True to its origins, Portland pioneers in art, food, bicycles and brews.
Its 11 bridges span the Willamette River in varying designs, just as ruggedly independent as its residents.
Established at the confluence of the Columbia and Willamette rivers in 1851, Portland offers more than just the precious local and sustainable ingredients mocked on the television show “Portlandia.” Sitting at the base of Mount Hood, the City of Roses is a haven for hipster culture.
The city’s unofficial motto – Keep Portland Weird – stresses conforming to nonconformity. Instead of run-of-the-mill doughnuts, for example, Portlanders have Voodoo Doughnut (22 SW Third Ave.), and its fans form lines around the block. The ubiquitous pink boxes they come in hold Grape Ape doughnuts with lavender and grape sprinkles, Voodoo Doll doughnuts, Loop doughnuts with Froot Loops and more variations.
A seven-day summer visit revealed plenty to do and see both indoors and out. Despite its rainy reputation, the city sweltered in three-digit temperatures the day we arrived in the best way possible – on the Amtrak Coast Starlight sleeper train.
The overnight trip from San Jose ($950 for two, one-way) allowed us to sleep in a comfortable bunk room with a private shower. At breakfast in the dining car, we enjoyed great vistas of California forests and rivers until we reached the Oregon border. Wine and cheese hours for sleeper ticket-holders allowed us to get to know our neighbors. We passed through Klamath Falls and the Cascades to Salem and Portland.
The Portland streetcar is free in the downtown Pearl District, or you can take the TriMet train system. The efficient public transportation network makes it easy and cheap – $2.50 a ticket, less for seniors – to get around without a car.
Downtown, men in shorts carrying messenger bags roamed the streets as women in sundresses sauntered by. Thrifty Portlanders dress casually to save the earth.
After checking into the boutique Kimpton Hotel Monaco at 506 SW Washington St. ($239 a night for a king suite), we went downstairs for the popular happy hour. The lounge boasts Moorish arches, richly colored rugs and soft sofas. On hot days, the hotel serves ice cream bars. Rooms include animal print robes and free bike use.
The Monaco’s adjacent restaurant, Red Star Tavern, was open for most meals and nightcaps. Kimpton members receive a $25 daily dining credit through Sept. 8.
Not far away, the LEED-certified luxury Nines Portland Hotel, 525 SW Morrison St., offers similar rooms starting at $329 per night, with additional breakfast packages available. The landmark Meier & Frank Building near Pioneer Courthouse Square houses both the hotel and the Urban Farmer Steakhouse.
Here’s a guilty pleasure: Moonstruck Chocolate Co., 340 SW Morrison St., boasts a tiny cafe where you can feed your chocolate fix. Choose some truffles to take home or buy a few to eat as you wander, as I did.
Another chocolate option is Cacao Drink Chocolate, 414 SW 13th Ave., a craft chocolatier featuring house-made drinking and hot chocolates.
Friends who are longtime Portland residents took us to Ken’s Artisan Bakery, 338 NW 21st Ave., in the Alphabet District. Founded by 2013 James Beard pastry chef finalist Ken Forkish, the cafe offers its own multigrain breads, soups, sandwiches, pastries and croissants. Desserts include the outstanding devil’s food cake with raspberry cream for only $15.95. The cafe, which rates only two dollar signs, offers five-star taste. Forkish also runs Ken’s Artisan Pizza, 304 SE 28th Ave., where the pies baked in 700-degree ovens are rumored to rival those in Italy.
The Pearl District is home to the massive Powell’s City of Books, 1005 W. Burnside St., a must-see for bibliophiles and browsers. Powell’s is the world’s largest independent book chain, and this is its flagship store.
Nearby is Living Room Theaters, 341 SW 10th Ave., which shows first-run movies. There’s a bar when you enter, the audience sits in armchairs instead of regular theater seats and popcorn is served in large ceramic bowls to round out the homey atmosphere.
Idiosyncratic shops abound in the neighborhood. If you’re looking for snake-print tights, for example, stop in at the Radish Underground, 414 SW 10th Ave. The store bills itself as the place for independent fashion and art.
Portland rivals Amsterdam in its bicycle mania, so it’s no surprise that the Portland Art Museum, 1219 SW Park Ave., is hosting the “Cyclepedia: Iconic Bicycle Design” exhibition through Sept. 8.
Some 40 bikes suspended from the museum’s ceilings appear as if they are mid-ride. The display includes a bike meant for winter with a skate in front as well as souped-up mountain bikes from Vienna designer Michael Embacher’s collection. Admission is $15 adult, $12 seniors (55 and up) and free for youth 17 and under.
Food and fun
Portland is known for its colorful food carts that advertise Asian, Thai, American and all kinds of other goodies for sale. Sample a few carts, but the real food is in the restaurants.
Try OX Restaurant, 2225 NE Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd., a steakhouse Portland style, meaning that everything is sustainable. The cocktail and wine lists are extensive.
Thai restaurant Pok Pok, 3226 SE Division St., requires an adventurous appetite, but most visitors should enjoy Ike’s Vietnamese Fish Sauce Wings for $15.
Friends from Portland took us to Piazza Italia, 1129 NW Johnson St., a casual but authentic trattoria, for lunch. The prices were reasonable and the pasta fantastic – try the Penne al Pesto for $12.50 or the $11 Spaghetti al Pomodoro.
The City of Roses has a beautiful International Rose Test Garden, 400 SW Kingston Ave., a good place to stroll and walk off all the fantastic food. Two other rose gardens – Ladd’s Addition in southeast Portland and Peninsula Park Rose Garden in the northern area of the city – have miniature tea roses and lush paths.
Before leaving Portland, we visited the Saturday Market on West Burnside Street, where all kinds of wines and artisan beers are sold. Residents also refer to Portland as “Beervana” because of the city’s 10 microbreweries.
A good way to see the skyline is to rent a pedicab and take a loop around the Willamette River. It’s great exercise, and you can stop at the Oregon Museum of Science and Industry, 1945 SE Water Ave.
For more information, visit travelportland.com.