Road Trip

13 Reasons to Spend a Weekend in Portland

It’s been a long time since PDX was defined by double-­decker fixie bikes and put-a-bird-on-it jokes. From breweries to bridges, here's what to see in the city next door—from a 15-year Portland veteran (and editor at Portland Monthly).

By Ramona DeNies November 1, 2017 Published in the November 2017 issue of Seattle Met

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The Fair-Haired Dumbbell complex in Portland’s Central Eastside.

A Share of the Market

From maca and goji berry smoothies at Kure to Olympia Provisions’ Wurst fries and Salt and Straw’s Wiz Bang sundae bar, downtown’s upstart Pine Street Market is a food hall that might rival Pike Place Market. Opened in May 2016, Portland’s original upscale food court kick-started a citywide trend. This is prime people-watching; think Kitchen Confidential meets Portlandia. (Here's Portland Monthly food critic Karen Brooks' Pine Street cheat sheet.)

A Shrine to Beer

Craft beer isn’t always micro. Take the glittering new Slabtown location of Portland’s award-winning Breakside Brewery: three stories, including one in-progress rooftop bar, of sudsy paradise—plus a reputation as a Hop Lab for the house-only experimental quaffs.

Eastern Promises

In the forested hills high above downtown, Washington Park’s renowned Portland Japanese Garden went next level in spring 2017, unveiling a stunning $33.5 million upgrade from star architect Kengo Kuma, designer of the 2020 Tokyo Olympics national stadium. (In town, Kuma also led an airy redesign of beloved farm-fresh spot Shizuku.)

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Blanket Revolution

For more than 150 years, Pendleton Woolen Mills has cornered the classic western-wear market. Further raising the profile of this family-run Oregon company: recent collaborations with Star Wars, Marvel, and the National Parks Service. In August, Pendleton opened a 3,000-square-foot flagship store in downtown Portland. Did we mention there’s no sales tax?

A Hostel with Intent 

Just a jig south of Union Station, the circa-1881 Society Hotel building once served as a safe haven for transient sailors. Bunkhouse accommodations channel that past in this artfully minimalist new iteration. A street-level coffee/cocktail bar offers local roasts and spirits; a top-floor deck offers sweeping views of Portland’s Old Town district.

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Pedal Power

Casual riders astride boxy, bright-orange Biketown cycles are everywhere—since July 2016, the city’s smart-bike initiative has thrived in Portland’s urban core. Clocking in at 45 pounds, these Nike-backed, GPS-enabled affordable beasts ($2.50 for a 30-minute trip) can be checked out at one of 100 stations scattered from Division Street’s Restaurant Row to boutique-lined Northwest 23rd.

Chickened Out

The apex sandwich is always fried chicken; in Portland, look to the Boke Dokie franchise. An outpost within Rachel’s Ginger Beer on Southeast Hawthorne opened in spring, supplementing a stall within downtown’s brand-new Portland Food Hall, and now both meet demand for these deceptively petite, Korean-seasoned sandos. The mini chain quickly outgrew the original food cart concept, fortunately before its location at the now-shuttered Tidbit pod closed.

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Bokie Dokie's fried chicken sandwich.

The Future Is Tomboy

Those “Wild Feminist” T-shirts you’re seeing everywhere—on Westworld’s Evan Rachel Wood, on Janelle Monáe at Coachella, front and center at a Pantsuit Nation flash mob—are classic Wildfang, the tomboy-inspired line from Portland designer Emma McIlroy. 

A Spanish Affair

Thirteen stories could prove lucky for Antonio Catalán; in spring 2017, the Spanish hotelier debuted one of his first American AC Hotel by Marriott locations in downtown Portland. The brand-new AC Portland targets busy, frills-agnostic millennials, but not without amenities: cocktails on tap, Water Avenue Coffee, locally commissioned art in all directions. 

