You've just deplaned at PDX. Stretch your arms, attempt to declot your bird's nest airplane hair, and prepare your stomach to expand: you have entered the Promised Land of the epicure, a city of divine feasting. From food truck to cafe, bakery to brewery, Portland is the Gemorah of gourmet gluttony.
It's actually ironic that we describe Portland with religious metaphor as it's one of the most religiously unaffiliated cities in the country. Nearly half the population of the greater area identifies a-religious. Yet it does seem that Portlandians sway to some higher wok sautéed power, an omnipotent and omnipresent force that dictates their urges and cravings deep within. In fact, there are 1,387 houses of worship in the city, according to OpenTable. These people are going to heaven, and we don't just mean that because they have reservations for Sunday brunch at Screen Door, where buttermilk fried chicken is sacrificed on the altar of sweet potato waffle.
With all the great food, it's fortunate that the city is walkable and is host to a number of urban parks, including Washington Park, which has its own rose garden, arboretum, and archery range. Additionally, a plethora of waterfalls hikes are within an easy drive from downtown, and in just an hour, year round skiing and snowboarding is available at Mt Hood. To refresh after an active morning, hit up one of the many vineyards and orchards on the Hood River Fruit Loop in the afternoon. Adventure and unique gastronomy await. Scroll down to read about our fun, food-filled trip in Portland.
We arrived in the morning at PDX and because of a great promotion, we opted for a ride sharing service to our hotel in downtown. Otherwise, the MAX red line tram departs every 30 minutes from the airport and takes about 40 minutes to reach the city center. While there are a number of great hotels in Portland, we chose to redeem some accumulated SPG points at The Nines Hotel, a Luxury Collection property conveniently located in front of Pioneer Square. Although we were booked for a superior room, we happened to share the elevator with the hotel manager up to the eighth floor lobby. After chatting a bit, the manager proceeded to check us in and upgrade us to a club level room, which granted us all-day access to the lounge and its bounty of drinks and snacks. That was the start to what would be a great foodie love affair with Portland. The entire hotel is modern and chic, so whichever category room you may get at The Nines, you're going to have a 10 experience. Whereas some hotels serve merely as a place to shower and sleep at night, The Nines is an oasis of luxury that's hard to leave.
For our first day in town, we wanted to explore as much of the city as possible, as we had road trips in mind for the following days. We began our outing with coffee from Stumptown Coffee Roasters ( a native Portland company), and took a stroll on the Waterfront Park Trail beside the Willamette River.
Venturing west, we made our way through Old Town Chinatown and towards the beginning of Pearl District. We stopped into Pearl Bakery for some treats to nosh on as we walked two blocks over to Powell's bookstore. We could have easily spent several hours perusing the many levels and rooms but we continued on our walk after each purchasing a book. Pearl District was undoubtedly our favorite area of the city. There are great cafes and boutiques, and the area has a cool urban, industrial feel. Make sure to check out World Food market on Everett Street for exotic bites.
After some eclectic shopping at Porch Light, we headed over to the Aveda Institute for haircuts. A wash, haircut, and blow dry are all together around $10, and even less for students. We felt lighter after some inches were trimmed, but some other inches inevitably made their way onto our waistlines. As we searched on Yelp for dinner ideas, we ventured to the charming Nobb Hill area where we walked up and down both 21st Ave and 23rd Ave. We spotted a good looking bakery on 21st Ave and made a mental note to return.
Following a recommendation from a local, we ate dinner at Bar Mingo where we were told the Lasagna was deliziosa. And so it was. We also shared a meat and cheese plate, but the complimentary bread and olive oil served at the beginning of the meal was the real stand out. Sometimes simple, high quality items are all your taste buds crave.
Another option for dinner in the area would have been the highly accoladed Peruvian restaurant, Andina. We didn't make it there on our trip, but its on our list for the next time we return. After a tasty dinner, we made our way slowly back to The Nines where we found slippers by each bedside, and chocolates on our pillows. A comforting and sweet way to end our first day in Oregon.
Although we did some research before departing on our trip, we didn't quite know where or when we would be going somewhere. So upon our first morning waking up in Portland we decided last minute to rent a car and make our way outside the city. The plan seemed unlikely at first when one car rental location was sold out and another's systems were down but fortunately we found a car rental agency that had cars available.
We have a helpful and funny side note on this particular experience renting a car. We opted for a basic car and a one day rental. After paying, we followed the employee to the indoor car lot, where he tried to offer us upgrades, for a fee. Melissa, who was annoyed that we were having a late start that morning, made it very clear to the employee that we would not be paying any extra for the car. The employee then offered us the upgraded car complimentary. So had we agreed, we would have paid extra for something that would have been free a minute later? We thought this anecdote might be useful to our readers as it seems that those out-of-pocket upgrades are sometimes a ruse.
Before making our way out of the city, we stopped by a highly rated delicatessen to take some breakfast with us. Kenny & Zuke's did not disappoint. We had some seriously delicious food to start our road trip. The 222* special consisted of two eggs, two slices of pastrami, two latkes, as well as some rye toast. The pastrami was among the best we ever ate, thick and nicely seasoned. We were kvelling.
Once we set up direction on our phone from the deli, we headed east on highway 84 before verging off onto the Historic Columbia River Highway, a scenic route that runs parallel to 84.
We stopped at the Vista House to soak in a grand view of Columbia River and Washington state on the opposite side.
