I never thought I’d be quoting 90s Australian band Savage Garden in my blog but there’s a first time for everything!
I have been looking forward to visiting Portland for a very long time. Although I didn’t really know much about what there is to do in Portland (often abbreviated to ‘PDX’ after the airport code), I thought it was a very ‘me’ kind of place.
- One of the most vegan-friendly cities in the US (and the world!)
- A great running city
- Good coffee
- Legal weed (OK that wasn’t really one of the selling points for me but it does give you an idea of the laidback nature of the place!)
First thing I noticed after touching down at PDX was how quiet the airport was – a stark contrast to the hectic O’Hare in Chicago! There was even a guy playing saxophone in the terminal – I liked the place already!
It was raining when I arrived but the walk from the MAX light rail to my hostel wasn’t too bad. It was all uphill in the rain but it’s really easy to find your way around in the NW part of Portland. The East-West streets are named alphabetically (my hostel was between Flanders and Glisan, so I knew when I got to Couch that I was about blocks away) and the North-South streets are numbered, like in many of the cities over here.
I was staying at the HI Portland Northwest Hostel. I didn’t get in until around 9ish, so was pleased to find when I got to my room that I had a bottom bunk! I was in a mixed dorm of 6, with an ensuite. Not surprisingly, being after 9pm on a Saturday night, all my roommates were out!
I booked in to a free walking tour at the hostel on Sunday morning.
But first things first, coffee! I Googled to find the best places (because life’s too short for bad coffee!) and wouldn’t you know it, one of the best JUST HAPPENED to be across the street! World Cup Coffee became a pretty regular coffee stop for me during my time in PDX!
The walking tour was excellent – it was a great way to start my time here, meet some other hostel guests, and figure out other places I needed to visit!
After the tour was over, a few of us went with our guide Matt for lunch and a drink at Fat Head Brewing. I did manage to get lunch there – their vegan options were limited but the hummus was excellent!
Then I went to the Saturday Market (yes I know it was Sunday – that’s just how they roll here!)
I felt like something healthy for dinner so I browsed a folder full of menus at the hostel and found this gem of a place – Prasad which is a mostly vegan place attached to a yoga studio. It was almost closing time when I arrived so my Urban Bowl came in a box – not quite so photogenic as a bowl but equally delicious!
You can’t come to Portland without visiting Powell’s Books, the world’s largest independent bookstore. And I’m pretty sure you can’t leave Powell’s without buying something! I certainly couldn’t (and that was why I only went there once – as a traveller who is pushing the luggage weight limit, books are the last thing I should be buying!)
They’re open until 11, so after dinner I thought I’d head down there and check it out!
Monday’s weather was not looking great, so I decided to do more indoorsy stuff. A trip to Hawthorne Blvd, with its quirky shops and myriad of eating places, was just the ticket! It is walkable but I didn’t fancy it in light drizzle, plus, it is far. And public transport is excellent and CHEAP!
First of all though I had to see the Bart Simpson cartoon!
Once I got on the bus, my first port of call was Herbivore Clothing – a vegan clothing store I’d found out about from the vegan shoe store in NYC!
I knew there was a vegan mini mall in PDX, but I didn’t realise Herbivore was part of it! So excited when I realised!
I bought a top and some cool stickers, and the sales assistant was super helpful, giving me a list of recommendations from food places to bars to ‘things to do’!
Then coffee was needed and a light morning snack! Sweetpea Baking had both of those!
And then I went to the vegan grocer, Food Fight, primarily to try their vegan soft serve.
One Portland institution is Voodoo Doughnut. I’d walked past their downtown store several times and the queue was out the door. But they have a second store on the Eastside, conveniently quite close to where I was. So I decided, why not? They have quite a good vegan selection – it was hard to choose just one! I thought I did choose just one but when I got back to the hostel and opened the box, I’d got 3! Presumably the salesperson misunderstood me when I mentioned a few I liked the look of, and took it to mean I wanted to buy them all! Maybe it was just a completely foreign concept to her, the idea of buying just one donut! I’m sure I paid for 3 – clearly I wasn’t paying attention! Oh well – it would be enough to last me the rest of my time in Portland!
I’m always one to stop and appreciate a good mural – especially a brightly coloured one!
Hawthorne Blvd was cool – lots of vintage and other quirky stuff! I didn’t buy much other than coffee and I did get one CD for $1. It was a good way to spend an inclement sort of day!
On my last coffee stop, I checked the map and realised I was very close to Mt Tabor, a place I had intended to go to, but not on this particular day. Apparently the climb wasn’t too hard and the views were pretty good! So despite me wearing my Birks and carrying 2 bags, I decided I might as well go!
