What To Do, Eat, Drink, and Climb in Portland
Portland is my favorite city in the world (other than Dallas, obvi). I visited it for the first time last summer with my sister and the love was so immediate, I was literally tearing up walking down the street because I felt that connected to it. I think it’s because I went to school in a similar city (Lawrence, Kansas — the liberal gem of the state and the quintessential college town) that it feels so familiar and happy to me. It’s walkable, it has real seasons, it’s a small-town vibe in a big city, the food is absolutely nuts, and the people are so nice.
Portland, will you marry me?
I’ve been to Portland twice now — once in the summer and once in the fall. Somehow, both visits were blessed AF with perfect weather, meaning no rain. I don’t know how I’ve gotten so lucky both times to experience a dry trip to the PNW, and I’m not complaining. If you’ve never made a trek out to the Pacific Northwest (or Pacific North Wonderland as locals and fans refer to it AND FOR GOOD REASON), I highly recommend that venture moves to the top of your to-travel list. It’s truly a magical area of the United States with so much to offer. I’m always envious of states that magically combine city-life with wildlife, i.e. you can shop ‘til you drop and dine out to your heart’s desire and go on a 4-hour hike that’s outside the city and see mountains on foliage on waterfalls on lakes ALL IN ONE DAY. It really makes you step back and wonder why the hell you live somewhere that doesn’t provide that perfect mashup. So, today, I wanted to share my personal list of things to do, see, eat, drink, and climb in Portland, OR.
Again, I’ve only been twice and I KNOW there’s so much more to this list, but I’m going off of what I’ve experienced there firsthand and can confidently vouch for.
Obviously, we’ll tackle dining first because PORTLAND LITERALLY HAS SOME OF THE BEST FOOD OFFERINGS IN THE WORLD. Truly, there’s so much good shit to eat here that I wouldn’t beat yourself up if it’s basically all you do and what you plan your trip around. Just throw a lot of walking in between meals to make room for the next one and you’re good. To. Go.
Portland is known for two prestigious donut shops: Blue Star and Voodoo. Personally, I’ve never even messed with the Voodoo racket. I’ve never been one for donuts on crack, and that’s exactly what Voodoo’s offering is. If you’re a fan of donuts + things you’d never pair with donuts, try it out. But if you’re a fan of fucking perfect, traditional-with-a-slight-twist donuts, BLUE STAR FOREVER BABY.
(donut outfit linked here)
There really aren’t words to describe these perfect creations of sugar and fluff. Somewhere along the way, Blue Star created the most epic recipe for this classic breakfast pastry and I. Ain’t. Mad. My two favorites? The OG (just a simple, glazed donut) and the chocolate bergamot (YOU’D NEVER GUESS IT, BUT IT’S SO FUCKING GOOD OMG I’M SO UPSET I DON’T HAVE 12 RIGHT NOW WOW. LOOK AT IT). We got some our last morning and then again in the airport because PDX has a Blue Star. Plan accordingly.
In short, I’d imagine this spot is a hungover person’s dream. Biscuits on fried chicken on eggs on sauces on cheese on YAS, QUEEN, YAS. The boy and I hopped over there one morning to split one of their famous biscuits (PRO TIP: you can cover so much more culinary ground if you split any and everything you can. It’s amazing. You get to taste everything AND HAVE ROOM FOR SO MUCH MORE), and it honestly brings tears to my eyes right now just thinking about it.
LIKE? CAN YOU EVEN? BECAUSE I CAN’T. Chicken. Gravy. Cheese. Runny egg. Bacon. Other stuff. Oh my God, guys — it was truly incredible. SO delicious, SO worth it, and they have tons of other options. Whether you’re hungover or not, go here.
Lardo is just a great sandwich shop. Bottom line. It’s a really cool setup in a great location, and their sandwiches are delicious as hell. Definitely don’t get their watermelon margarita because it is weak and untasty, but everything else — yes. If you can believe it, we actually ventured here the same day we ingested the aforementioned biscuit and proceeded to order—you guessed it—another fried chicken situation. But, again, we split it so at all worked out in the end.
God. Writing this post is honestly self-inflicted torture. It’s fucking me up big time in a hangry way. P.S. Those fries were truffle rosemary and they were good.
