Portland Things to Do

Portland Winter Light Festival Lights up the City {Biking the Route}

February 24, 2021

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In the depths of winter, we could all use a bit more light. That’s where the Portland Winter Light Festival comes in. Started in 2015, by the Willamette Light Brigade, PDXWLF is a free annual community event around art and technology… and LIGHT! This is one of my favorite February events in Portland. It lights up the city with lights, art, fire, technology, and music. So fun!

Portland Winter Light Festival
Portland Winter Light Festival 2017 dome

Every year, the festival seems to get bigger and busier! And they’re starting to make the event across the entire city as popup installations and exhibits instead of just concentrated along the Central Eastside and near OMSI and the Tilikum Crossing Bridge. I kind of like a little bit of both. For 2021, because of the pandemic, it was really nice that there were so many popups around town! They called it a (non)festival, and spread it over two weekends in February. Unfortunately, the second weekend we had our wild every 4-5 year 1 foot of snow Portland snowstorm. For 2022, I think they’ll be continuing the popup approach for different quadrants of the city!

One of the things I love about Portland is randomly stumbling upon some interesting thing happening around town. While sometimes it feels like that happens less and less these days, it’s still how I’ve found out about a lot of fun events over the years — like Pedalpalooza in 2011, and the Portland Light Festival in 2016! I loved the combination of art and technology and light, fire and often music or sound.

Biking the Portland Winter Light Festival

Convention Center lights at Portland light festival

I had the festival on my 2021 “winter list“. So I planned to bike around to some of the lights the first weekend, and then I saw that Bike Portland put together some handy RidewithGPS maps of different routes around the city. So I ended up doing their N/NE route with some friends and while we didn’t catch the entire route, it was a really fun evening. By the time we made it back to the disco bug one that I really had wanted to see, the lights had been turned off and we stared in the windows like wow, I think this was the coolest one and we probably should have looped North first and not south. Then we were like no big deal, we’ll just stop by next weekend.

But now we all know what the next weekend was… Portland Epic snow storm of 2021! The last big storm like this was 2017. So by Friday night it was freezing rain and pretty ridiculous out. I really wanted to see that bug though. So after dinner, we loaded up the stroller with our 3 year old and set out over the snowy, slushy and icy streets. Two blocks in and we stopped to regroup and put ski goggles on the kiddo. “we don’t have to go that far”, “we can just go around the block”, “let’s just walk until we want to turn back”. Well we all know how that story goes. At some point, you’re half way there and you may as well keep going. We finally arrived and it did not disappoint! The Disco Bug by Tyler FuQua Creations was such a cool exhibit.

Disco bug VW Portland winter light festival
Disco beetle bug Portland winter light fest

The walk home was also pretty wild. But we were warm, and our kiddo even fell asleep in the stroller he was so cozy! Ha!

So it ended up being one of those kind of ridiculous evenings, but also pretty memorable and fun. And now I can say, “hey remember when I drug you through the ice and snow for 3 miles to see some lights on a disco ball VW beetle?” Yeah, that was fun. Or was it? Yeah, it was! :P

Cheers to this year’s winter light fest, and I look forward to next year – with or without snow!

Have you checked out the Portland Winter Light Festival?