A roundup of what to do, where to go and where to eat in Portland.
What do people say about Portland, Seattle’s neighbor to the south?
“One of America’s best walking towns” (Walking magazine). “So green you could serve it as a side dish” (Outside). “Cool, quirky style, surprisingly affordable” (Budget Travel). “One of the top 10 cat-friendly cities in America” (CATalyst Council).
OK, so the accolades are getting a little wacky. But you get the idea. Portland is a much-loved city, celebrated for its locally sourced food and wine scene, its vibrant downtown, its walkable neighborhoods and laid-back vibe.
Here are some tips for your next visit.
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No need for a car since you can get just about anywhere on the city’s easy-to-use public-transit system. Take an Amtrak train to Portland, then walk or hop on the MAX light-rail system (travel throughout the downtown area is free) or the Portland Streetcar, which links the downtown Cultural District, Pearl District and Nob Hill/Northwest neighborhoods, the Portland State University campus and the RiverPlace neighborhood overlooking the Willamette River. All-day fare: $2.05.
What to do
Stop in at the visitors center in Pioneer Courthouse Square for info on city attractions, and by all means do the biggies: the Portland Saturday Market (a giant arts and crafts fair that actually runs 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Saturday and 11 a.m.-4:30 p.m. Sunday, March through December), the Lan Su Chinese Garden, the Portland Art Museum, etc. Bookaholics should add the legendary Powell’s City of Books to that list.
Also, allow plenty of time to walk or bike around town. One popular trail: the 1.5-mile pedestrian and bicycle path in Tom McCall Waterfront Park, with great views of the city’s skyline and access to four of the bridges that cross the Willamette River. Bike rental info: www.waterfrontbikes.com.
Get to know the city’s neighborhoods: the Cultural District for parks and public art, Nob Hill/Northwest for trendy boutiques (no sales tax!), the Pearl District for restaurants, wine bars and galleries. Marcus Hibdon, of TravelPortland.com, especially likes the Mississippi Avenue area in the northeast portion of the city. “It was a bit of a down-and-out neighborhood that has gone through a rebirth,” he said, and it’s notable for its “great collection of food carts,” restaurants and shops. One store to seek out there: The Meadow, which specializes in chocolate, flowers, wine and hundreds of kinds of salt, and offers frequent tastings and classes (3731 N. Mississippi Ave., 888-388-4633, www.atthemeadow.com). A salted-caramel class, anyone?
Where to eat
You’ve got some tough choices to make, but here are some suggestions to get you started.
• According to a readers’ survey at PortlandFoodandDrink.com (“Throwing ourselves on the grenade of bad food to save you”), two excellent choices are Laurelhurst Market (3155 E. Burnside St., 503-206-3097, www.laurelhurstmarket.com), a butcher-shop-cum-steakhouse, and Metrovino (1139 N.W. 11th Ave., 503-517-7778, www.metrovinopdx.com), featuring “refined yet rustic” fare.
• Two intimate, romantic spots recommended by TravelPortland’s Hibdon: Castagna, whose Spanish-trained chef, Matt Lightner, was named a Best New Chef of 2010 by Food & Wine magazine (1752 S.E. Hawthorne Blvd., 503-231-7373, castagnarestaurant.com); and DOC, specializing in Northern Italian cuisine (5519 N.E. 30th Ave., 503-946-8592, www.docpdx.com).
• The Portland Streetcar site has a “Ride & Dine” map locating restaurants near streetcar stops: www.portlandstreetcar.org/node/34.
About those food carts: Portland is famous for them, and we’re not talking hot-dog stands. See www.foodcartsportland.com for a guide to literally hundreds of carts selling everything from traditional Thai street food to Japanese Domo dogs to pork confit sandwiches.
Finally, don’t leave the city without sampling a locally made drink.
And we don’t just mean microbrews and wine, although you should certainly try those: Start with an award-winning ale at BridgePort BrewPub (1313 N.W. Marshall St., 503-241-3612, www.bridgeportbrew.com) or a pinot noir from a Willamette Valley winery (see www.willamettewines.com for info on tastings and tours). But you can also knock back a blue-plum brandy and other spirits made from Oregon fruit at Clear Creek Distillery (2389 N.W. Wilson St., 503-248-9470, clearcreekdistillery.com); an espresso at the revered Stumptown Coffee Roasters (several locations, www.stumptowncoffee.com); or an oolong at Smith Teamaker (1626 N.W. Thurman St., 503-719-8752, www.smithtea.com), where Tazo founder Steven Smith crafts small batches of high-quality blends.