By Amy Lively Jensen
Portland, Oregon is a must-see city. Portlanders describe their city as: green, clean and healthy; wacky, beautiful and vibrant; relaxed, friendly and wet. In addition to these attributes, you can revel in a shopping heaven where there is no sales tax! It’s almost a crime to try to experience Portland in just one day, but if you must, here are some fabulous things to see and do.
Within the Portland Airport, you can ease into your journey at Capers Café et Le Bar. It was founded in 2001 by the Joly family with an emphasis on artisan wines from the Pacific Northwest. There is a comprehensive offering of 52 wines by the glass and all at modest prices. You may find the likes of a Shea Vineyard Pinot Noir or a Big Table Farm “Bee Box” Chardonnay. The knowledgeable staff is versed in answering any questions or making recommendations from the sizeable wine list. Indulge in their seasonal menu of ginger baked garlic salmon to pair with your Pinot Noir before going to collect your checked baggage.
The Klimpton Vintage Hotel is a convenient home base; it has a quirky, comfortable flair. Entering the lobby, you can experience a free nightly wine hour and relax with music by local artists on the weekends. Their wineology chalkboard includes the appropriate quote “I felt sorry for myself because I had no shoes until I met a man who had no wine.” The unique two-story rooms showcase a spiral staircase and antiques. This is a hip place that offers cucumber and honeydew water, pinot noir salt plus yoga mats in every room.
Getting around Portland is easy with the Max Light Rail system and streetcar. It is the Bike Capital of America, and bike lanes almost appear to equal car lanes. Start out in the Pioneer Courthouse Square in the heart of downtown Portland. It is known by the locals as Portland’s Living Room since they host 250 events there yearly. Experience the cascading waterfall fountain, outdoor chess set and a semi-circle amphitheater for movies, concerts and theater.
Walking down the red brick sidewalks, you’ll see bronze four-bowl drinking fountains that run continuously. Called Bensen Bubblers, locals say that Simon Benson donated 20 of them in 1912 as an effort to keep loggers out of the saloons at lunchtime. There are currently 52 bubblers throughout downtown with pure water from the mountains.
Choosing one coffee house of the 2572 in the city is difficult, but you can savor the brew at Stumptown. After a caffeine break, a memorable stop at Powell’s City of Books is a must. It is the largest independent chain of bookstores in the world with four levels that cover an entire city block. Their most expensive book is $10,000 and they boast, “if it’s in print, it’s at Powell’s.”
For lunch you can experience Portland’s food cart scene. There are over 500 food carts in “pods” throughout Portland. With a plethora of cuisines, it is a foodie paradise. Recommended fare is the West African caramelized fried plantains, a dinosaur egg (grilled avocado filled with cauliflower sticky rice topped with mango and cilantro), mouth-watering chicken schwarma and hand-pulled noodles with juicy squid and shrimp. The food carts have been around for 20 years and bring in $2.7 billion in revenue. In recognition of the local creations from these tiny kitchens, CNN named Portland the Home of the World’s Best Street Food.
As you tour Portland, you’ll see 17 rose murals adorning many prominent buildings. Some of the murals are as tall as the buildings on which they are painted in this “city of roses.” Overlooking the city is the famous International Rose Test Garden within Washington Park. It is the oldest public garden in the US. What a treat for your eyes and nose. There are 10,000 dazzling rose bushes with 650 varieties. A riot of color, blankets of blossoms and roses you’ve never seen make this garden an all-time favorite. On the slopes above the Rose Garden is the Portland Japanese Garden. The beautiful and meticulously groomed plantings cover 12.5 acres. It’s composed of eight gardens; with the largest being the Strolling Pond Garden.
If you love horticulture, a visit to the Lan Su Chinese Garden is a must. Surrounded by the tall buildings of Portland, it is one of the most authentic Chinese gardens outside of China. It is a surprise that within a city block, you can wander on the mosaic paths and across bridges to savor the tranquility of the koi ponds, flowers and shrubs. You quietly absorb the ancient architecture and historic artifacts of elaborately carved screens and furniture. Relax and take time for an exotic tea at the Tao of Tea, a 50-seat tea house.
After sightseeing, try happy hour at the Portland City Grill. On the 30th floor of the U.S. Bancorp Tower, there are breathtaking views of the city. You can enjoy a drink and appetizer specials; they are known for the steel head, crab and asparagus appetizer. Dinner offers a wide range of options. If you’d prefer dining in an intimate French restaurant, you’ll find seasonal flavors with a creative spin at Le Pigeon. You may want to splurge on the tasting menu.
If there is extra time, don’t miss hiking around the glacier-cut Columbia River Gorge and Mt. Hood, which is a 30-minute drive east of Portland. There are 50 miles of hiking trails plus five waterfalls that can also be seen from the road. At 600 feet, the tallest waterfall is like jumping out of a 70-story building. Also, for wine-lovers it’s less than an hour’s drive to Willamette Valley wine country, known for their welcoming hospitality and world-class wines.
There is an abundance of other experiences to be enjoyed in Portland if you have additional days. Put it on your bucket list.