Portland’s unofficial slogan is “Keep Portland Weird.” It also has a reputation for fostering a hip, urban attitude that teeters on the line of progressive ideals with eye-rolling hipster stereotypes … but that’s what makes it so fun. Explore the city’s five quadrants by car, foot, bike or public transport (they’re all easy to do), and get a taste of what exactly keeps Portland so delightfully weird. Here are some places to start:
If there is one thing you can’t do wrong in Portland, it’s eat. The competitiveness of the market makes sure that good places stay open, and great places have lines out the door. If you’ve seen the “Portlandia” brunch episode, you should know that it’s only a slight exaggeration—slight. If you’re looking for a savory breakfast spot, you can’t go wrong with the open-face sandwiches at Café Broder on SE Clinton, brought to you in a minimalist Scandinavian-inspired setting. For lunch, hit the food carts. There are groups of carts set up in various areas around the city, so take your pick. Try Nong’s Khao Man Gai on SW 10th and Alder for some of the best chicken and rice you’ll taste this side of Thailand. Come dinnertime, head to Screen Door on E. Burnside for finger-lickin’ Southern cuisine, or check out Equinox off N. Mississippi for some lighter fare. Whatever you choose, be sure to cap off the evening with a stop at Salt & Straw for some freshly churned ice cream.
Portland boasts a huge number of parks within its city limits, so exploring at least a few of these is a must. Washington Park is a beautiful, sprawling example where you can wander through the towering Douglas firs or visit the famous Rose Test Garden. If you have time, venture out to Forest Park to feel as if you’ve abandoned civilization completely for the lush green forests of the Pacific Northwest.
One of the first things you’ll learn about Portland is that this town is fueled by coffee, and you can’t go wrong with local favorites Stumptown Coffee Roasters or Barista. Come nightfall, however, it’s easy to trade that cup of Joe for a pint of some locally brewed beer or a refreshing cocktail. All bars are required to serve food, but you won’t be stuck with your typical greasy bar food here, as most serve surprisingly delicious and refined fare along with those generously poured beverages. Try Rontoms or Dig a Pony to experience your typical Portland bar scene; Greater Trumps for some fine whiskey and cigars; or Chopsticks I, II or III for cheap drinks and karaoke seven days a week.
With lots of great venues and a supportive local music scene, Portland sees tons of national and local acts performing on its many stages. Mississippi Studios is a musician-owned and -run venue on the uber-cool N. Mississippi Ave. that hosts great shows on a regular basis, and serves up food and drinks at BarBar, the adjoining bar next door. Doug Fir Lounge is a great place to catch touring bands perform, and you may even get a chance to hang out post-show since the venue/lounge is also a part of the Jupiter Hotel, where many acts end up staying the night.
Jennifer Sanchez is a freelance writer based in Portland, Ore.