Portland Travel Guide

I had a wonderful opportunity to spend the last few days in Portland, Oregon in advance of attending OSCON. I can honestly say that of all of the places I went to, none were mediocre or worse. This is a really cool, well-planned, well-run city with a really great culture.

I also happened to luck out with the weather: when New York was experiencing a heat wave, Portland was experiencing the largest number of consecutive, beautiful days that it has had in months.

Here’s a recap of some of the places I went.

Day 1:

  • Heathman Hotel - My company has a behind-the-scenes deal with Heathman, so I was required to stay here. While I definitely wouldn’t have picked it myself out of the many hotel options available in Portland, I’m really happy that I stayed here and would totally do it again. The staff here are extremely friendly and the service is excellent. My room was small, but comfortable, well stocked, and pretty luxurious. The only negatives were a dearth of sunlight (there are only heavy curtains and a small, non-tinted window) and there was a strongly anticipated (read: hungover, see “Portland International Beerfest” below) breakfast room service order never arrived.

  • Waterfront Bicycles - After dropping off my luggage at the hotel, I headed down to Waterfront Bicycles to pick up the bicycle I had reserved for the week. Interacting with the guys at the shop was enjoyable and they immediately picked up that I have a bit of an interest in bicycles. I got a Trek Hybrid that worked out pretty well, though part of me still wonders if I should have sprung for a more expensive road bike or even shipped my fixed gear from home. I even had a bit of an incident regarding a large stick killing a small, detachable component of my rear fender, which I pointed out but didn’t get charged for.

  • Pine State Biscuits - While waiting for my plane in the airport, I overheard a cookbook author talk about how he only had one must visit restaurant on his list: Pine State Biscuits. I figured the idea of really good biscuits and gravy sounded amazing, so I decided to make this my first stop. Upon tasting their offerings, the only disappointment I experienced was that at some point in the near future, I would have no more amazing biscuits and gravy, and sweet tea. So delicious, this is a must visit destination. Apparently, this place gets packed on the weekends during peak hours, so do what I did: middle of the afternooon on a weekday.

pine state biscuits

  • Saint Cupcake and Noun - I took a walk down the road and happened upon a cute little store front that houses both a cute little cupcake shop and a cute little kitchy shop. Both are worth visiting: the cupcake I had was delicious and I bought a cute little fabric sack as a case for my phone.

  • Stumptown - Stumptown is the name in coffee right now, and it started in PDX. This particular outpost has a Stumptown cafe and their Annex, which sells over a dozen beans by weight. They also have daily coffee tastings, which I was fortunate enough to experience: the baristas take you on a guided tour of both how to taste coffee and what you’re tasting. It’s basically an open house on what they do when they source new coffees for their shop; moreover, it’s a time for the baristas to geek out about coffee and share their passion with their guests. Highly recommended.

  • Chinese Garden - This is just an awesome example of a Chinese garden, situated in the middle of a city. Bring a book, find a place with a gorgeous view, and stay for hours.

  • Clyde Commons @ Ace Hotel - I can’t recommend this strongly enough: I ended up at the bar three separate times because they have awesome food, even better bartenders, and they’re open ‘til midnight. Every bartender is so passionate about his craft: most of my drinks were off-menu, spurred by a simple question of, “Can you make something that would go with this?” The storied burger is overrated, but the lamb is beautiful. I even recommend coming here alone, if you’re travelling that way, placing a book down at the bar, and striking up conversations with your neighbors.

  • Tear Drop - More really, really good cocktails, and open late. While the bartenders here weren’t as interactive as those at Clyde, their offerings were nevertheless delicious.

Day 2:

  • Manhattan Cafe - Needing a bite to eat before my massage, I stopped by this cafe, just down the street from my next destination. The service here was excellent, but otherwise, this was a good, ordinary cafe. Its large space would be very conducive to coming here to hack or meet with people.

  • Zama Massage - Great massage at extremely reasonable prices, but in the middle of nowhere. Note that this is not a spa, so you won’t get the whole bathrobe and tea experience.

  • Backspace Cafe - A huge cafe with lots of art that doubles as a music space at night. Be sure to come here to write some code with good coffee and check out the list of bands playing.

