Quirkier than Seattle, the “other” Pacific Northwest city, Portland wears a small town feel with big city offerings. The restaurant, bar and coffee scene is as good as anywhere, everyone is super friendly and the city boasts beautiful parks and gardens. I had always heard great things about Portland, and a recent visit with my family did not disappoint. In fact, it surpassed all our expectations. Rent a car so you can spend time outside the city visiting the Columbia Gorge, the Willamette Valley wine country or head down the coast for an extended trip. Here’s my hit list for an ideal two days in Portland.
The lovely girl working at Palace told us to head to Mississippi Ave between Freemont and Shaver for cool stores in a newly trendy neighborhood. She raved about Sweedeedee, which Eater put on their Essential list, but unfortunately we ran out of time and had to leave it for our next trip.
Portland is a bike town, 8 bridges span the river, and many use bikes as their primary transportation. Rent bikes or do one of their tours at Pedal Bike Tours.
Unfortunately, I was not in Portland for the Saturday Market, which funny enough, also takes place on Sunday. On the river by the Hawthorne Bridge rent a canoe, kayak or SUP at Alder Creek Kayak and Canoe. Or just stroll along the Eastbank Esplanade.
If you’re a doughnut fan, stop at Voodoo Doughnut on SW 3rd, not far from The Nines, to pick up some of their unusual creations to bring along on your hike. Early morning is a good time to go to this 24/7 Portland institution, which is on everyone’s must do list, as later the line is down the block.
At Ava Genes, chef Joshua Mcfadden has a way with vegetable salads, called Giardini, they were the star of our meal. Until his cookbook comes out in 2016, make his standout Kale salad, originally created while he was chef de cuisine at Franny's in Brooklyn, using the recipe here. Want to make more of his delicious veggie salads? Click here for two more recipes.
What’s in a Name: Portland goes by many names: City of Roses, Rip City, Stumptown, P-Town, and Bridgetown to name the most popular. See here for the origin behind all these commonly used nicknames.
Stay: I liked the Nines. Sitting next to Pioneer Square, it’s centrally located, the rooms are very comfortable, and there is an awesome 15th floor rooftop bar with great views. Part of Starwood’s Luxury Collection, we used our points, a heads up to you Starwood junkies. Yet, the neighborhood wasn’t my favorite, being the business and retail hub for Portland. (There is a mall, a Nordstrom’s and an Apple store all within sight.) Still, until Portland gets a game changer hotel, I would stay here again.
Walk: Bring comfortable shoes, as Portland is an extremely walkable city. Each neighborhood is like it’s own little town, with a unique and different character--it’s really the best way to get a feel for Portland. Portland is divided by the Willamette River, and you can walk across the bridges and over to the East side, which has a much different vibe—more residential and definitely more hipster. Other ways to get around include renting bikes, riding the MAX light rail or calling an Uber. We found that Uber was fairly priced and a good option if you get tired, or lost.
Coffee: Where do you even begin in a city with so many great coffee houses? Staying downtown head to Heart, on SW 12th or Stumptown at the Ace Hotel. Our favorite was Courier Coffee, for the hipster vibe, coffee drinks served in mason jars, and the friendly staff. A few blocks over in the Pearl, popular Barista has a nice patio and excellent coffee. Next-door Maurice bills itself as a pastry luncheonette, I bill it as absolutely adorable and charming, serving the most beautiful and delicious tarts and pastries early morning and moving into salads, soups and quiches at lunchtime.
Books: We are a family that can’t walk by a bookstore without being drawn in, so this was priority number one for our day. Powell’s City of Books is a major Portland tourist destination and the world’s largest independent bookstore spanning an entire square block. (Locals love it too!) One could easily spend a day in the maze-like mecca of Powell’s, with used books mixed in with new, staff recommendations intermixed throughout the store in sections you’d never dream of, a rare book room and an in-house cafe. If you love bookstores this will instantly shoot to the top of your list of favorites.
Lunch: Over 700 food carts are registered in Portland and more are popping up each day. The carts are assembled together in food courts, and most neighborhoods have one. One of the largest is right downtown at 9th and SW Alder. Walk around and see what appeals to you, and then head to Nong Khao Man Gai, one of Portland’s most popular and legendary carts. The poached organic chicken and rice, served with the key garlic and ginger sauce, comes with a clear soup on the side. Itsa perfect combination. Winning Nong’s a new fan, my 18-year-old daughter made us go back three times in three days.
Casual Sit Down: It’s hard to choose among the creative sandwich offerings at Lardo. Meat lovers will want the pork meatball banh mi or an excellent hamburger, while vegetarians will be happy with the chickpea or broccoli rabe sandwich. Don’t think of skipping the fries. The Southeast location has a large outdoor patio.
