Destination PDX

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

I meant to post this a little closer to the beginning of summer for anyone who might be making a trip to Portland for summer vacations, but as they say, better late than never. Having lived here my whole life I sometimes have wondered why anyone could come here for a vacation. There's no Disneyland, or Castles, or Cesar's Palace or tropical beaches. It's just a rainy little city - though this city is beautiful, especially in the summer as all that rain makes our land green even in the midst of long summer heat waves. And once I started thinking about it I found this post incredibly difficult to write, there are so many places I'd want to send someone - so be warned, it's going to be a long one. Here are my can't miss pdx picks.

Powells / Hawthorne / The Pearl

My first pick should be obvious to anyone who knows me through this blog or otherwise: Powell's. It's my happy place and probably the number one tourist destination in Portland. You can't come to Portland without visiting this city of books. You can read more about my love of Powell's hereInsider info: The "city of books" is in downtown Portland in The Pearl District, that's the big one and it get's really busy, but it's worth the stop to see the shear size of it (maybe on a weekday morning if you can) and grab a map to find your way through the labyrinth of books. The Pearl also offers some of our more fancy pants shops and restaurants, my pick for dinner and drink in this district would be Andina's and shopping would be to stop in at Cargo and the Jonathan Adler showroom. It's really lovely to wander around beyond the epicenter of The Pearl too, head over to Jamison Square to cool your toes in the Jamison Fountain.

If you want a more laid back, less touristy experience still centered around Powell's, you can go to my personal favorite location on Hawthorne in SE Portland. Both are in great neighborhoods - The Pearl one representing more of the neo-portland upscale vibe and Hawthrone representing more old-school down home Portland. My recommendations for Hawthorne are to stop in for happy hour at Por Que No? they have the best taco's around and are a local favorite. There are also lots of fun little shops to peruse on Hawthorne from funky gift shops to vintage shops to boutiques featuring local artisans. 

The Salt & Straw / Alberta Arts / Division 

Apparently The Salt & Straw is pretty infamous and it's not without good reason. They have the best ice cream and the most unique combinations. This has quickly made it to our fairly shortlist of where we go when we aren't at home. Insider Info: You can get a "split" single scoop so that's two flavors for the price of one. Also they have several locations and if you happen to be here on the last Thursday of the month you should go to the Alberta street location which is in North Portland (nopo to locals) so you can also check out "last thursday," and maybe grab dinner first at my favorite restaurant in the Alberta Arts district, Podnah's Pit. You can read more all of the above in a blog post I wrote here

You can also visit the Salt & Straw on Division street which is also in SE Portland and is apparently one of the top-ten most up and coming neighborhoods in the US - you might be able to tell by the insane amount of construction going on (stay above 33rd and you will miss it - S&S is on division/33rd btw). It's a great neighborhood to visit while you are here. It has an even more relaxed vibe than Hawthorne and is where the locals hangout. There are more vintage shops, boutiques, and restaurants to to check out here. My pick for dinner would be the famous Pok Pok (get the chicken wings!) and of course the perfect souvenir would be to stop in at Stumptown coffee's flagship location (45th/division) and grab a bag of coffee beans to take home for your mom and one for yourself too, so you can daydream over a cup of nutty-scented coffee about how how much you loved Portland. Insider Info: Both Division and Hawthorne are very close to each other and if you take 60th ave headed north you will run into Mt. Tabor park which is worth heading up to see the spectacular views and if you happen to be geology buff it's also a dormant volcano!

Saturday Market / Waterfront

Saturday Market has been around in downtown Portland forever, at least as long as I can remember. It was the land of artisans and handcrafted way before anything of the likes of Etsy came along and is still going strong, unfazed by the world wide web. There are hundreds of vendors, street performers, musicians, food carts, smells like nagchampa (er, and sometimes urine - but don't let that deter you!), it is all in all a fun way to spend a Saturday or Sunday afternoon. It also extends down to the waterfront along the Willamette River which is worth walking up towards the riverfront district for a leisurely stroll and maybe to stop and get an ice cream cone or cool off in one of our many public fountains. Insider Info: If you visit the market this is also a good time to snap a shot of the famous portland sign (that's first pic I posted - on or under the burnside bridge will give you the best shots).

Voodoo Doughnuts

True confession I necessarily wouldn't add Voodoo Donuts to my personal favorites list. For starters they don't have gluten-free donuts (boo! they have vegan ones though), also I don't think their donuts are all that and a bag of chips, but if you go there don't be shocked if you see a donut with chips from a bag crumpled on top of it. Okay maybe not chips, but definitely fruity cereal. They also have a donut called "cock and balls," that's in the shape of, well, I am sure you can guess. So it's a huge tourist destination and the lines are long. But I am adding it to the list because while I don't love the donut (i.e. I can't eat them) it is so my Portland. It reminds me of my youth (in fact one of the owners owned the x-ray cafe, a teeny tiny all-ages music venue that was even dirtier and was my home away from home in my teen years - so for that it holds a special place and I take back what I said before, really you should go.). It has that dirty 90's vibe and if you are sentimental for that and wanting a donut at 2 am you would be remiss to not visit this pink donut palace. Insider Info: There are two locations: voodoo donuts (downtown) and voodoo donuts too (in NE portland - that's my stomping ground). If you make it down to Saturday Market during your visit it's very close to the downtown one.

Food Trucks

Portland is land of craftiness and pinot noir and beer and nike and bicycles . . . and food trucks - they are everywhere. And the food that comes out of these truck is good. Some of our most popular restaurants (like Pok Pok) started out as a food truck. There are so many, and it would nearly be impossible for me to tell you one venue to go to so I am just going to link to this list which gives a good list of the most popular venues.