An Open Secret

Dubbed Portland’s best restaurant of 2017 by Portland Monthly’s James Beard award–winning food critic Karen Brooks, scrappy Han Oak hides its salt-baked pork belly bo ssam and banchan behind a vined courtyard wall. Seattle Met’s sister magazine applauds chef Peter Cho’s “seat-of-the-pants ethos”—and certainly his soup dumplings, “as tender as an Elliott Smith tune.”

Connective Issue

The City of Bridges has a gorgeous new landmark: the South Waterfront’s white-cabled—and car free—Tilikum Crossing. From downtown, catch the Portland Streetcar to cross the bridge to the Oregon Museum of Science and Industry, then the Eastbank Esplanade, and loop back up to East Burnside. (Better yet, tour by smart bike!) 

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An Overnight Sensation

With the March 2017 launch of offal-forward Jackrabbit, celebrated chef Chris Cosentino forms the advance guard of a new Portland trend, the ultrachic hotel restaurant. Cosentino’s locale of choice is the Hilton’s newly renovated Duniway Hotel, renamed for one of the nation’s original suffragists. Top Chef’s Doug Adams is scheduled to join the trend in spring 2018, as head of Bullard, at the Woodlark Hotel.  

Evergreen Portland

Old Town is where Portland hits the classics. Grab a bacon maple bar at Voodoo Doughnut and wander the weirdly wonderful stalls at Saturday Market. And Powell’s City of Books is always a best seller—and you’re just six blocks from the bigger, bleepier reboot of vintage arcade Ground Kontrol. Nightcap? Go to Darcelle XV for a snifter of sass from the world’s oldest drag queen performer.

Bonus: Portland's Resurgent Eastside

Industrial District, Eastside, LoBu—No matter what you call it, we're excited about its revolution.

Six-story murals. A minimart with local tea on tap. Next-level ramen and bone broth bars. Friday night in Portland’s Central Eastside wasn’t always so rocking, despite its easy access from downtown. Just a few years ago, it was easier to buy liquidated furniture than liquid courage in the largely industrial streets along the Willamette River. Portlanders laughed when developers tried to make “LoBu” happen for this neighborhood, a riff on lower East Burnside Street. But so far, as creative spaces and hotels soar and pocket shops open daily, the nickname still hangs on, sort of, teetering between legitimacy and a prayed-for replacement. 

Because this stretch between the Willamette River and East 12th Avenue does need a name, one to match its draw as a new epicenter of Portland. It boasts high-end dining at Le Pigeon (helmed by chef Gabe Rucker, a two-time James Beard winner) and nearby Holdfast, one of Portland’s sexiest prix-fixe splurges—a space lined with working wine barrels and white subway tiles, where a bitter melon cocktail is the highlight of a Monday bar night known as Deadshot. 

The first U.S. outpost of Tokyo’s Marukin Ramen landed here last year, dishing fire-red tonkotsu broth and springy handmade noodles. Six months later, Seattle chef Rachel Yang opened Revelry three blocks away. “LoBu” now has wineries, distilleries (House Spirit’s art deco tasting room is a marvel), and, of course, breweries from Base Camp to Wayfinder, as well as 99 proud Oregon taps at beer hall Loyal Legion.

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But there’s great food and local beer all over Portland; the Central Eastside has become the epicenter for the fast-growing city’s creative streak, the first place to go for DIY art and style. A First Friday Art Walk links the indie designers clustered at the 811 East Burnside Building with vintage stores that sell handcrafted accessories and western wear; Hattie’s Vintage is vintage itself, open since the ’90s. Art galleries abound, too, including one inside the white-hot Jupiter Hotel: The complex started as a midcentury motor inn before being reborn as a party hotel complete with a late-night diner and subterranean concert venue the Doug Fir Lounge, which hosts world-class musical acts. In yet another unmistakable sign this hood is cooking, the Jupiter adds a six-story hotel extension in early 2018. 

Like the city’s famous blinking neon sign used to say, these eastside streets were “Made in Oregon,” from Second Avenue’s exposed cobbles to the murals wrapping the bridgehead’s brand-new Fair-Haired Dumbbell complex. In a city known for bucking conformity, maybe a neighborhood is only truly cool before you know exactly what to call it.

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