By Andrew Collins
Eco-conscious, progressive, and famously earnest (as satirized in Portlandia), Portland looks and feels as though it drifted away in the night from Canada, or perhaps Scandinavia. It’s an easy drive from spectacular mountains and waterways—from the Columbia Gorge to the Pacific Ocean—and the city itself abounds with hipster-approved, pedestrian-friendly neighborhoods spilling over with locavore-driven neighborhood bistros, coffeehouses, brewpubs, and wine bars.
Established by Stumptown Coffee founder Duane Sorenson, Ava Gene’s anchors the deservedly hyped Southeast Division Street restaurant row, turning out rustic Italian dinners featuring feathery-light fritto misto seasoned with chilies, basil, and lemon; and fresh-caught Oregon albacore with artichokes and tarragon. Tuck into a bowl of spicy, fragrant spicy red miso, or a plate of okonomiyaki-style tater tots at cheap and cozy Boxer Ramen, which sits at the front of the stylish Union Alley shopping arcade and across from iconic Powell’s Books. Brunch is a big to-do in Portland — try to hit gay-owned, Scandinavian-inspired Broder Café on a weekday, to avoid the lines; there are two locations, with the newer Broder Nord serving dinner, too. The aebleskiver (Danish pancakes) with housemade lemon curd and lingonberry jam will warm your soul on one of Portland’s damp winter mornings.
You won’t find a ton of major museums and attractions in this easy-going, mid-size city, although the Portland Art Museum is highly underrated. Portland’s signature draw is its bounty of eclectic, indie-spirited neighborhoods, most of them forming the retail and dining cores of historic residential districts on the leafy East Side. Arguably the most interesting, Alberta Street extends for about 20 blocks and is rife with diverting shopping, sipping, and noshing options. Don’t miss Pine State Biscuits for breakfast, Salt & Straw for artisan ice cream, Barista for coffee, Bye and Bye for cocktails and vegan chow, and Ampersand Gallery & Fine Books for its edgy collections of ephemera, vintage photos, and gay pulp novels.
Downtown Portland is hemmed in to the west by a continuous ridge of dense forest, one of the largest urban wilderness areas in the country. Head to the more manicured section, beautiful Washington Park for a stroll through the serene Portland Japanese Garden and the fragrant International Rose Test Garden (flowers are in peak bloom in late spring and early autumn), from which you can view snowcapped Mt. Hood—50 miles away—on clear days. Washington Park also contains a zoo, arboretum, and a few other attractions, and you can reach it from downtown on foot or by MAX light rail. If you’d rather a quieter, more locally authentic brush with greenery, try Mt. Tabor on the East Side. This pine-shaded park with undulating wildlife meadows and superb views of the downtown skyline is situated upon an ancient, dormant volcanic cinder cone.
Portland is HQ to the retro-chic Ace lodging brand, and the city’s own Ace Hotel offers both cheap (shared-bath) and mid-price rooms with cool murals, Pendleton blanket bedspreads, vintage turntables, and other quirky amenities. There’s a Stumptown Coffee café adjoining the lobby, and the on-site Clyde Common restaurant and subterranean Pepe Le Moko tapas and cocktail bar are favorites of scenesters and creative spirits. A few blocks away, the luxe-boutique Sentinel Hotel occupies a pair of artfully revamped historic downtown buildings, one in which local filmmaker Gus Van Sant shot several parts of the film My Own Private Idaho. Rooms have Lather bath amenities, iHome clock radios, and a clean, contemporary look.