The idea of a meal shared al fresco in a lovely natural setting has been around for a very long time – perhaps since Adam and Eve and that apple. So while picnics don’t really represent an up and coming trend, they do rank VERY high as a budget-friendly way to see the city – while eating a good meal.
And – lucky for you! – Portland has dozens of divine places to picnic. Here’s proof: Each year the Trust for Public Land rates the 100 largest U.S. cities on their public parks – and each year Portland ranks in the Top Ten.
So if you’re visiting Portland, it would be a YUGE mistake to miss out on a leisurely picnic in one of our amazing public parks. Here are a few to consider:
Laurelhurst (SE Cesar Chavez Blvd. & Stark St.)
Laurelhurst Park is uber popular – for good reason. It’s close in – easy to get to from either side of the river – and has just about every amenity imaginable (think basketball court, horseshoe pits, off leash dog area and more – it even has a pond!). And the trees are amazing! On busy weekends you may have to search for a parking spot but once you’ve conquered that task, you can find a grassy patch under one of those towering trees, spread out your picnic goodies – and enjoy the good life.
Mt. Tabor (SE 60th & Salmon St.)
If you want to cross “picnic on a volcano” off your Bucket List, this is your chance. Mt. Tabor Park is actually a dormant cinder cone in southeast Portland. Because it is a “mountain” (albeit of only 636 feet elevation) it offers a variety of diverse picnicking alternatives, from sloping spots overlooking the reservoir to level and lovely options at the summit.
Pier Park (N Lombard St. & Bruce Ave.)
This idyllic picnic setting is located in the St. Johns neighborhood in north Portland. It’s a bit of a drive from the center of town but just might be a little less crowded for that reason. And it absolutely delivers on the top picnicking criteria with plentiful majestic trees, rolling lawns, numerous amenities and easy access.
Cathedral Park (N Edison & Pittsburg Ave.)
Also located in north Portland is Cathedral Park – just the name makes you want to visit, doesn’t it? This 23 acre park is situated under the St. Johns Bridge; that backdrop lends to its cathedral-like ambience, with the bridge overhead mimicking the arches of a gothic church. No reserved picnic areas are available here so, if you’re lucky and early, you may even snag a table.
Washington Park (head of SW Park Place; explorewashingtonpark.org)
This iconic location has amenities no other Portland parks has including the International Rose Test Garden, a bronze statue of Sacajawea and, for those with little ones, the immensely fun Rose Garden Children’s Park. The one downside is that you’ll have to pay to park. :(
Grant Park (NE 33rd Ave. & US Grant Pl.)
Along with killer trees and easy parking, Grant Park boasts the Beverly Cleary Sculpture Garden. Cleary – the popular children’s book author of the Henry Huggins and Ramona Quimby series and more – grew up in the Grant Park area. If you feel like a walk after your picnic meal – and you’re a Cleary fan – download the “Walking with Ramona” tour map and check out the settings for many of the events in Cleary’s fictional books as well as the houses she grew up in. Click here to see.
That park that’s just a 10-minute walk from where you are right now
According to the Trust for Public Land, 85 percent of Portlanders are a mere 10-minute walk (1/2 mile) from a park/green space. Find the nearest one and you’re just minutes from a picnic experience!
If you go:
The above suggestions represent only a small fraction of the parks in the City of Portland’s system. And an even smaller percentage of parks in the metro area. Check the City of Portland Parks’ website (portlandparks.org; all parks are free to visit and most have free parking nearby) or other local communities and Metro (the Metropolitan Service District, the area’s regional governmental body) for more ideas. Tip: If you absolutely MUST have a picnic table for your picnic, go to the parks reservation page and “view availability” for the park you’re interested in. If it’s not reserved for that day, you’re pretty safe in assuming that it’s available. But first come, first served if you haven’t reserved. If you’re part of a large group and need picnic tables, your best bet is to reserve WAY in advance in the summer.
For most of us, picnicking implies a casual, no-fuss approach. So feel free to stop at La Petite Provence (1824 NE Alberta or 4834 SE Division) or any local bakery or deli and grab a baguette or two, some cheese and fruit and head out. Voila! You have a picnic!
Bring your Designated Picnic Blanket (i.e. that old one that you reserve for outdoor activities) and/or inexpensive collapsible chairs. Consider some picnicky activities like swinging or just spreading out on your blanket and gazing up through the sun dappled trees, enjoying the now…
An added plus for the summer are the free concerts in July and August. There’s nothing better than a relaxing meal consumed in a beautiful setting on a lazy summer’s eve, with great, FREE tunes for background music.
So what are you waiting for? Get outside!
All photos are Courtesy of Portland Parks