  • Gilt Club - I highly recommend coming to this restaurant. While the locals seem to look down upon it for its haute culture food and ambiance (which they consider non-Portland-like), this Manhattanite really appreciated their work. I had a “Tracy’s First Love” (house-infused cucumber vodka, muddled cucumber, basil, and fresh line) and the Foie Burger, a beautiful combination of house-cured bacon with foie gras.

  • Ground Kontrol Barcade - Hell yes: a dark, dingy, beer-serving arcade, with tons of games at quarter play, a live DJ spinning good music, and – more importantly – tons of pinball machines. This is a must visit, especially if you think Barcade in Brooklyn is awesome. I came here twice and that was too few. Don’t mind the weapons check upon entering.

Day 3:

  • Portland Saturday Market - All the guide books and websites say this is a must see. I don’t: it was much like the generic street fairs in New York. There are a few t-shirt artists worth visiting here, though.

  • Widmer Beer - Recommended. The tour isn’t amazing (ours was cut short due to activity in the bottling room), but it’s worth a visit. And you get a free bottle opener and pint glass. Definitely taste the IPAs in the Widmer brew pub, though.

  • Amnesia Brewpub - This was one of the most enjoyable experiences of my trip: This is a great brewpub, with great brews, great bartenders, and a great space. Sit at the bar, have one of everything, and talk to the other locals. The location is off of the typical tourist rounds, (but|(and therefore)) is totally worth it.

  • Random Order Cafe - I had some time between the brewpub and a show of some local punk bands that was recommended to me by the guys at Amnesia, so I perused the neighborhood. I stopped by this cafe due to their beautiful array of pies on offer. The Jamaican stone fruit pie did not disappoint; it was easily one of the best pieces of pie I’ve ever had.

  • Tin Shed - A good local bar with lots of outdoor seating. The punk show I went to was entertaining and free. It’s worth visiting if you’re in the area and need food/beer.

Day 4:

  • Bijou Cafe - I had a delightful Sunday brunch here. Not only did I find a copy of the Sunday Times on the counter, but even the off-menu fruit plate side was pretty innovative. (Fruit plates? Innovative? Hmph.)

  • Stumptown (next door to Bijou) - The coffee was great as always, with a lot of seating, and good music playing. The line is long on the weekends, but feel free to stay a while and enjoy their stable wifi.

  • Springwater Corridor and Sellwood - I’m really happy I made the trip down to Sellwood, which is pretty far from downtown Portland. Cycling along the Springwater Corridor (bike path) was worth it alone; when I come back, I’ll bring a racing bike and do this path properly. The path itself is separated from any roads for miles and supplies some amazing views of the Willamette River. Sellwood itself is a cute little area, with lots of antique shops and small restaurants.

  • Powell’s Books - This is one destination that both locals and tour books recommend. I didn’t understand this: a bookstore is just a bookstore, right? I was surprised at how much time I spent perusing the books and kitchy items they have around the shop. It’s kind of like the Stand, but way better. I totally echo the recommendation to come here. Also, for geeks, go to Powell’s Technical Bookstore down the street: I found some awesome original reference manuals and very niche publications.

  • Portland International Beerfest - This was fantastic. I was surprised to see how many unique, rarely seen beers were offered here. The VIP package is a great deal, so long as you spend many hours with your friends here with copiously long breaks: they serve 4oz pours.

Some notable beers I had here:

  • Nectar Ales Black Xantus (seriously awesome, have at all costs)
  • Mikkeller Simcoe Single Hop
  • De la Senne Equinox
  • Caldera IPA
  • Sam Smith Yorkshire Stingo

portland international beerfest

Rest of trip

Most of the rest of my time was spent at the O’Reilly Open Source Conference (OSCON). I did visit two other places during the conference worth mentioning:

  • Slow Bar - A good local bar with a really good burger, open late.

  • Oregon Brewers Festival - This is a seriously big beerfest, with two different lawns lined with long tables full of delicious offerings, at a great location in the esplanade along the river. Spend all of your tokens at the Buzz tent, where the most unique and the rarest beers of the festival are served. I wish I was here for more than one of the days of the festival; I totally would have returned. And, at $20 for 14 pours (7 pours at the Buzz tent), it would have even been a cost-effective way to spend time.

