48 Hours in Portland

Portland has a great homegrown, rough around the edges kind of vibe. It is filled with cute neighborhoods scattered throughout the city, a ton of great food and drink, and nature in close proximity. There wasn’t much traffic and parking was relatively painless too, which was a plus. We lucked out and the weather was as good as we could hope for in November – in the 40s, with sun and no rain.

Favorite thing: I really loved walking across the bridges and just getting a feel for the layout of the city. Views of Mt. St. Helens and Mt. Hood were an added bonus.

Accommodations: We stayed in a cute airBnB ("City Chic in PDX's Hottest Hood") between the Division St. and Hawthorne St. neighborhoods. Very walkable to a lot of things we wanted to do, and it was private and comfortable.

Friday:

Our flight landed late so we didn’t get settled into our airBnB until about 9pm. However, that didn’t stop us from exploring! We ventured out for some late night ice cream on Division Street at Pinolo Gelato. I got a mix of the pistachio (made with real pistachios imported from Italy) and cioccoloto. It was pretty amazing.

 

Saturday:

We woke up early to try and maximize daylight. Our airBnB was around the corner from the original Stumptown Roasters, so we walked over there in the brisk fall air to caffeinate before heading out of town. We planned to drive along the Columbia River and stop at some of the waterfalls along the road. Unfortunately, all of the exits to the main falls were closed due to the massive wildfires that hit the region back in September (though, you can still see Multanoah and Elowah falls, as well as other smaller waterfalls, from the road as you drive by, you just can’t pull over anywhere). This changed our plans, and we ended up stopping at the Army Corps of Engineers Bonneville Dam & Fish Hatchery. The Dam is an impressive feat of engineering, but the fish hatchery was actually the coolest. I have had an appreciation for fish hatcheries ever since I was able to see salmon spawning and jumping upstream in one outside Seattle a few years ago. Unfortunately, spawning season was over, but there were still many impressive sturgeon and rainbow trout, including Herman the sturgeon, who was 70 years old! The views from the visitor center were also great over the Columbia River and the rolling hills of Washington State beyond. I never knew this, but the Pacific Northwest actually puts on quite an impressive fall leaves peep show.

After the visitor center, we drove a little further up the road and then parked right before the Bridge of the Gods ($2 toll for cars, $1 toll for pedestrians). We then walked back and forth over the bridge, which was a little scary because there is no actual footpath and you basically just walk against traffic. The views were magnificent though! The Bridge of the Gods is the end terminus of the Oregon leg of the Pacific Crest Trail (made famous when Sheryl Strayed ended her journey there in Wild). So you can stand straddling Oregon and Washington!

After our bridge walk, we traveled up the Gorge. Since all the hikes on the Oregon side were closed due to the fires, we found a hike on the Washington State side – Arch Loop Hike at Catherine Creek. It was a quick 2 mile loop trail, but offered up great views of the river valley and Mt. Hood in the distance. We then grabbed a quick lunch at a thai food truck back on the Oregon side of the river called Lampoeis's Thai Kitchen. The pad thai and vegetarian curry were excellent.

Blueberry muffin and coffee at Stumptown Roasters; Herman the sturgeon, views from the hatchery and dam; Bridge of the Gods; views of Mt. Hood from the Arch Loop hike; Lampoeis thai food truck.

Back in Portland, we freshened up and then started our epic food journey. We tried donuts at Blue Star (though not a huge fan), then grabbed sahlab at the coolest Egyptian tea double decker bus on Hawthorne street at Tov

We then did quite a bit of window shopping. Some of my favorites stops included Enjoy! Co, which is a new store which showcases some awesome female inspired products and even has a pop up barber station inside. Tender Loving Empire, which had great posters, music, candles and other Portlandish knick knacks. We ended the night with dinner at Bete-Lukas, which is an adorable Ethiopian restaurant. The wine selection was affordable, the vegetarian platter and fish stew were fantastic, and even though we showed up at the end of the serving time, were treated with great hospitality. Our server even taught us a bit about the art of injera making.

From left: Blue Star, Tender Loving Empire store, Tov tea bus, Sahlab drink.

Sunday:

As if we hadn’t eaten enough on Saturday, we decided to visit all the vegetarian hot spots Portland had to offer, starting with brunch at Vita Cafe in the Alberta Arts District, where I had the Sloppy Biscuit Sandwich made with almond gravy, vegan biscuits, fake turkey, and egg. We then walked along Alberta street, window shopping in all the cute galleries, jewelry and art stores, and apothecaries along the drag. Eventually we popped into Salt & Straw, which is a Portland classic for ice cream. Some of the flavors included Thanksgiving themed ones (buttered mash potatoes and gravy, salted caramel Thanksgiving turkey, spiced goat cheese and pumpkin pie, sweet potato casserole with maple pecans). I tried their famous olive oil as well as a pear and goat cheese oddity.

Though the sun was out it was a little chilly, so we headed over to the west side of Portland to visit the Pearl District and the world famous Powell’s books. We spent about an hour and a half just wandering the multiple reading rooms. The most interesting was the rare books room, which included first edition copies of Lewis and Clark’s journals ($25,000) and books dating back as far as the 15th century. I then got lost in the photography and outdoor sections, which was fun. You just pull a book off a shelf, start flipping through it, and then before you know it 30 minutes have passed…

We then wandered down to the Voodoo Doughnut on 3rd Avenue, which was surprisingly not that crowded. I didn’t want to like Voodoo so much, but there was actually a really awesome assortment, and we had the “dirt” donut (cookies and cream) which was pretty incredible.

To continue our foodie adventure, we drove off to the Cathedral Park neighborhood to try Homegrown Smoker, which was vegan BBQ. Even though I really wanted some BBQ chicken or something hearty, I was so full that all I could muster was a caesar salad with fake smoked chicken. It was still pretty good though! After the late lunch, we visited Cathedral Park, which had incredible fall foliage and views of the St. Johns bridge. We then drove back up the road and actually walked across the St. Johns bridge, which had amazing views of snow topped Mt. Hood behind the city of Portland to the east and views of Mt. St. Helens to the northeast, completely snow covered.

Finally, we popped in to Occidental Brewing Company for a few beers before heading to the airport.

I wish I could say our food journey ended there, but then I had the the most flavorful vegetarian pho of my life in the airport, all the while taking in the hipsterdom of the carpets.

Sloppy biscuit sandwich at Vita Cafe; Rare book room in Powell's Book Store; Voodoo Dirt Doughnut; St. Johns bridge from Cathedral Park; views of all of Portland with Mt. Hood beyond from St. Johns bridge; beers at Occidental Brewing Co.

 

Final Observations:

Portland is weird and beautiful. This is a city where its cold and rainy most of the year and yet it is a biking city and there is an irresponsible number of food trucks and al fresco dining. It is the kind of place that has trash cans as art and tree houses. It was perfect and completely manageable for a quick weekend, and yet I would totally go back to do some more exploring – maybe a day at Mt. Hood in the summer for some skiing, or hopefully a return when the waterfalls are at their peak in the spring.

Oddities of Portland, from left: the famous airport carpet; a home straight out of A Series of Unfortunate Events; trash can design on Albert Street; a "pod" of food trucks; a tree house in a Cathedral Park neighborhood.