- Cathy Neubauer
Portland Oregon: America's Hipster Haven
Updated: Mar 7, 2021
If you're up to date on all things 'hipster' then I'm sure you know that Portland, Oregon is the capital of cutoff jeans, fixed gear bikes and microbreweries galore...but Portland is so much more than all of that and here's why!
I've been going to Portland once or twice a year these past few years to take my yearly belly dance training and week-long immersion with my teacher (and in my opinion- #1 bellydancer) Rachel Brice! Her 8 elements training program was something I had wanted to do since I started belly dancing a few years ago and once I moved to the west coast I decided it was time. There are four levels of this training and I can't tell you enough how thrilled I was to snag a spot in her level 1 intensive: Initiation a few years ago. Her Studio Datura is based in Portland and so you can imagine how all kinds of excited I was to get to immerse myself in nothing but dance for a week in a super cool city. I'll write another post on my dance life but for now I'll just share my tips and must-do's for Portland.
Portland is nestled within the Pacific Northwest region of the United States and is the largest city in Oregon and second largest city in the PNW. At the turn of the 20th century, Portland had quite the reputation for being one of the most dangerous port-cities. That was until the 1960's industry boom and progressive views turned the city into a counterculture mecca. Nowadays Portland is known as being one of the most environmentally conscious cities (due to it's high walkability, efficient public transportation and community of bicyclists), delicious farm-to-table dining and over 10,000 acres of public park space. Portland has also been called the city of roses due to it's warm, dry summers and cool rainy winters which are ideal for growing roses. In other words...Portland is GREEN and because of that and many other reasons has become one of my favorite cities in the world. If you're going to Portland for the first time or for a short time here are my must see's (spoiler alert: It involves a lot of food/drink and mostly nature!!):
1) Go to the Portland Saturday Market on 108 W Burnside, Portland OR 97209
Open every weekend from about 10-4:30 (check for specific day), the Saturday Market is a hotspot for food stalls and various merchants. Everything at the market is handmade and sold by the person who made it, which means you can talk to the merchant and see how they work. Merchants are also small business owners from all around Oregon and Washington so it's a great place to get one of a kind souvenirs and gifts all the while supporting local and small businesses.
2) Take a stroll through the Lan Su Chinese Garden
Just a short walk through downtown, the Lan Su Chinese Garden is a little piece of paradise tucked away within the city walls. If you need a moment to catch a breath or take in some meditation away from the city this is the place to go. There are beautiful pathways and tranquil waterfalls all throughout the garden. Be sure to take some time to stop at the tea house for some food, snacks or a steaming pot of tea. I was also lucky enough to go when they were exhibiting a special display of camellias and other beautiful flowers---definitely a beautiful place within the city.
3) Get absolutely lost in Powell's City of Books on 1005 W Burnside, Portland OR
I am and always have been a bibliophile...I have a perpetual 'to-read' list that never seems to get any shorter :) I don't just like, I LOVE books and bookstores... I love walking through the aisles, looking over the titles and feeling the power that the written word has. Don't get me wrong, I'm a card carrying Barnes and Noble member but there's nothing quite like an independent bookstore <3
In fact, powell's is the world's largest independent bookstore and is absolutely amazing and extremely large! There are collections of basically any type of book or media and you can choose from new to used to out of print. They have multiple levels and rooms and you can even get a map to help navigate around! One of my favorite places inside Powell's is their rare book room (definitely check that out). I can't say enough how great Powell's is- it's simply a MUST-SEE when visiting Portland.
4) Explore the International Rose Test Garden and Japanese Gardens
This is one of my favorite places in the world...Not only because I love plants and flowers but because of the really cool story behind this place. Tucked away in Washington Park, the International Rose Garden is the oldest continuously operated public rose garden in the United States. During WWI rose enthusiasts were concerned that the bombings in Europe would wipe out rare breeds of roses. So in 1917 hybridists from all over the world began to send special varieties of roses to the garden as a test site and safe haven. Decades later the garden now boasts over 10,000 rose bushes and over 650 varieties! Definitely take some time to stop and smell the roses here xoxoxo.
Also, a few hundred feet away is Portland's famous Japanese Garden. It's actually been said that this is the most authentic Japanese Garden that is housed outside of Japan. Beyond that it's simply a haven of tranquility and serene beauty.
5) Get some crazy donuts at Voodoo Donuts
Where else can you get a vampire donut with a pretzel stake, or a chocolate cake donut with vanilla pentagram or even a maple glazed donut with real strips of bacon? Sure, you can always go to Dunkin Donuts or Krispy Kreme but why would you when you can try some of the most outrageous creations Portland has to offer.
Pro tip: this place is popular! It's very likely that there will be enormous lines (I actually had to go back twice just to have a reasonable wait time) so try to go during an 'off-time' or when it's not very popular which for me was later at night.
6) Have a food and drink adventure at one of Portland's many food trucks (over 600 to be exact), then wash it all down with some Stumptown Coffee or beer from one of Portland's many microbreweries. Portland's food trucks are everywhere and range from pretty much any type of cuisine you could possibly want. Portland also has more microbreweries per capita than any other U.S. city and has frequently been ranked as one of the top-five beer destinations in the world. Sooooo yeah if you like food and beer this is the place to go.
7) After you're full from all that eating and drinking consider a hike up to Mt. Hood
Mt. Hood is a potentially active stratovolcano in northern Oregon and is about 90 miles east of downtown Portland.
8) Take a stroll through the Grotto
The Grotto (technically named The National Sanctuary of our Sorrowful Mother) is a Catholic outdoor shrine that covers 62 acres and is set at both the foot and atop a 110ft cliff. Whether you're religious or not this is one of those places that just feels peaceful. They offer Catholic Mass and other events but if that's not what you're looking for just spend some time walking around the base of the cliff and up at the top for some great views of the city.
9) Get transported back to the 70's at the Doug Fir Lounge
I went to the Doug Fir Lounge on one of my visits to Portland and I can't say enough good things about it. If you like great food and tapas, homemade craft cocktails and beer while relaxing in a diner turned log cabin then this is the place for you! They also host music and shows throughout the week.
There are so many other amazing things to do and see in Portland but this is just a start---just remember to keep it weird! I'd love to hear about any other great recommendations that you have for Portland xo
Also, here are some other Portland travel resources to help plan your trip:
Portland International Airport (PDX) the official site for airport and passenger services.
TriMet - MAX Light Rail Portland's award winning public transportation. You can ride the Max directly from the airport to many locations in central Portland. More information here: http://trimet.org/
Portland, Oregon Visitors Association (POVA) - Visit the official tourism and meeting website for Portland, Oregon.
Portland Citysearch - A great resource for finding all of the area hotspots.