What do you love about Portland?
April 23, 2009 1:20 PM   Subscribe

My friend is thinking about moving to Portland so we're going on a 7-day trip there this fall. Please recommend ways that we can spend our time to help give her a good feel of the city.

I found this great thread, and I'm looking for some broader suggestions to supplement it. Bonus points for not-to-miss, non-chain places for us to eat while we're there.

Some additional details:

* She does not camp & not very out-doorsey (but would appreciate botanical gardens, parks etc.)

* She has a greyhound (any great dog parks?)

* She is artsy and appreciates areas/neighborhoods that have some funk and quirk to them

* We will have a rental car and are willing to drive a bit.

* She's an optician so we would love to stop by your favorite optical store to get the vibe and possibly meet people.

* We'll be there the beginning of September.

We would also really like to know what you love about the city.
posted by Kimberly to Grab Bag (32 answers total) 22 users marked this as a favorite
Google map some eateries then ride the light rail,.... to and also fro.
posted by Freedomboy at 1:36 PM on April 23, 2009

Best answer: There are several good gardens in Portland - the Japanese, the Chinese, and the Rhododendron. This being the Rose City and all, there's lots of rose gardens around too.

But your question was what do I love about Portland, so my answer is very simple:


If you or your lady are beer people, this town is heaven. the Lompoc is the best in Portland, in my opinion; the Lucky Lab, Amnesia, and Rogue are all fantastic. There are also several larger brewpubs here (Deschutes, McMenamins, Bridgeport) so you're totally spoiled for choice.

What else is there to love about Portland? Well, to get to your points:

* There are tons of parks in Portland, but I don't have a dog so don't know if any of them are better than others as far as their dog areas go.

* Artsy - Mississippi, Hawthorne, and Alberta are good funky neighborhoods that have funk and quirk.

I can't speak to the rental car or the optical thing - I don't drive nor do I wear glasses. But I can say that September's a beautiful time to be here - it's still sunny but not as warm, and the nights cool off nicely.

Non-chain eatin'? There's tons. Ken's Artisan Pizza is really quite good, and for breakfast you'll have a hard time topping Besaw's.
posted by pdb at 1:52 PM on April 23, 2009 [1 favorite]

Not to rain on anyone's parade, but the unemployment rate here in Portland is currently at 12.1% and climbing. Your friend should not even CONSIDER moving here without a job already lined up. I've been here since January and have gotten exactly one call back and one interview in that time. If I were her, I'd probably use at least some of that week here in PDX for job search and/or interviews.
posted by MiaWallace at 1:55 PM on April 23, 2009

Best answer: I love this park and believe dogs are allowed off-leash there.
posted by thesmallmachine at 1:59 PM on April 23, 2009

Oh, and yeah - MiaWallace has a point. There are no jobs here right now. Even in a good economy, the Portland job market is smallish; now, it's almost nonexistent.
posted by pdb at 2:02 PM on April 23, 2009 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: She's not at the "I'm moving tomorrow" stage (more like maybe in a year or two) so no pool-peeing is necessary. We're just out for a fun trip to see what it's like (and happened to have some vacation time lined up this fall) and she's a super smart cookie and knows how to take care of herself.
posted by Kimberly at 2:03 PM on April 23, 2009

I spent a week in Portland a few years ago. Friendly people, great coffee, good beer but SHEESH it can rain. A lot. And it seemed really dark to me. Real. Dark. I believe after a week of no sun in Portland, I burst into tears at the airport on the way home (note: I'm somebody who moved towards the sunny part of the country because Chicago made me want to throw myself on the third rail of the El during the winter months).

A week after my Portland trip, I got a letter at home from a total stranger in Portland with my driver's license in it. I'd lost my driver's license downtown, and somebody actually mailed it to me, with a friendly note reminding me to be more careful in the future.
posted by answergrape at 2:04 PM on April 23, 2009

If you or your lady are beer people,

and I'm not sure why I didn't phrase this as "you and your friend". Apologies.
posted by pdb at 2:04 PM on April 23, 2009

but SHEESH it can rain. A lot.

