7 things not to miss in Portland, Ore.

The 21-mile Banks-Vernonia Rail Trail, connecting rural towns west of Portland, is Oregon’s first linear state park.
The 21-mile Banks-Vernonia Rail Trail, connecting rural towns west of Portland, is Oregon’s first linear state park.

PORTLAND, Ore. — When visiting this eclectic city, respect the locals and they’ll spill the beans about its offbeat pleasures. Here are seven mind-tingling things to do between those farm-to-table meals and strong brews.

 Bike or hike the Banks-Vernonia Rail Trail. The 21-mile paved path — Oregon’s first linear state park — connects rural towns west of Portland. Sights include year-round color, 13 bridges (two spanning 80-foot-high railroad trestles), waterfalls, trees draped with phosphorescent moss, and rufous hummingbirds. Public transit ( with bike racks runs between Portland and Stub Stewart State Park, a repurposed logging camp along the trail. You can rent bikes from Waterfront Bicycles ( and Banks Bicycle Repair & Rental ( Free. 503-324-0606,

 Time-travel in Kidd’s Toy Museum. This amazing vault of social history in an industrial building, marked only by a paper sign, bulges with Frank Kidd’s estimated 20,000 windup toys, spinning tops, puzzles, and other playthings. “My father didn’t have toys growing up,” explained Julie Kidd, who manages the museum. Myriad model trains, planes, spacecraft, trucks, tractors, motorcycles, and cars hint at the influence of the family’s auto-parts business next door. The artifacts, dating from 1869 to the 1950s, include spring-powered mechanical banks that do tricks when fed coins. Two depict Jonah being swallowed, and then spit out, by the whale. Mon-Fri, free. 1301 Southeast Grand

Ave., 503-233-7807,


 Find zen at Lan Su Chinese Garden. Built by hand by 65 artisans on an abandoned parking lot, it’s possibly the most authentic Chinese garden outside China. Walkways pass rock gardens, waterfalls, bat-shaped drip tiles, and penjing, living sculptures of tiny trees. Lan Su’s design, based on scroll paintings and ancient blueprints, required 500 tons of rock shipped from China.

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During a free drop-in tai chi session, I move in slow motion, seeking physical and spiritual balance. The teacher suggests: “Think of each moment as preparation for the next.” Other classes include Shibashi and Wild Goose Qigong (movement art that taps the body’s “qi,” or vital energy), 10,000 Blessings Feng Shui (creating spaces that foster health and happiness), mahjong, and in the Tea House, calligraphy and concerts. Daily. Admission $9.50, children age 5 and under free. 239 Northwest Everett St., 503-228-8131,

 Tour a submarine. The USS Blueback — the US Navy’s last nonnuclear, fast-attack sub — rests in the Willamette River behind the Oregon Museum of Science and Industry. The tour guide, a submarine veteran, recounted life underwater, where tight quarters, 2-minute showers, and no water for laundry tested the 85 crew members’ endurance. Privacy could be had in the weapons chamber — sleeping on torpedoes. The tour provides up-close views of the controls, bunkrooms, kitchen, and decommissioned missiles built to sink battleships. The sub’s teardrop hull — designed for maximum speed and stealth — appeared in “The Hunt for Red October.” Daily. $5.75. 1945 Southeast Water Ave., 503-797-4624,

 Do tastings at a beer festival. Portland holds at least 16 brew fests a year — and they’re the most time- and cost-effective way to sample the bounty of this craft-beer capital. What’s on tap? The likes of Buckman Botanical Brewery’s Fruit Cake infused with candied fruits, nuts, and spices; Cascade’s sour red ale fermented with cherries; and Hopworks Urban Brewery’s Noggin Floggin barleywine. Sparkling Portland water gives its beers a great start.

 Nosh at Mississippi Marketplace’s food carts. Beloved for its flavors and allegiance to local farmers, the pod’s standouts include Home Grown Smoker’s applewood-smoked soy-curls and Native Bowl’s swoon-inducing chocolate cake. Tue-Sun. North Mississippi Avenue and Skidmore Street, www


 Shop the Portland Saturday Market. Since 1974, the nation’s longest-running outdoor arts and crafts fair has been the place to see the city’s creative culture. The bounty spans Brian Smith’s otherworldly carved glass pendants (“I just apply heat and see what happens”), artisan foods such as multigrain Elephant Ears funnel cakes, local-roasted Cloud Cap Coffee, and Rogue Brewery’s new Portland Saturday Market IPA. Sat-Sun. Free. Waterfront Park and Ankeny Plaza down-town,

Robin Soslow can be reached at