Seattle is incredibly lucky to be sandwiched between so much. Whoever looked at our spot on the map way back when and decided, "Ya, this looks like a nice spot", had no idea what they had tapped into. We have water to the west, mountains to the east. Vancouver to the north and Portland to the south.
Today we focus on our city to the south. The City of Roses. Hipster Paradise. Portlandia. Portland. PDX. Here are all the things you should hit up on your first trip to Portland, Oregon.
Where to Stay
When you visit Portland this is really the only place you should stay. The Ace Hotel embodies Portland perfectly. It's trendy, but low-key. It's chill and artistic. It's comfortable and approachable. The Ace is located in the wonderful Pearl District, only one block away from Powell's Books and a few more from Blue Star Donuts. Yes and yes. Book as far out as you can to ensure a spot in this amazing hotel!
If they are booked up a great second option is McMenamins Crystal Hotel. McMenamins is also located in the Pearl District, well situated for sightseeing. Bonus adds: It has a subterranean saltwater soaking pool and a cool underground bar where you can grab a drink and see live music or comedians.
This category is where Portland shines. You can visit year round because there is nothing seasonal about the wonderful breweries and restaurants. They are amazing any time of the year, but when the patios open in the spring and summer the beer does taste just a litttttle bit better. We could never cover all the great places, but here are some to round out your trip nicely.
Blue Star Donuts
breakfast, $, Website
Blue Star Donuts are hands down the best donuts on the west coast. You can try to argue, but it won't get you anywhere. We love donuts. We have tried more donuts than is socially acceptable (even in America) and these win, every time. Do not go to Portland without getting Blue Star.
Try the Passionfruit & Cacao Nibs and the Original Glaze to get a taste of both the funky and classic!
coffee/snack, $, Website
Stumptown is one of the PNW's most well known coffee shops and rightfully so. Their coffee is complex and smooth and they know how to make their drinks right. We love their cold brew best, but on cold days a steaming hot americano will warm up your soul. If you have any questions about home brewing they are experts and can help with that too!
Tasty n Sons
brunch, $$, Website
This place is a hot spot for brunch. They have small and big plates, so you can share or devour something all on your own. Don't miss the Tasty Mary and the Potatoes Brava. Basically everything else on the menu tastes like heaven too, so go all out.
dinner, $$$, Website
This place will make you wait for it, but it's worth it. This southern inspired restaurant has been featured in countless magazines for their amazing menu, and we are totally on the bandwagon. Start with the hushpuppies and fried okra, then move onto their famous buttermilk fried chicken and get one of their many crazy scrumptious side dishes. And then (yes there is more, you can do it) finish the whole experience with the warm apple bread pudding. Then go for a walk...you're going to be more full than you've ever been before.
dinner, $$$, Website
Piazza Italia takes us right back to Italy. This quaint, friendly, and authentic spot has some of the best Italian we've had in all of the Pacific Northwest. Started by an Italian immigrant, this spot has everything you could need in an Italian restaurant: the menu, the wine, and the ambience (soccer jerseys and all). They take reservations, which we absolutely recommend making if you want to get a table (especially on a weekend).
¿por que no?
lunch/dinner, $, Website
Are you a taco fanatic? We are and this place is no joke. They have an awesome vibe, crazy delicious street-style tacos, and all the hot sauce you could ever need. Their guacamole is the perfect starter and make sure to try multiple tacos (chorizo, carnitas, carne asada, and the pescado are a few to get you started). Also, make sure to check out the specials board for their daily creations.
Salt and Straw
dessert, $, Website
Portland's famous ice cream shop gets 5 stars in our book. The only bad part of visiting this place is trying to decide which flavor to go with. We recommend leaving some time between your meal and your trip here to make sure you have room in your stomach for at least two scoops in a waffle cone. Our favorites? Snickerdoodle and honey lavender.
Now for the beer. There are a million and one breweries in Portland. You really have to decide what kind of vibe you want when picking which to check out. Do you want small and low-key with a few beers on the menu or big and established with things like food and extras like cider or kombucha offered on the menu? If you don't care, well just start walking, chances are you'll just run right into a great spot.
10 Barrel Brewing
beer/lunch, $$, Website
10 Barrel is an established brewery that started in Bend, OR back in 2006. Three guys started brewing beer and now, over 10 years later we are all better for it. It's good beer and better yet, they have delicious food. Like shockingly good compared to most brew-pubs. Come on an empty stomach, bring friends, and have a chill couple hours.
Portland is built on the beautiful Willamette River and is a community full of activities to do inside and out. From strolling along the river to playing video games in a dark arcade. You can find something for everyone!
When we dream of Portland, we dream of Powell's. Powell's has been in business in Portland since 1971. Over the last 40+ years they have built up a book lovers paradise. They stock both new and used books and have basically every category under the sun. Clear off a shelf on your bookcase before you visit, and grab a basket on the way in for all your finds! Website
Tom McCall Waterfront Park
This park along the river is a great little place to take a stroll on a nice day and check out the riverfront. It is close to many other sights and easy to get to on foot. You might even run into a festival or concert in the warmer months.
Insider tip: If you want to check out a super epic Portland bridge, wander north of the city to St. John's Bridge.
Ground Kontrol is a classic arcade with all the games you remember from your childhood (this statement spans multiple generations) including Centipede, PacMan, Area 51, Cruisin World, and even a few new ones to keep you guessing! Located in Chinatown, it's a great place to check out on a rainy day and after 5PM they even have a bar so you can enjoy a beer with your Terminator pinball. Website.
Mill Ends Park - World's Smallest Park
This teeny park located in Downtown Portland near the river was granted celebrity status in the 70s from Guinness Book of World Records as the "Smallest Park in the World." It is only 2 feet across and not much to take in, but it's a quirky part of Portland you shouldn't miss if you have time!
This mansion sits high on a hill looking down on the city of Portland and beyond. It is free to walk the grounds and completely worth the drive up if you have a car. The views are killer and on a clear day you can see all the way to Mount Hood. The house is pretty easy on the eyes too. The home was built in 1914 for the owner of The Oregonian, Henry Pittock, and his wife. The City of Portland maintains it now and you can tour the inside for $10. Website.
See a Show
Portland is a great city for live music. If you are interested in catching a show, check out this list of live venues and see if anything peeks your interest!
Take a Brewery Tour
Full disclosure, we haven't booked a brewery tour in Portland, but if you are interested in having an expert show you around we hear Brewvana is a great option! Definitely consider this if A. you don't have a car and want to check out multiple breweries or B. you are new to drinking craft beer and want to learn all the facts and figures behind that glass of IPA you love.
Alright, those are our "first-timer" recommendations for visiting Portland. We honestly barely skimmed the surface though, there are so many wonderful places in this growing city. Check back for more coverage of all things to eat, drink, and do in PDX.
Let us know what you favorite spots are in the comments and we will make sure to check them out!