Growing up in New York City, not far from an entrance to Central Park, my parents dutifully trundled me to the playground at 95th Street. My very first concert was the B-52s on the Great Lawn on Earth Day, 1990 and when it snowed, my friends and I went sledding at Cedar Hill, off 75th Street and 5th Avenue.
And still, I always felt some distance between me and Central Park. There were always tourists flooding through, and other New Yorkers jostling for space, and it’s forever being name-checked in songs and film crews from Spike Lee movies to Sex and the City would periodically block off access for filming. It didn’t belong to me; it belongs, quite properly, to the world.
No one writes songs about Piccolo Park, a tiny little pocket park off SE 27th and Division. There’s not much there—a sturdy old wooden play structure, a swingset, a brick patio with some built in seating, a spreading old tree for shade, some rhododendron bushes for hide and go seek. It’s not the kind of park Portlanders drive across town for.
But it’s my park, way more than Central Park every was. It’s where my son first grabbed a piece of chalk and wrote his name on the ground, with a backwards N and a scraggly E, and where my daughter first gritted her way across the monkey bars, start to finish, calluses on her hands from trying and falling and trying again. It’s where I had my 35th birthday party one June and invited friends from all over the city to come and potluck and sit in the sun. When the pandemic hit, it became my sanity-saving, head-clearing afternoon walk destination.
Many Portlanders have a park like this, a familiar neighborhood park that they return to time and again. (And thanks to voter support, more parts of the city that were park deserts a decade ago now have their own green spaces within walking distance, with more in the pipeline.)
Below, we invite you to discover our favorite destination parks—the best places around the city to smell the flowers, fly a kite, have a picnic, go skateboarding, and more. Go forth and explore and know that your local park will always be there when you get back, right in your own backyard. —Julia Silverman