Visiting any city in the U.S. on July 4th (Independence Day) can be challenging as there will probably be fireworks on display somewhere after the sun has set but many (most) businesses and tourist attractions will be closed so what to do with your time? In Portland, Oregon, I would join the 9 am Pedal Bike tour of downtown (they offered another tour at 1 pm).
Pedal Bike Tours offers a variety of bike tours as well as bike rentals. Located near the waterfront (and surprisingly I would learn days later around the corner from the famous Voodoo Doughnuts) and the Saturday Market location, it was easy to walk from my downtown hotel to the bike shop on SW 2nd Avenue.
Our group of twelve would have two guides, Daniel and Noah, and lucky for us (ok, me), as it was a holiday, the streets were deserted which makes it easier to bike around without fear of car vs bike showdown. There are also many bike lanes to give one a sense of comfort as well. Once fitted with bikes and helmets we took off for the nearby Saturday market location before continuing to the waterfront. With a cool breeze, blue skies and bright sun, it was the perfect day to explore by bike. Daniel and Noah took turns explaining the history of the city and answering questions while keeping us together.
The waterfront was teeming with people even at 9am on a holiday so there was a bit of navigating to do here before turning our bikes toward Old Chinatown area and the Lan Su Chinese Garden. We cheated a bit by taking turns looking through the walls into the gardens with plans to return later when it was open (there is a fee to enter). Like a kid discovering a secret place, the beauty and serenity of the scene inside was quite special. I could envision relaxing in the calm gardens and forgetting about the outside world.
But the outside world (our group) was moving on, so back on the bike to visit the neighborhoods – starting with the very trendy (expensive) area of Pearl District. This area has converted former warehouses and industrial buildings into condos, art galleries and shopping. Our next stop nearby would be Powell Books, the largest independent used/new bookstore in the world – it fills an entire city block. For those of us without an e-reader (i’m the last holdout i believe) – there were books everywhere – stacks, aisles and floors of books to discover. Definitely a place to revisit and spend hours perusing later. (Note: the cookies in the cafe are quite good – of course, I found the cookies!).
Continuing onward, we would pass the art galleries, restaurants, the train station and a few parks before stopping at the University of Portland. With school out for the summer, campus was empty. We would learn the lore of the Benson Bubbler’s aka drinking fountains in the downtown. The story goes that the businessman, Simon Benson, donated the money to install the fountains to keep his workers from going to the bar during lunch. They serve fresh water (not recycled), from 6am -11pm everyday so if you need to fill up your water bottle or get a drink – help yourself. The bronze fountains are located throughout the downtown.
We moved then to the water again, this time stopping under a bridge (one of many along the Willamette River – there are eight bridges crossing the river to downtown). It was at this stop that I injured myself (yes, as the bike was stationary) when i went to get back on the bike that my foot caught the plastic tie that held the PedalBike plate on the back of the bike (if you knew me and my luck, this made perfect sense, but i always carry band-aids for such mishaps).
With a few uphills and downhills, we would finish our tour by riding over a bridge, down along the water on the floating boardwalk (which i didn’t realize was moving until we stopped) and over another bridge to bring us back to the waterfront we started at three hours earlier.
The Pedal Bike tour cost $49 and covered about 8 miles – it was a fantastic introduction to downtown Portland. During my stay, i had a good sense where to go, having biked through earlier which helped me lead a group to the bridge for fireworks later – a great bookend to a wonderful day exploring the downtown Portland area.