Portland has boomed in the past 20 years, attracting musicians, writers, graphic designers and other creative people. Many entrepreneurial folks have started unusual businesses and events, which often surprise and delight visitors. If you’ve always wanted to visit a vegan strip club or watch an adult soapbox derby race, Portland is for you.
The city of about 650,000 residents has a well-deserved reputation for rain. If you like a dry vacation, summer is your best bet. Spring is the most beautiful season, when tulips, irises and daffodils push up through the soggy ground and rhododendrons seem to bloom in every yard. Autumn enthusiasts will enjoy Portland’s fall colors. But don’t curse the rain if you get wet — it’s what makes Portland so beautiful and green.
Portland outdoor adventures
Outdoor adventure awaits, both within city limits and a short drive or bus ride away. The Willamette River separates Portland’s east and west sides. Running, walking and hiking are popular pastimes. On the east side, Mount Tabor, a dormant volcano, offers hiking trails without leaving the city. Forest Park, on the west side, is even bigger, with about 70 miles of recreational trails. For a short but gorgeous Forest Park hike, take the Lower Macleay Trail along Balch Creek up to the Audubon Society, where you can check out the Wildlife Care Center which treats orphaned and injured native animals. If you happen to be in Portland on Thanksgiving, consider walking or running the annual Tofurky Trot 5K, which benefits animal sanctuaries.
Portland is well known as a bike-friendly city. You can rent a bike and explore, or join a guided tour. Pedal Bike Tours offers an intro to Portland tour, plus excursions focused on donuts or beer. Their Columbia River Gorge Tour takes you out to the must-see gorge by van, where you bike and hike to waterfalls.
Since Portland has access to both the Willamette and Columbia rivers, the water possibilities are vast. Join Portland Kayak for a guided full moon paddle on the Willamette. During summer, eNRG Kayaking offers SUP yoga classes. For a special Portland experience, learn about the Northwest’s favorite biped on a narrated Bigfoot Cruise. You’ll even get the chance to smell a simulated Bigfoot pheromone (only people with strong stomachs should take a whiff).
Those who like a little culture with their outdoors time will find plenty of art festivals, especially in summer. The upscale Pearl neighborhood has art openings every first Thursday of the month. From April to October, the Urban Art Network Street Gallery sets up an extremely accessible First Thursday show, with a chance to meet painters, jewelers, woodworkers and other skilled artists, and find art for all budgets.
It might seem like every other person you meet in Portland is a yogateacher, and many neighborhoods have multiple yoga studios. Yoga Refuge occupies an attractive upstairs space in an older building, with plenty of light and plants to cheer up the grayest Portland days. Studio PDX even lets you bring your small dog to some of its classes.
Portland is a city where it’s easy to find gong healing. Portland Sound Sanctuary offers various sound healings, some including a cacaoceremony. Awakenings Wellness Center hosts intriguing events almost every day, such as ancestral lineage intensives, shamanic sound healing and a White Stag meditation.
Common Ground Wellness Center has a communal soaking pool and a dry cedar sauna. This clothing-optional hangout has times set aside for men, women, queer/trans and BIPOC people only, and a nightly silent hour from 10 to 11 pm. If you’re happier when everyone wears a swimsuit, Knot Springs is a newer facility with a delightful water circuit, sauna, eucalyptus-scented steam room and full foot rub menu. You can book massages at both Common Ground and Knot Springs. Zama Massage Therapeutic Spa is Portland’s only place for halo therapy in a saltcave.
The Grotto, a Catholic shrine to the Virgin Mary, is a peaceful place to visit, whether you’re religious or not. It features gardens, shrines, a labyrinth and a meditation chapel with floor-to-ceiling windows. On a clear day, you can meditate on a view of snow-capped Mount Hood.
Dining out in Portland
Portland has become a city known for food, especially vegan food. At the high end, Chef Aaron Adams of Farm Spirit creates exquisite tasting menus from the Cascadian bioregion, with all ingredients sourced within 105 miles of the restaurant. There’s also a chef’s table experience, where you can chat with the chefs and watch as they prepare your food.
The Sudra interprets Indian food with a dash of New Mexico. Inventive plates include ingredients like turmeric-roasted Brussels sprouts, kale-infused dosas and coconut yogurt. All of this is served with a side of New Mexico green chilis, if desired. Vegetarian Thai Restaurant KaTi Portland makes the standard dishes, plus Thai street food and specialty entrees, with nary a drop of fish sauce.
The all-vegan and gluten-free Back to Eden Dessert Shop on NE Alberta makes cookies, pies, chia puddings and has an impressive sundae menu. Sweet Pea Bakery is a real cake specialist. You can even get a tiered wedding cake or a six-layered rainbow cake. For vegan ice cream, Eb & Bean makes both dairy and non-dairy frozen yogurt in flavors like black sesame and salty pistachio. Salt & Straw, Portland’s most famous ice cream shop, always features at least a few vegan flavors. Don’t miss their lemon cheesecake crumble.
In nearby Milwaukie, Oregon, world-famous Bob’s Red Mill churns out oats, millet, sorghum, farro, and other grains. Visitors can take a tour, attend a cooking class, shop from a mind-blowing bulk section and eat lunch or breakfast. There’s also a separate veg menu.
It’s easy to get around Portland without driving yourself, through a combination of walking, biking, bus, light rail and rideshare. TriMet is the local public transit company. The MAX light rail serves the airport every day until almost midnight and is the cheapest way to get to downtown hotels. Amtrak, Bolt, Flixbus and Greyhound also serve Portland.
If you see folks cruising around on heavy orange bikes built like tanks, that’s the Biketown bike share program. They even have a limited number of adaptive bikes to get people with disabilities on the road.
Don’t want to pedal? You can also rent an electric scooter. Be advised that it’s illegal to ride scooters on the sidewalk, so stick to bike lanes and city streets. Also, be aware that these things pick up speed very fast when going downhill.
Where to stay
The Kimpton Riverplace puts a yoga mat in every room, has two charging stations for electric cars and is located right on the Willamette River waterfront path. Built in 1927, the Heathman is both historic and eco-conscious, with low-flow shower-heads, LED lighting, walls made from recycled materials and even a ghost or two.
For more eclectic lodging, check out one of Portland’s three tiny house hotels. Yes, three. Caravan: The Tiny House Hotel has five cramped but cute choices. Tiny Digs has eight themed units, including train car, “gypsy wagon,” barn and Victorian cottage. Slabtown Village bills itself as NW Portland’s luxury tiny home hotel. At Slabtown, you can also choose from three small Victorian houses if a tiny home proves too teeny.
Images by Teresa Bergen / Inhabitat