Portland: Is This City for Real?

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The best salmon and American brews you’ve ever tasted. An über bike-friendly, short drive to wind-surfing capital of the world, a hidden surfer’s cove, and dozens of the world’s award-winning Pinot vineyards. Home to hundreds of NYC-worthy organic and innovatively fresh restaurants, luxury and funky vintage hotels, and hands down best coffee shops on the planet, surround by fresh air and trees, hosting TWO happy hours nightly, and all for surprisingly low prices (relative to NYC-lifestyle that is).

Oregon really ought be first on your short list of vacation destinations this year before word gets out. Here’s what this native Oregonian discovered in P-town (Portland) while on her last excursion to the best … er, west coast.

Lodging in this city can be cheap as dirt or match your idea of luxury for half the price. Current favorites in the downtown area would include ultra chic Hotel Lucia for the big spenders ($450/night for the room with the private balcony hot tub and two-room suite) or $95-250/night for the fun and funky Ace Hotel complete with LP players in select rooms and unique vintage-mod decor in each room. Both are walking distance to downtown’s Max (lightrail train) that gives you easy access to all quarters of this fabulously earth-friendly city.

Should you desire to recall the feel of the steering wheel, you’ll be happy to discover that free parking is quite ample and when it is more scarce, garages will range from a mere $0.99/hour to $17/day! I had to laugh; sure beats the $13 per half-hour parking rates near my shoebox studio in the West Village. I almost wanted to just drive into and immediately out of the parking lot because I could—for only a dollar!

You can probably best enjoy this growing metropolis by bike (starting at $9/hour or $35/day) and will be pleasantly surprised by the friendliness of those behind the wheel of cars and cabs, and frequency of bike racks and bike lanes city-wide (as well as free bathrooms and clean water fountains).

Saturday Market—it’s huge, it’s fantastic … just go.

Powell’s Bookstore—of course … what’s a trip to Portland without a look through this ginormous new and used bookstore? It will make Strand look like an illegitimate baby cousin. Bring a reusable bag to carry all your finds because you will find many a book Amazon was unable to offer and if you stuff it with snacks, you’ll thank yourself later when three hours go by and no matter how much your stomach contests, you just can’t tear yourself away from the rare book room.

Stumptown Coffee (and photobooth)—you will never have a cup of coffee quite like Stumptown and while it can be found in coffee shops and certain restaurants throughout Portland, if you’re patient enough, you will be able to enjoy a fresh cup right here on 29th and Broadway this winter. But those who know better just can’t wait and will either bring pounds of beans back by the suitcase load or order online.

Vintage shopping is more than abundant in this city. Drive up and down Burnside (both east and west) to discover the best of fantastic vintage and thrift store finds such as the designer leather purse ($50), trendy tops ($8 to $10/each), and vintage clip-on earrings ($3) I found in one afternoon. Favorite shops included Goodwill (because it’s actually clean and carries nice stuff), Red Light, Buffalo Exchange, and my highest recommendation would have to go to Rock’n’Rose, where I found my deal of the year (mint condition Sigrid Olsen black hobo leather bag for $48, online new for $200).

Late night hotspots here range from pubs serving Oregon’s top notch brews to swanky jazz clubs with breath-taking views of the city, and even indie-DJ-rockin’ loft clubs with laughable $3 weekend cover charges. Oh, wait … I nearly forgot the best part of Portland night life—there are TWO, let me repeat, TWO happy hours in this fanfreakin’tastic city. For the most part you’ll find them between 6 to 8 p.m. and 10 p.m. through midnight citywide.

Why on earth do they do this? I didn’t have the time to ask between my enjoyment of half-priced drinks that were already at NYC happy hour prices (GOD BLESS OREGON and drinks are on me)! For a more chill pub-like atmosphere, try Life of Riley (10th Ave/NW Everett, smoking downstairs with the pool tables, non-smoking upstairs), for a fondue-serving neighborhood bar with outdoor seating try Bartini (I recommend the Jasminetini, Tomatoe Soup, and House Salad) on 21st Ave/NW Glisan, and for kickin’ DJs and/or live music, decently priced drinks, and a photobooth to memorialize the experience (they seem to be everywhere in this town), try Holocene on the east side (10th Ave/SE Morrison). You won’t be disappointed.

For the foodies out there, here are a few of the places that made it to the top of my list:

  • Mothers Bistro (best brunch—the salmon hash is a must for first timers and is served until 2:30 p.m.)
  • Mama Mia Trattoria (best Italian—but save room for the panna cotta)
  • Pita Pit (best late-night cravings)
  • Portland City Grill (best view of the city with great cocktails, sushi, and live pianist)

And for the day trips you may want to take, here are a few places that may convince you to keep that return flight open just a few days more:

  • Drive-thru theater (Newberg, OR—thirty minutes outside the city)—yes, they still exist; for half the cost of regular movie ticket you can catch a double feature at this fantastically family-friendly throw back to the great days of hot-dog-jumping-previews and convenient make-out session set-ups.
  • Manzanita, Oregon—Surfer’s paradise in Oregon
  • Mt. Hood—World renowned windsurfers paradise, as well as home to many amazing fruit orchards, vineyards, and B&Bs
  • Multnomah Falls—Tallest year-round waterfall in the nation and great (paved) 2.2 mile hike to the top. Waterfall is about thirty miles outside the city)
  • Dundee and Newberg, Oregon—Wine-tasting hub of the Willamette Valley, including tasting rooms for Argyle’s bubbly flights, and Berstrom, Erath, Ponzi, and Willamette Valley’s award winning Pinots. For a more unique experience, try one of the tour services.

While I selfishly debated whether or not to divulge this insider info, deep down I know most won’t be able to stomach the rainy season. So while the weather is good through September, go be a fair-weather Oregonian for a week. It will most likely be the best vacay choice you’ve made this year.


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