Portland Travel Guide

Portland Travel Guide

Fernando Nocedal

A newcomer to international attention, Portland, Oregon has quickly gained the notice of cultural tastemakers from Brooklyn to Tokyo as a 21st-century model for healthy urban living. This modest former logging town now inspires many young creatives to start new lives in the heart of the Pacific Northwest. The region’s vast wilderness, moderate climate, and fertile valleys, along with a DIY West Coast entrepreneurial spirit, provide an ideal setting for one of the world’s most exciting farm-to-table food scenes and a relaxed progressive culture committed to social equality and environmental sustainability.

While downtown, on the west side of the Willamette River, has excellent hotels, higher density, and many noteworthy attractions, it’s the east side—more expansive and relaxed—where you’ll find much of Portland’s culinary, outdoor, and creative pulse. Hop on a bicycle using the city’s innovative bike share program, BIKETOWN (a partnership with locally based Nike) and discover why the city is so widely admired.

Han Oak | Photo: Fernando Nocedal

Han Oak | Photo: Fernando Nocedal

Where to eat in Portland

The East Side food scene is an embarrassment of riches comprising dozens of micro-neighbourhoods scattered throughout Southeast, Central Eastside, Northeast, and North Portland. A culinary incubator, the Ocean complex hosts some of the city’s hottest pop-up restaurants. Peter Cho and Johnny Leach’s Han Oak serves weekend prix-fixe Korean BBQ dinners and a Sunday brunch that might include braised pork belly waffle, blood cake, and pork-and-chive dumpling soup. The discreet entrance leads to a familial courtyard area that adjoins a bright, friendly interior space. See their calendar for additional chef residencies and other intriguing weekday culinary projects. Soon morphing from travelling supper club to brick-and-mortar restaurant is purveyor of impeccably modern Oregon cuisine Nomad.PDX (slated to move into an Ocean space in autumn 2016), which focuses on locally sourced and foraged ingredients. Think spring lamb with fermented barley or lemon curd meringue with pine ice cream and fried butter, all showcased to stunning effect on custom ceramic plates that evoke the Northwest’s rugged terrain.

One of the city’s most consistently outstanding food empires—it includes Toro Bravo and Mediterranean Exploration Company—is that of chef/restaurateur John Gorham, whose Tasty n Sons offers “New American diner” cuisine with a satisfyingly eclectic Pacific Northwest spin and an international brunch menu featuring Burmese red pork stew, North African sausage, and chocolate potato doughnuts. The latest addition to chef/restaurateur Akkapong Earl Nimson’s growing list of outstanding Thai restaurants (including the phenomenal and ever popular LangBaan) is Northeast Portland’s Hat Yai. On the pared-down menu of refreshingly accessible comfort food, don’t miss the hearty plate of fried chicken, roti, and Malayu curry broth. And for an all-around unforgettable, warmly lit, leisurely dining experience, look to Ava Gene’s. Standouts among the delectable Italian dishes include sheep cheese and cherry tomato pane (flatbread), sagna riccia (ruffled pasta) with lamb ragu, and any of the light, market-fresh vegetable plates.

Steven Alan at Union Way | Photo: Fernando Nocedal

Steven Alan at Union Way | Photo: Fernando Nocedal

Shopping in Portland

In downtown’s West End, between the Ace Hotel and legendary Powell’s Books, Union Way houses a cohesive selection of contemporary retail spaces ranging from clothiers and leather-goods shops to an apothecary, bakery, and ramen parlour. You’ll find fun, colourful threads one block south at Frances May, where the emphasis is on both young, independent designers and high-quality classic labels.

With its sharp focus on formally inventive menswear from emerging designers, beautifully appointed Machus is not to be missed by contemporary fashion and design enthusiasts. It’s in the rapidly transforming Lower East Burnside area, where a series of high-profile, angular residential towers are underway, and more stylish shops are likely to follow.

Taking the art of curated retail to impressive heights, home décor shop and studio Beam & Anchor is, along with local magazine Kinfolk, one of the primary exporters of Portland’s artisan aesthetic, evoking historical craftsmanship, Americana, rugged wilderness, global awareness, and contemporary urban living.

Things to do in Portland

One of Portland’s most vibrant cultural hubs, the 20-block Alberta Arts District hosts an art walk the last Thursday of every month. It’s also home to two of the city’s finest speciality bookstores. The clean, minimalist Ampersand Gallery & Fine Books showcases rare vintage artwork and photography in old map cases, a deftly curated collection of art books, and monthly exhibits. Two blocks west, Monograph Bookwerks is a cosy den of a shop filled with rare new and used books spanning art, architecture, fashion, graphic design, photography, and counterculture. You’ll also find a fascinating collection of unusual objets d’art, from ceramics to writing inks to decorative, industrial chains.

Art enthusiasts will also find plenty to see in the dozens of galleries in downtown’s chic Pearl District. For a quick taste, take a jaunt to Lumber Room, a stunning loft space hidden in the heart of this former warehouse district that presents rotating exhibits.

