Will pack umbrella.
June 14, 2011 8:38 PM   Subscribe

Visiting Portland, OR for a day and a half - help me plan a must-do-and-see itinerary!

What I really need are some updated answers to this question.

A friend and I are thinking of going to Portland (from Vancouver) over the Canada Day long weekend (July 1-3). We are in our 20s, we like books and beer, and we hope to see anything awesome Portland has to offer between Friday afternoon (when we would arrive) and late Saturday night (when we would depart). A few older Portland threads mention that Portland is a good city to live in, but not necessarily to visit. I still think we can have an awesome mini-trip.


1. What should we do with our time in Portland?
2. Any neighbourhoods to avoid? We will be looking for a cheap hostel or budget hotel, but don't want to stay anywhere sketchy.
3. Is driving or taking the train down the Portland from Vancouver on a long weekend a terrible idea? Any tips?

Any suggestions are helpful and welcome. (Beyond Powell's, I have no idea what I would like to do in Portland.)

posted by gursky to Travel & Transportation around Portland, OR (17 answers total) 21 users marked this as a favorite
Powell's Books and Rogue Alehouse are close together.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 8:46 PM on June 14, 2011 [1 favorite]

Best answer: To stay: Hawthorne Hostel http://www.portlandhostel.org/ is right in the Hawthorne District (very safe, very walkable, very Portland), also down the street from Hawthorne Powell's (the baby, neighborhoody version of the famous Powell's Books). You can take the 14 bus downtown, and the hostel staff will know lots about what there is to do and see in Portland. Downtown Portland, Inner SE Portland (look for the Hawthorne, Belmont, Stark neighborhoods), and NE Portland (Alberta area) are where visitors tend to stay. Portland tends to get sketchier or even more residential the farther out you get from those areas, but is generally a very safe city.

If you're staying at the Hawthorne Hostel, you can walk to the Bagdhad movie theater to see a movie and drink beer, walk to Hawthorne Powell's, or stroll up and down Hawthorne to watch the local character; you can walk a few blocks over to Belmont and drink tea at the Tao of Tea, play games at the Nickel Arcade, and stroll up to 45th and Belmont to go to the Horse Brass, which has solid beer selections; four blocks north and you're at Belmont Station, which (according to its website) has 1200 curated beers.

Walk maybe ten minutes south from the hostel to hit up Pix, a delicious patisserie on 34th and Division, then head down Division to get amazing Thai food at Pok Pok. 32nd and Division has a delicious food cart pod (those have sprung up all over Portland, so I think they're a legit Portland Destination at this point) with the delicious Pie Spot, the famous Koi Fusion (a Korean-Mexican cart), and the beer cart.

NE Portland is also a very "Portland" neighborhood (in the hipsters and bikes and beers and coffee Portland image), but I live in SE so I have microlocal knowledge and bias. Portland is divided into quadrants by Burnside St. and the river; while you should definitely hit up Powell's books, Voodoo Donuts, and other Portland classics that are on the west side of town, I'd recommend staying on the east side for the neighborhood-based, casual, bike-y chilled out youth culture people tend to associate with Portland culture.
posted by verbyournouns at 9:07 PM on June 14, 2011 [1 favorite]

Best answer: As a Vancouverite who frequently visits Portland I think it is a great place to visit. Taking the train is a great idea. Book early because prices go up. For $5 each way you can bring a bike with you (reserve in advance as well). Portland is great for bikes.

First: Food carts. Portland has hundreds of them. The only reason Vancouver now has food carts (perhaps you've noticed them start to appear) is because we are jealous of Portland's. There are "cart pods", especially downtown, with more than a dozen. All cheap and delicious. Limited hours sometimes but it's a good bet for lunch. I am particularly fond of Give Pizza a Chance which is downtown in the SW if you can find it.

Second: Beer. Portland has dozens of microbreweries and loads of really awesome bars. A lot of the best ones are in the southeast (on the east side of the river). I have been to a bunch but I forget all their names. Look around on Yelp maybe?

Third: Cheap movies and beer! There are several cinemas that serve beer and pizza and have $3 movies. This is a level of civilized entertainment that Vancouver can only hope to achieve. Here's hoping the Rio gets their liquor primary license.

Fourth: Unique Portlandy stuff. There is a neat re-use DIY culture. If you are crafters you will be blown away by the SCRAP store. It's like Urban Source on Main St in Vancouver, but 10 times bigger and 10 times cheaper. I stocked up on pens; they had a bin of used pens which was "$1 per fistful". There is also the Free Geek mothership which has a computer thrift store -- we have a Free Geek in Vancouver but Portland's came first -- and a pretty impressive co-op DIY version of Home Depot called the Re-Building Center. Just checking these places out is pretty fun.

That should keep you busy, but if not, I'm sure there are also concerts and special events and shit going on. Have fun.
posted by PercussivePaul at 9:10 PM on June 14, 2011

Also, again, I have a total SE Portland bias, but if you'd like more super super local suggestions, feel free to MeMail me.
posted by verbyournouns at 9:10 PM on June 14, 2011

Best answer: Portland doesn't have anything sketchy like Vancouver has sketchy!

