Portland Oregon is a city that is known for its green spaces and interesting neighborhoods. Each time we visit, we find new and quirky areas to enjoy. We find it very pedestrian and biker friendly, and very laid back. Our biggest problem–since we come from a larger city–is that Portlandians are TOO friendly, TOO polite and TOO helpful. Still, we managed to get past these cultural dislocations to enjoy the city.
Portland Downtown’s Primary Sights
It is easy to walk around Portland Oregon’s downtown area. Some of our more memorable areas and sights include:
- Saturday Market. If you are in Old Town when it is open, this is a fun place to find locally handcrafted goods. The market consists of row after row of stalls in which local artisans hawk everything from art, to all types of crafts and toys, snacks for pets and northwest food for people.
- South Park Blocks are 12 blocks of greenery that and serve as the center of the city’s cultural life. It has art and history (with its eight-story Lewis and Clark murals), museums, and some remaining Italianate mansions.
- Pioneer Courthouse Square is a large open space that often has some kind of event going on. When we were there, it had a farmers’ market with some of the most beautiful berries we have ever seen.
- Powell’s City of Books claims to be the largest new and used book bookstores in the world. We don’t know if this is true but it sure is big. If you love books, you have to visit this place.
- Portlandia sculpture, which has become a symbol of the city; and
- Voodoo Donuts, with its unusual ingredients, toppings and shaped donuts. It is perpetually filled and attracts a line of people (including us) that stretch down the block.
The real action, however, is in Portland’s neighborhoods.
Exploring Portland Oregon’s Neighborhoods
Portland is a young, edgy city, with young people transforming traditional neighborhoods. One neighborhood, Pearl Street, is so centrally located and popular that is has become part of the “establishment”. We found a couple more edgy neighborhoods on purpose, and another by accident. Not surprisingly, all had some of the city’s hottest restaurants. We drove for dinner to the Northeastern neighborhood around Alberta Street and then took advantage of the incredibly bike-friendly city to bike to two others–Hawthorne Street and Division Street.
is a short, easy walk from downtown–so close that it is really considered to be part of the central city. This lower section of this very upscale district is largely commercial, with art galleries, furniture stores and popular restaurants and bars–including the huge, immensely popular and packed Deschutes Brewery, with its dozens of hand-crafted lagers and ales and an interesting pub menus that includes blueberry burger (we didn’t try it). Then, north of the commercial district, it is largely residential. The entire neighborhood, commercial and residential, consists primarily of beautifully restored brick buildings, adding to the district’s charm.
We discovered Alberta Street (in the northeast quadrant of the city) on our way to a restaurant (which is one of the reasons that we like to walk to places as it gives us a chance to explore). Alberta Street is filled with restaurants, bars and boutiques. Some of the shops, such as the Salt and Straw ice cream shop, have become institutions. People standing in line for the ice ream are frequently entertained by street musicians while waiting patiently for their cones. Pie Spot is where you can get beautiful. locally-sourced fruit pies. If you are in the area, allow enough time to stroll through the neighborhood, get a drink and stop for pie or an ice cream.
This is one of the youngest and edgiest of Portland’s many neighborhoods. It is filled with lovely Craftsman-style homes, vintage clothing and record stores, alternative medicine shops and casual restaurants–especially for ethnic street food. It also has a phenomenal shop called Pastaworks, with its large selection of wines, cheeses and especially locally-grown produce and house-made sausages and, of course, pastas.
This area is becoming more upscale and consists of many newer (rather than restored older) buildings. It has also become a destination for some of the city’s hottest restaurants.
And don’t forget about Washington Park. With 410 acres, you can enjoy a range of activities including hiking, archery, visiting the zoo or arboretum. Our only problem is when we go there, we spend so much time strolling through the beautiful Rose Test Garden and the wonderfully tranquil Japanese garden that we often have to rush through some of the other things we planned to do duringour visit.
We can’t claim to even scratch the surface of the Portland restaurant scene. And, unfortunately, some of the places we have enjoyed in the past (like Beast) didn’t survive the pandemic.
This is not a sleek modern-looking restaurant with glitzy furnishings. Instead it has the look and feel of what it is–a 140 year-old institution that opened in 1887 that combines tradition with fresh seafoood. We shared a very good dish of fried oysters to start at this packed restaurant. We then moved onto an Alaskan True Cod. While we found fish was rather tasteless (we can’t fault the restaurant for that), we did enjoy the shrimp and crab stuffing and the perfectly cooked green beans and carrots. We chose a 2018 Stoller Dundee Hills Pinot Noir for our wine. However, we were served a 2020 vintage without any explanation for the descrepancy from the wine list. Oh well.
Although we were initially skeptical of the relatively austere, non-descriptive menu from our visit here several years ago, we took a chance and are glad we did. We shared a number of dishes, beginning with the soppresata and the wonderful Gnocco Fritto, a lightly fried, crusty pillow (the least interesting part of the dish) with peaches, prosciutto and, honey and shaved parmigiana. The pork chop (with cucumbers, salsa verde and chiles was juicy and tasty. Our two favorite dishes, however, were the ribeye-based meatballs with cavatelli, pommodoro and ricotta, and the incredibly rich corn polenta. A lovely meal.