Food Cart Pod at 28th and Burnside | Photo: Fernando Nocedal

Food Cart Pod at 28th and Burnside | Photo: Fernando Nocedal

Portland nightlife

The locavore approach to Portland’s food movement also applies to its beverage scene, which features exceptional artisan producers of coffee, beer, wine, spirits, juice, tea, kombucha, and even drinking vinegars. Inner Southeast, in particular, is home to some outstanding single-source coffee roasters, including Coava, whose industrial-chic brew bar is housed in an open concrete-shell warehouse space that bridges the gap between café and tasting room.

At the southern end of the commendable 28th & Burnside restaurant district, simple and modern Canteen turns out an inspired vegan menu of fresh juices, smoothies, bowls, and salads using local organic produce. The deceptively hearty quinoa, black bean, and baked maple tempeh Portland Bowl provides delicious, healthy sustenance for exploring the East side. Sample some of the region’s finest wines, from Willamette Valley Pinot Noir to Walla Walla Sangiovese, at Coopers Hall, a large, festive urban winery and taproom (note the excellent draft-beer selection) in a casually elegant converted warehouse in the Central Eastside’s fast-growing nightlife district.

Near the Alberta Arts District, Asian-inspired Expatriate serves remarkable international bar snacks and cocktails. Chef and co-owner Naomi Pomeroy (whose famous meat-centric restaurant Beast is across the street) has concocted an adventurous fusion menu that includes Burmese tea leaf salad, Laotian tuna belly tacos, and fried wonton nachos.

Portland’s sex-positive culture boasts the highest per capita ratio of strip bars of any city in the country. The recent success of the gay gentlemen’s club Stag PDX suggests erotic dancing when done right, has a viable future in the LGBTQ community. The bar draws a wide cross section: business professionals, club kids, service industry workers, and college students rub shoulders and intermittently interact with the performers.

Jupiter Hotel

Jupiter Hotel

The best hotels in Portland

Portland-headquartered Ace Hotel has enjoyed great success applying its context-focused, neo-bohemian design philosophy to a growing number of destinations, from Palm Springs to London. Room amenities at this trendy and historic West End lodging include custom murals (fawns, graffiti, mountainscapes, trolls, cats), shared or private baths, LPs and turntables, claw foot tubs, and locally made vintage furniture. Many of downtown’s noteworthy new shops and restaurants are nearby, including the Ace’s excellent high-end tavern, Clyde Common, and underground bar, Pepe le Moko.

Downtown’s luxurious 331-room The Nines occupies the upper ten floors of the former Meier & Frank department store, a striking glazed terra cotta building with a stately elegance that pays homage to the site’s history. The swanky décor adds a bright, modern twist to the historic interiors. Two restaurants, farm-to-table steakhouse Urban Farmer, and celeb LGBT chef Gregory Gourdet’s spectacular rooftop pan-Asian eatery Departure, provide the perfect opportunities to see and be seen.

The posh Sentinel, part of the trendy Provenance Hotels group, offers a classic, inviting sensibility that includes lively Rock and Roll-era photography, in-room Salt & Straw ice cream delivery, and rooftop beehives producing BeeLocal honey. The hotel also featured in local auteur Gus Van Sant’s queer epic My Own Private Idaho.

And for those seeking a livelier, casual East Side roost, the Jupiter Hotel—set in an ingeniously updated mid-century modern motor lodge—features a top-notch music venue, bar and restaurant, Doug Fir Lounge, whose lumber-chic aesthetic evokes the dreamlike Pacific Northwest of Twin Peaks.

Rooster Rock State Park | Photo: Andrew Collins

Rooster Rock State Park | Photo: Andrew Collins

Hiking and exploring the outdoors

You don’t have to walk far in Portland to take in the fresh tree-scented air, but it’s best to bring some hiking shoes to expand your options. Just west of downtown, the 5,100 acres of urban woodland reserve that is Forest Park and adjoining 410-acre Washington Park feature 70 miles of recreational trails, a breath-taking Japanese Garden, the International Rose Test Garden, and several other noteworthy attractions.

Although it’s about a 90-minute drive from Portland, you owe it to yourself to make at least a day trip to the Pacific coast. Oswald West State Park contains scenic Short Sand Beach and two magnificent headlands to choose from for a rewarding hike. The trail to Cape Falcon leads to sea cliffs where you may be treated to whale, dolphin, and sea lion sightings. And the steep hike to 1,680-foot Neahkahnie Mountain offers a truly singular view of the coastline.

For a memorable Alpine day trip an 80-minute drive from town, head to Timberline Lodge, a charmingly rustic 1930s ski resort perched on Oregon’s majestic Mount Hood.

During the warm summer months, Portlanders regularly flock to the clothing-optional, gay-popular beach at Rooster Rock State Park in the spectacular Columbia River Gorge. The dramatic natural setting and relaxed social vibe make it a great place to meet locals. Less than a 30-minute drive from Portland, the park is also close to several great waterfall hikes in the Gorge.

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