But not generally in the first week of September. Winters can indeed be dark and gloomy, but September's one of the best months here. Anything later than that, yeah, it can get bleak.
posted by pdb at 2:05 PM on April 23, 2009

Not trying to pee in the pool, I promise! But seriously... the whole lack of jobs thing here in Portland ain't a joke.

For the record, I like both SE and NW Portland, though the vibe in each sector is completely different. Try the Bombay Cricket Club on Hawthorne if you like Indian.
posted by MiaWallace at 2:10 PM on April 23, 2009

Yeah, if anything, September in Portland will seduce you. Then November through March will abuse you.
posted by peep at 2:11 PM on April 23, 2009 [1 favorite]

Best answer: When it rains in Portland, I go to Powells. I've spent a lot of time in Powells.
posted by birdwatcher at 2:18 PM on April 23, 2009 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Visage Eyewear is a ritzy (expensive) place to buy glasses.

Wallace Park has an off-leash area for dogs. It seems to be pretty popular on sunny weekend days.

I've lived here 5.5 years. I've also lived in Northern Colorado, SF Bay Area, and Sacramento Valley, CA. Like others have said, your friend should be aware it can be really gray here. Plus since we're a little more north than CO/CA, dusk hits earlier in the winter-time. On the other hand, it doesn't get dark until after 9pm in the summer. Also, there are some really cool sunsets (and probably sunrises too, but I see more sunsets :)) due to the dramatic lighting from cloud breaks. There's lots and lots of trees and it's green everywhere. If you are at all prone to SAD, I would not recommend moving here however.
posted by elmay at 2:23 PM on April 23, 2009 [1 favorite]

Best answer: i like the abuse. :) makes you enjoy your summers that much more.

if you're in the mississippi neighborhod for your funk and quirk, get to lovely hula hands for a fantastic meal and cocktails. if you're in lower hawthorne, spend a night staggering between roots and lucky lab, and then over to the food cart pod (potato champion FTW!). if you're in upper hawthorne, stagger between the tanker, the space room, BOG, the watertrough, zach's shack, and por que no? until you pass out and wake up the next morning with strange tattoos.
posted by acid freaking on the kitty at 2:27 PM on April 23, 2009 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I feel like every park is a dog park in Portland. Go hike up Mt. Tabor -- it's in the Hawthorne neighborhood, does not require "hiking shoes" and you'll see a ton of people enjoying the weather, playing fetch with the dogs and walking about.

Close-in neighborhoods are all adorable and funky and you can't swing a dead (free range, vegetarian) cat without hitting excellent coffee, beer or ethnic foods.

Rose garden is in Southwest in Washington park and is free and beautiful. For $8, stop in at the Japanese Garden while you are there. There's a rhododendron garden in SE near Reed College but I haven't been there. I think rhodies will be done blooming by then, though.

September is paradise. Take Vitamin-D supplements to make it through the winter.

Reynolds is a groovy optical shop with a few locations. Binyons is obviously more mainstream but they have more locations. There are probably a handful of swanky eye shops in the Pearl but I wonder if they will survive this economy.

For late night eats, go check out the Belgian frites cart (Potato Champion) on SE 12th and Hawthorne. http://www.potatochampion.com/

Go to Montage under the Morrison bridge. Go to Podnah's in North Portland for breakfast, lunch or dinner (BBQ) and then walk over to Alberta St. for some shopping. (What's that coffee shop with the ostrich or emu logo on Alberta St that has pie? Go there. Eat pie.) Go to E-San Thai downtown on SW Pine and 2nd and then walk over to Kell's for a beer. I don't really love Kell's but it has a really nice bar.

Go to a farmer's market (there are many and some during the week). Go see a movie at the Bagdad and then go around the block, behind the theater, and play some pool in their backstage bar.

Rent cruiser bikes and bike along the waterfront or just walk it. Hang out in Pioneer Courthouse Square downtown and eat a Honkin' Huge Burrito. You can also stop in at the Tri-met office there and get a better lay of the land -- you can get a lot of places by bus and by light rail if you don't want to be driving all the time.
posted by amanda at 2:36 PM on April 23, 2009

Best answer: Yeah, the low, grey ceiling in late fall / winter / early spring is indeed a bitch, but the glorious summer (which is really late June through late September) makes it all worthwhile.

