland, and we weren’t disappointed. We thoroughly enjoyed our self-paced tour, particularly the pond garden, the natural garden, the bonsai terrace, and the sand and stone garden.

International Rose Test Garden

Portland’s official slogan since the early 1900s has been the City of Roses, which made sense at the time due to the successful efforts of the Portland Rose Society to create 200+ miles of rose-lined streets. The International Rose Test Garden dates back to the early 1920s and features about 10,000 rosebushes representing more than 600 different types of roses. The primary purpose is to test new varieties of commercially grown roses.

The rose garden is a short walk from the Japanese Garden, so we decided to look around. Although pretty, we just don’t know enough about roses to appreciate the subtle differences among the different varieties, so we lost interest in about 20 minutes. Plus it was raining by then. Glad we stopped by, however.

Oregon Zoo

We’re not big zoo fans but included the Oregon Zoo in our travel plans because of a scheduled concert by the Portland Symphony at the outdoor music venue, and admission to the zoo was included in the ticket price. What could possibly go wrong?

The short answer is that the concert was rained out when the usual Portland misty drizzle became an outright and persistent downpour. Confident that it was a fluke, organizers rescheduled for the next evening, and guess what? Rained out again!

Concert tickets were nonrefundable but could be applied to a future symphony performance – more about that later. We were also offered two tickets for free admission to the zoo on any day of our choosing, so we did that too.

Founded in 1888, the Oregon Zoo is the nation’s oldest zoo west of the Mississippi. It’s located in Washington Park, a beautiful 410-acre park in the heart of the city that is also home to the Japanese Garden, the Rose Garden and several other major attractions. We enjoyed our 1/2 day walk through the zoo, especially watching the elephants in their expansive 6-acre habitat and learning about the zoo’s successful efforts to breed them in captivity.

Oregon Symphony Concert

Fortunately, we stayed in Portland long enough to use our zoo concert tickets for an upcoming symphony performance in the Classical Music Series.

In existence since 1896, the Oregon Symphony is the oldest orchestra west of the Mississippi. Its home performance venue is the Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall (“the Schnitz”), a lavish theatre dating back to the 1920s that underwent extensive restoration in the 1980s. I tried, but failed, to capture the beauty on my trusty phone camera. These photos are much better if you are interested: https://www.portland5.com/arlene-schnitzer-concert-hall/photos.

The program for the cancelled concert at the zoo is shown below on the left, and the one that we attended is on the right. Different programs, but interesting musical selections for both.

Having returned from their vacation in Europe, Ken and Gloria went with us to the concert at the Schnitz, which was a nice bonus!

Portland Art Museum

Established in 1892, the Portland Art Museum is the oldest in the western U.S. (Are you seeing a theme here about Portland’s history as a cultural leader in the late 19th century?) The museum is also one of the largest, with 112,000 square feet of gallery space, which means that the three hours we allotted for exploring wasn’t sufficient. And we missed by just one day an interesting special exhibit: Paris 1900. Lesson learned – do more research before visiting important attractions!

The museum has two large wings – the main building, plus a building for modern and contemporary art – and features 12 collections ranging from Asian and American to Native American and European art, as well as exhibits of photography, decorative arts, and graphic arts. I especially enjoyed the unique collection of Northwest Art focused on regional history and culture.

Many wonderful pieces – here are a few that caught my attention:

Oregon Historical Society Museum

Not sure when it happened, but we have developed a peculiar penchant for visiting history museums during our travels to learn more about the various states and countries that we visit. So the Oregon Historical Society Museum was a “must do” while we were in Portland.

Not surprisingly, the museum’s focus is to convey and preserve the story of Oregon’s history and development. Although relatively small and not especially flashy in style, it gets the job done. We were especially impressed with the level of honesty about Oregon’s past laws and practices that promoted racial discrimination against American Indians, African Americans, and Asian Americans. Not an easy story to tell, but the exhibits included both facts and compelling anecdotes about the impact on individuals and families.

In addition to the museum, the Oregon Historical Society offers a robust collection of online exhibits accessible to anyone who is interested in the people and events that have shaped the state’s evolution over the years. You can find information about all exhibits – permanent, special, traveling, and online – at https://www.ohs.org/museum/exhibits/index.cfm.

Here are a few photos from our visit to the museum:

One final anecdote for this post – a visit to the Schilling Cider House with Ken and Gloria. We enjoy good cider but don’t usually seek it out. This excursion was courtesy of a birthday gift card last summer from Philip and Kim, who knew we were planning to visit Portland and researched where to go for a good experience. So we went, and they were right!

Stay tuned for our next post about Sellwood – our “home” neighborhood while staying in Portland.

Categories: Oregon
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