Our go-to’s in the west coast’s weirdest city
Portland may not be as weird as it once was (thanks to a rapid influx of out-of-state expats over the past few years) but there’s still no place quite like this rainy northwestern city. Portland is home to one of the country’s largest municipal parks, as well as the very smallest. You’ll also find the world’s largest independent bookstore, an infamous 24/7 donut shop with an ordained minister on call, an abandoned UFO-shaped boat that’s been stranded for decades on the shores of the local nude beach, and a bridge covered in trolls. Not to mention, enough food, drink, and wilderness to meet your quota for the whole year. A few bonus points for first time visitors: there’s no sales tax, you never have to pump your own gas, and all bars are legally required to also serve food (score).
You may have already heard of North Portland’s new thai eatery, Eem, for its nationally acclaimed fare, but we couldn’t rule it out. Eem describes itself as an “indulgent tropical embodiment of deep rooted Texas BBQ technique, fiery Thai street fare, and irreverently crafted vacation cocktails” and we couldn’t say it better. Plus, we have a bit of a soft spot for anything that resembles a tiki drink, so it’s no surprise that we love Eem’s bar menu for its unique tiki-inspired cocktails (are you a fellow tiki fanatic? Hey Love and Double Dragon also have our hearts). For something you won’t find in every city, check out one of Portland’s most beloved restaurants–and arguably the best Russian restaurant in the country–Kachka. Pickled fish never tasted so good.
Portland has an enviable number of craft breweries, so we couldn’t pick just one. For a huge selection of drafts plus a full cocktail selection in a cozy bar setting, try Loyal Legion. For the best hazy IPA in town, look for anything by local brewer Ruse. If you’re a California local and want a taste of home, head a few blocks south to Modern Times.
If you’re up for a trip to the south side of town, head to Portland’s Sellwood neighborhood for local speakeasy Bible Club. You’ll have to hunt for it–it’s on a semi-residential street, and has no signage. Check for the green light in the window to see if they’re open. While the cocktails at Bible Club are hit or miss (and too expensive to get away with the occasional dud, in our opinion), it’s worth a trip for the prohibition-era ambience. Have one drink here as a warm up, then head to Mexican Cocktail spot Bar Espiritu nearby for the real deal. If you feel like staying closer to the city center, but still want a bit of a speakeasy vibe, we love Portland’s other bar-in-an-old-house, Beech Street Parlor.
Of course, we can’t skip over Portland’s near-legendary coffee scene. Our favorite spot for a simple, elevated cup is Heart on East Burnside, but for innovative roasts and out-of-this-world coffee drinks, we can’t stay away from Never Coffee on SE Belmont. Even if you’re not a coffee drinker (or the flipside, if you’re a true coffee snob), Never is worth a trip.
Fifteen minutes north of downtown is one of the country’s largest municipal parks, stretching for 5,200 acres across northwest Portland and housing 70 miles of winding trails. Though “park” is a bit of a misnomer–Forest Park is more like, well, a forest, with a number of well-groomed trails cut through impossibly lush green woods. For a quick day hike, route to Birch Trail and take Firelane 7 to Ridge trail (as of this post, the sign has been knocked down, so take a left turn at the broken trail marker). You’ll end at a small footbridge with a view of Portland’s famous St. John’s bridge through the trees.
If you’re in the heart of the city, rent a Biketown bike (the orange municipal bike share rides) and ride to the esplanade. We like starting on a clear day around sunset, and renting a bike near the Broadway Bridge on the eastside. Then, cross the bridge to the west waterfront, and ride south to the pedestrian-and-transit-only Tillamook bridge, where you can cross the river again. On the way back, you can see the city lights from the east side of the esplanade–the famous Portland stag, the changing colors of the Tillamook bride, and the buildings downtown.
Loyly is our favorite place for a full spa experience, but if you’re looking for a good place to wind down after a busy week, the plunging pools and exercise classes at Knot Springs make it our go-to for active recovery. Feeling more casual, or less spendy? Tiny Massage Cart in the Alberta district might be the best (and most affordable) massage in town.
Have places nearby you love too? Let us know in the comments. We love to explore.