Anyway, to actually answer your question of how to get a good feel for Portland:

- Others have mentioned the Japanese Gardens, the Chinese Gardens, and the Rhody garden. All are great.

- Depending on where you are staying (do you know yet what part of down you'll be in?), definitely spend some time walking around. Walk over one of our many bridges. Hell, walk over many of our many bridges.

- By this book and take one of the many suggested walks.

-Rent bikes and wander the city. ByCycle is a google maps mashup to help you with safe & easy bike routes in Portland (or in Milwaukee, WI, though that's not really relevant here).

-Take a dip in one of our fountains. You're allowed. I like this one. It's kind of insane.

- Go to the main farmer's market on the PSU campus on Saturday morning.

- For a uniquely Portland experience, eat at one of our many high-end food carts, which can often be found clustered together in pods.

- Go to Powell's. Get lost there. Stay lost for an afternoon. People are always talking about how great a bookstore it is, so you might assume it's over-hyped. It isn't. It's even better than you can possibly imagine.

- Spend some time wandering around some or all of the following neighborhoods that have the requisite funk / quirk factor: North Mississippi, Northeast Alberta, SE Belmont / Hawthorne, the hub around East Burnside & NE/SE 28th.

- Stay away from the Pearl district. It's bland, generic, and chock full of not-Portland. You've seen its mixture of faux-industrial buildings housing overpriced boutiques and high-rise condo towers in every urban renewal district in every medium-sized city you've ever been to. It's like they took the guys who designed Downtown Disney and told them to "make something that looks like SoHo."

- Take the streetcar to the execrable South Waterfront high-rise district just so you can ride the tram up to OHSU and back.

- If it's your jam (it's not mine, but YMMV-- my girlfriend claims to enjoy it) go to a strip club. We have a lot of them, and many of them are much less gross than you might think, and the women much more normal than you'd expect. I think Portland leads the nation in number of stripsters. (Yes, that's hipster strippers. I like to tell myself I made up the term, but I'm probably wrong.)

- Go to a movie at the Laurelhurst or another one of our many beer theaters.

-If you like bars, Barfly Magazine is an excellent resource for Portland's many pubs, taverns, lounges, dives, and whatnot.

- Get Stumptown coffee.

- As far as additional local-food suggestions, I have many of them, but it would help to know what kind of price point you're talking about. I don't want to insult you (or intimidate you) by suggesting places that are too lowbrow or too expensive.
posted by dersins at 2:57 PM on April 23, 2009

Best answer: AHH! I LOVE PORTLAND! There is so much to love about this city.

I would like to second the following:
-BEER! BEER BEER BEER! So many great beer places. I recommend Produce Row Cafe (they have some 20 local beers on tap), any of the breweries (there are a billion - my favorites are HUB, Amnesia, Laurelwood, Roots, Lucky Lab, and Lompoc).

-Stumptown coffee. Its everywhere and its amazing.

Other stuff:

Don't get too caught up on the West Side of the river. The west side = downtown and gentrified. Do go to Powells, do go to the Rose Garden and Forest Park, but other than that, stick to East Side. Visit the Hawthorne, Belmont, and Alberta Arts districts. Eat Vegan food! Some of my favorite eateries: Jam, Red&Black, Proper Eats (all vegan food).

For an amazing meat dinner, hit up Screen Door or Country Cat.

For sure go to a brew pup: Laurelhurst, the Mission, The Bagdad, Academy Theatre, Clinton Street.

PDX also has the most strip clubs per capita of any city in the country. My favorite? Sassy's - on Morrison and SE 11th. There are usually as many ladies there as men.

