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Lan Su Chinese Garden in Portland, Oregon

Twenty years ago, an ambitious team set to work transforming a Portland parking lot into an inspired oasis.

pavilions on Lake Zither at Lan Su Chinese Garden in Portland Oregon, picture
Photo credit
Photo: Susan Seubert
Photo caption
Now: Today, the neighborhood is home to Lan Su Chinese Garden.

In 1999, a group of gardeners and builders from Suzhou, China, broke ground on a remarkable project. In just over a year, these 65 artisans from Portland's sister city converted an empty parking lot into a wonderland of wood and water, sunshine and stone: Lan Su Chinese Garden. With its stone bridges and peaceful pagodas, the garden evokes the extraordinary Ming dynasty gardens for which Suzhou is renowned.

Spanning an entire city block, the walled space constitutes its own universe of pavilions, walkways, and courtyards, all centered on sparkling Lake Zither. Stroll the winding paths, and you'll pass beneath pink-flowered Chinese begonias and fire-red Japanese maples. During construction, more than 500 tons of rock were shipped here from China. Look for the craggy chunks of limestone as you walk.

Portland Chinatown, 2nd Avenue, c. late 19th century, picture
Photo credit
Photo: Courtesy Portland Chinatown Museum and Oregon Historical Society
Photo caption
Then: Portland's Chinatown was once the nation's second largest.

Open nearly every day, Lan Su is the perfect place to meditate in nature. Or, if you time your visit right, to learn mah-jongg or hear Chinese music. Save time to linger over traditional tea and moon cakes in the Tower of Cosmic Reflections. The menu changes seasonally, and each variety of tea—from white peony to topaz puer—arrives in a vessel designed to bring out its individual characteristics to the fullest. Sit back and drink it all in.

Up Next: Gorgeous Gardens in the West

If you're planning on traveling to Portland, talk to AAA Vacation Experts for free. Visit AAA.com/Travel.

This article was first published in Spring 2019. Some facts my have aged gracelessly. Please call ahead to verify information.