After spending a week in San Francisco, my friend Ali and I took a short flight north to the Pacific Northwest and the Oregon city of Portland for a couple of days.
If I were to pinpoint one place that’s felt so much like my home streets of London town its here. What a city. We had two full days in the gorgeously clean, green space and spent most of it wondering around in the August heat watching the trendiest, friendliest, happiest city dwellers go about their daily lives.
In the little time we had to enjoy it there were so many things to do. Portland offers a city break with a difference – it’s agonisingly cool. Not short of the occasional hipster beard, after a few minutes of walking the streets and sipping a beer you really do feel like you’ve lived there for months.
Whilst the surrounding areas of Oregon are bursting with wildlife and nature trails to consider, I’ve compiled a list of eats and activities that I think will make a weekend in Portland brilliant. Whether you’re passing through on a west-coast road trip or using the city for a flight interchange, consider the following:
1. Tour the city and it’s breweries by bike
As America’s bicycle capital, Portland is majorly bike friendly and a good mixture of hilly and flat so you must get on two wheels and explore it. We booked onto an afternoon of brewery biking with Pedal Bike Tours and their 3 hour, 5 mile Oregon Brewery Tour.
With over 40 microbreweries on offer making up what the locals call Portland “Beervana”, you’ll visit the likes of Deschutes, the Crystal Ballroom and Lucky Labrador to name a few. Tours go at a nice easy pace with no more than 12 to a group. You can eat and drink as little or as much as you like on route.
Portland has loads of bike tours and hire centres available, but this tour begins and ends in the Pearl district so you also get to experience the thriving downtown area along the way.
2. Shop until you drop – tax free!
Get your shopping done here. Oregon is the only US state not to apply sales tax!
If you’re looking for a shopping district full of quirky boutiques with the occasional recognisable brand thrown in then look no further. The northwest district, in particular NW 23rd Ave, is your new haven. The top of the road opens to a big Urban Outfitters followed by a stream of adorable clothing, beauty and accessory boutiques before you meet the queues for the city’s famous Salt & Straw ice cream shop further down.
3. Eat ice cream at Salt & Straw
Yes, you’ll have to queue, but my word your taste buds will be happy you did. We queued for just under an hour to sample the hand-made ice cream the locals rave about. However, the time passed quickly as the staff regularly bring round samples to help you make your choice. Vegan options are available too, and you can buy by the tub if you want to take some home. If you fancy getting floral I’d recommend honey lavender flavour, or pear & blue cheese if you’re feeling daring.
4. Sit amongst the roses
Even if you don’t show any signs of becoming a budding horticulturist any time soon, spend a Sunday morning wandering around the stunning trails of roses at Portland’s Rose Garden.
The three gardens (including a test garden to try out new varieties) have hundreds of roses on show and a plethora of colours to match.
If you’ve got time, take the steep hill climb and add on a walk through the Japanese Garden for a stroll of beauty. It’s a gorgeous, peaceful city escape for a small entry fee.
5. Sample Southern cuisine at the famous Screen Door
Be warned, you will again queue for a very long time, but trust me, its worth the wait. Over indulge on Screen Door’s modern southern cuisine and try everything from grits and biscuits to southern fried chicken and sausage gravy. Give the house special maple syrup and pecan crusted bacon rashers a try too. Portions are huge and you won’t be hungry for the rest of the day so go wild. You may need to walk it off through the Rose Garden though! Take a look at their mouth-watering menu here.
6. Get lost for a few hours in Powell’s City of Books
And when I mean lost, I really do mean lost. This book store has endless shelves of books at neck-breaking heights to explore for hours. The building has the vibe of a trendy sleeping library complimented by the smell of many a good paperback flying straight up your nose. Ali ended up finding a copy of Harry Potter in French and snapped it up for $12 in an attempt to pick up her long-lost language skills. Random, right? Just one example of the rows and rows of wonderful books on offer.
7. Eat a donut from Blue Star
What?! Not Portland’s famous Voodoo Doughnut I hear you cry?! Well no, because we weren’t keen to stand in line in the hot summer heat to buy a sweet treat that wasn’t really going to touch the sides. We grabbed a donut at Blue Star (where all the locals go) on NW 23rd Ave instead – walking straight in, easily finding a chair and watching the world go by whilst inhaling the sugary goodness of a passion fruit & cocoa nib Blue Star special. Think Krispy Kreme, but naughtier. Delicious.
8. Snap the signs!
If you’re going to take just two photos in Portland make sure at least one is of these. Walk over the East Burnside St bridge and take a snap of the iconic Portland Oregon sign at night, and strike a pose in front of the famous Keep Portland Weird sign – it’ll be one for the photo album, for sure.