Once you get there you can always check the Portland Mercury or Willamette Week for lists of shows, movies, etc. Barfly Mag is also a must check for happy hours, etc.
posted by Lutoslawski at 3:13 PM on April 23, 2009

Best answer: Order your free Portland travel guide from the official Travel Oregon website. I just got mine in the mail (less than a week after requesting it)! While the Portland guide in particular appears to be mostly advertisements, it does have some neat ideas as well as useful features such as maps and phone numbers.
posted by halogen at 4:05 PM on April 23, 2009

Best answer: so many great things already mentioned!

but don't let the (totally deserved) stumptown love keep you from experiencing some of portland's other amazing coffee. i actually prefer the coffee at both Ristretto (in NE, at 42nd and Fremont), and Little Red Bike (in north portland).

definitely walk around on alberta, for funky vintage/wine/yarn/fabric/clothes/shoes/dog/office/whatever shopping, great restaurants, and a few really interesting galleries.

also, if you're trying to be somewhat frugal and/or have a hotel room where you can cook, portland has amazing grocery stores and farmer's markets. new seasons in particular is amazing, but zupan's and pastaworks are also both worth a visit. in addition to the big downtown farmer's market, there are smaller ones throughout the city, scattered throughout the week.

posted by dizziest at 4:06 PM on April 23, 2009

Best answer: Order your free Portland travel guide from the official Travel Oregon website.

Speaking of travel guides, the NY Times travel section has this huge almost-creepy, stalkerish crush on Portland. As in practically a week doesn't go by but that there's another article about Portland. Many of their past articles are collected here.
posted by dersins at 4:36 PM on April 23, 2009

Best answer: Just because it's so amazing, you should try to go see Multnomah Falls. Head east on I-84 and take the only left-exit between Portland and the Idaho border. (The highway splits in two, and the parking lot for Multnomah Falls is in between the sections.)

Multnomah Falls is the second tallest waterfall in North America. You can hike to the top of it, where there's a viewpoint allowing you to look nearly straight down.

The lodge there, and the paths and bridges, were built by the WPA during the 1930's.

Also, during non-winter, there's Saturday Market which is funky and fun. Go there for lunch; the food is great. Despite the name, it's open Saturdays and Sundays.
posted by Chocolate Pickle at 4:37 PM on April 23, 2009 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Two cool optometry places are Blink and Ogle (also a gallery).
posted by lisa g at 5:09 PM on April 23, 2009

Visit Voodoo Donut.
posted by charlesv at 6:22 PM on April 23, 2009

(I couldn't not add my voice to saying Powell's, Powell's, Powell's...seriously, the best bookstore ever. EVER!)
posted by dormouse at 8:20 PM on April 23, 2009

Best answer: You've already received great suggestions for what to see and do on your Portland excursion, so I'll stick with answering your last question. Here are a few things I love about Portland:

1) The public transit system is excellent, making it easy to live without a car year-round. Living without a car saves me a lot of money (a good deal of which, I admit, gets spent at Powell’s).

2) Mild weather year-round, with lots of overcast, cool, misty days. The general grayness is something a lot of people dislike about Portland, but for people like me who don't like the heat and find such weather energizing and enlivening, it’s a big plus.

3) Greenery. Lots of big trees, well-maintained parks, and glorious greenery everywhere - even heritage trees. And Forest Park is not to be missed. How many cities do you know that have an urban forest?

4) It's chock full of artisans, craftspeople, musicians, dancers, goths, queers, feminists, pagans, game geeks, bookish nerds, and other fascinating, intelligent and creative folks I love to hang out with - all doing their part to Keep Portland Weird.

I could go on and on. I adore this city. I'm keeping my fingers crossed that I'll be able to find an accounting job when I graduate in a few months, because I really, really, really don't want to leave.
posted by velvet winter at 10:55 PM on April 23, 2009 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: LOVE the answers. Thanks so much everyone. Would love to hear more if anyone else wants to chime in.
posted by Kimberly at 7:31 AM on April 24, 2009

Best answer: I am not going to repeat what others have said - their offerings are spot on. But I will add that portland pooch is a fantastic website for metro dog owners - it lists dog parks throughout the area (with reviews), notes pet-friendly rentals and has other great info about area dog services.
posted by miss meg at 8:04 AM on April 24, 2009

I don't know why I bother reading these threads, but...

