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A weekend in Portland, Ore.

August 6, 2008 | 12:53 pm

Is it any surprise that Portland, Ore., rocks?

Forest_park_trailhead_2 Where else can you walk or take public transportation to trail heads in the largest forested natural area within a city limits in the U.S.? Hiking, cycling and kayaking are a snap. All in a city with the most breweries in the nation (more than two dozen in the city nicknamed Beervana).

We wanted to check out exactly how easy it would be to get to outdoor pursuits in Portland sans car, so we flew up and spent a vehicle-free weekend recently in the urban gem of the Pacific Northwest.

The photo at right is along Cornell Road, in the northwest section of the city. A trail head into Forest Park is just before the tunnel (one of several ways into the park), about a 15-minute walk from our hotel. This is also minutes away from popular Northwest 23rd Avenue, aka "Trendy-third."

Forest Park trails are green and lush, a fresh change from the dry hillside hikes we're used to in summertime L.A. A few days earlier, we took a light rail MAX train to Washington Park and Hoyt Arboretum, just south of Forest Park. It was chilly at the Washington Park MAX station because it's 260 feet underground, the deepest transit station in North America. When you emerge above-ground, you're mere steps to the park. We did a 4-mile loop on the popular Wildwood Trail, a ferny 30-mile meander through the arboretum's conifers, sequoias and shady forest.

Bike_sign_2 A few days earlier, we rented bikes and made like locals, hitting some of the city's 100-plus miles of bike lanes. Fat Tire Farm (2715 NW Thurman, near Forest Park) rents three-speed Townies and higher-end mountain bikes, and provides an excellent city map showing bike lanes with high-traffic areas. Bike route signs on the city's streets are abundant. Since light rail is also abundant (you can catch a train right on the street ... what a concept!), there are rail track warning signs for cyclists (right).

We rode on a bike path along the Willamette River and crossed the river on the Hawthorne Bridge to check out the Hawthorne District and Mt. Tabor (another Portland superlative, the only extinct volcano within a city limits). It's a pleasant, leafy neighborhood with modest bungalows and funky shops and restaurants along Hawthorne. It's a steady uphill to Mt. Tabor Park, with a number of steep trails at the park. On the way back we stopped at Alder Creek Kayak and Canoe on the east side of the river, which had an excellent selection of boats. They conduct classes and sell and rent kayaks, but we didn't have time for a paddle, so saved that for another trip.

Aerial_tram_view_5 Another day, we took the streetcar to check out the new aerial tram on the south waterfront. This is one of Portland's new development projects (though we don't think anything can compete with the Pearl District) so there are cranes everywhere, and not a lot for a tourist to explore, but the tram ride ($4) to the Oregon Health and Science University is worth it for the views (left).

Speaking of the Pearl, we had an excellent dinner al fresco there with Portlander friends Mike and Anne at Piazza Italia. Makes one wonder why there are so few outdoor dining options in perennially sunny L.A.

In addition to all the outdoor-pursuit transit, our other reason to visit was the annual Oregon Brewers Festival, where we sampled a few of the 70-plus brews. Beervana indeed.

—Julie Sheer

Photos: Julie Sheer