Since watching Portlandia, I was determined to visit this haven of weird, hipster, and offbeat, and when I visited my friend Bailey in Seattle, we made the 3 hour drive down and visited Bridge City.
1.) Powell’s City of Books—The largest independent bookstore in the country, Powell’s deserves a spot on the top of every book-lover’s bookstores-to-see-before-you-die list. After grabbing a quick lunch at some nearby food trucks, Bailey and I disappeared into the labyrinth that is Powell’s for at least an hour, if not more. They have books on everything, and their section of books in Italian spanned a couple of shelves instead of only housing a sad looking copy of La divina commedia. There’s even a printing press inside the store for self-published books. This is certainly not a place to pass up if you like writing, reading, and that wonderful smell of crisp pages. Before leaving, stock up on some of the free swag (stickers, posters/maps, and postcards).
2.) Stumptown—Seattle is famous for its coffee, but Portland also knows how to brew some excellent drinks, and Stumptown, though a local chain, is in the running for some of the best coffee I’ve ever drunk. Our first visit to Stumptown came during a flustered arrival in Portland: we’d driven first to In Other Words, the feminist bookstore which figures prominently in Portlandia, only to find that it’s only open on weekends as of two days beforehand. We were both pretty disappointed but drove into the city looking for some food trucks for lunch. We found one square but weren’t too impressed by the offerings and we descended into a daunted-by-Portland daze. We ducked into Stumptown to use the bathroom and come up with a plan, and the barista there saved the day. He directed us to nearby Nong’s Khao Man Gai, a nearby Thai food truck with tasty lunch options, putting us in better spirits for the rest of the day. On top of that, the cold brew at Stumptown is some of the smoothest and best-tasting that I’ve had to date. There are a number of great coffee places in Portland that we tried (like Rain or Shine and Rimsky Korsakoffee), but Stumptown deserves a try for its flawless brews.
3.) Voodoo Doughnuts—Another Portland tourist favorite is Voodoo Doughnuts (yes, I swear I did more than eat: see below). Their doughnuts are made on a scale of bizarre, like Froot Loops and Maple Bacon, to raunchy, which I won’t name here, but just check their menu out and you’ll get a feel for the vibe of this place pretty quickly. Their first location is near two famous Portland signs (the White Stag and “Keep Portland Weird”) and is an easy walk from Tom McCall Park, but Voodoo Too was less crowded when we went.
4.) Mississippi Ave–Before driving back to Seattle Tuesday night, we strolled down this eclectic street bursting with weirdness. To be brief, I’ll leave it at this: think taxidermy, bookstores selling primarily zines, vegan BBQ food trucks, and Korean-Mexican food trucks. For a flavor of funky, offbeat Portland, head here. Hawthorne and Belmont are also trendy neighborhoods, but Mississippi Ave takes the gluten-free cake.
5.) The Outdoors–To balance out all the eating, we explored Portland’s outdoors to no end. Having spent two months at school in Maine, we couldn’t pass up the chance to be outside as much as possible. On Monday, we spent some time writing, reading, and people watching at Tom McCall Park along the river. It’s a prime spot to spy on some of Portland’s stereotypes: the cyclists, the punkabbestia a la Bologna, and shameless pot smokers.
Tuesday we walked up through Belmont to Mt. Tabor, a beautiful park inside the bounds of the city on an extinct volcano. From the top you can see Mt. St. Helens and Mt. Rainier in the distance. As you descend back into the city, you also get some stunning views of Portland through the evergreens.
Finally, while not exactly a “nature” activity, we also got some sweeping views of the city from the aerial tram. Riding up through the city in a sleek capsule was a strikingly futuristic experience which seemed to respond to Seattle’s Space Needle, but that might just be my science fiction class creeping into everything else I do right now. The tram takes you up to a hospital, so there’s not much to do but soak in the skyline and then head back down, but for only about $5, it’s worth it.
Here are some of my other picks:
- Stumptown Coffee
- Nong’s Khao Man Gai
- Dump Truck–dumpling food truck, get the sampler
- Rain or Shine Coffee
- Rimsky Korsakoffee
- Palio (Ladd’s Addition)
- Lardo’s–BBQ and good banh mi
- Big-Ass Sandwiches–great sandwiches from food truck park
- Voodoo Doughnuts
- Voodoo Too
- Ruby Jewel’s–great ice cream on Mississippi. Get the sandwich
- Powell’s City of Books
- In Other Words–feminist bookstore that’s the basis of Women and Women First
- Pioneer Square–bring a food truck picnic here to sit and people watch
- White Stag Sign–the iconic sign for the city
- Keep Portland Weird–by Voodoo Doughnuts
- Ladd’s Addition–cool neighborhood with typical Portland houses
- Mississippi Avenue
- Paxton Gate–taxidermy store on Mississippi. Super cool and weird
- Aerial tram
- Mt. Tabor
- Tom McCall Park–along the river
- Shops on Hawthorne–a bunch of hip souvenir type stores