Image: Chrysanthemums in Portland
Craig Tuttle  /  Corbis file
A bookish, artsy city, Portland today is most famous for its gardens and unrelentingly nice weather.
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Special to msnbc.com
updated 3/20/2007 4:28:42 PM ET 2007-03-20T20:28:42

During the Pleistocene era, much of Oregon was a covered with pulsing rivers of lava which formed what is known today as the Boring Lava Field (don’t know what’s “boring” about that). On the southeastern edge of what is now Portland, violent eruptions from one vent sent so many sizzling blobs of lava upwards that they created Mount Tabor, a so-called “cinder cone” and the only extinct volcano within the limits of a major city in the continental United States. Roiling turbulence, sulfuric fumes, the look of Dante’s Inferno … ahh, what a difference 1.8 million years (or so) can make. The site that may well have been one of the most infernal on the planet back then is now, well, one of the most pleasant. A bookish, artsy city, Portland today is most famous for its gardens and unrelentingly nice weather. There may be little of the old drama in 24-hours spent here, but it sure can be relaxing.

8 a.m. - 9 a.m.: Head to the shed, The Tin Shed Garden Café that is,but get there early. Though it plies the crowd with free cups of coffee when they have to wait, if you come after 9 a.m. you could end up with a serious caffeine buzz before you dine—the line can be excruciating. But the “shed cakes” (somewhere between hash browns, potato pancakes and heaven), the gravy and egg “rollovers”, and the “Goat Boy Scramble”, just dripping with rich chevre, are worth it.

9 a.m. - Noon: Tiptoe through the tulips … and roses and azaleas and irises, at three of the city’s most lovely gardens (best to do later in the spring and in summer). Concentrate first on roses, in this, the City of Roses, with a fragrant stroll through the International Rose Test Garden . Over 400 species blossom here, including some new hybrids you won’t find anywhere else. Not too far away, is the exquisite Japanese Garden . A picturesque waterfall, tea house, five different styles of Japanese gardens over 5.5 acres and Mount Hood rising like Mount Fuji in the background have led many experts to call this the finest Japanese-style gardenin the United States. And if you’re not all flowered-out, you can grab a cab or bus to The Portland Chinese Classical Garden , which spans an entire city block, making it the largest of its kind outside of China. A central pond, meandering walkways, and pagoda-style viewing pavilions give these gardens a very different ambiance from the Japanese Garden cross town.

Morning Alternative
Pop over to the Portland Art Museum [Link 6] to take in whatever blockbuster retrospective the museum is currently featuring (it gets a number of topnotch touring exhibits, including the upcoming “Rembrandt and the Golden Age of Dutch Art” and “The Dancer: Paintings of Toulouse Lautrec, Degas and Foraine”.) Of its permanent collection, don’t skip the Native American artworks and artifacts section, a jewel of the museum.

Noon-2 p.m.: Crawdaddy time. At Jake’s Famous Crawfish , you’ll do what legions of seafood lovers have done here since 1907: tuck a napkin in your collar, suck the sweet meat out of the shell, and toss back a cold one to wash it down. For cheap, fresh seafood in a setting redolent of history, no place in Portland can beat it.

2 p.m. - 5 p.m.: Engage in some retail therapy. Portland has a number of unique, visit-worthy shops that will put the zing in your afternoon. Be sure to drop by Powell’s City of Books . Amecca for book lovers, it’s the world’s largest new and used bookstore, with over 68,000 square feet devoted to 3500 categories of books. Fashion hounds will sniff out Dragonlily , an apparel store that’s a labor of love for two local designers. All of the clothing and jewelry here are made in the Portland area and they’re flat out stunning. If you’re into fine art, proceed to northeast Alberta Street , which has become a mini arts district, lined with galleries and funky boutiques (low rents have attracted swarms of artists to the city in the past decade).

Afternoon Alternative
Take a hike. The largest forested park in the U.S., aptly named Forest Park , offers up more than 50 miles of trails, and though it’s smack dab in the middle of the city, there are lots of opportunities to hug trees and spot critters: 112 bird- and 62 mammal-species call the park their home.

5:30-7:30: Portland likes its artisanal beers, so its no surprise that one of the top gourmet restaurants in town, Higgins Restaurant , should have 12 blend craft brews and fine imports on tap at all times. They’re paired with a menu of ultra-fresh fare (the herbs come from the chef’s own garden and he subscribes to a philosophy of “sustainable agriculture”), which can range from honey-glazed pork to salmon caught nearby to mozzarella paired with the most flavorful of heirloom tomatoes. 

