Arriving in Portland
Visitors flying in will arrive at PDX Airport, consistently rated the best airport in the USA (and for good reason). It has a wide array of locally-owned, reasonably-priced food options, so plan to take meals there if you happen to arrive at lunch or dinner. It also has a distillery shop (yes, really). Outside security, there’s also a branch of Real Mother Goose Art Gallery, Powell’s Books, and more food.
From the airport, your best way into downtown or the convention center is the MAX Red Line. Follow the signs to “Trimet/MAX” in order to get to the Red Line. It’s the only train line there, and it terminates at the airport, so you don’t have any decisions to make … except how to pay. While NCECA will be providing you with a Trimet pass in your registration packet, you’ll need to pay for the trip from the airport yourself. Do this either using the vending machines on the platform, or download and install the Trimet app on your phone, but definitely do not board the train without having paid. The train trip takes 30 to 40 minutes to get to the Oregon Convention Center (OCC), although you may want to get off at a different stop depending on where you’re staying.
If you’re staying somewhere away from the MAX line, or if you arrive very late at night or early in the morning when the trains are less frequent, you might want to take a taxi, Lyft or Uber. There’s a taxi queue on ground transportation platform 2 on the baggage level, and Lyft and Uber cars arrive at the far left end of platform 1 on the same floor.
If you’re driving in, please note that Portland is surrounded by freeway congestion points both North and South. From 3pm to 7pm, it’s generally better to wait out the traffic if you can; you can get stuck in the town of Wilsonville for an hour otherwise. Do check Google Maps or Waze for traffic reports, and don’t be afraid to exit the freeway early and take Highway 99 or city streets if it’s jammed up. Remember to check with your hotel on charges for parking; at some of the OCC hotels, they can be significant (up to $25/day).
For visitors flying in, I recommend against renting a car except for out-of-town trips (such as to wineries). You will want a vehicle for those, but the best approach is to rent a car only on the days you need it. During the days you’re at NCECA, a car will just be a burden.
Importantly, parking at the OCC is somewhat scarce, often filling up early in the morning, and costs $10 per day. If you’re driving to the OCC because you’re hauling gear, plan to get there early before it fills up. The overflow parking is in the Rose Quarter, which is about half a mile away. Otherwise, take public transportation to the OCC even if you’re driving to Portland.
If you’re staying somewhere far away from the OCC, keep in mind that freeway traffic in Portland during rush hours (7-9am and 3-7pm) can be surprisingly bad. Either avoid driving during those hours, or plan for an extra half-hour travel time.
Portland’s public transit agency, Trimet, has three parts: MAX rail, streetcars, and buses. The OCC is quite well-served by Trimet, so there’s no real reason to look for anything else. Trains to the OCC are both frequent and fast. Most importantly, Trimet is clean, friendly, and reliable. Everyone in Portland uses it at least some of the time.
The MAX has four different colored lines (Red, Green, Blue and Yellow) and takes you from the airport to the OCC and downtown, as well as out to many of the suburbs and neighborhoods such as Gresham, Hollywood, or Beaverton. The three Portland Streetcar lines take you around downtown, to Portland State University, and from the OCC to Southeast Portland, where many of the best restaurant options are.
Getting to and from the OCC by bus can be pretty darn convenient, especially since the OCC is barely one block from the Rose Quarter Transit Center, the main inner city transit hub. Bus stops closest to the OCC include those for lines 8, 77, and 6. Lines 8 and 77 have stops just one block north of the convention center, at the intersections of NE Multnomah Blvd and NE 2nd and NE 3rd. The 6 bus stops at the northeastern corner of the OCC, on MLK Jr Blvd. MLK runs one-way headed south along this stretch, so stops for the northbound 6 are one block east on NE Grand Ave. Bus lines which intersect with the 6 include 11, 75, 72, 24, 17, 12, 19, 20, and 15. Bus lines 4, 8, 35, 44, 77, and 85 stop at the Rose Quarter, about a block west of the OCC, along with all MAX lines.
Other bus lines that may prove useful include the 12, 19, and 20 which run east/west along Burnside/Couch, five+ blocks south of the OCC and the 15 which runs east/west slightly farther south. The 20 is the only bus which will get you to Oregon College of Art and Craft. If you want to take the 20 out to OCAC, make sure to board a bus that says “Beaverton Transit Center.” Those that say “To Portland & NW 23rd/Tichner,” won’t get you all the way to OCAC.
Trimet has a great Trip Planner, where you’ll also find service alerts and a transit tracker (where the heck is that bus?!). During business hours most buses run every 15-20 minutes, but later in the evening or on the weekend frequency may be reduced big time, so plan ahead. Google Maps’ trip planner can be helpful to discover which bus lines service the area you are in, but I highly recommend checking TriMet for real-time arrivals and schedules. I have been burned by the Google one too many times!
Trimet uses a “proof of purchase” system, which means that you can board any train but need to have a pass on you; if not, you can be cited by a fare inspector and pay a $175 fine. Buses are pay/show at the door instead. Single rides are $2.50. You will receive a 1-week Trimet pass with your NCECA registration package, so you should only need to buy a pass to get from the airport. If you extend your stay, or need passes for family members, you can either get them from the vending machines on some MAX platforms, or you can use the Trimet phone app. Of these, I recommend the app as the most convenient. You’ll need other apps for finding routes and train arrival times, though; I use Trimet Tracker.
Walking and Biking
Portland is also a tremendously walkable and bikeable town; in fact, it’s the most bikeable town in the USA. Walking or biking to downtown from the OCC across the bridge is very doable (one to two miles, depending on where you’re going). There’s a special bike/pedestrian path under the Steel Bridge, which is the closest one to the OCC, and gives you a very scenic view of the Willamette river and the city in good weather.
If you can, I’d recommend bringing a bike; the OCC has ample bike parking, as does most of the city. For visitors who are flying in, there are the “orange bikes” from Biketown at the OCC which are available for short-term rentals. These are generally a better option than renting bikes by the week, unless you’re planning on a bike trip out of town. They cost $2.50 per trip, or $12 for a full day.
Walkers and bikers should beware that it rains frequently here. If it’s not raining, though, walking or biking is often the best way to get to restaurants and bars in the Pearl, around the Saturday Market, or on Broadway.
The city is also well-covered by both regular taxis and new taxi services (Lyft, Uber). If you don’t feel like waiting for a bus or train, you can get just about anywhere you’d want to go for $10 to $30. Main taxi companies are Radio Cab (has phone app), and Portland Taxi (no app). There are sometimes cabs waiting right outside the OCC.
Public transportation information written by Sarah Chenoweth Davis.