Welcome to Portland! Our city has been a top travel destination for a while now. Visitors are flocking to the area to take in some weirdness and experience a place where odd is the norm. But if you’ve ever actually planned a trip to Portland, you might have had to think for a minute—”what do I actually do there?” Portland doesn’t have a lot of tourist attractions like the Space Needle, Washington Monument, or other major landmarks that must be seen while in their respective cities. What we do have is a lot of rivers, green space, and an ever-expanding downtown scene full of great restaurants and fun things to do.
At the Waterline, a literary novel from local Ooligan Press, highlights some of these quirky, watery, Portland-based things to do. Author Brian K. Friesen is a long-time Portland resident and retired liveaboard, and his story features some of the best destinations the city has to offer. In addition to a captivating storyline and a host of colorful characters, At the Waterline provides readers a tour up and down the rivers that surround and create the boundaries of the city. Travel via river is central to the theme of At the Waterline, making it the perfect guidebook to Portland and the areas beyond.
In this post, we’ve highlighted some of our favorite destinations from the book, but for more ideas and places to stop while you’re in the area, be sure to check out the interactive Google map below. There, you’ll find a complete list of all the destinations mentioned in the book. Not only does the map include photos and descriptions of each destination, but it’s constantly evolving and expanding. We’ll continue to add fun, quintessentially Portland attractions throughout the spring, so make sure to check back to see what’s new.
Sauvie Island: For a look at some real-life, liveaboard marinas, Sauvie Island is a can’t-miss destination while you’re in the Portland area. The island supports both pumpkin and dairy farming, and is the place that the book’s colorful, crotchety old Jack called home growing up. You’ll remember the island from Jack’s epic story of the man with the motorcycle lashed to his boat. Today, a large portion of Sauvie Island is a dedicated wildlife area where visitors are encouraged to kayak, hike, and bird-watch.
He had lived most his life on this channel that flowed out of the Willamette and into the Columbia, the waterways that surrounded and created Sauvie Island, the largest island in the state of Oregon.
Cathedral Park: The bridges of Portland play a large part in At the Waterline. Check out St. Johns Bridge and the Northern Railroad Bridge, where Chad crashed his sailboat, from the beautiful Cathedral Park. Built directly under St. Johns Bridge, the park gets its name from the gothic arches that support the bridge. It’s a beautiful spot to picnic and watch the river go by, and in the summer it’s home to the largest free jazz festival west of the Mississippi.
**Ghostbusters beware, the park is said to be haunted.**
Food Carts: While there’s no real Dory’s Hot Dog Stand, Portland is famous for its wide variety of high-caliber food carts. If you do have a hankering for a classic hot dog, we recommend Dogs and Fries, right on the Portland State University campus. If hot dogs aren’t your style, make sure to check out one of the many food cart pods (yes, the groups of food carts in Portland are called pods, and it never stops being adorable), where you’ll have your pick of great options from around the world.
Dory ran a hot dog stand on the fuel dock. She was often there for lunch and part of the afternoon, but her hours were, as she put it, whenever the hell she felt like it. . . . Dory treated everyone the same . . . The rich kids cruising through on their speedboats and the alcoholic bachelors at the marina all got the same hot dogs from her at the same price.
Portland Music Company: An independent music shop that’s been around since 1927, the Portland Music Company holds a lot of history for the area. It was the first store to offer instrument rentals to school children in the Portland area, and the shop managed to stay alive through the Great Depression and World War II and now maintains five locations around Portland. We like to think that the spirit of this place carries the same goodwill towards others as At the Waterline‘s soft-hearted character, Moe. More than that, the Portland Music Company’s shops are a great place to browse, with a wide variety of vintage and new instruments.
Standing in the mist and the rain, the concrete walls towering above him, the salmon churning in the river before him––water all around––Moe pressed the stops of his trumpet and blew . . . When he paused, notes echoed off the dam walls, filling what room was left in the air between the water.
Multnomah Falls: One of the most quintessential Portland outdoor destinations, Multnomah Falls is a can’t-miss stop for any trip to the Columbia River Gorge. One of the most accessible waterfalls in the region, it can be seen from the large paved viewing area or the dining room of the Multnomah Falls Lodge (great brunch!). If you’re feeling a bit more adventurous, take one of the hikes up and around the area. Some will lead you to more waterfalls, while others give you the chance to just stretch your legs and enjoy the natural beauty of the Columbia Gorge.
