Portland’s Waterfront Things to Do
Bordering downtown Portland is Waterfront Park, a green expanse with a wide riverfront walkway. Cross the river to the Eastside Esplanade or head south to RiverPlace shops.
The Willamette River is Portland’s focal point. Once an industrial strip, the river is now lined with parks, walking trails, wide promenades, riverfront cafés, and shops. The east and west sides of the river invite people to the shores with public walkways connected by a pedestrian bridge. Extending south from the downtown Waterfront Park, a trail finished with paving stones leads to RiverPlace with shops, restaurants, and a picturesque marina. Below are some of the highlights of the downtown waterfront.
Tom McCall Waterfront Park
Stretching the length of downtown, Waterfront Park is a 29-acre green corridor with a wide, paved walkway for strolling, biking, people watching or just relaxing on one of the many park benches looking over the water. Downtown office workers take lunch walks here, while joggers, couples and families with baby carriages flock to the park on weekends. Salmon Street Springs, a fountain at the end of Southwest Salmon Street, is a highlight of the park, especially in the summer when children come to splash in the dancing jets of water. Waterfront Park is also a busy event site, beginning with the huge Cinco de Mayo fiesta in May and the city’s signature Rose Festival in early June. Wine, food and art festivals take turns throughout the warm months, leading up to a free outdoor Oregon Symphony concert each year in late summer.
Locals mostly use the simple name, Waterfront Park. The full formal name honors former Oregon Governor Tom McCall, who championed the replacement of the once-industrial Harbor Drive with public green space.
Waterfront Park on the city’s westside proved so popular that a second public riverway was completed on the eastside in 2001. The esplanade boasts the country’s longest floating walkway, bringing people right down to the water. The floating portion continues onto a stationary promenade built on the river bank to complete the one-and-one-half mile esplanade. Along the way historic interpretive signs tell the history of Portland’s first settlements along the river. Relax for a while on one of the many benches facing the water to enjoy an expansive view of downtown Portland.
The Eastbank Esplanade and Waterfront Park connect via the Steel Bridge RiverWalk, a pedestrian and bicycle bridge erected as a separate span of the railroad and vehicle double-decker Steel Bridge. In addition to connecting the eastside and westside, the bridge offers bird’s-eye vistas of the river. Bridge approaches are at the north end of the parallel river walkways.
When the paved walkway of Waterfront Park reaches its south end, a trail of permeable bricks continues for the distance of a block or two to RiverPlace. You’ll pass a rocky crescent of the beach before arriving at a picturesque marina opposite the sidewalk cafés, restaurants, and shops of this riverside neighborhood. Benches along the sidewalk are a perfect place for absorbing the relaxed urban waterside ambiance.