Outside of Portland / The Gorge / The Beach

This one is easy: The Gorge. If you decide to go anywhere outside of Portland my first, second and third recommendation would be the gorge. While I haven't traveled as much as I wish I would have by now, I have traveled enough to know that this is one of the most beautiful places on earth. It's only a 45 minute drive from Portland to Hood River, which has a great main strip with lots of shops and spectacular views. There is also a "beach" along the Columbia River and a fabulous park for families to enjoy and watch the windsurfers. And on the way there you can stop and check out Multnomah falls. Insider Info: Go across the toll bridge to the Washington side (it's only a dollar) but there are two really tiny towns on that side to see: Bingen and White Salmon. Bingen happens to have one of the first licensed marijuana shops in the state, aptly called "the pot shop." I haven't been but you know, if you are touring, may as well add and cross off a "been there done that" on your itinerary list. Also stop by Feast Market in White salmon for local brews and yummy food. I might be biased as my best friends own it, but really, I am not - they have the best selection of local cheeses and meats, farm vegetables, beers and wines and they even will pack you up a picnic lunch and tell you the best spots to go have a picnic. 

The Beach

As I mentioned we do not have tropical beaches here, in fact sometimes I find them downright miserable, but I have recently had a change of heart, and because of that I say if you have time it would be well worth it to take a day or two to head to the coast (that's what we say here "we're headin' to the coast."). My favorite, if you have kids, would be Newport which has a good sized aquarium to visit and it also has perfectly kitschy bay front with candy shops, ripley's and wax museums, barking seals and my favorite restaurant anywhere on the coast, Local Ocean. Insider Info: There is also an "aquarium" at the bay front, this is not the aquarium, definitely skip it. Also while you are in Newport head to the tiny little strip of Nye Beach where there are more little restaurants, an adorable bookstore, and shops. You can read more about both places in this post.

For a more relaxed beach experience my pick would be Canon Beach. It's beautiful, featuring Haystack Rock, if you've seen Goonies before you have seen Haystack. Unfortunately I don't have any great food recommendations as the last time we went our we seemed to have terrible luck with our choices, but the beaches more than made up for it. If you go there go about  a few miles past canon beach and spend some time in the Arch Cove area, the beaches there are empty and quiet and perfect for collecting sand-dollars. 

Whew! I warned you it would be a long one. And still I feel guilty like I have chosen favorites among my children, so many things have been left out: like st. johns and cathedral park (this is where i grew up, prettiest bridge ever). And NW Portland a.k.a the alphabet district which also has a salt & straw and is close to The Pearl. And The Screen Door (yum!). And The Shanghai Tunnels. And The Rose Gardens. And all the bar crawling one can do - after your bar crawl you should eat at the open-till-very-late Le Bistro Montage for some crawfish mac & cheese. And The Portland Art Museum. And taking a local breweries tour on the brewvana bus. Or if a bus is too laid back for you you could instead go for the Bike Bar - this is where you and 15 other insane people peddle a bar whilst drinking in this scorching heat around the city. And of course there is always hiking, so much hiking. So, now, when do I get to see you? 


  1. Oh my gosh! I loved every second of reading this! I always suspected that you were flat out WRONG when you said that there was no reason to come to Portland. So HA! And you make me feel how really LAME it is here, which really, truly IS a resort destination. I want to try everything. When can I come?

    And interestingly, I'm doing a segment on travel photography for my Intro Class this week, and their homework is to be a tourist in our hometown. I might send them to your post! :)

    1. you can come anytime. open invitation my friend :) i am just waiting for that email . . . which goes something like "soooo, i was looking at flights to portland . . ."

      i literally pretend to be a tourist around here all. the. time. it's a good way to keep my 'i wish i were traveling' blues away. i probably look like a dorky tourist all the time too with my camera always clicking away whilst doing mundane errands. i can't wait to hear how you class does on their homework! good assignment :)

  2. What a fantastic guide, Christine! Your corner of the world is certainly worth visiting.

  3. Perfect guide! You really put a lot of time and love into it. Of course, I'll bookmark this for whenever I finally get my butt over there, but we both know you are going to be my personal tour guide when that day comes! Take me to the donut shop!! Promise not to judge me when I order one of each and inhale them all :) xo

    1. um, yeah, when you come here i am going to pick you up at the airport and immediately super glue our hands together and drag you all over portland eating donuts and ice cream - that is when we aren't cuddling on my couch ;) xoxo

    2. That makes my heart sing!!! xo

  4. GAH thank you so much for doing this and I am going to eat all of the ice cream and buy all the books. All of it. I can't wait to get there!

    1. absolutely, hope it helps! i definitely wrote this with you in mind xo

  5. What a cool post! Your photos are beautiful and you make me love my home city even more. : )

    1. thanks! we should hang out in it together some time ;)

  6. Christine, thank you! This is the best round up of Portland that I have ever read. I'm so embarrassed to say that I have never been. I'm sort of wishing this were my August destination now, but one day soon I will get there. Please keep this post up forever (or at least a year or so) so I can bookmark it--I want to do everything on here, except maybe the donut shop, ha! Such a great post!

    xoxo Mary Jo

  7. Hi Christine!! Wow these pictures are absolutely amazing. Goonies is one of my favorite movies of all-time :)

  8. I'd love to come and visit. even before your post, but now even more. too bad you are totally in the wrong part of the world for me right now... xoxo


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