There are numerous waterfalls further along the route, including Latourell Falls, Wahkeena Falls, and the most picturesque, Multnomah Falls. Exploring these natural wonders was a great way to experience the beauty of the Pacific NorthWest.
We proceeded to head east until we arrived in the cute town of Hood River. We had lunch al fresco at a Scandinavian eatery, Broder Ost.
We really enjoyed walking around town after our meal. Although not large, Hood River has a lot of charm and sits beautifully above the river below, which is interestingly enough used for surfing.
We then drove south toward the Hood River Fruit Loop. Our first stop was the Marchesi Vineyard where we sipped from wine flights, admired the fields of growing grapes, and played with the owner's extremely energetic dog, Jasmine.
Following our time at the vineyard, we stopped at several orchard farm stands where we bought some plump apples and juicy pears.
At Panorama Point Vista House, we had a great view of the rolling farm hills and of Mt Hood from a distance.
Our final stop on the Fruit Loop was Hood River Lavender Farms. We purchased some lavender scented sleep masks for the flight home.
Had we started our day earlier, we probably would have continued traveling south to venture up to the Timberline Lodge on Mt Hood, and then would have drove route 26 back to Portland. By doing this, the road trip could have been a full circle, but the day was coming to an end and we weren't familiar with the weather conditions on the mountain. We returned north on route 35 toward highway 84, and travelled west back to Portland. Since it didn't matter what time we returned the car, we decided to eat dinner outside of downtown. We ended up in a Swiss restaurant in a neighborhood across the river, in Portland's Alberta district.
We have both been to Switzerland several times each, and Swiss Hibiscus in Portland is the best Swiss food we ever had. The rosti is starchy and buttery. The schnitzel pars with those in Vienna. We are scared to mention this, but the prices are rather reasonable: $15.50 for the chicken or pork WienerSchnitzel that comes with two sides and $13.50 for pasta bolognese. This is a good time to mention that Oregon has no sales tax. Yodelayheewhat. We almost didn't eat there because the place is so small and those in the know make reservations weeks in advance, but there happened to be a few tables available outside. Thankfully the cooler evening weather didn't deter us.
After an amazing meal at Swiss Hibiscus, we drove back into downtown and dropped our rental car off. We walked back to our hotel where chocolates and slippers awaited us.
We again made the decision to go on a last minute road trip for our second full day in Portland. Having seen some amazing photos of Oregon's coast, we drove to Cannon Beach, the famous Goonies' beach, about an hour and a half west of the city. Our first stop before stepping foot onto the sand was, of course, for food. We had some coffee and pastries at Sea Level Bakery.
We walked a bit in the area around the bakery, and found ourselves in the lobby of Stephanie's Inn, an upscale beachfront hotel that has some great views of Haystack Rock.
We then drove to downtown Cannon Beach where we found free parking. Walking up and down the beach was rejuvenating. The beach itself is beautiful and clean, and seems to go on for miles in either direction.
As the coast can be a bit windy and chilly, Sleepy Monk Coffee Roasters is a good spot for hot chocolates adorned with homemade whipped cream.
We walked around the downtown area, stepping into several shops.
We could tell that the restaurants were rather touristy so we patiently waited until we'd be back in Portland for dinner. Before heading back to the city, we drove south on the Oregon Coast Highway, where we took in some amazing views. One of the better vantage points is Neahkahnie Viewpoint, as shown below.
If we had more time that day, we probably would have tacked on a trip up to Astoria, where Kindergarten Cop was filmed.
After the drive back, we decided to eat in a neighborhood outside the city again because we wanted to take advantage of having a car. We ate some delicious wood fired pizzas at Ken's Artisan Pizza in a quaint residential area.
Once we returned the rental car and walked back to the hotel, we decided we weren't done eating for the night. We went up to The Nines' rooftop asian restaurant and lounge, Departure. The fried rice dishes and vegetable udon noodles were especially good, and surprisingly delicious for a hotel restaurant.
On our final full day in Portland, we brunched at Bijou Cafe, where we endured a long wait but unique brunch dishes. (If they call your party's name and you're not all there, they will cross your name off the list completely, so don't wander off!)
After our meal, we checked out the nearby indoor food market, Pine Street Market. As it was a Saturday, we explored Portland State University farmer's market, open year round. With over 200 different food vendors, there was an endless amount of local produce and delicacies. Samples were plentiful. Needless to say, Portland's farmers' markets take the gold medal.
We then walked west to Washington Park, an amazing urban oasis. Walking through the free International Rose Test Garden was a great feature, and offered some nice views of the city below.
After hiking about, we decided to try the bakery we noticed on 21st Ave in Nobb Hill, nearby to the park. We realized that the bakery we planned on returning to, Ken's Artisan Bakery, is sister eateries with Ken's Artisan Pizza. So of course, everything was bound to be delicious. All the pastries at Ken's Bakery were fresh and flavorful.
We filled the remainder of our day exploring more of Pearl District, and doing some sales-tax free shopping. Our hotel's rooftop restaurant was so good, we got takeout from there and ate in bed for the last night of our trip.
For the final few hours of our trip in Portland, we returned to Kenny and Zuke's. We had a quick but delicious breakfast there before we had to pack up our luggage and catch the red line to the airport for our direct Jetblue flight back to Boston.
Update: We are still trying to work off all the calories we consumed on that trip.