While the community of Saint Johns has been an incorporated part of the city of Portland for many years, it still had an informal mayor of sorts in the 1970s. The Saint Johns Bridge used to cross a tangle of industrial waste and other debris and then crossed the river. Fed up with the horrid mess under the community's most famous landmark, this informal mayor started a campaign to create a park under the bridge.
Based on a contemporary photograph that referenced the structure under the bridge as "cathedral-like" the park, which was officilaly dedicated in 1980, found its name.
Looking at the photos, it should be easy to see why the name is appropriate.
The park has a boat ramp, a pier onto which you can wander and get up close to the river, a very limited stony beach area, an off-leash dog area, and a number of other features.
The outdoor theatre is the home of the largest event in Saint Johns: the Cathedral Park Jazz Festival. Other events have happened here from time to time.
This bridge isn't exactly a "Thing to Do", but it is the most famous landmark in Saint Johns, and is of historical note because it was built as a practice session of sorts before the same group designed and built the much more famous Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco.
As it is a well-known landmark in the city of Portland, and serves as a major transportation link, it isn't exactly an "Off the Beaten Path" item either, and so it wound up in the "Things to Do" category!
There is a park directly under the east side of the bridge, and due to the decorated natute of the underside of the bridge, it is called Cathedral Park.
Originally constructed as a movie house for the National Cash Register display at the Lewis and Clark Centennial Exposition in 1905, the theatre was moved to St. Johns for use as a church. It is now a bar, restaurant and movie house. As such, it is of some historical interest as it is one of the few remaining structures from the fair.
The facility is SMALL. Remember, it was once a booth at a fair. Don't expect it to be a crowded place where you will meet hundreds of people. It is simply a neighborhood gathering spot, and most people don't go out of their way to visit.
However, if you are interested in unusual historic buildings, and are looking for something cheap to do, this might be a good option.
The movie house shows second-run movies (ie, about 6 months past release date, more or less) for $3, and charges slightly more for special events.
Beer, pop and some other drinks are available. Expect to pay a bit for some drinks ($3.25 for a non-alcohol apple cider!?!? - but it was good cider I suppose). The beer includes some house specialties (the company also owns several brew pubs) so it might be a good place if you are interested in specialty beer and wine.
As the facility basically operates like a bar, children are allowed in only during certain business hours, per Oregon law. Yet, during the days the facility goes out of its way to welcome children, as it operates "mommy matinee" where young, noisy children are expected to be in attendance - unlike the big movie theatres.
Dress Code: Northwest "informal" attire: that means, please wear clothes! Really, anything goes here, so long as the vital organs are covered, but informal is the most common attire.
This facility is non-smoking.
While I am not quite certain what would make someone interested in tourist activities want to come to this relatively unknown park, it certainly qualifies as an "off the beaten path" location for tourists!
The park has grass section with a number of trees, but the real reason that people come here is that it has one of the largest off-leash dog areas in the Portland area. If you want to exercise you dog by throwing something, this is certainly the place to come!
There is no public transit access to this park. You must walk from the bus stop (TriMet route #75 and a lesser known express) at Pier Park and walk quite a ways. Driving access is from Columbia Blvd. - and turn left after the overpass over the railroad.
One item of interest here for some travelers is the Portland Public Astronomy Center. I have never been able to find much information about it, but it is located in Chimney Park.
Much less interesting in terms of activities, but somewhat of a curiousity due to its age and size, is a large building that is dedicated to the City of Portland Archives.
This location used to be the site of the city incinerator, and even though the chimney is long gone the name remains.
Pier Park is an urban forest land (except for parking and some sports fields) that includes a swimming pool, tennis courts, picnic areas (1 area covered, many areas uncovered), and an assortmet of other activities.
One of the most popular attractions here is the 18 hole par 3 disc golf course. It is not unusual to see people waiting in line at the first hole. Due to the forested nature of the park, many of the holes are quite challenging.
There is also a reasonably popular skate park.
The park is served by both bus routes #75 and #44, and has a reasonably good sized parking lot near Lombard, as well as being connected to a number of local residential streets.