I know I don’t even really need to list this, but just in case you’re unaware of what it is and why you should dine there any chance in life you get, I’m going to. It’s Thai food, but like REAL Thai food. Thai food the way they eat it in Thailand (or at least I like to pretend that’s the situation). Literally, you cannot go wrong with anything on their menu, but their fish sauce chicken wings are what they’re known for and ARE ACTUALLY LIFE CHANGING. If you like spice, get them spicy. If you don’t, get them regular. Either way, GET THEM. This time around, we enjoyed the wings, a curry dish, and a noodle dish and let me tell you — each bite was better than the last.
All this paired with a Thai beer resulted in one of the best meals. It’s just a magical spot with some of the tastiest, most authentic food you will ever eat. Take your time, enjoy it, don’t be afraid to over-order, and go to the one on Southeast Division and sit outside if you can. It’s my favorite.
Do you like Italian food? Do you like small, intimate, perfectly-lit places? Does the thought of prosciutto on a fluffy pastry covered in apple butter make you quiver? If so, you better eat at Ava Gene’s in Portland or you’re missing out on some serious culinary genius. The authentic Italian restaurant is very veggie-forward, but don’t let that fool you because they have meat options and one is a bolognese YOU MUST GET. Bolognese on really any breed of pasta is my comfort food, so that’s what I went for and was NOT disappointed. However, we ordered a few other phenomenal dishes and thoroughly enjoyed each and every one in the cozy, charming, intimate atmosphere Ava Gene’s creates. Highly suggest making it a point to dine here in Portlandia and to make a reservation ahead of time!
Truly some of the best ice cream in the country, really. And, LUCKY US, going mid-October blessed our palettes with their seasonal flavor called CANDYTOPIA: butterscotch ice cream base and riddled with Reese’s cups, heath bar, and honestly I forget what else because I entered a state of pure ecstasy and blacked out. That’s just seasonal, though. On the daily, they have many other incredible flavors and they’re all homemade and all more delicious than the last. Also, they offer ice cream flights which is fucking genius. If you love ice cream and don’t stop here, you’re doing yourself a huge disservice.
No matter where you go in Portland, there will be good coffee. Personally, I view Stumptown as the Starbucks of Portland, so it’s not my first choice but to each his own. Chris had Heart coffee the day we arrived before my flight had landed and said it was great, but then we ventured to Never coffee our first morning and I fell in love with a coffee shop. The colors, the setup, the quality of coffee. We also split a cinnamon apple scone, and it was DELIGHTFUL. Just go here. It’s adorable and delicious.
Fun fact: This cocktail joint, located directly across the street from the Southeast Division Pok Pok location, is owned by… Pok Pok! Therefore, it’s the ideal spot to post up while you wait on a table. They even encourage it with synced systems, so the bartenders at Whiskey Soda Lounge know when your table is coming up/ready and help close you out in a timely manner. Sip delicious cocktails (I got the Mango Alexander (mango, vodka, coconut cream and lime) and could’ve had at least three) while you watch low-budget, very confusing Thai movies play silently up on the TV screens. Also, they offer Pok Pok food staples (the wings, duh) so you don’t even have to wait for a table across the street if you don’t want to.
Okay but actually if the entire trip consisted of just this place and the hike, I would’ve still considered it a perfect trip. If you like whiskey even a little bit or can at least appreciate the idea of it, YOU NEED TO GO HERE. It is, hands down, the coolest bar I’ve ever been to ever in my life and I’m slightly horrified I didn’t know about it last time I visited Portland.
Just look at it. Look at its glorious furnishing. It’s like a log cabin, a man cave, a fire pit, a whiskey distillery, and Ron Burgundy’s leather bound book collection had an uncomfortably graphic orgy and birthed this place. If you do go here, make sure to block out at least 2 hours of your day but maybe even more. Chris and I could’ve stayed there half a day, honestly. Once you’re comfortably situated in one of their many leather chairs and are surrounded by literal walls of whiskey, it’s hard to make anything else in your life a priority besides just staying there. HOT TIP: The line gets super long super early. I’m not sure if they take reservations, but since Chris and I had no plans, we were there the literal minute they opened (4pm) and were seated upstairs right away. So do that if you can, and hunker down for the best bar experience of your life. Oh, and they have food. DON’T WORRY.
