Do you know how Portland got its name? It’s a great story and one I heard on everyone of my tours. In 1845, when deciding on the name of their new town, which had been referred to as The Clearing, the two founders both wanted the west coast town named after their own east coast hometown. One came from Boston, Massachusetts, and the other from Portland, Maine.

An 1835 minted copper matron head one cent was flipped. Best out of three. Francis Pettygrove won and Portland became Portland.

You can even see the historic coin. But there’s a catch that not every tour will tell you.

When the man died, two copper matron head one cent coins were found among his possessions.There was no way to know which one was “the” coin. The Portland Historical Society is the coin keeper. Or I should say coins keeper. But only one is on display. It remains on display and every six months, it is swapped out with the other coin.

The truth is that when you visit the coin that secured Portland’s name, there is only a 50% chance you are looking at the real deal.

Portland has 95 different areas, each named. For a relatively small city (less than 600,000),that seemed like a lot to me. I’m told each is its community. From the food truck food tour, we passed through many and you could see each one had a different vibe.

One area is the airport. And speaking of the airport…

The Airport Carpet 

Portlanders are unusually attached to their iconic airport’s carpet. Or, I should say, the carpet that used to be at the airport. If you have been to Portland, you might have seen it and not realized it. It’s a teal-color with colored lines of varying lengths in a grid pattern. Those colored line are symbolic of what air traffic controllers see on their monitors.

This pin was from the food truck tour. It shows the famous Portland airport carpet.

When I heard the story, I looked at the carpet with new respect. Portland didn’t know how much its people loved the carpet until it was time to replace it. The carpet, as carpet does, wore out. An exact replacement could not be found. And learning this, Portlanders had a bit of a meltdown.

In the end, the carpet was replaced. But instead of making its way to the landfill, rolls of the beloved carpet were put into storage. What does a city do with rolls of carpet?

One roll was put in the back of a Cadillac convertible and served as Grand Marshal of a big parade. Other squares are sold. I’m told you’ll find the carpet serving as door mats of businesses. Some squares have been framed and hung. It’s kind of ingenious. I find it hard to imagine that the city is actually making much of a profit on these sales, once you subtract the cost of storage.

Powell's t-shirt, front.
See the PDX?

The love the airport extends beyond the carpet. Portlanders love and embrace their airport code as well. PDX. If you look for it, you’ll see it everywhere. It’s incorporated into the logos and names of many businesses. The Powell’s Bookstore t-shirt I bought doesn’t say Powell’s Books Portland Oregon. It simply says Powell’s Books PDX.

On the one hand, it’s kind of cool. People loving their airport carpet and their airport code. On the other hand, it’s a little weird.

But then again….Keep Portland Weird is the town motto.

Keep Portland Weird

Even though 17 cities now use this tag line (Santa Monica, California, being the latest to adopt it). Portlanders like to think of themselves as the original weirdos.

But,it turns out, they were not. The story I got on the Underground Tour (more on that in a few weeks) I took says Austin, Texas, was the first town to embrace its weirdness. A Portland record store (yep, those big black vinyl discs that you played on a record player) heard about Austin, loved it and started using the saying as a promo for their store.

It struck a cord and soon the whole town of Portland adopted it.

I have no way to know if the other 16 cities live up to the motto. But during my short stay, I can say with certainty that Portland deserves and earns its motto.

Let’s pause here for one funny story to prove my point. During the food truck food tour, Angie shared the game one of her tour groups played with her. It was Halloween and as they drove along the tour route, they would point to a person and ask, “Portlander or Halloween?” In other words, is that person dressed up for the holiday or is that the person’s normal dress. Angie said some were just too close to call. That cracked me up.

The Keep Portland Weird feature image is located across the street from VooDoo Doughnuts. It was fun to sit outside eating my doughnut (okay, add an “s” to the end of doughnut), seeing that sign and watching all the people who lived the motto. VooDoo Doughnuts was one of the area stops on the Hop-On Hop-Off tour I took.

Hop-On Hop-Off Tours, in General 

If you have a short amount of time, say a single day, when visiting a city, look for a Hop-On Hop-Off sightseeing tour. They are one of the best ways to see the most of an area while offering flexibility.

If you aren’t familiar with them, let me explain. You buy a ticket, basically for all day. Though watch for other deals because if there is a lot to see and you have the time, a two-day pass might be a better option for you. And, literally, you hop off at any of their stops. Stay as long as you like and then hop back on when you are ready to continue.

My friend and I waiting on the Pink Trolley for the adventure to begin.

You get a map so you know all of the stops and can decide which ones pique your interest and are deserving of the time and effort of getting off. The stops that don’t speak to you, you simply stay on the ride.