8 p.m. - 10 p.m.: Opera, ballet, professional theater, modern dance: Portland has all these options and its companies have stellar reputations in the arts world. It’s up to you to decide what flavor of high art you prefer. Go to the Web site of the Portland Center for Performing Arts , to find out what’s on the bill at the Oregon Symphony, the Portland Opera or the Oregon Ballet Theater. For modern dance, visit the Web site of White Bird , which regularly brings in the top names in dance, including the Paul Taylor Dance Company and the Merce Cunningham Dance Company. Theater lovers can learn about the goings on at the Portland Center Stage by going to its website.

10 p.m. on …There are dozens of bars and clubs you can hang in, but the Voodoo Lounge is the hot spot du jour, a bordello-like space (think tassels and red couches) that employs some of the most talented DJ’s in the Pacific Northwest.

Pauline Frommer is the creator of the new Pauline Frommerguides in bookstores now. Her book, Pauline Frommer's New York, was named Best Guidebook of the Year by the North American Travel Journalists Association.

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The Tin Shed, 1438 N.E. Alberta Street, phone 503/288-6966.

International Rose Test Garden, 400 SW Kingston Ave., Washington Park, phone 503/823-3636. Open from dawn ‘til dusk, free admission.

Japanese Garden, 611 Kingston Ave in Washington Park, phone 503/223-1321; www.japanesegarden.com/. Open from 10 a.m. - 7 p.m., Tuesdays through Sundays from April to September and from 10 a.m. - 4 p.m. Tuesdays through Sundays the rest of the year (the garden opens at noon on Mondays). The entrance fee is $6.75 adults, $5 seniors, $4 students and children 6-17, free for children under 6.

The Portland Chinese Classical Garden, 127 NW 3rd Ave between NW Everett Street and NW Third Ave, phone 503/228-8131; www.portlandchinesegarden.org/. Admission $7 adults, $6 seniors, $5.50 students and children 6-18, free for children 5 and under. Open daily from 9am-6pm (or 10am-5pm between November and March).

Jakes Famous Crawfish, 401 SW 12th Avenue, phone 503/226-1419 or 888-344-6861.

Powell’s City of Books, 1005 W. Burnside, phone 800/878-7323; www.powells.com/.

Dragonlily, 1740 SE Hawthorne Blvd., phone 503/234-LILY; www.dragonlily.org

To get to North EastAlberta Streetdrive north from downtown Portland on I-5 and get off at the NE Alberta Street exit.

To get maps of the hiking trails in Forest Park, head to the Arboretum (4000 SW Fairview Blvd., open Mondays through Saturdays from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m.) 

Higgins Restaurant, 1239 SW Broadway, 503/222-9070.

Portland Center for Performing Arts, 1111 SW Broadway, phone 503/248-4335; www.pcpa.com

The Portland Center Stagenow performs at the Gerding Theater at the Armory. For full information on its season, go to http://www.pcs.org/; 503/445-3842.

Whitebird, phone 503/245-1600; www.whitebird.org.

Voodoo Lounge, 53 NW 1st Street, phone 503/241-3840; www.voodoopdx.com.

Pauline Frommer is the creator of the new Pauline Frommerguides in bookstores now. Her book, Pauline Frommer's New York, was named Best Guidebook of the Year by the North American Travel Journalists Association.

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Photos: Great Northwest

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  1. Urban beauty

    South Waterfront Park runs 1,000 feet along the bank of the Willamette River and provides direct public access to the river throughout the year. (Steve Terrill / Corbis) Back to slideshow navigation
  2. Majestic mountain

    Alpenglow on snow-covered Mount Hood, the site of North America's longest ski season, which is an average of 345 days per year. (Steve Terrill / Corbis) Back to slideshow navigation
  3. Natural wonders

    Pink rhododendrons are pictured beside a tranquil water fall. The Oregon's state flower is the Oregon Grape. (Craig Tuttle / Corbis) Back to slideshow navigation
  4. Tucked in

    Streaking fog blankets an old growth forest in the Columbia River Gorge near Portland, Ore. (Gary Braasch / Corbis) Back to slideshow navigation
  5. Scenic lookout

    Visitors view Multnomah Falls from the Benson Bridge in the Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area. Multnomah Falls plummets 620 feet from its origin on Larch Mountain, and is the second highest year-round waterfall in the U.S. (Gary Braasch / Corbis) Back to slideshow navigation
  6. Below sea level

    Visitors watch a sea lion swim in an underwater viewing area in Portland's Oregon Zoo. (Philip James Corwin / Corbis) Back to slideshow navigation
  7. Northwest's best

    An aerial view of downtown Portland, aka the Rose City. (Jim Richardson / Corbis) Back to slideshow navigation
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