If you go to Powells, you should also go to Reading Frenzy and Counter Media.

Stop by Cacao for a drinking chocolate (if it's chilly.)

The farmers market by Portland State University is fun. There's hot food available or you can just buy some cheese, pate and bread and make a picnic to eat then or later.

There's an exhibit at the Portland art museum called The Allure of the Automobile that looks interesting (I want to check it out.) On the 2nd, the museum has invited local car clubs to come park on the South Park Blocks so double bonus if you like cars or a place to avoid if you don't.

You can go to an exhibit on Mel Blanc at the Oregon Jewish Museum.

or check out PDX Pipeline for various events (nothing listed too far in advance though but it'll have hipper events than those at the Travel Portland website (comedy, concerts, naked bike rides etc...)
posted by vespabelle at 9:31 PM on June 14, 2011

The Chinese garden is exactly like the ones in China. I can say this for certain, because I have been to the ones in China. If you can't afford to go to China, go to the Portland Chinese Garden. It's also not far from the big Powell's (yes, you are going to Powell's -- it is required).

I'm also a transit geek, so this suggestion may not be as exciting to you as it is to me, but the aerial tram ($4 up, $0 back) offers great views, and is one of only two in the US.
posted by novalis_dt at 9:32 PM on June 14, 2011

Remember that the weekend you are picking is also Independence Day weekend in the US, and is a three-day weekend. I would expect traffic around Seattle, Portland and I-5 in between will be hellish on July 1st, so get going early if you drive. The drive is 5-6 hours plus border time. You'd probably like to be in Portland by 3pm at the latest due to the traffic.

Amtrak between Vancouver and Portland is easy. There are the trains that go all the way through, but only run once a day, otherwise it's a bus to Seattle then train to Portland. The Cascades trains are comfy enough and run fairly well on time. If you do this, take Trimet around town. The buses and MAX trains are easy to navigate and mostly non-scary. It's $4.75 for a day pass per person. Trimet.org is the website and m.trimet.org is the mobile website.

Neighborhoods to avoid: Portland is one of the safer cities in the US to start with. I'd say stay west of NE/SE 60th mainly because all of the cool stuff is 60th and lower on the east side. 82nd and some of the further east neighborhoods can get sketchy, but there isn't anything to do or see out there anyhow (I live near 122nd. I've never not felt safe, but there's nothing here).

That weekend will have the Blues Festival downtown on the waterfront, you do have to pay to get in.

Saturday Market will be going strong. It's a good place to find handmade "Portlandy" stuff.

Drive up to Council Crest Park and see the pretty view, has to be a clear day. Also Mount Tabor park is excellent in the summer.

The best food cart pod in Portland IMO is at SE Hawthorne and 12th. Whiffie's Pies, Potato Champion and the pizza place are the winners there in my book.

Lastly, I'd be remiss if I didn't tell you to go to a strip club. I'd suggest Sassy's, Devil's Point, Mary's, Magic Garden and Lucky Devil as all strip clubs I'd take my out of town friends to any night.
posted by Mister Fabulous at 10:36 PM on June 14, 2011

The one thing that I'm surprised that no one has mentioned is desserts. I haven't been there in several years, but if the amazing dessert places haven't changed in 6 years, if you have a sweet tooth, you should look in on either Papa Haydn or Pix.

I have very fond memories of the sparkler in my birthday dessert thing (wasn't a cake, but can't recall exactly what it was) being lit by a full size acetylene torch at Pix.

And 2nding the saturday market. The food there is also great. Don't drive to it, drive to a place where you can catch the MAX and just take that to the stop. Light rail rules.
posted by Hactar at 11:47 PM on June 14, 2011 [1 favorite]

I think the Portland that I love lies in the interstices of so many of the things listed above. I highly recommend budgeting some time to walk in a neighborhood and just look around. Stay off a main drag (i.e., any street that has yellow paint down the middle) and check out the houses/lawns/street art. For me, Portland's charm is that many neighborhoods have a secluded/rural feeling to them while at the same time having a high walk score.
posted by funkiwan at 11:54 PM on June 14, 2011

I'm very biased here but will second novalis_dt and the chinese garden (I'm the graphic design/web/social media/everything else staff person there). You may have been to Sun Yat Sen in Vancouver but even their director said we're a must see beyond what they have done.

We're only a few blocks from the train station and if you're staying anywhere near downtown just a short walk.

Other places are Saturday Market, Japanese Garden, Ground Kontrol, and many many breweries.

I've also been known to pass along some free passes to the garden to Mefites so if you are interested, drop me a memail and I'll "see what I can do". :)
posted by ..ooOOoo....ooOOoo.. at 12:18 AM on June 15, 2011

Also, I just remembered because it isn't 3am, if you can get out there, check out the Japanese Garden. Not as conveniently located as the Chinese Garden, but it has a wonderful view of the city and it's really worth checking out. If it's the right time of year the International Test Rose Garden is nearby.
posted by Hactar at 9:23 AM on June 15, 2011

Best answer: Oh by the way. Carry your passport with you when you go to bars and if you buy beer from the supermarket. Some of the places I went did not accept BC driver's licenses as valid ID, god knows why. Super-annoying.
posted by PercussivePaul at 10:31 AM on June 15, 2011

Lots of good suggestions. Do got to Powell's if you haven't been.

