Probably the most anticipated portion of my trip to the Pacific Northwest this fall was visiting Portland. I’d been hearing about it for years from friends, I’d seen a few episodes of Portlandia and was told it was a lot like Somerville. It’s true that some aspects of the city were familiar and we had a terrific time there, but Portland was both exactly what I imagined and nothing at all like what I expected. My reaction was difficult to reconcile and I’m still not sure I have my head fully wrapped around it. But like I said, we had a great time there, so here are the highlights.
Where to Stay
We stayed at the Embassy Suites Portland-Downtown, which is close to the Willamette River and made getting around the city very easy. One of the most surprising things to me about Portland was the enormous homeless population. The neighborhood we stayed in was very convenient and the hotel was really nice, with a great breakfast buffet, hot tub, pool and gym, but this was the only city we visited where I felt unsafe at times. Keep this in mind when choosing a location and planning activities, especially anything near the river.
Where to Eat
Andina: This cozy, bustling Peruvian tapas restaurant is the perfect place to go for a special dining experience. It was my first time eating at a Peruvian restaurant and it reminded me a bit of Somerville’s own Casa B. We loved the unique flavors in every dish, but the alfajores for dessert truly stole the show. I’m still dreaming about them.
Bowery Bagels: Portland is truly the most hipster place I’ve ever been and sometimes that really backfired. While the bagels at Bowery were very tasty, the place was almost too hipster to function. The staff was having a pretty epic meltdown during breakfast when the line grew to include about five people, which seemed pretty tame to us. I’d like to see them tackle the crowds at Bagelsaurus!
Elephants Delicatessen: We loved this place so much we ate there twice (then got it to go at the airport). Elephants has several food stations serving pizza, sandwiches, burgers, salads, soups, gourmet cheese, desserts, bread and so much more. It’s a great place to dine in or gather food for a picnic.
The Farm Cafe: Tucked into a cute little house on a side street, The Farm Cafe serves, you guessed it, farm-to-table cuisine. This was probably our favorite dinner in Portland, with quirky, yet friendly service, delicious local wines and really special food. Do not miss the baked brie and crème brûlée.
Prasad: We popped into Prasad, which shares space with a yoga studio, for lunch the day we arrived in Portland. We enjoyed two bowls packed with fresh ingredients and topped with a selection of flavorful sauces. It was a great meal, but we’ve yet to find a place that does bowls better than Life Alive.
Ruby Jewel: I come from a family of ice cream fanatics and love to seek out scoop shops while traveling. My trip to Ruby Jewel did not disappoint. You can’t really go wrong with fresh ice cream in flavors like caramel with salted dark chocolate, iced gingerbread cookie and Meyer lemon curd.
Sizzle Pie: Dining at Sizzle Pie was another case of a place being a bit too hipster to function. Told it would take 35 minutes for a pizza at the restaurant because they had “a lot deliveries,” we opted for slices, which were decent, but nothing to write home about. The staff was even more flustered when they had to correct a big overcharge on our bill. Luckily Ruby Jewel’s delicious ice cream was right around the corner.
Stumptown Coffee Roasters: The quintessential Portland coffee experience can be yours at the delicious Stumptown Coffee Roasters. We’ve been fans of Stumptown for years so it was really fun to be able to have it brewed at its birthplace.
VooDoo Doughnuts: A quintessential Portland experience is getting doughnuts at Voodoo, so we picked some up one night for dessert. The selection (and some of the doughnuts) was massive, but the doughnuts themselves didn’t taste super fresh. Once you’ve been spoiled by Union Square Donuts, nothing else compares.
What to Do
Portland Japanese Garden: Perched on the hills above Portland, the Japanese Garden was a true highlight of the trip. Its exquisite beauty was enhanced by an informative and entertaining tour that provided so much context to what we saw. It’s a bit of a schlep to the garden, but it’s not to be missed.
International Rose Test Garden: Located near the Japanese Garden, the International Rose Test Garden is a sight to behold. It’s free to wander the grounds and you can pick up a self-guided tour at the gift shop. We couldn’t believe how many roses were still blooming in October and I can’t even imagine how beautiful, and fragrant, it would be at the height of the season.
Pittock Mansion: Also located high above Downtown Portland, the Pittock Mansion provides breathtaking views of Mt. Hood and other peaks on a clear day. It’s worth the trip to the neighborhood to take a tour of the stunning home and grounds that were built in 1914 by the owner of the Oregonian newspaper.
Columbia River Gorge: One of my top recommendations when visiting Portland is to get out of the city to see the natural beauty of the area. We did a five-mile hike around Multnomah Falls that was so stunning and serene. The base area there can get very crowded, so I recommended heading off on a hike away from it if you can.
Living Room Theatre: We enjoyed dinner and a movie one night at Living Room Theatres. With comfortable seats, a variety of meals and snacks plus a bar, this was a really fun way to see a film.
Powell’s Books: If you love books, you’ll love Powell’s. It can be a bit overwhelming, but this gigantic book store is a must-see stop when visiting Portland. My favorite part was all the books they had on the first floor on what to do locally.
First Thursday Gallery Walk: One of the best things we did in Portland was participate in the First Thursday Gallery Walk in the Pearl District. This is where all the hipsters come out to play (we saw a grown man wearing a coon skin cap) and the people-watching is fantastic. The art is pretty good too.
Walking and Running in the Neighborhoods: One of the best ways to explore a city is just walking (or running) around it. We walked a ton in Portland, exploring the Downtown, the Pearl District, Old Town Chinatown, Hawthorne and more. And who knows, you might even meet some urban goats.
Have you been to Portland? What are your recommendations for where to stay, where to eat and what to do?