Portland may be known for its quirky ways, a focus on local food, food trucks, craft breweries, city wineries and inventive cocktails, but there’s more to do than eat and drink in this eco-conscious, dog and bike-friendly city. In a recent weekend visit to see a college friend, I didn’t even attempt to scratch the surface and relied on the advice of locals.
But first I needed to get there. It’s a long flight from the eastern part of the country. Fly direct and nonstop if you can. Here’s why: the weather. Summer and early fall seem to be ideal times to visit to avoid the rain. But even if you think it’s clear, there may be low-lying clouds over the mountains to cause a delay, especially if you take a puddle jumper. I ended up making a stop in Seattle, thinking that the short flight and lots of flight times wouldn’t be a big deal. There was a 3 hour delay for a half hour flight! I considered renting a car to drive there, but Alaska Airlines put me on an earlier delayed flight and I arrived almost on schedule. A great airline! Be sure to get a window seat so you don’t miss the spectacular view of the mountains. On a clear day, you can see all three peaks. Mine wasn’t so clear but was still good enough for a glimpse of Mt. Rainier.
Should you fly on Alaska Airlines, there’s also complimentary local wine and beer as options! (I said it was a great airline.) Right now, there’s a special promotion giving you a discount on wine tastings through November. Make sure you check the onboard magazine for the most up-to-date specials.
That’s how I ended up with some free pours at Edgefield – one of the many establishments in the McMenamin’s group in and around the Portland area.
This winery/brewery/distillery has a lovely setting and makes for a nice stop on the way back from a hike. They were celebrating an early St. Patty’s Day on my visit, and it was a good time for people of any age, even if you weren’t imbibing. Just beware that it is one of the few non-dog friendly places in the area.
At the top of any list should be a stop at the food trucks. These trucks must be mobile but appear to be permanently ensconced, unlike the roaming trucks we have in NYC. Alder has the largest pod of food trucks and is frequented by hungry workers looking for a quick and tasty lunch.
Since it’s much quieter in this area on a weekend, instead I checked out the smaller Mississippi area to try Koi Fusion (my friend thinks it’s the best) and hit up a few local bars and shops in that neighborhood.
Mississippi is a hipster locale and far to get to from NW Portland, where I was staying. It reminded me so much of Williamsburg/BK that I had a hard time stopping my eyeballs from permanently staying in the back of my head. Fortunately, the food and people-watching made it worth the trek.
My friend got her favorite, the popular bulgogi burrito, and I opted for the special “Philly Cheesesteak” – a hoagie made with bulgogi, kimchi and provolone. My eyebrows were nicely sweating by the time I finished, which is a sure sign of good, spicy food. To cool down, we had some local brews at Bar Bar and Interurban, which also has great cocktails.
Another option if you like Korean fusion is Tasty n Alder or its sibling Tasty n Sons. A great spot for brunch or dinner. Try the Korean Fried Chicken or if you’re not in the mood for heat, try the fried chicken, egg and cheddar biscuit sandwich. Just beware that you might not be eating your meal at the same time as everyone else in your party. The food comes out when ready, which they call “family style” – to me that means everyone shares – and I don’t know how you share a biscuit sandwich or why you would want to.
Other than that, it was great. And while waiting to be seated for brunch, my friend pointed out the solar trash compactor across the street. Such a progressive city… Restoring my faith that NYC might do more in this area, I recently noticed a solar compactor by the Shake Shack on the UWS. Baby steps, NYC, baby steps…
When you want to work off all the food and drinks, get outside the city for a hike up to Wahkeena Falls. This is now one of the top tourist destinations. But most don’t tend to actually hike up to the falls. Be sure to bring some water with you if you do. You might need to donate a bottle to an unsuspecting tourist who didn’t realize this was more involved than getting out of the car and taking a photo.
On the way up, you’ll go through the gorgeous forest.
And there’s some smaller falls.
From the top, you have a nice view of Washington across the Columbia River.
As you can see from the tiny cars, it was actually quite a hike up.
It’s even a dog-friendly trail with no leash law. Just make sure to pick up the dog poo and not to leave trash along the trail.
On your way to or from the falls, take a detour to check out the tiny, historic Bridal Veil Falls post office and have a chat with the postmaster (who happens to be from NYC originally).
Since a few iconic Portland places have made there way to NYC (Stumptown Coffee and Pok Pok), I patronized purely local spots. For coffee, Sterling Roasters did not disappoint, and you can take some beans home or order more online.
For dinner, consider Andina, a Peruvian restaurant in the Pearl District with creative cocktails. That part of town reminded me of the Meatpacking district here and was a bit of a ridiculous scene later in the evening. So instead, we headed back to NW Portland to relax on the porch of Pope House. The impossible to find Pappy Van Winkle was already sold out, but they still have a great selection of bourbon. (I did a poor job of taking photos this trip since I was enjoying time with a good friend. Apologies for that, but you can google or click on any of the links for pics.)
Of course, you won’t want to miss Powell’s for rare and used books. Their categorization of books is extraordinary. The Twilight Series is in the “Paranormal Romance” section. I bought a used book, The Art of Food, which for some reason caught my eye and at $7 was a great deal.
There’s also the “Saturday” market, which despite its name actually goes all weekend. But I can’t say that it’s worth a stop. It seemed to be the same as every street/craft fair I’ve been to in NYC. Although they do have Rogue Beer and live music. That made up for missing out on the Rogue Brewery since I could still sample some of their selections and purchase bottles to drink, including the special Voodoo Doughnut flavors. Much better than waiting in long lines at the nearby actual Voodoo Doughnut. (I have yet to comprehend the current donut craze.)
You might find a few people waiting to speak words of wisdom that echo back in the plaza of Pioneer Courthouse. Only the speaker can here the echo, which is pretty cool. And while you’re in that area, if the weather is nice, go up to the bar at the Portland City Grill for a great view of Portland.
When visiting Portland, the only real question is what to fit in if you only have a weekend. Hopefully, you’ll have at least one clear day to check out the scenery. Otherwise, you can easily spend your time eating and drinking.
A few tips if you go:
Oregon, like Delaware, doesn’t have sales tax, so it makes things a little cheaper.
The happy hours are amazing! It’s not limited to weekdays or early hours. Most have great food deals too.
Keep in mind that wait staff are paid minimum wage, which leads to a universal complaint about bad service, and a means to avoid further tipping.
Portlandia will not entirely make sense to you until you experience it, and yes, Portlanders – people outside of Oregon do watch the show.