Urban Renewal: The Pearl District, once home to abandoned warehouses, has been transformed into a hip neighborhood of art galleries, chic boutiques, restaurants, breweries and high end loft apartments. On a nice day people roam the cobble stone streets and drink and dine on the outdoor patios and loading docks late into the night.
North West: Industrial stretches and tall buildings give way to Victorian houses and tree lined streets as you approach NW 23rd street. Among the boutiques and restaurants, you must stop and indulge at Salt and Straw, a small-batch handmade ice cream shop with a cult like following. You can expect a line here, but it moves quickly, and once inside you will not be rushed, but encouraged to taste up to 4 flavors. Sample some of the wacky, unusual combinations.
Sweet Smells: There are upwards of 500 varieties of roses, and approximately 7000 individual plants at the International Rose Test Garden in Washington Park. Roses are not just red here, but a burst of all colors and sizes. June was the peak of the season and something special to behold, but with great views of Portland from up high it’s worth going even off peak.
Quiet Reflection: Get your Zen on at the Japanese Garden, a peaceful oasis in the city, right above the Rose Garden. Allow at least 30-40 minutes to explore the 5 distinct gardens including sand and stone, tea and a strolling pond garden spread out across 5.5 acres.
Dinner: South East Division has been dubbed “Restaurant Row,” and I could be very happy not venturing any further. One night we put our name down on Pok Pok’s list, and spent the hour wait at their sister place across the street Whiskey Soda Lounge. The time flew by drinking Tamarind Whiskey Sours and nibbling on the strangely addictive roasted red peanuts with lime leaf, garlic, chilies and salt. One of Food and Wine's best new chefs of 2013, Jenn Louis, cooks at Sunshine Tavern. More than a few locals told us to try Bollywood Theatre, for its take on Indian street food. One afternoon, though we weren’t even hungry, we stopped by to try their signature Kati roll, and oh wow was it good. And then there’s Ava Genes, one of Bon Appetit’s top ten restaurants in the US in 2013, and our best meal in Portland. If you didn’t make it earlier, skip dessert and join the line next door at Salt and Straw's other location.
Quick Breakfast: Head back to the food trucks on SW Alder to Bing Mi for a Chinese breakfast crepe called the Jian Bing. This savory crepe is stuffed with scrambled eggs, black bean paste, wonton crackers, cilantro, scallions and pickled veggies. It was wow at first bite-- if I lived in Portland, I’d be a regular, it’s that good!
Southern Style Brunch: For an even heartier, sit down meal, head across the bridge, to the Screen Porch. On the weekends the lines are long, the secret is to go during the week. Fill up on the most delicious chicken and waffles, and be extra decadent with a side of biscuits and gravy. The meal will sustain you for your hiking to come. Right down the street is the other location of Heart for a coffee stop and Palace, which became our favorite store in Portland. We left with a few too many of their vintage tee’s hand tie-died in subtle patterns and colors. (Discovered thanks to local artist Christiana Hedlund’s itinerary here.)
Eclectic: A few blocks from the Screen Porch is the hipster Hawthorne neighborhood. Powell’s has two smaller stores here on Hawthorne Blvd. and music fans will love Jackpot Records and Crossroads Music for their old vinyls. House of Vintage, with over 13,000 square feet of wares from different independent dealers, is a maze of old denim, clothes, jewelry and housewares.
Chasing Waterfalls: Head out of town on I-84 and onto the Historic Hood River Highway towards the Columbia Gorge. The drive is just beautiful, if you like spectacular vistas. Don’t think of just doing a drive by at Vista House at Crown Point, stop and enjoy the panoramic view. The gorge is famous for its waterfalls, and you will have time to visit a few such as Bridal Veil and Horsetail Falls; as all are located within a few miles of each other. Multnomah Falls is the most visited and the highest with a drop of 620 feet, so expect crowds here, but it’s worth searching for a parking spot.
Continue On: From Multnomah Falls its approximately 30 miles to Hood River. In laid back Hood River, you can rent gear or take a lesson at Kite the Gorge, grab a beer and burger at Full Sail Brewery (can also do a tour and tasting) or eat at Celilo. Continue onto the Fruit Loop. A scenic 35 mile drive passing farm stands, vineyards all with great views of Mt. Hood. Stop and pick some fresh peaches, or cut yourself some fresh lavender. Taste some wine at Cathedral Ridge Winery.
Alternate Route: Another hour from Hood River you'll reach Timberline Lodge and Mount Hood, take the highway for a quicker route back to Portland.
Dinner: Tired after a day at the Gorge, we stayed close and headed to Olympia Provisions SE. (There is another location across the bridge, and both have just recently changed the name from Olympic to Olympia). Everyone loves Bamboo Sushi, head to the NW location for signature rolls and plates. So many restaurants, so little days. I didn’t get to dine at Beast, Paley’s Place, Le Pigeon and Ned Ludd, all on my list for next time.