They sat on a large driftwood log and gazed south across the main current of the river . . . The thin white brushstroke of Multnomah Falls appeared above the trees.
Columbia River Dams: One of the most controversial dams in the area, the Dalles Dam was put in place in 1957, swallowing up the massive, roaring Celilo Falls that had been the site of America’s oldest continuously-inhabited Native settlement. As we see with Moe in At the Waterline, many natives were displaced because of the dam, their fishing livelihood now extinct. The Dalles Dam is an important landmark in Friesen’s book, as it’s where Mo makes his last stand, where his Catalina is found abandoned, and where Chad starts his seaward journey on the old boat.
Another important Dam on the Columbia River that provides lots of educational opportunities is the Bonneville Dam at Cascade Locks. The Dam itself has an interactive visitor’s center where you can see the hydroelectric powerhouses in operation and watch salmon and steelhead as they travel upstream via the fish ladders. Across the street, the Bonneville Fish Hatchery offers the opportunity to feed fish and view their activities from underwater display rooms. Here you can meet Oregon’s most famous fish, Herman the Sturgeon, a 10-foot-long, 500-pound, over-70-year-old, now-retired state fair champion.
Portland Homestead Supply: While we can’t guarantee anything quite as life changing as Marge’s Loaves of Abundance, the Portland Homestead Supply is a cute shop that offers a variety of bread starters. It’s a unique stop that exists specifically for homesteaders, and here you’ll find little chicks in the spring as well as all kinds of canning, candle making, and cheese making supplies, machines, and appliances. If you’re just here for a visit, this is a wonderful store to explore, and they offer all kinds of homesteading classes for a quirky Portland experience!
There is plenty of bread. There is an abundance of everything here, except for time.
Coon Island: The perfect spot for an afternoon picnic, the entirety of Coon Island is a park––The JJ Collins Marine Memorial Park. If you’re here in the summer, Coon Island is the ultimate destination for boating, camping, and bird-watching, and it has docks on both sides to accommodate as many boaters as possible. This beautiful island is the location in the book where soft-hearted, lonely Barry meets a kind family to spend his Thanksgivings with.
Columbia Gorge Scenic Area: One of the most popular outdoor recreation areas near Portland, the Columbia Gorge Scenic Area is a beautiful place to do some hiking, biking and exploring, with trails scattered across the entire region. One unique hike you’ll want to check out is Beacon Rock, an 848-foot monolith that was once the core of a volcano; it offers spectacular views of the Columbia River and the beautiful state park below. Beacon Rock is also where main characters Chad and Emma meet for the first time.
The view of the river and the surrounding hills of the Columbia Gorge Scenic Area were spread before him. Green hills. Tiny trees far below.
Hood River: If outdoor activity isn’t on your list of things to do this trip, make sure to at least check out a few of the towns within the borders of the scenic area. We love Hood River, which offers a cute downtown that overlooks both the river and the mountains. It’s a great place to stop for lunch, check out a few shops, and get a feel for life in a small river town. It also boasts several award-winning breweries and is a top destination for kiteboarding, so get yourself a pint and watch the drama unfold on the water. Visited by many of the characters in At the Waterline, this is a part of the river you won’t want to miss.
Again, if you’re looking for more Portland destinations to explore, be sure to check out our interactive Google map. And if you’re up for a bit of fun in the city, sign up for the At the Waterline scavenger hunt! On May 13, Ooligan is having a launch party to celebrate the release of the book, and to kick it all off we’re having a city-wide scavenger hunt. For more information on the hunt and to get your team signed up, head to our Facebook event page. Winning teams will receive awesome prizes like gift certificates, free rentals, delicious treats, and handy gear donated by our generous sponsors.
- Ancestry Brewing
- Bull Run Brewing Co
- Crafty Wonderland
- The Daily Cafe
- The Meadow
- Nossa Familia Coffee
- Pacific Pie Company
- Portland Kayak Company
- The PSU Outdoor Program
- Revolucion Coffee
- Willamette Sailing Club