Ultimate Portland

A few days is all you need to immerse yourself in the city’s progressive vibe and eclectic destinations

Photo by Larry Geddis

Photo by Larry Geddis

The hit comedy series Portlandia, now in its third season on the Independent Film Channel, depicts Portland as a city overrun with lefties, hippies and hipsters. That’s because, well, it is. Though the show’s stars, actors Fred Armisen and Carrie Brownstein, parody
the stereotypical resident of this city to great comic effect, most who have experienced Portland will not deny it’s a place chock full of  creative minds and free spirits.

Portland, nestled below the Cascades in the low-lying Willamette Valley, with its passion for local food and brews, bikes and mass transit, public green spaces and homegrown artists, is the cutting edge of cool.

And its appeal is widespread: Students spill into downtown from the centrally located Portland State University, while business types point out that companies like KEEN and Adidas have found a home in the city. And artists take pride in holding rank among a handful of big-name bands, like the Decemberists and the Dandy Warhols.

Even a brief encounter with the people and places of Portland is enough to reveal the city’s eclectic, hip spirit.


Photo courtesy of Travel Portland

Portland is renowned for its street food; some consider it the best in the world. Walk a couple blocks and it’s easy to see why—with more than two hundred carts open on any given day, mobile cuisine is an important part of the dining scene. The Grilled Cheese Grill serves gourmet sandwiches in an old school bus, Koi Fusion offers top-notch Korean cuisine with a modern twist, and The Waffle Window dishes up sweet and savory entrees built on fresh-made waffles.

It’s essential to wash down all that food with a beer. Portland, nicknamed “Brewvana,” boasts forty-plus breweries—more per capita than any other city in the world. Grab a pint at McMenamins brewpub, a Portland classic, or get in on a microbrewery-hopping tour.


Photo by Torsten Kjellstrand

While it’s easy to find exactly what you’re looking for at Pioneer Place Mall, head to the Portland Saturday Market, the nation’s largest outdoor arts and crafts market, for handcrafted goods from dozens of vendors. Find high-quality pottery, jewelry, artwork and more—and be sure to take a minute to ask the passionate artists a few questions about their work.

No trip to Portland is complete without a stop at Powell’s City of Books. Set in the Pearl District—a few blocks of high-end but eclectic stores on the north side of downtown—it’s a 1.6-acre shop that claims to be the largest independent new and used bookstore in the world. 

On Saturday, visit the tree-lined heart of the Portland State University campus for the Portland Farmers Market. Come for a hearty breakfast from Pine State Biscuits and tamales from Salvador Molly’s, but stay for the array of fresh produce and unique edibles from more than a hundred vendors, including white radish kimchi from Choi’s Kimchi and vegan truffles from Missionary Chocolate.


Photo by Robert Reynolds

Escape the constant activity of downtown at one of Portland’s many secluded parks. Washington Park lies just above the city and offers sweeping views of the central Willamette River and the nearby Cascades. But it gets better—the park is complete with winding trails that lead guests to several quality attractions like the Portland Japanese Garden, the Oregon Zoo and the International Rose Test Garden. Nature buffs looking for a full-day adventure will find their place at Forest Park. With more than five thousand acres, it’s the largest natural urban park in the country.

Ruth Young is a former editorial intern at Madison Magazine and blogs at the-tasty-truth.com.

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