In addition to the Hop-On Hop-Off aspect, when you are on the tour, you are provided tons of information about the area and what you are driving by.

I’ve only done two but liked both immensely. Many years ago when my sister graduated from nursing school (yep, it’s the same sister who is a flight attendant now; she loves trying new things plus got burnt out on nursing) from a university in Washington DC our dad got the idea for us to do the Hop-On Hop-Off tour.

Despite having been to DC many times before, I’d never been to Arlington Cemetery because it was too far from the main tour area of The Mall where most of the Smithsonian museums and most-visited monuments are. That’s what I remember most about our Hop-On Hop-Off tour, seeing the eternal flame at President Kennedy’s grave and the headstone for the Challenger astronauts at Arlington.

So previous experience with a Hop-On Hop-Off tour led me to adding the Portland Trolley Tour to my list of “must do” in Portland.

Hop-On Hop-Off Portland

On the DC tour, a tour bus arrived at each stop every fifteen or twenty minutes so we never watched the clock. You’ll have to be more time-aware for the Portland tour. They run two trolleys continuously. This means, the trolley arrives at each stop every hour. I’m sure it has everything to do with the smaller city having a smaller volume of tourists.

Side of the Pink Trolley.
The side of the Pink Trolley.

In Portland, the Hop-On Hop-Off trolley is run by Gray Line a well-known tour company. In Portland, the trolley is painted pink. It makes spotting it quite easy.

I’m not sure if that’s why it’s painted pink or if that’s just a side benefit. Fifty cents of every adult ticket goes to The Breast Cancer Research Foundation.  Another fifty cents goes to Eden Restoration Project which plants five trees with each fifty cents in poverty-stricken countries to restore healthy forests. As someone who spent her career in nonprofit, I love companies that donate to worthy causes. 

On the pink trolley, there are 13 stops and they operate from 10 a.m. and stop running at 5:30 p.m. They begin an hour earlier during July and August. Do the math. It’s obvious you cannot Hop-Off at every stop, at least not with a one-day pass. It means it’s important to study the stops before you first Hop-On.

Another important note is that some of the stops require an additional fee. For example, if you want to visit the Portland Zoo, the regular entry fee to the zoo applies.

The Stops We Chose

I love researching adventures at each new location. Weeks before I got my ticket, I prioritized my Hop-Offs. The challenge was compromising on the Hop-Off stops because an RVing friend accompanied me.

Driving into downtown Portland from our RV Park, we allotted enough time for the traffic but failed to allot enough time to find parking. To make the most of the tour, the plan was to Hop-On the first trolley at 10 a.m. but we arrived at Pioneer Square at 10:15.

Three stickers.
My Pink Trolley ticket and World Forestry Center tickets were stickers. By the end of the day, I was wearing three.

We ended up with 45 minutes to kill. Fortunately, there was a coffee house nearby. Coffee in hand, we found a table and studied the brochure and tour map. We calculated we had time for four stops. This meant we each picked two. My number one non-negotiable stop was Powell’s Books.

Since I’d studied all the stops, I explained them to my friend. Turns out, she didn’t have strong feelings about any except the stop that included VooDoo Doughnuts. So the other stops we agreed on were all on my list.

Except one.

Due to construction, the Arial Tram, my second priority stop, was not a stop option the day we toured. I was so sad. I’d looked forward to riding a tram that“provides outstanding views of greater Portland.”

Oh well, losing that option saved $5 that could go toward doughnuts.

Hop-Off Stop: World Forestry Center 

Because the tram was no longer an option, I made the case we stop at the World Forestry Center. It was our first Hop-Off of the day and stop number four on the tour. It was well worth the $7 entry fee.

Entry at the World Forestry Center.
Entry of the World Forestry Center.

Had I not done research ahead of time, I doubt a museum about the forest would have made my priority list. But my research revealed a beautiful museum that sounded quite interesting.

I am so glad we stopped. In fact, of all our Hop-Offs, my friend and I agreed this one could’ve been a two-hour visit. We wished we had two hours to explore the museum but we felt we were on a tight schedule and didn’t want to forgo a future Hop-Off so we limited our time at the World Forestry Center to one hour.

But in all fairness, I think one could do the museum in the allotted hour. As it happened, we arrived on the Saturday of the month where they offer a craft. Yes, it is probably to draw the children. But I asked and they said they love when adults do the activity.

Making my bird feeder.

So, we did.

We made bird feeders with pipe cleaners and Cheerios. It took us 15 minutes or so, but so worth the time for the fun and creativity. Then we watched the less-than-10-minute intro video. Then we made our way around the museum.

Sweatshirt with Bigfoot Stole My Beer written on it.
One of many examples I’ve seen of Bigfoot sightings.

