Lose the car keys. In Portland, it's more fun to glide through town on an electric streetcar. It stops within blocks of just about everywhere you want to be in the urban west side.
The city already had its MAX (Metropolitan Area Express) light-rail system when the Portland Streetcar debuted in 2001. But while MAX speeds passengers from the city center to the suburbs and even the Portland airport on 44 miles of track, the streetcar loops at a more human pace along a 6-mile circuit from Northwest 23rd Avenue, through the Pearl District, into downtown, to the South Park Blocks and Portland State University campus and, since March, the burgeoning RiverPlace district.
Start our streetcar tour at the N.W. 23rd stop, the route's westernmost point, just before it doubles back toward downtown.
Northwest: Nob Hill and the Pearl
N.W. 23rd Ave. and Marshall St. Before you hop on at the stop here, walk south on 23rd, pausing first at Twenty-Third Avenue Books (1015 N.W. 23rd; 503/224-5097), one of the city's best small, independent bookstores, to plunge into the heart of Nob Hill, with its fine restaurants, funky cafes, and head-to-toe boutiques. Check out the earrings at Dazzle (704 N.W. 23rd; 503/224-1294) and the designer footwear at Zelda's Shoe Bar (633 N.W. 23rd; 503/226-0363).
N.W. 21st Ave. and Lovejoy St. Eastbound streetcars stop two blocks north of Vitaly and Kimberly Paley's legendary French-inspired restaurant, Paley's Place ($$$; 1204 N.W. 21st; 503/243-2403). Westbound cars stop at 21st and Northrup, right in front.
N.W. 13th Ave. and Lovejoy St. You're in the Pearl District now; get a taste of the neighborhood at the Daily Cafe in the Pearl ($$; 902 N.W. 13th; 503/242-1916), with its imaginative American standards.
N.W. 11th Ave. and Johnson St. Walk a block west to take a peek at the galleries of the Pacific Northwest College of Art (closed Sun; 1241 N.W. Johnson; 503/226-4391). Dip a toe in the lapping waves at Jamison Square Park (N.W. 11th and Johnson), or just wander around the neighborhood's design shops, galleries, and eateries.
N.W. 11th Ave. and Glisan St. For heavenly Vietnamese fare, walk a block east to Pho Van Bistro ($$; closed Sun; 1012 N.W. Glisan; 503/248-2172), right across from the northbound streetcar stop at 10th and Glisan. Or reserve a table at Andina ($$$; 1314 N.W. Glisan; 503/228-9535), two blocks west, with its contemporary Peruvian cuisine.
N.W. 11th Ave. and Couch St. You won't find a bigger new-and-used bookstore than Powell's City of Books (1005 W. Burnside St.; 503/228-4651).
Downtown: Pioneer Square, Park Blocks, Broadway
S.W. 11th Ave. and Alder St. From here or the next stop (S.W. Taylor St.), you're just a block from the MAX, and from there, the world (the Red Line ends at Portland International Airport). Stroll east four blocks to reach S.W. Broadway and then south to the shops surrounding Pioneer Courthouse Square, downtown Portland's living room. Take a shopping break at Oregon Wines on Broadway (closed Sun-Mon; 515 S.W. Broadway; 503/228-4655).
S.W. 11th Ave. and Jefferson St. Walk east a block to the Portland Art Museum ($10, $15 Oct 29-Mar 19; closed Mon; 1219 S.W. Park Ave.; www.pam.org or 503/226-2811), where current exhibitions include shows of 17th-century Dutch paintings and 20th-century silver. Cross the elm-shaded South Park Blocks to the Oregon Historical Society ($10; 1200 S.W. Park; www.ohs.org or 503/222-1741) to see the award-winning Oregon, My Oregon and other exhibits. Around the block is Higgins Restaurant & Bar ($$$; 1239 S.W. Broadway; 503/222-9070), where star chef Greg Higgins continues to lead the local seasonal farm-to-kitchen movement. And just down Broadway is the Portland Center for the Performing Arts (1111 S.W. Broadway) and vintage Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall (1037 S.W. Broadway; both www.pcpa.com or 503/248-4335).
South: Campus and RiverPlace
S.W. Park Ave. and Market St. If it's Saturday, visit Portland Farmer's Market (8:30-2 Sat; South Park Blocks between Montgomery and Harrison Streets), where the park blocks meld into the Portland State University campus. On Wednesdays the market is in the park blocks on Salmon Street.
S.W. Fifth Ave. and Market St. It's just two blocks from here to Keller Auditorium, with its opera and ballet performances (222 S.W. Clay St.; www.pcpa.com or 503/248-4335)or a croque monsieur at Carafe ($$; closed Sun; 200 S.W. Market; 503/248-0004).
S.W. River Pkwy. and Moody Ave. This stop, the end of the line, is close to the marina, shops, and views at RiverPlace. Watch the boats come and go, or get in one; Portland River Company ($43 to Ross Island, reservations required; 0315 S.W. Montgomery St.; www.portlandrivercompany.com, 888/238-2059, or 503/229-0551) offers guided paddle trips to Ross Island. At Three Degrees restaurant ($$$; 1510 S.W. Harbor Way; 503/295-6166) in the RiverPlace Hotel, drink in the Willamette River view―or something more substantial. Remember: You're not driving.
When you go
Visit www.portlandstreetcar.org for schedules, fares, and other information. If you're arriving in Portland by air, the MAX Red Line ( www.trimet.org) whisks you from PDX to downtown, stopping a block away from the streetcar route along S.W. 10th Ave. By train, it's an eight-block walk from Union Station to the streetcar stop at N.W. 10th and Glisan St.
Most of Portland's downtown hotels are within a few blocks of MAX or the streetcar. These four―two new, two classic―are all right on the streetcar line, strung from Nob Hill to RiverPlace. For tips on discounts through the Portland Big Deal, contact Portland Oregon Visitors Association ( www.pova.com or 877/678-5263).
The Governor Hotel. Elegantly restored 1909 hotel, with 24-hour room service from local favorite Jake's Grill ($$$; 611 S.W. 10th Ave.; 503/220-1850). From $169. 614 S.W. 11th Ave.; www.govhotel.com, 800/554-3456, or 503/224-3400.
Inn at Northrup Station. Roomy suites with retro decor on a quiet street. From $109. 2025 N.W. Northrup St.; www.northrupstation.com, 800/224-1180, or 503/224-0543.
The Mark Spencer Hotel. Centrally located, furnishings a little dated, rooms a bit small, but comfortable. From $69. 409 S.W. 11th; www.markspencer.com, 800/548-3934, or 503/224-3293.
Residence Inn by Marriott. New all-suite hotel is beside the streetcar's S.W. River Pkwy. stop. From $129. 2115 S.W. River Pkwy.; www.marriott.com/pdxri 800/331-3131, or 503/552-9500.