Besides eat and drink? Mmm, not much. JUST KIDDING. Here are some things to do outside of food and bev.
So, here’s the deal. The garden is gorgeous, truly. However, unless you’re visiting during the summer or spring, you won’t see it in full bloom. Going in mid-October resulted in a bit of an underwhelming visit. Still beautiful, of course. Don’t get me wrong. But not nearly as full and bloom-y as I’ve seen in pictures. We still stopped and smelled plenty of roses and took pictures that we’ll never do anything with, though. Plus, it was a beautiful day, so at least we had that. They have literally thousands of roses there, all different shapes, sizes, colors, and smells, so that was super interesting to see. For what it’s worth, this was my favorite rose.
This truly is a must. If you go to Portland but don’t make the 30ish minute drive to Multnomah, did you even go to Portland? Last year during my first visit, I hiked Multnomah’s trail to get to the top of the waterfall and it was super easy and gorgeous. This time around, though, we were coming down off a 4-hour hike from the previous day (which I’ll get to in a bit), so we simply admired the falls in our everyday clothing while sipping coffee and it was still just as beautiful. You can easily squeeze this venture into your day and even plan other fall visits or hiking around it.
You can hit this either on your way to or back from Multnomah Falls, and I highly suggest you do. Pendleton is typically pretty pricey, but the outlet offers everything from clothing to home goods to bedding and towels all at a way more reasonable price. Be careful, though, because you could accidentally clean up in there. It’s definitely worth a visit and a purchase or two, though. IMO.
Imagine Border’s, Barnes and Noble, and the libraries in Harry Potter also had a weird orgy—Powell’s would be their love child. I know what you’re thinking. “How could a literal store of books be that much of a must-see?” Well, lemme tell ya. First of all, bookstores in general are dead so this is one of the last of its kind. Secondly, it’s not just a bookstore. It’s 68,000 sq. ft. of over 3,500 sections of every type of book you could ever imagine. They have new, old, first-edition, rare—EVERYTHING. This another Portland stop you need to set aside 1-2 hours for. You will legitimately get lost in the aisles and floors and stacks of books this establishment holds (no, really. If you’re going in there with someone, make sure your phones are charged so you can find each other because getting separated is inevitable). I dare you to leave there empty-handed.
Ok. We’ve reached the pinnacle of this blog post—literally. Last time I was in Portland, the only hiking I did was at Multnomah, which is a super easy breezy hike. This time, I had a man in tow who appreciates a real hike, so hike we did. According to Chris, this was labeled as a “moderate hike,” but the way I was huffing and puffing and constantly needing mini breaks, I feel like he was lying (or I’m just as out of shape as I suspected I am). We drove out to Mirror Lake to hike Tom Dick and Harry Mountain (yes, that’s really its name) and hopped onto the trail to get going.
The first part of this hike that leads you straight to Mirror Lake is super short and super breezy. And the views when you get there are truly breathtaking.
You can stop here if you want. But, doing the full hike up Tom Dick and Harry to get even more insane views of Mt. Hood (AND 5 OTHER MOUNTAIN TOPS) is more than worth it. Sure, I struggled with the elevation and stretches of incline. And yes, those inclines stirred up inners causing me to need to poop in the middle of the woods while my boyfriend lovingly threw tiny rocks in my direction to freak me out. But IT WAS ALL WORTH IT. All 4 hours of it.
(hiking outfit linked here)
Oh and be sure to pop into the Mt. Hood Brewery afterwards for food and beer. Honestly, I have no idea if the burger I had was even good, but it tasted like the best burger I’ve ever had in my entire life. Worth it.
Holy shit, guys. That’s it. That’s all she wrote (which was a lot and had to be tackled in chunks over the last month). Like I said at the beginning, this is just a fraction of the things to do, eat, drink, and climb in Portland, but it’s a start. It’s such a special city in such a special state, and I highly recommend it as a trip to those who consider eating and exploring on vacation the only way to do it.