Okay, so I admit that going to Portland, Oregon was partly to satisfy my curiosity as to whether it was really like the show, Portlandia, or not. The verdict? Well, it’s a really cool, unique place, and aspects of it remind me of Victoria, BC. I know, that’s a pretty wishy-washy response, so I’ll explain all in good time. But first, I want to talk about the journey to get there…
From Victoria, BC, the most scenic route is to take the Coho Ferry to Port Angeles, WA. Our particular trip was more eventful than I had anticipated. As we crossed the Strait, we saw whales breaching in the water, with whale watching boats all around. I was pretty excited, because although I can see the ocean every day from my home (yeah, I know, it’s a rough life 😉 ) it is uncommon to actually see whales passing by. We arrived in Port Angeles, which in my mind, doesn’t offer much (to be fair, I don’t know much about the place). However, as we soon discovered, it is the gateway to some really beautiful places.
Once we were on our way through the Olympic Peninsula, the scenery was absolutely beautiful. Traveling this way bypasses the large multi-lane I-5 highway that goes through Seattle. Don’t get me wrong, I love Seattle (and will get into that in another post), but traversing the back roads through the valley is so much more scenic, relaxing and enjoyable. I have heard that there is great camping and hiking in the Olympics, and will have to check it out some day.
As we entered Portland, we encountered the craziest highway and bridge system that I have ever seen! Reminiscent of concrete spaghetti….or Montreal. If you have ever been there, you’ll know what I’m talking about… but on a bigger scale…and over water. Of course, we got lost because there are so many bridges, and had to stop more than once to get the smartphone map app, to figure out how to get to our accommodations. I really like to use AirBnB for a place to stay when I travel, and our experience in Portland was no exception.
We stayed in the Belmont area, which afforded us the opportunity to live “like a local” in just one of the “up and coming” areas of town. The Horse Brass Pub quickly became our favourite watering hole with a comfortable, bustling, neighbourhood feel. 50 west coast craft beers, from California to Alaska on tap….who wouldn’t love that?!
The bus service on the #15 into the downtown core was quick and easy. A day pass is $5 and you can hop on a bus or train and go anywhere all day long. While on this bus, you pass some of Portland’s many craft breweries on the Central Eastside. (At the time of this post, the Portland metro area has 91 breweries!).
The food truck culture is a staple of the food scene here. All around the city, there are areas with a concentration of these interesting restaurants on wheels. It is hard to decide where to eat. They are all unique and sound delicious; everything from Viking food (couldn’t figure that one out but sounded good), to vegan and everything in between. This is a tried and true method of testing out the popularity of your culinary skills, before entering the world as a restauranteur.
One well known place where we ate, Pok Pok, started out that way, and now has multiple locations and a cookbook! Today, if you eat at the original location, you will see the gradual progression of growth, with different, now permanent tent structures, strung along to create various “rooms” with twinkling lights strung across the ceiling. As with many of the more popular eating establishments in Portland, there is always a waiting line. For some places, such as Voodoo donuts or the biscuit sandwich place, Pine State Biscuits, in the Alberta District, line-ups were literally around the block. Donuts are not my thing, but the unique concoctions did sound intriguing.
There is also a large outdoor arts and crafts market on Saturdays, in the Tom McCall Waterfront Park. Vendors sell every kind of “unique” craft you can think of. Some are beautiful, while others are just….weird. But then, who wouldn’t love a wind chime made out of cutlery? It’s crowded and fun, and who knows, maybe you will find that certain something that you have been yearning for.
If you enjoy reading, then you absolutely have to go to Powell’s City of Books, open 365 days of the year, housing more than a million new and used books, and occupying a whole city block. I could have spent a whole day in there! As it was, I bought an armful of used art books that I have not seen elsewhere, and covet 🙂
So, back to the ‘weird’ part…I found Portland to be not so much weird, as unique and eclectic. Like the spontaneous and diverse food scene, there is plenty of public art and a sense of whimsy everywhere. Sometimes it involves everyday items, and sometimes it is makes a social or political statement. This is in contrast to the beautiful old architecture that can be found downtown. Big, old, brick buildings; which hearken to a previous age when warehouses were prevalent in this part of town. Now, they house businesses, shops and restaurants and have been lovingly preserved, particularly in the Pearl District.
Getting out of the city to enjoy a little green space is not difficult either. We ventured to Mount Tabor one sunny morning. This is a park in the city, that has been developed on an old volcano. There are multiple walking trails, all easy to access, with a beautiful park at the summit. A lovely way to spend a sunny morning.
As for the craft beer scene, it is too overwhelming to try everything. If you are in Portland, just try one of the many brewpubs. I’m sure you will find something to your liking.
We ventured into various neighbourhoods to see what they offered. The Alberta District, which was once pretty run down, is now THE place where the art scene is alive and thriving. Even the buildings and garbage cans are a work of art! The Belmont/ Hawthorne area has some of the coolest vintage clothing stores I have ever seen. And the quaint Arts and Crafts homes in this area are very much like those in Victoria, BC.
So, call it weird if you like, but Portland is well worth a visit if you are looking for something a little different. We will definitely be returning to this great city and also exploring the other treasures that Oregon has to offer very soon!