A few weeks ago I was out on the west coast for work and decided to take an addition few days to visit Portland, Oregon while I was out there. Having heard a lot about the little city’s hipster vibe and seeing episodes of Portlandia here and there (pun intended), I figured a weekend trip to see what it was about was in order.
Portland definitely lives up to a good amount of the stereotypes that I’d heard – lots of plaid, very relaxed/outdoorsy people, dogs everywhere, and a pretty good food scene for a small city. Sadly though, I didn’t really see that many “bird” things – another one of those Portlandia inside jokes.
Portland is a great weekend trip, but I wouldn’t go out of your way to fly out there from the east coast unless you plan on doing an entire west coast thing. The city is easily walk-able since the main part of the city you’d want to see is about a 3 square mile area, or you could travel around using the very convenient (and dog-friendly) $1 streetcar.
Here’s a rundown of the highlights:
The city is so jam packed full of microbreweries that you can easily spend a day just brewery hopping. Deschutes was my favorite. The vibe was lively, the space was rustic/hipstery/laid back with a ton of natural lighting. The beer flight at Deschutes I thought had some of the best samples (but that of course is entirely my own opinion) and they had a very “earth” friendly menu which included a fantastic pear and goat cheese pizza. Also, you can stop by Powell’s City of Books afterward – the most ridiculously large bookstore I’ve ever been to. Second favorite was BridgePort, which was a little more modern, almost a little more chain-y, but still a very good beer selection (not as robust as Deschutes though). Try the pretzels there as well. And Rogue came in third, not because the quality was bad. Far from it. It may have just been a victim of the drank too much and didn’t know what was happening by the time we got there scenario…
To the north and west of the downtown districts of the city resides these beautiful outdoor landmarks of Portland. It is totally random but at the same time totally makes sense that Portland would have these outdoor, serene, lush floral parks with no sign of urban life a few blocks away from the bustling city. Adjacent to one another, the Japanese Garden is probably worth visiting before the Rose Test Garden since there is an admission fee (you’ll want to make the most out of your money). Tip – if you do go during the last half hour it’s open, they will waive the standard admission fee and let you pay what you think is fair for the last half hour.
The Japanese Garden is like walking into a zen paradise – the waterfalls, rock sand gardens and lush fauna and flora really offer you an indescribable relaxation feeling. You could just do nothing but sit and be happy in there. The Rose Test Garden down the path is more like a public park with rows and rows of different species of roses from around the world. It is also very nice, but not as serene with all the activity of people playing Frisbee, taking wedding pictures, etc. A large amphitheater is located next to the Rose Test Garden as well where couples and families can lounge around or picnic.
Additionally, this was unintentional on our part because we got lost, it’s worth finding your way to the Oregon Holocaust Memorial down the street from the two parks. While it’s obviously a somber place, it’s something you won’t regret viewing. Once you’re done with the gardens (or before you go) you can easily walk down into the Nob Hill district to do some boutique shopping and grab an ice cream at Salt and Straw. Try as many flavors as you want, they’re very generous with their samples because their flavors are so unique. They also offer an ice cream flight.
If you go to Portland on the weekend, check out the bustling Portland Saturday Market. Rows and rows of tents hold different arts & crafts, beer/cider tastings (if Atlas Cider is there, give it a try), local clothing, etc. for you to meander through. There are also several of the food trucks that Portland is known for there, and I would highly recommend the Greek gyro truck. When we were there, various street acts were also performing magic and doing other weird…things…(not sure how else to describe a man putting his body through a tennis racket while juggling swords)
Near the Portland Saturday Market is the famous Voodoo Doughnut shop. It’s open 24/7 and was made famous by being on pretty much every Travel Channel show documenting Portland and featured in several others because of their unique doughnuts and unmistakable pink boxes (No joke, I was accosted by 9 different people when I brought a box back to D.C. asking if they could have one or in the case of one business traveler telling me “You brought that from Portland? That is f**king awesome). The line will be long – be prepared to wait.
I suffered that cognitive dissonance that traveler’s often face. I wanted to visit Voodoo because it was so well known and a “Portland” thing to do. On the other hand, living in D.C., I hate seeing the long-ass line outside of Georgetown Cupcake and the stupidity of waiting in line for an hour for – a cupcake. So, we were being those people. Fortunately for us, we stopped in at a down hour (4 PM on Sunday) so the line was only about 15 minutes long (it can be an hour during peak times). The doughnut list is so extensive, we just got a dozen of the “Employees Choice” where they just pick good ones for you. Tip: While I still recommend the Employees Choice if you can’t make up your mind, be sure to get one of the Voodoo doll doughnuts. It’s a doughnut shaped like a little man with a pretzel “pin” stabbing it. Our cashier didn’t put one of those in our box and I was sad. Also, the place is cash only.
If you’re in the mood for brunch, check out Mother’s Bistro for a meal. There’s nothing there out of the ordinary, but the food they’ve got is crowd pleasing and filling. I’ll also give a nod to their service – they live up to the “It’s all about the love” slogan. When we asked if we could have a couple of the biscuits that were part of other meals as an addition to our meal, they happily brought them to us free of charge (they probably would have sold at Starbucks for like $5 each because of how huge they are). The biscuits (and the blackberry jam it comes with) are legit awesome, with our waitress calling them “just plain stupid good”. The owner/Chef Lisa also came around to greet us and every other table to see how everything was.