Some notable beers I had here:

  • Caldera Mogli (Seriously one of the best beers I’ve ever had. Try at all costs.)
  • 21st Amendment Mo’TCHO Risin’
  • Medocino Brewing Imperial IPA
  • Terminal Gravity Single Hop Double IPA
  • Laughing Dog Dogzilla Black IPA

Unvisited Recommendations

Other places that were recommended that I didn’t get to (aka the “When I go back to Portland…” list):

  • Japanese Garden - Supposedly a really awesome garden.

  • Rose Test Garden - Supposedly a really awesome garden, part deux. I hear the guided tours are worth attending (and free).

  • Davis Street Tavern - This place looked really nice with a good menu. It suffers from the same complaints of locals that it doesn’t really fit in Portland, but the volume of patrons shows otherwise.

  • Park Kitchen - I arrived just after the kitchen closed, so wound up at Gilt. I should have and will come back here at some point as the menu looked good and the bar manager (whom I met at another bar) is a really nice guy.

  • Prost - A German beer place where supposedly they serve a large number of German/Austrian beers out of a boot. I presume that the boot is made out of glass.

  • Hop Works Brewpub - I’m told the number of hoppy taps here are off the charts, with really good homebrews. It’s supposed to be the best brewpub in Portland.

  • Green Dragon - Another awesome brewpub, recently purchased by Rogue (which has its own brewpub in Portland, but which itself isn’t recommended).

  • Beaker and Flask - This looked like a really nice bar and restaurant and was recommended to me by a bartender at Clyde.

  • Saburo’s Sushi - All of the locals swooned at the mention of Saburo’s. Try their specialty rolls.

  • Deschutes Public House - The brewpub of a well-respected, Portland-based brand. The restaurant looked cool, and the brews I had elsewhere from Deschutes indicates the stuff they have on tap would be fantastic. This seemed to be the standard brewpub against which the locals would compare everything else.

  • Bridge Port Brewing - The above description of Deschutes also applies here.

  • Laurelthirst Public House - recommended to me, but I don’t remember why.

  • Voodoo Doughnuts - I still don’t understand the attraction of this place, but locals and tourists both speak about with absurdly high regard.

  • Podnah’s BBQ - comes highly recommended by a local.

  • Laughing Planet - Hipster Mexican.

  • Pok Pok - this one is supposed to be seriously off-the-hook.

General Recommendations

  • Ask for recommendations from locals - People here are super friendly and really want you to experience the awesomeness that is Portland. Don’t be afraid to ask questions.

  • Food Carts - Where I thought food carts were pervasive in New York, the food cart movement has totally conquered Portland, and in a better way. There are so many different kinds and they’re located everywhere. Ask some locals about their favorites.

  • Resist temptation: Drink in moderation - Don’t let a good night preclude your activities tomorrow; there are too many cool places to experience.

  • Rent, borrow, or bring a bicycle - Portland is a fantastic pedestrian city, with a well-organized mass-transportation system. But, since the city is so bike friendly (bike lanes everywhere, pervasive bike racks, and even bike hooks on the trolley system), having a bike here makes life more fun and more convenient. Spend the money to get a good bike or ship your own here: you won’t regret it at the end of your trip, but instead wonder how you’d experience the city without a bike.

Resources

Pick up a copy of these free, really useful resources to help plan your trip:

  • Portland Monthly and Mix magazine - both of these local magazines are free at hotels and have some good tips on local events and where to go.

  • The Portland Mercury - a local newspaper sort of like the Village Voice for Portland. Good goings-on recommendations.

  • Walking Maps (from MapClicks.com, but in paper form)- pretty much all the popular places (and hotels) have the same walking maps, one per neighborhood. Pick them up, but only use them as a guide to where the neighborhoods start and end.

  • Finder - “Willamett Week’s Guide to Portland”, a pretty, annual publication. This one smells more of directory and tourist index, but still has good descriptions of places and a good organization.

  • Brew-Ha! - a directory of Oregon brewpubs.

Original work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 License | © Eric Garrido