Lucas Ethridge/PSU Vanguard

Peaceful parks in downtown Portland

Escape the city in the city

Spring is a joyous time in Portland. The world is waking up from a long winter—flowers are budding, birds are singing and the sun shines occasionally. Vernal beauty blooms all around us in the city. Nature’s most serene scenes can be calming if you’re feeling overwhelmed. Nothing beats the blossoming cherry and plum trees or watching the pink and white leaves falling, gusted by chilling winds. School can be tough, so take a break. Get yourself out there in the world and realign with your natural surroundings. 


Downtown Portland offers some great outdoor opportunities to escape the slog of campus life. Below are three such examples.


Lan Su Chinese Garden 


Many places here incorporate the outdoors into the cityscape. One place in particular inspires lasting peace. Try visiting Old Chinatown at your next convenience. Ramble down the road until you chance crossing the Lan Su in Northwest Portland. If you do, then it must be a fateful day. Enter the gates and experience the magic.


Lan Su offers a tranquil setting. Here, you can forget about life’s compounding stressors. Every piddling worry flees like time. Inside the garden, nothing but the present moment matters. 


See the varied green, the jumping koi fish and the burgeoning springtime flowers. Meander down the cobbled path until you cross the bridge. Then close your eyes, and hear water lap down the hewn stones. 


Now open them, and soak in these sights all together. Stare out there at Lake Zither until you feel at peace. 


Lan Su marries art and architecture as one. Each structure complements the humble views inside the garden. Only seven Chinese gardens exist in the United States, and Lan Su’s unique history makes it stand out. 


In 2000, Portland cooperated with landscapers, artisans and architects from Suzhou, China. Workers lived here for nine months and had rock and stone imported from China. 


The diverse plant life also originated from the surrounding region. Its unique botanical diversity pleases the eye. Extraordinary flowers grow here: rhododendrons, peonies, magnolias, camellias and osmanthus. Every part feels like a well-written line in the garden’s poem. Portland has created a genuine modern marvel. 


The garden also hosts seasonal events and over 500 different botanical programs throughout the year. Touring with a guide can be fun and informative. 


Viewing stone exhibits teaches visitors about gongshi. Learn about the scholar stone’s history through miniature landscapes. The Penjing exhibit discusses the art of landscaped trees. In February, the Lan Su Teahouse reopened during the Lunar New Year. 


2024 marks the Year of the Dragon, symbolizing power and strength in Chinese culture. The Steep in Words exhibition runs until April 30, with Julia Gaskill of Slamlandia. Enjoy Chinese poetry while sipping tea. Local poets also have workshops teaching basic guidelines. 


Lan Su merits a day trip. Expect a good time when you come. It’s a respite from busy, hair-splitting schoolwork. The MAX Blue and Red lines stop in Old Chinatown. Parking is also spread throughout the area. 


Tom McCall Waterfront Park


On Saturday, Portland’s Waterfront lights up with activity. Take a short walk at the Waterfront Park. Look out at the vast Columbia River, backed by the urban skyline. Sit down on a bench and soak in the sublime. Right now, the cherry blossoms are sprouting in March and April. Going further takes you to a long field. Bring a book or a picnic basket. On another day, the park’s vibe changes with the Portland Saturday Market


The Saturday Market 


The Saturday Market has been going on for the last 50 years. It’s the longest-running market in the United States. All kinds of things go on: bazaars, street concerts and art shows. The market takes up entire blocks. One whiff from the food carts tickles the nose. There, you can eat cuisine from all around the world. 


Get an elephant ear pastry for dessert. Wend your way through the fair and take it all in. Community artists sell wares like jewelry, magnets and paintings. Consider getting your mother a gift before Mother’s Day next month. Over 250 businesses sell souvenirs here at the market. Score a present before Sunday, May 12. 


College can be a trying time. The tense pace turns the brain into cheese. Remember that next time you’re busting your hump, spending days at a time inside. Go outside your routine this spring. A whole wide world exists out there—seize it for yourself, when you can. Go on a walk, take a hike or call a friend. Breathe in the fresh spring air and get outside.