I heard a little girl say she found Bigfoot and, one of my disappointments with our speed of getting through, was I never found Bigfoot.

By the way, you’ll find references to Bigfoot / Sasquatch throughout the Pacific Northwest. They love their Bigfoot lore.

Hop-Off Stop: Pearl District/Powell’s Books

Back on the trolley, our next stop was Powell’s Books which was stop eight on the tour and one of two stops in the Pearl District. There was a story about how the Pearl District got its name and I cannot quite recall it. I think it had something to do with being an icky area of town and then, like a grain of sand in an oyster, transforming to a trendy area. Shopping and restaurants are the attraction for these two stops.

Powell's Books sign in Portland, Oregon.
The sign at Powell’s Books.

As a lifelong book lover (books were hard to downsize), I’ve known about Powell’s for decades. But, never having been in Portland, I never visited it. You have to admire any bookstore that survived, first, Barnes and Noble, and then Amazon.

It was packed. And, it comes with a map. It’s crazy big. I felt like a deer in headlights, no idea where to go or what to do. Really, even wandering seemed hard in such a big place and with so little time.

In the end, I bought an adult coloring book, a book about hiking trails and a Powell’s t-shirt.

Hop-Off Stop: Old Town 

Back on the trolley, we next Hopped-Off at Old Town. The reason? VooDoo Doughnuts.

I like doughnuts as much as the next person but they aren’t a go-to food for me. I knew VooDoo Doughnuts was popular (you cannot help but notice all the people carrying the pink doughnut boxes around town), but still I was stunned to see a line. Not just a line, a long line.

VooDoo Doughnuts sign.
Yummy. The figure is their signature doughnut.

In fact, it was so long my friend suggested we skip the doughnuts. But I wasn’t ready to throw in the towel. We came for doughnuts and we were going to get doughnuts. I went to someone near the front of the line and asked how long she’d been waiting. Ten minutes. She said it moves fast.

We got in line.

And we were so glad we did. I’d love to report I bought a single doughnut. Or even two. But if I’m being honest, I would report I bought four. But, in my defense, I only ate one while we were there. I got my nice pink box and took the rest home.

My favorite, in general, were the filled ones. I thought they excelled at creating wonderful fillings. I did get one with a ton of stuff on top (mine had Oreos and other things) which are great for photos but my preference was the filled ones.

My single favorite doughnut was called Mango Tango. It was orange. The round doughnut had a mango cream filling, was frosted and sprinkled with…can you guess? Orange. Tango.

It was sprinkled with Tang, that orange powder drink made famous by the astronauts in the 1960s. Mango Tango.

Learn from Our Mistake

Okay, so the day wasn’t perfect and it is at VooDoo Doughnuts, stop number 10, where I have to report a lesson we learned the hard way.

Included with the brochure and map at the beginning of the tour, we got the trolley schedule. It included each stop and what times the trolley would be at that stop.

We arrived at the Old Town stop at 2:04 which meant the pickup time was 3:04. That is also what the schedule said.

VooDoo Doughnuts is across the street from the Hop-On Hop-Off stop. Literally, across the street. So, at 2:58, we got up from the outside seating and walked across the street to wait for the trolley.

3:04 came and went. 3:10 came and went. 3:15, the same thing. By 3:20, it seemed something wasn’t right. The schedule says sometimes, after 3:00, the trolley can be a few minutes late but we were going on 20 minutes late.

We went over everything. We confirmed we were standing on the exact same spot where we Hopped-Off. Did we miss it? No, we were at the pickup spot a full five minutes before the schedule said the trolley would arrive.

My friend noticed we could track the location of the two trolleys with our phone. When we checked, it became clear the trolley had already passed us. Ugh. It meant the next one would arrive at 4:04.

We went back to VooDoo and sat. Maybe we ate a second doughnut. Maybe we didn’t.

But in our defense (not of maybe eating a second doughnut but of missing the trolley), the schedule mentioned a trolley could be late. It said nothing about it arriving early.

Calling It a Day

We did catch the 4:04. The last stop we considered was the last stop before returning to where we started. Stop 13, called Riverplace, has a walk along the river near the marina.

But after the stress of missing the bus combined with being tourists all day long and being loaded down with a big pink doughnut box and books from Powell’s, we decided to admire the river walk from the comfort of the trolley seat.

All n all, it was a great day. I visited a bookstore that has been on my bucket list decades before I heard the term bucket list. I ate doughnuts for lunch. And, I was heading back to the RV Park with a bird feeder (which I’m almost certain only fed squirrels) from a museum I thoroughly enjoyed.

If you have ever done a Hop-On Hop-Off tour, please share. I am curious what other cities offer this type of tour.

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