Portland: Waterfront Park and Eastbank Esplanade

When I come back for trips I spend a lot of time eating and seeing friends (pretty much because every meal is booked with someone important to see). However I do like to get out and see some of my favorite sights in Portland, especially when the weather is so nice in the summer!

Tuesday I went out and did a walking loop around Tom McCall Waterfront Park and the Vera Katz Eastblank Esplanade. Waterfront Park is on the westside of the river in Downtown and the Esplanade rather obviously is on the eastside. Waterfront Park was formed in the 70s from what was Harbor Drive, a large freeway along the water. It hosts a lot of festivals and is truly a park with fountains and large areas of grass. The Eastbank Esplanade is only a couple years old and is a wide pathway, including at points a floating one, but it has awesome views of downtown across the river, plus you can get closer to the water in a lot of spots. Both are great for running, walking, and biking (and both are easily done in a roughly 3-mile loop) and have a variety of public artwork along the way.

I started at the Steel Bridge at the northeast corner of the loop and walked first down the Esplanade side. Soon after is where the floating walkway/dock starts and so you’re very close to the water. Not surprisingly for me in Portland the first person I saw on the Esplanade was someone I knew (happens all the time in Portland!). Since it was around midday it was busy with walkers, runners, and bikers- many whom walk the loop or a portion of it during their lunch break. The Esplanade pretty much parallels I-5 so there’s the noise of traffic, but you definitely feel in the middle of the city, plus being right on the river with some nature is a cool contrast. The Esplanade heads down for about a mile and a half passing the Burnside and Morrison bridges (both of which you can cross back over to downtown if you’d like a shorter loop) and giving you great views of the river and downtown skyline. I crossed over the river on the Hawthorne Bridge (the last major downtown bridge that’s walkable), although the trail continues to OMSI (the science museum) and the Springwater Corridor that takes you out into the suburbs.

The Hawthorne Bridge is one of the most popular biking routes into downtown. Thousands of people bike to work everyday using it and Portland does not mess around with biking (shown by the very clear instruction signs for bikes and pedestrians haha- check out below!)

South of the Hawthorne Bridge is Riverplace, which has a beautiful promenade and marina you can check out. I turned north though and walked up Waterfront Park. At this point you could veer off and walk around downtown or grab coffee or food if you’re like since it’s right there. Downtown Portland is very walkable- it’s pretty flat and the blocks are nice and short (the city fathers made the blocks half as short as other cities to maximize the number of valuable corner storefronts). Throughout Waterfront Park there are a number of Portland’s many fountains such as the Salmon St Spring Fountain and a couple sights to see like an old riverboat and the Portland Spirt yacht, plus some beautiful trees (especially when they’re in bloom). You get an up-close view of downtown and the bridges again, as well you gets views of the Eastside (although part of it is less visually appealing with all the freeways than views from the opposite side).

I walked the rest of the way to the Steel Bridge where there is a walkway on the lower deck of the bridge back across. You can join the loop where ever you are closest. The Red and Blue MAX runs roughly parallel to Waterfront Park in downtown and the Rose Garden Transit Center that all the lines stop at is just two blocks from the Steel Bridge. Where ever you do meet the Waterfront or Eastbank Esplanade it’s easy to walk along the water and backtrack or do the 3-mile loop.

One FYI for people visiting: Waterfront Park (plus inner Downtown) can have a number of homeless people who are just hanging out. There are really no safety concerns at all, but I definitely noticed their numbers (especially around the Steel Bridge) after living in Miami for a couple years. The Eastbank Esplanade this was less noticeable (although there were a few in one spot). This should not deter you at all from taking in the sights, but just an additional piece of information if you’re visiting from elsewhere.

The Waterfront and Eastbank Esplanade are a great place to experience the Willamette River and get great, up-close views of downtown Portland and all in an easy, flat 3-mile loop!

Steel Bridge
Downtown Portland
Floating walkway of the Esplanade


Big Pink (US Bancorp Tower) behind Burnside Bridge
Downtown Portland
Hawthorne Bridge
Instructions on the Hawthorne Bridge
Crossing the Hawthorne Bridge
Looking north up the Willamette River (Morrison Bridge center)
Salmon St Fountain in Waterfront Park
Walkway along the river in Waterfront Park
Convention Center on Eastside
Steel Bridge walkway back across to eastside and Esplanade

Tom McCall Waterfront Park- http://www.portlandonline.com/parks/finder/index.cfm?PropertyID=156&action=ViewPark

Vera Katz Eastbank Esplanade- http://www.portlandonline.com/parks/finder/index.cfm?PropertyID=105&action=ViewPark

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