Eat, Drink, and Be Funky: Two Days in Portland

IMG_8180Today is a groundbreaking day on the blog. I’ve hyped it up for years, setting it as a golden standard for the eclectic city. I’ve watched hours of TV to peek into the unique lifestyle. And I’ve jammed out to “Feel It All Around” in my mind every time I did something moderately hipster. Yes, today I write about my visit to Portland, the magically strange Pacific Northwest city which has eluded me until this spring break. Bailey and I road tripped down from Seattle for two days, stayed in a funky Airbnb in a great neighborhood, and set out to explore. We squeezed a lot into our two short days, but here are some of my top picks.

IMG_8184Powell’s City of BooksThe largest independent bookstore in the country, Powell’s deserves a spot on the top of every book-lover’s bookstores-to-see-before-you-die list. After grabbing a quick lunch at some nearby food trucks, Bailey and I disappeared into the labyrinth that is Powell’s for at least an hour, if not more. They have books on everything, and their section of books in Italian spanned a couple of shelves instead of only housing a sad looking copy of La divina commedia. There’s even a printing press inside the store for self-published books. This is certainly not a place to pass up if you like writing, reading, and that wonderful smell of crisp pages. Before leaving, stock up on some of the free swag (stickers, posters/maps, and postcards).

StumptownSeattle is famous for its coffee, but Portland also knows how to brew some excellent drinks, and Stumptown, though a local chain, is in the running for some of the best coffee I’ve ever drunk. Our first visit to Stumptown came during a flustered arrival in Portland: we’d driven first to In Other Words, the feminist bookstore which figures prominently in Portlandia, only to find that it’s only open on weekends as of two days beforehand. We were both pretty disappointed but drove into the city looking for some food trucks for lunch. We found one square but weren’t too impressed by the offerings and we descended into a daunted-by-Portland daze. We ducked into Stumptown to use the bathroom and come up with a plan, and the barista there saved the day. He directed us to nearby Nong’s Khao Man Gaia nearby Thai food truck with tasty lunch options, putting us in better spirits for the rest of the day. On top of that, the cold brew at Stumptown is some of the smoothest and best-tasting that I’ve had to date. There are a number of great coffee places in Portland that we tried (like Rain or Shine and Rimsky Korsakoffee), but Stumptown deserves a try for its flawless brews.

IMG_8209Ladd’s Addition–We stayed the night at an Airbnb in Ladd’s Addition, a funky neighborhood organized on an X instead of in a grid. The houses here look like those depicted in the establishing shots in Portlandia, and it’s a quiet, peaceful place to go for a walk. We devoted some time early Tuesday morning for a walk/run through the neighborhood to enjoy the beautiful weather and observe as people biked to work, kids walked to school, and walking mailmen delivered the mail. We topped it all off with a simple and relaxed breakfast at Palio, which has a small-town, neighborhood coffee shop feel.

IMG_8176Voodoo DoughnutsAnother Portland tourist favorite is Voodoo Doughnuts (yes, I swear I did more than eat: see below). Their doughnuts are made on a scale of bizarre, like Froot Loops and Maple Bacon, to raunchy, which I won’t name here, but just check their menu out and you’ll get a feel for the vibe of this place pretty quickly. Their first location is near two famous Portland signs (the White Stag and “Keep Portland Weird”) and is an easy walk from Tom McCall Park, but Voodoo Too was less crowded when we went.

Mississippi Ave–Before driving back to Seattle Tuesday night, we strolled down this eclectic street bursting with weirdness. To be brief, I’ll leave it at this: think taxidermy, bookstores selling primarily zines, vegan BBQ food trucks, and Korean-Mexican food trucks. For a flavor of funky, offbeat Portland, head here. Hawthorne and Belmont are also trendy neighborhoods, but Mississippi Ave takes the gluten-free cake.

IMG_8230The Outdoors–To balance out all the eating, we explored Portland’s outdoors to no end. Having spent two months at school in Maine, we couldn’t pass up the chance to be outside as much as possible. On Monday, we spent some time writing, reading, and people watching at Tom McCall Park along the river. It’s a prime spot to spy on some of Portland’s stereotypes: the cyclists, the punkabbestia a la Bologna, and shameless pot smokers.

Tuesday we walked up through Belmont to Mt. Tabor, a beautiful park inside the bounds of the city on an extinct volcano. From the top you can see Mt. St. Helens and Mt. Rainier in the distance. As you descend back into the city, you also get some stunning views of Portland through the evergreens.

Finally, while not exactly a “nature” activity, we also got some sweeping views of the city from the aerial tram. Riding up through the city in a sleek capsule was a strikingly futuristic experience which seemed to respond to Seattle’s Space Needle, but that might just be my science fiction class creeping into everything else I do right now. The tram takes you up to a hospital, so there’s not much to do but soak in the skyline and then head back down, but for only about $5, it’s worth it.

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