I often tell Nick, "Someday, we'll look back on our life and say, 'Remember that one time we lived in Portland? That was weird.'"
Our Portland residency amounted to a mere 15 months. A brief blip in our timeline, concluding four years of Northwest living after a similarly short stint in Seattle. We are now living in Truckee, a small alpine town north of Lake Tahoe... the place that fostered Nick's snowboarding career in another life, and also an area many of our friends and family reside. We always knew we would end up in Tahoe to "settle down someday," but weren't ready yet. Portland was our pitstop, made official when Nick and I both landed jobs in PDX and scored an amazing deal on a house, which we spent a year fixing and flipped.
I hate to use this word, but our time in Portland really was weird. Not because the city was super weird but because our time there marked a series of beginnings and endings for both of us. We were in a weird place in life. An in-between place. Hard moments and triumphant moments. We bought and sold a house. We got jobs and lost jobs; ended careers and started new ones. Our church collapsed and a new one emerged from the ashes. I became a bike commuter. We fell in love with Timberline Lodge, and really all of Mount Hood, and spent many a memorable weekend at the Oregon Coast. We often missed Seattle and missed California. It was a transient time; a time that, I think, reflects what Portland is all about.
The city itself is quirky as hell, overflowing with recent transplants eager to start over. In our eyes, it felt a little tired, like a city that was past its heyday but still trendier than ever. It's undoubtedly a place of culture, of world-renowned craft brews, more specialty coffee roasters than you can count, and jaw-dropping waterfalls 30 minutes away in every direction. It's also a city of Instagram clichés, trendy health movements and even the hometown of Socality Barbie. It was Portland that introduced me to summer snowboarding, my kombucha obsession, and specialty donuts.
(Note: if at about this exact moment you're thinking about moving to Portland, read this article.)
So here it is, love it or hate it, a non-Portlander's guide to Portland (pssst... if you're also traveling to Seattle, check out my Guide To Seattle):
my favorite waterfalls to instagram
- Wahclella Falls — Easy hike, super pretty waterfall. Great swimming hole in the summer.
- Punch Bowl Falls — Go early in the morning and beat the crowds. Stunning.
- Multnomah Falls — Don't bother hiking to the top, the best view is where everybody else is: on the bridge.
- Spirit Falls — Good luck finding it.
- Blue Star Donuts — Only tourists go to Voodoo. Blue Star is where it's at. Order the blueberry bourbon basil, and go early so they're not sold out!
- Salt & Straw — Yes, yes, hipster ice cream... worth the hype (and the line). Their salted caramel is divine.
- Division Food Carts — There are fantastic food cart pods all over the city, but this one's my favorite.
- Sweedeedee — If you want a good brunch in Portland, be prepared to wait for two hours on a weekend. While Sweedeedee is small, the wait isn't usually so bad, and the food is amazing. Enjoy!
- The Noble Rot — Perfect for a date night or small group. Restaurant/wine bar with a lot of menu ingredients sourced from their rooftop garden. One of the only places with a gorgeous view of the city on a clear night.
- Zilla Sake House — Best sushi I've ever had. Sit at the bar and ask the chef for sake recommendations.
- Olympic Provisions — Charcuterie boards. Favorite restaurant in Portland; one of my favorites ever, actually. Just thinking about this place makes me want to move back!
- Por Que No? — Great place on the cheap. I always ordered the Bryan's Bowl. The orange sauce is amazing.
- Teote — Peruvian food, similar to Por Que No? in vibe and price point. Great outdoor seating and bar.
- Bowl of the Gods from Kure - Nonnegotiable, you must eat this for breakfast or a mid-afternoon snack at least once.
breweries + coffee roasters
- Base Camp Brewery — Truly embodies the local spirit of Portland adventurers. Amazing beer to boot.
- Coava Coffee — I guarantee you've seen Instagram photos of this place. Best coffee in the city in a beautiful space.
- Water Avenue Coffee — Not as "cool" but still a great watering hole. Great outdoor seating.
- Ecliptic Brewery — Decent food, great beer. I enjoyed coming here after dinner at Por Que No?
- Stumptown — Yes, I'm recommending Stumptown despite recently being acquired by Peet's Coffee. Their roastery location in the SE hosts free public cuppings every day at 3 PM, if you want the true coffee education (which you do)!
- Heart Coffee — There are a few locations now. Their coffee has a cult following. Hip space.
- Barista (not a roastery, but definitely worth visiting) — Multi-roaster café rotating incredible coffees. The Pearl location was a part of my regular stomping grounds. Great staff. First time? Check out the Alberta location.
adventure day around the city
- Bike to OMSI — As you probably know, Portland is one of the most bikeable cities in the nation, with many bridges and bike streets dotting the city. OMSI (Oregon Museum of Science + Industry) is a gem of the city and not to miss!
- Run the Esplanade — Nick and I would park on the east side, run up and down the East and West Esplanades, and end up at Water Avenue Coffee to get computer work done. The best part is you can make the run however long you like, as there are many route and bridge options.
- Hike Through Forest Park to the Pittock Mansion — Easy hike (try running it!) to a beautiful historic mansion. I never paid the money for the tour, just enjoyed the view of the city.
exploring mount hood
- Timberline Lodge — Iconic Oregon landmark. A must see.
- Trillium Lake — One of the best views of Mount Hood on a clear day. To stretch your legs, hike or run around the lake.
- Hike the PCT — The PCT crosses through Mount Hood. It's easy to hop on for a quick day hike. In safe conditions, try summiting the top of Hood! (take someone who knows what they're doing)
hidden gems around portland that aren't really hidden anymore
- Mississippi Ave — This was our neighborhood. So many great bars and shops. Really comes alive on Saturday nights.
- NW 23rd Ave — I spent a lot of time here. It's a charming shopping and food area that feels a bit ritzier than the rest of the city.
- Vintage Shopping in Sellwood — So many little hole-in-the wall antique shops in Sellwood, a neighborhood in South Portland that feels completely removed from the rest of the city. I often biked to Sellwood and back for a day adventure.
- SE Division Street — One of the fastest growing (and changing) parts of the city. Very eclectic food and shopping. You'll recognize scenes from Portlandia everywhere.
- PDX Airport — The Portland airport is AMAZING for so many reasons aside from the carpet. You will find plenty of food options here that mimic the amazing offerings of the city!
sweat it out
- Intro Special at Hot Yoga For Life — One of the best yoga specials I've seen at an amazing studio.
- Take a boot camp class at StudioX — This is the studio that got me into fitness in the first place. Friendly people. Take a class and chat with some of the locals about their favorite things to do around town.
- Me Fitness Studios — Get a free 3 day trial and enjoy. Amazing classes, clean equipment, boutique gym with a great view, great trainers. My home gym... I miss it so much!
- The Circuit Bouldering Gym — Rent some shoes if you don't own any, climb for a few hours, mingle with the locals. This place is almost like Tinder for climbers: it's trendy and filled with attractive singles.
P.S. I just stumbled upon this New York Times article documenting what to do with 36 hours in Portland. I wish I had seen this two years ago, as I lived in the city for a year and a half and didn't know about a lot of these things! Just goes to show you that for all the hype and hipsterdom Portland wields these days, there really still might be hidden gems for you to discover...