I'm not going to link all of these; I'll leave it to your google-fu if that's alright.

BEER: what I tell people is to skip the bigger breweries like Rogue, Bridgeport, and Widmer. Instead opt for some of the smaller (and more delicious) outfits. I like:
-Amnesia (on Mississippi, which has lots of cool bars/shops/restaurants),
-Alameda (on Fremont, close to lots of shops and stuff too)
-Lucky Lab (inner SE, great and cheap food)
-Old Lompoc (I like the 5th Quadrant in North Portland)
-Burnside Brewery (central East side)
-Hopworks Urban Brewery (on SE Division)

FOOD: the carts are great. Nong's chicken and rice in the SW Alder pod is probably my favorite. The Frying Scotsman is also there, which is great. Potato King on SE Hawthorne is also a favorite and is open late. For breakfast or a burger before 2 pm, Lucy's on Mississippi is hard to beat.

As far as other eats go, these are my favorites:

-For Soul Food, try Miss Delta on Mississippi or Screen Door on East Burnside.
-For a delicious, cheap and healthy lunch or snack, I love Laughing Planet (there are a few)
-For pizza: I love Hot Lips. There's a great new pizza place on Burnside called Sizzle Pie that serves a breakfast pizza. Mississippi Pizza is also awesome.
-Mexican: for the best cheap burrito in town, I swear by La Sirenita on Alberta, but King Burrito on Lombard is killer too.
-Mediterranean: Nik's on SE MLK. Seriously.
-Brunch: Jam on Hawthorne is rul good. Paradox on Belmont and Vita on Alberta have similar menus and are both awesome and vegetarian friendly.
-Barbecue - Podnah's Pit on Killingsworth
-Cuban - Pambiche (go for breakfast or happy hour)
-Ice Cream - Ruby Jewel on Mississippi
-Pastries - Pix on N Williams

COFFEE: Stumptown is pretty ubiquitous, and it's great. But there are some other great places too. I like:
-Tiny's on NE MLK
-Floyd's on SE Morrison
-Fuel on NE Alberta
-Fresh Pot on Mississippi or Hawthorne
-Fehrenbacher Hof in Goose Hollow
-Rimsky Korsacoffee on SE 11th, open late, tables move

But the truth is that there are great coffee places everywhere.

BARS: Again, there are a zillion great ones. These are just my picks.
-Roadside Attraction (SE 12th, quirky place)
-Rose and Thistle is a great Scottish bar on NE Broadway
-Produce Row has more than 20 beers on tap and a couple on Nitro (no liquor)
-The A&L is the best sports bar in town and they have a huge tap
-Horse Brass
-Ground Kontrol is an old-school arcade game bar, if you're into that
-Belmont Inn

STRIPPERS: It's our claim to fame. Lucky Devil and Sassy's are the best. Sassy's has $2 pints of microbrews all day everyday until 7 and they serve organic, local food (oh Portland)

Other than that, just walk around Mississppi or Hawthorne or Alberta or downtown. It will be beautiful. Walk across some bridges. Go to Laurelhurst Park. Etc.
posted by Lutoslawski at 11:26 AM on June 15, 2011 [2 favorites]

To add to beer suggestions, Portland has two rather singular breweries:

Cascade Brewing Barrel House on SE Belmont & 9th features a line-up of Belgian-style soured and cask-aged beers. And across the street is the pub Green Dragon, which has 30-some more (traditional) microbrew taps.

Closer to the river in SE is the Hair of the Dog Taproom (61 SE Yamhill). It's trickier to get to, but they brew excellent high-gravity ales.
posted by Prince_of_Cups at 2:26 PM on June 15, 2011 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: these are great suggestions! thanks so much for making me even more excited about going to Portland, and for making planning that much easier.

i will come back and mark best answers according to which things i end up checking out.

i really appreciate your answers!
posted by gursky at 8:33 PM on June 15, 2011

Broder for breakfast, if you're eating breakfast. Scandanavian food, perfectly cooked eggs.

As with many of my favorite places in Portland, it's located in a cute neighborhood, on a commercial street a block or so long, a mile or so from the next cool place to eat or shop (that I found, anyway). I would recommend having some kind of wheels - bike or car - if you want to cover much ground in a day and a half, but walking across swaths of Portland is a pleasure in itself, if you're not in a hurry (and the weather's good). On my last visit, I was regretting not having a bike after negotiating the Portland buses for a few days. They are ... just okay.

But you could probably spend a day and a half on foot in one of the denser areas and have an absolute blast. Anyway, Broder is my contribution. If you like nummy breakfasts.
posted by snoe at 9:29 AM on June 16, 2011

Response by poster: thanks for the suggestions, everyone. we had a great time in Portland! (and had our passports on us when our BC licenses didn't suffice, so thanks for that tip, Paul.)
posted by gursky at 11:14 AM on July 3, 2011

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