Lined with century-old churches, apartment buildings, museums and theaters, and running into the heart of Portland State University, the South Park Blocks look like someone transplanted a Midwestern college campus into the heart of Portland. Three types of people tend to congregate in the Park Blocks during the day: students, toddlers from church-run day care centers, and transients, for whom the blocks serve as something of a living room, especially when the weather is fine. The dichotomy is startling at first, but it speaks to the Park Blocks' character as a place where anyone can take it easy in Portland's cultural and economic heart. Come around at sundown—ideally during fall or winter—and witness a bizarre spectacle: thousands of crows coming to the park's many trees to roost in a macabre, Hitchcockian cacophony.
Eat: Chef Naoko, 1237 SW Jefferson St.
Drink: Behind the Museum Cafe, 1229 SW 10th Ave.
Shop: Canoe, 1233 SW 10th Ave.
Go: NW Film Center, 1219 SW Park Ave.
PSU Farmers Market
Southwest Park Avenue and Montgomery Street, portlandfarmersmarket.org/our-markets/psu. Saturday till 2 pm year-round.
Portland's flagship farmers market turns the PSU campus into a thousands-strong block party, especially between May and September. Here are some tips. First, do a lap before buying anything. You'll want to throw yourself on a sword if you pay $5 for asparagus and find it for $3 just down the way. Second, the earlier you go—ideally no later than 9:30 am—the better, especially if you're driving or wither in crowds. Third, if the line for Pine State Biscuits is too long, Verde Cocina is your best backup.
1924 SW Broadway, 503-224-8424. Lunch and dinner Monday-Saturday.
Every college has its best campus restaurant. PSU's is Baan-Thai: no-nonsense, cheap Thai food, cocktails and a decent tap list served in a friendly space. Start with the fresh salad rolls; they're huge and tasty, and you get four of them. $-$$.
Behind the Museum Cafe
1229 SW 10th Ave., 503-477-6625, behindthemuseumcafe.com. Breakfast-dinner daily.
Although Tomoe Horibuchi serves authentic Japanese snacks, teas, pastries and sakes alongside her espresso drinks, "cafe" is almost a misnomer. The inconspicuous BTMC is a microcosm of Japanese culture: a one-stop shop for imported antiques and kimonos and contemporary ceramics, pottery, calligraphy and art in the Japanese tradition. $.
Case Study Coffee
802 SW 10th Ave, 503-477-8221, casestudycoffee.com. Breakfast-early dinner daily.
With dignified, third-wave takes on Starbucks-style candy drinks—all flavored with housemade syrups and potions—alongside traditional drip and espresso coffee, Case Study is among Portland's most chill fancy coffee spots, an ideal place to get an hour or two of work done in between people watching. $.
1237 SW Jefferson St., 503-227-4136, chefnaoko.com. Lunch and dinner Tuesday-Friday, lunch Saurday.
A minor celebrity in her native Japan, Naoko Tamura treats her bento boxes, made obsessively with locally sourced, seasonal ingredients, like their own compressed tasting menus. This is why her tiny spot feels like a fine-dining restaurant, and why a slice of cucumber topped with miso tastes so astonishingly good. This year, she's expanding and redesigning with help from renowned Japanese architects Kengo Kuma. $-$$.
Southwest Park Avenue and Harrison Street, facebook.com/haanghin. Lunch Monday-Friday.
It's something about the tension in the wiry vermicelli egg noodles, the tactile resistance of the poached chicken, basil leaves, ong choy and shards of crisp chicken skin, and pungent garlic-chili oil that makes Haan Ghin's mii gai taste like the best store-bought ramen you'll ever eat. $.
901 SW Salmon St., 503-326-1300, southparkseafood.com.
Skip the pricey main menu: What you want from the newly overhauled Southpark are cocktails, small plates—pistachio-brittle beet salad and octopus, melon and blood sausage plates were ambitious and terrific—and oysters from the massive menu, including varietals from New Zealand and Canada. $$-$$$.
820 SW 10th Ave., 503-227-0033, virginiacafepdx.com.
If Willamette Week had existed in 1914 when the Virginia Cafe opened, it would have been our Bar of the Year. Virginia's onion rings are some of the best in town, tasting like they have taken a century to perfect.
1030 SW Taylor St., 503-227-4710, arthurwerickson.com. Open Wednesdays or by appointment.
For more than 40 years, Arthur Erickson has been Portland's foremost dealer of antique Native American and indigenous artworks, pottery, textiles and carvings. He is approved by the Antique Tribal Art Dealers Association, a nonprofit that ensures his antiques are authentic and traded fairly.
1001 SW 10th Ave., 503-222-3821, bikegallery.com.
One of Portland's most beloved cycling institutions, Bike Gallery has been around since the mid-'70s, dealing in brands like Trek, Cannondale and Electra. It is novice- and nerd-friendly, with models in the low hundreds to multithousands.
1233 SW 10th Ave., 503-889-8545, canoeonline.net.
For people who like their nice things functional and their functional things nice, Canoe forgoes the knickknacks for gifts that actually do stuff. Fresh off of a move from the West End, it is filled with home, kitchen and garden wares as well as games, stationery and office supplies.
922 SW Yamhill St., 800-259-6762, thejoinery.com.The Joinery's handcrafted, Portland-made hardwood furniture may set you back a grand or five, but pieces here are made to last long enough for your great-grandchildren to appreciate the investment.
2331 SW 6th Ave., 971-255-1758, zioncannabis.com.
The closest marijuana dispensary to PSU, this unfussy shop caters to students and their visiting friends with inexpensive pre-rolls, quarters and ever-changing specials. The staff here might look like students themselves, but they're eager to give expert advice, especially on terpenes, which is the shop's area of expertise.
5th Avenue Cinema
510 SW Hall St., 503-725-3551, 5thavecinema.com. Open evening-late Friday Saturday, afternoon Sunday.Free for PSU students and $4 for the general public, 5th Avenue is a classic budget cinema and the only student-run one in Portland. It leans artsy and political, screening a rotating selection of cult classics, foreign features and indie docs on its two 35 mm projectors. There are worse ways to spend $4 on a Sunday afternoon.
Portland Art Museum
1219 SW Park Ave., 503-226-2811, portlandartmuseum.org. Closed Monday.Thanks to its 2001 acquisition of famed art critic Clement Greenberg's collection, the PAM has one of the best collections of 20th-century American art you'll find outside of New York and Los Angeles.
NW Film Center
1219 SW Park Ave. (Whitsell Auditorium), 934 SW Salmon St. (classes), 503-221-1156, nwfilm.org. Closed Sunday.
The NWFC is Portland's film geek headquarters. Housed inside the Portland Art Museum, its programming is packed with series from Northwest and classic filmmakers. It also serves as the venue for traveling performances, local screening parties, the Portland International Film Festival, and classes on subjects ranging from claymation to digital cinematography.
The Old Church Concert Hall
1422 SW 11th Ave., 503-222-2031, theoldchurch.org.
The Old Church is a community-oriented performance venue that hides in plain sight, hosting free lunch concerts on Wednesdays, yoga on Thursdays and concerts throughout the year. The music usually falls into the jazz, classical or singer-songwriter categories, but the occasional house show or theater performance does pop up.
815 SW Park Ave.
Portland's most futuristic plaza, Director Park is a minimalist square with a white brick finish, splash pool, Elephant's Deli outpost and larger-than-life chess board. It may be the best outdoor lunch spot on the inner westside for diners from the nearby food-cart pod at Southwest 10th Avenue and Alder Street. In summer, Bastille Day and arts festivals often take over the space.