Portland: the City of Roses

They say that most people have a preference for either Seattle or Portland, Portland being the grungy, funky, river-side city whereas Seattle is the futuristic, sky-scraper filled, ocean-side counterpart. Given that they sound quite different, I was quite prepared to like them both. Weirdly enough, even though we lived in Canada for two years, the pandemic rendered us unable to cross the border during that time. So upon our return, Andy and I vowed to venture across the invisible line and see what the great US of A had to offer.

Our trip to Portland started with an extremely early morning and flight from Vancouver. The train station at Portland airport was closed, and the bus seemingly took forever. My first impression was that the city outskirts were drab and run-down, but that’s probably common for a lot of big cities so I tried to withhold judgement. Our first American meal was at the Daily Feast, close by to our accommodation. It was a delightful mix of greasy spoon and lots of natural light, which was perfect after the day’s early start.

We stayed at the Society Hotel. It was very cool, very chic, with a coffee shop downstairs and a rooftop lounge with excellent city views. Its biggest downside was the location – something we were aware of, but maybe hadn’t appreciated the extent of until we arrived. Situated on Portland’s equivalent of LA’s ‘skid row’, the homeless community was unlike anything I’d ever seen before, even after living in Vancouver. 

Unlike East Hastings Street in Vancouver (where the population is concentrated to one street), the homeless community is spread over several blocks, and it seemed our hotel was at the epicentre. The part I found unnerving was the lack of anyone else walking these streets – it felt like a deserted district, which naturally caused us both to be quite on edge. We tried not to let it get to us though, and of course, we encountered no issues.

Conveniently close to our hotel was both Voodoo Donuts and Stumptown Coffee, both must-dos on any tourist’s list. All hospitality businesses had security guards at the door, which was new to us. At Voodoo, we carefully selected three donuts (voodoo doll with raspberry, a Marshall Mathers and best-seller, maple bacon) and took them down to the waterfront for eating. Although they were delicious, I maintain the quality of donuts in NZ is hard to beat. Stumptown Coffee on the other hand – 10/10! We actually ended up visiting three times (one was to a different location) as the coffee was just so darn good. 

As expected, we accumulated a lot of steps whilst in Portland. Our biggest day was walking along the waterfront to take the gondola, which at $8 for a round trip is an excellent way to see the city. Ironically it also doubles as the daily commute for the hospital workers/students, who probably laugh at the tourists in awe of their everyday outlook.

Following this, we walked across the pedestrian bridge to the other side of the river, where we ambled our way up to the Hawthorne neighbourhood. Hawthorne was a very fun area, with plenty of thrift shopping to be had, and neat cafes. We rested our tired feet at Harlow over a bowl of chilli and a smoothie, before continuing on the vintage shopping spree. We also enjoyed a yummy bowl of Thai inspired soup before beginning the long walk home. 

 

Given Oregon is home to the West Coast IPA, we were both pretty excited to sink some beer. Kennedy School had been highly recommended to us, so we made this our first stop (it was a little bit of effort to get there, but highly worth it). A converted school, it now functions as a hotel with dedicated rooms for niche bars, restaurants, a theatre, a pool and so on. We could have spent hours there. Actually, we did! Moving from bar to bar, playing games (including pool, shuffleboard and cards), exploring and eventually settling in the courtyard restaurant for dinner, we were there well into the evening. Our fish and chips were hilariously (and obnoxiously!) small when you consider we paid $US 24 for them. When our waitress started bringing us free beer, we realised we had already consumed more than enough so we upped ourselves and began the journey home. Other breweries that we enjoyed are Deschutes, an institution with good vibes, beer and food; and Backwoods Brewing, which felt more low-key and where we enjoyed burgers and tasting paddles on the patio. 

Our final full day was spent exploring the Old Pearl District. Featuring plenty of converted warehouses and exposed brick, there was also no shortage of artisans and boutiques. We spent a long time meandering Powell’s Book Shop (another must-visit!) before wandering up to Salt and Straw for ice cream. The flavours were both adventurous and delicious – Andy had fried chicken and chocolate brownie, whilst I tried the lavender honey and the malted chocolate cookie dough.

Washington Park was our next stop. We spent a long time wandering the rose gardens (it is the City of Roses after all!), bonding with a squirrel and travelling new trails. We then picked our way back to the city stopping at breweries and exploring new neighbourhoods on the way.

The next morning we were Seattle bound! We grabbed a delicious vegan BBQ bowl from Rabbits Cafe, our custom Stumptown Coffee and headed to the train station for the next stage of our journey. While I enjoyed my time in Portland, I was hopeful that I was going to like my time in Seattle even more. Watch this space! 

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