Soak in that Free AC
By Ian Rose
With temperatures into the 90s, Portlanders are bracing for another hot summer. No disrespect to the sun worshipers — I know some of you are loving it — but for the rest of us, it’s time to seek shelter and wait for the heat wave to break.
If you have AC at home, staying in is the easiest option, but not always the cheapest (just wait for those electric bills.) If you’ve been making due with fans and cold baths, it may be time to venture out in search of cooler places to live, work, and play. Accomplishing that without spending money takes a little more effort.
I’ve divided this list into two sections. First, the longer-term options. If you’re planning a whole day in the city and would prefer not to melt or catch fire, here are six free places to hide from the heat in Portland:
Multnomah County Central Library downtown is an obvious place to start, but all the branches are air conditioned, and some of the others are going to be less crowded. To find the branch closest to you (or to try and outfox your fellow Portlanders and find a quiet corner), check out the locations list here.
For those on the west side or willing to drive, there’s also the much less crowded and always comfortable Beaverton City Library. It’s one of the most recently built library buildings in the area and never gets crowded in the same way that Multnomah Central does. Plus, it has the bonus of a public fountain a block away.
If you’re anything like me, the idea of hiding in a mall sounds a little backward. I spend a fair amount of effort hiding from malls and avoiding them at all costs. But the 100-degree heat makes for strange bedfellows.
The public areas of malls like Pioneer Place downtown or the Lloyd Center on the east side can be great places to set up, whether your plan is getting work done or just reading. Granted, you’ll have to deal with the cacophony of teenage drama all around you, but that’s a small price to pay for free AC.
We’ve talked about malls and libraries, but what if there were a happy medium between the two? Powell’s, the world’s largest independent bookstore, is just that perfect mix. I know more than a few people who use this Portland institution as a library anyway, sitting and reading for hours.
Like any business, there’s only so long you should stay without buying something, but I won’t judge. Besides, anyone who can stay in Powell’s for more than half an hour without buying something deserves some reward—it’s no small accomplishment.
The rest of the items on this list might not keep you sheltered for hours at a time, but they still offer valuable cool down opportunities for exactly zero dollars each.
4. Brewery Tours
Speaking of Portland institutions, what could be more quintessentially Portland than a visit to one of the over 50 breweries that help make the Rose City the beer Mecca that it is today. Several of our biggest breweries and brewpubs run free tours, including Kells, Ecliptic, and Hopworks.
If you do end up staying for a beer afterward or even taking a free sample, be careful: alcohol can make dehydration much worse, and make the heat you’ve been trying so hard to evade that much more painful.
5. Public Fountains
Air conditioning is nice, and all, but nothing cools you off on a hot day like getting yourself well and adequately wet. Be aware that once the highs hit the 80s, the fountains start to get crowded. When the 100s rear their ugly heads, they become total madhouses. But in this kind of heat, it’s any port in a storm.
Just wait your turn and try not to knock over any kids. Check out all of the free city public fountains, splash pads and pools.
6. The Washington Park MAX Station
This one is oddly specific, I know, but bear with me. If you are taking the MAX on the west side, you must, I repeat must, stop at the Washington Park / Oregon Zoo station. Portland’s only underground rail station also happens to be the deepest such station in North America, at 260 feet below the simmering surface.
When the rest of the city is burning, this set of platforms is still nice and cool. There are also displays of natural history and cultural facts along both platforms, so you get a mini museum visit in along with your cool-off. Win win. You can also hop on the free Washington Park shuttle from here.
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