On a recent trip to the Pacific Northwest, I had only two full days to explore Portland – a city I hadn’t visited in more than two decades. But I had no children underfoot, which meant I could walk as quickly (or as slowly) as I wanted through Portland‘s vibrant downtown and its myriad attractions. Plus, I could eat as many Voodoo Doughnuts as I wanted – no sharing required.
I packed in as many attractions and dining experiences as I could during my short stay, and my schedule gave me a fabulous overview of what this bike-friendly, food-truck-centric, wine-loving city has to offer visitors.
French press in each room at the Heathman Hotel – joy!
Heathman Hotel: First, I made sure my home base for two nights was a centrally located property, so I could walk to key downtown sights. The historic and boutique Heathman Hotel gets huge props for its excellent location in the downtown Cultural District, its sophisticated yet cozy accommodations and, best of all, a French press in every guest room for an ultra-fresh cup of joe each morning (or in the afternoon after a day of sightseeing in a bit of drizzling rain).
Voodoo Doughnut: The breakfast of champions: a sugary sweet confection from Portland’s famous downtown doughnut shop. This bakery offers more than 50 varieties. Some are old standbys — jelly filled, chocolate covered or old fashioned — but it’s way more fun to sample some of the wacky flavors, such as doughnuts covered in bacon, Fruit Loops or marshmallow topping. Embrace the sugar high!
Tasty & Alder: For a more savory start to your day, head over to this fabulous brunch spot in downtown’s Pearl District. The menu at this modern, airy restaurant changes regularly, but you can count on hearty favorites and small plates made from local farmers’ market produce and other seasonal ingredients. Thumbs’ up for the cast iron frittata with veggies, herbs and cheese.
Food trucks: Portland is home to hundreds of food trucks, most found in food truck pods: empty lots where you can choose from among several stands. Every ethnic food under the sun is represented: Thai and Korean to Mexican and good ol’ American grilled cheese. I found dozens of trucks set up on a city block near the corner of SW Washington and SW 10th streets, and went with a sampling of Chinese dumplings from the Dump Truck. They were some of the best dumplings I’ve ever tasted.
Powell’s City of Books: The world’s largest independent bookstore that blankets an entire city block deserves several hours of exploration, not the scant few minutes I gave it on my whirlwind trip. Inside, you’ll find both new and used books in every category, plus nifty gift items.
Portland Art Museum: I’m not much of a museum-goer, yet I couldn’t resist popping into this multi-level museum just two blocks from the Heathman Hotel. The Portland Art Museum is the oldest museum on the West Coast, and features art from ancient times to today. I was most impressed with its permanent collection of artifacts collected from Native American tribes; some of the stuff dates back to the late 1800s.
Portland Farmers Market: Every Saturday morning from March to December, the shaded green belt that runs through downtown’s Portland State University hops with local vendors selling produce, honey, jams, meats, and gorgeous flowers. I strolled for two ours and ended up with a berry scone and spinach breakfast tart from a bakery stall.
Delicate bloom at Lan Su Chinese Garden
Lan Su Chinese Garden: Located in Portland’s Chinatown, this Chinese garden is filled with pagodas, flowering blooms, serene ponds, tea house, waterfalls and a resident scrub jay that won’t hesitate to dive-bomb you if you get too close to its nest. This is truly a calming oasis in the middle of an urban neighborhood (well, minus the bird that came after me). I loved strolling the grounds and learning about Chinese culture, history, and symbolism.
SE Wine Collective: No need to road trip to Oregon’s Willamette Valley when you have urban wineries right in Portland where you can taste and nosh. SE Wine Collective, in the Division-Clinton neighborhood southeast of downtown, is home to four artisanal wineries. Sample pours come from nifty taps behind the small bar; they also serve small-plate dishes such as as a deviled egg flight or salmon crostini. The delightful owners, Tom and Kate, make wine tasting fun: Their dog Cass usually is on hand to welcome guests, and monthly “Yappy Hours” bring all sorts of neighborhood canines to the party.
Ava Gene’s: Start your evening at SE Wine Collective, then walk just a block or so to Ava Gene’s for Italian-influenced cuisine. In fact, the menu is so authentic, it has a glossary to help those non-Italian speakers understand what words like culotte, aceto and filone mean (translations: beef, vinegar and a type of sourdough bread). Servers here also will help in deciphering the menu; ours recommended a savory bread to start, followed by a divine salad trio and creamy vegetable pasta.
Viewfinder Tip: Especially in downtown Portland, park the car and take advantage of the MAX Light Rail Service to get around.
Salt and Straw: In the opposite direction, northwest of downtown on fashionable NW 23rd Street (which has great shopping!), is Salt & Straw, a scoop shop that turns out the most awesome array of ice cream flavors. Consider such varieties as cinnamon snickerdoodle, sea salt with caramel, coffee and bourbon, or pear with blue cheese. That last one is surprisingly good!
Washington Park: West of downtown is one of the oldest and most well-used parks in Portland on nearly 130 acres. Without kids in tow I bypassed the Portland Children’s Museum and Oregon Zoo, and made a beeline for Hoyt Arboretum. This tract of undeveloped land has 12 miles of hiking trails in all and I sauntered down a number of them, shaded by the cover of Giant Sequoia and Coast Redwood trees.
Any hot spots you’d recommend for my return visit to Oregon?