The Pearl District is *absolutely* a legitimate part of Portland, it just may not be up to your or other's tastes. While I don't particularly care for it, it's a landmark, and is one of the ritzier parts--probably the ritziest--of the city. It's where the beautiful people go to be seen.

Also, whoever mentioned that the westside should be avoided because it's gentrified is...frightfully ignornant. Apparently they weren't aware that NE Alberta and N Mississippi--the hipster enclaves du jour--are historically black neighborhoods that are now for the majority all-white. Please don't throw around 'gentrification' as an excuse to talk shit about downtown Portland, which has its charms, good coffee shops, restaurants, general sights to see and excellent people watching. Decent shopping to be had, as well.

I'd also definitely second checking out coffee other than Stumptown, as there is tons of great coffee roasted in Portland and sold all over town. We love our coffee and our beer. I would advise just hitting up neighborhoods and checking out whatever is appealing to you...you can also check out wweek.com or portlandmercury.com to get restaurant recs based on neighborhood, price &c. Barflymag.com is also a necessity for investigating happy hour info, read information reviews and sort through the limitless supply of bars in this town.

I hope you gals have fun. But do remember, as has been mentioned above--most of the time, it's rainy and grey and more or less extremely shitty, weather-wise. When it's nice out the city is amazing and beautiful but that's really not as usual as the rain, or overcast, or bipolar rain plus blue skies plus more rain all in one day that happens a lot in the spring. The job market sucks, and it's the kind of city that has a small town feel, even though it's reasonably sized. You will run into the same people over and over again, your new friend will know your old friend, any sort of small world 'wtf' moment, you will have it in Portland on a regular basis. So if you don't mind that, or seek it out, then the place is for you (the universal you--I know this is more or less for the benefit of your friend).

Also, I really hope your friend doesn't mind hipsters. *shudder*
posted by nonmerci at 10:19 PM on April 24, 2009

Response by poster: Well, we're back from Portland and had an amazing time! The food there is fantastic and we loved the food carts especially.

We went to:

The carts on Hawthorne (had: Belgian fries with rosemary truffle ketchup [hello, yummy!], fried pie, crepes. We also went to the Czech cart on 5th and Stark and had a Snitzelwich and the fried cheese sandwich [delish!].

Powells (although parking SUCKED).

The Tilamook factory [and had the best grilled cheese sandwich of our LIVES] and then headed up the coast to Astoria to get pictures of us in front of the Goonies house (25th Anniversary is June 2010!) while listening to Goonies 'R' Good Enough by Cindy Lauper.

Pine State on Belmont for biscuits and gravy.

al Forno Ferruzza Sicilian Pizzeria on Alberta for some amazing pizza.

Petit Provence on Alberta for breakfast [I had the luscious eggs benedict on a croissant--HEAVEN!] and for dessert later in the week.

Trader Joe's [!! How I missed you, Trader Joe's]

Greek Cuisina ["Was that a purple octopus??" "Uh... Yes, yes it was."]

The restaurant in our hotel [Vintage Plaza] for some AMAZING Italian food [do yourself a favor and get the preserved lemon barley as a side *drool*]

Delta's Cajun/Creole. Holy fried food batman, delicious!

We went shopping in Beaverton, but sadly missed Beaver Day.

We also drove around and checked out many neighborhoods. I'm sure I'm leaving out some things, but Portland is a great town. We were surprised at how close everything was. Looking at a map, you'd think it would take longer to get places, but everything was a few minutes away.

Thanks for all of your suggestions!
posted by Kimberly at 8:51 AM on September 14, 2009

Response by poster: Oh also, the weather was gorgeous. Some light rain and lots of sun. I guess we picked the right week!
posted by Kimberly at 8:52 AM on September 14, 2009

Response by poster: I have another update- My friend loved Portland so much that she will be moving there in a little less than a month. Despite the dire warnings above, she had 6 (!!) interviews out there last month and an optical that created a position for her because they liked her so much. She also found a cute apartment in Alberta (her favorite part of town) for a reasonable price.
posted by Kimberly at 6:27 AM on April 14, 2010

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