On returning to the hostel, I couldn’t believe I hadn’t seen this signpost earlier!
Dinner was a pizza from Hotlips Pizza, walking distance from the hostel. They do have vegan cheese but I opted for cheeseless. So good! And enormous!
Later that night I went out to a local dive bar with a couple of guys from the hostel – an American guy who I saw ALL THE TIME who was super friendly and chatty but I actually don’t think I ever got his name, and an Irish guy called Mark who was heading to Vancouver to find work (I did meet a lot of people who were road tripping up or down the West Coast – seemed like the thing to do!).
Tuesday was another dreary day so I again decided to hit a few shops, first walking downtown (I needed to return a cable to the Apple store and also was looking for some black ballet flats which I finally found!)
I also found more Animals In Fountains!
Then I made my way up to NW 23rd Street, not far from the hostel, for some more funky shops (more high-end) and more animals!
So after that came the best part of the day! I had been wondering if I could get to run on the Nike track, at Nike headquarters out at Beaverton. I was Googling and hey guess what? Nike Run Club was on that night! I tried to register online with no success, but decided to just go there and hope I’d be able to join! And as I’m a Nike Run Club member back home, I was pretty confident they’d let me in!
So I got dressed to run (complete with rain jacket as it was still raining) – unfortunately I had absolutely no Nike gear on me! I then made the long trek out to Beaverton via 2 buses. When I got off the bus I saw a girl all in Nike gear so I asked her if she was there for the run, which naturally she was! We got to talking as she led the way to the track (not sure if I would have found it otherwise!). Her name was Kaori and she was from Japan, here studying English.
The Nike campus is amazing! Huge, and beautiful!
Firstly I checked in with no problems (although according to Nike I am 41 which I wasn’t too happy about, I’ve only just got used to 40!), dropped my bag at the bag tent and went to get my pace band.
This group is SO well organised – they have pacers – I think from memory there were 6 pace groups. The guy handing out the bands asked me my 5k pace which I told him (in minutes per km of course – I can’t do miles) but he suggested the purple group. He said if it was too slow I could always move up a group. I suspected that would not be an issue – tonight was really all about the experience for me, it wasn’t training as such.
The other groups were blue, red, green, black, and yellow. Except, being Nike, yellow wasn’t yellow. It was Volt!
Before we started running the coach did a bit of a speech. The session was all about promoting the ambitious ‘Breaking 2‘ attempt – aiming to break the 2 hour barrier in the marathon which is quite unbelievable! 2 Nike athletes (professional soccer player Allie Long and former Oregon Ducks and NFL quarterback Dennis Dixon) were interviewed and the group got to ask questions.
The run itself was pretty short – we did intervals of 100m/200/300/400/500/600 and then back down to 100m. Our pacer led out each time so there was no thinking required! And with 6 groups of varying paces, it was so well organised so we never got in each other’s way! And everyone was so supportive, cheering on the other groups while waiting for their next interval!
And afterwards we all got a free towel and T-shirt, and they put on food for us too! What better way to spend a rainy Tuesday night?
And to top it all off I had the rest of that pizza waiting for me at the end of the long trip back to the hostel!
Wednesday’s weather was MUCH better. I had factored this in when I chose that day to do a full day waterfalls and Mt Hood bus tour. And what a great day it was!
I thought I’d allowed plenty of time to get to the pickup point but only just made it! The tour company was Wildwood Tours and our guide was the awesome Bryan! We were a small group of 9 and I sat up front so got to chat a bit more to Bryan and pick his brain!
Bryan also had snacks (sodas, water, local apples and local hazelnuts) which he offered us at every stop!
He was super enthusiastic and particularly excited because it was such a beautiful day, so we got better views than most groups would get!
First stop was the Vista House, a house that was essentially built as a restroom. Which also happens to have pretty amazing views!
Then we stopped at the first of 4 waterfalls for the day – Latourell Falls.
The second waterfall was Shepperd’s Dell.
Another waterfall which we didn’t get to see (because it was under the road we were driving on) had a pretty cool story. It’s called Bridal Veil Falls, and it is in the tiny town of Bridal Veil. Bridal Veil is famous for having the busiest post office in the country (and the third smallest!). Because EVERY bride in the region (and many from all over the world) want that postmark on her wedding invitations!
The third, highest and most famous of all the waterfalls was Multnomah Falls. It is actually the most visited place in all of Oregon – I hadn’t even heard of it before this tour! It is the second highest year-round falls in the USA. I forget what the highest was (not Niagara, which was my guess!). We were lucky we got there early because, being the first really nice day of the spring, it would get REALLY busy later in the day!
The last waterfall stop was Horsetail Falls – nowhere near as impressive as the others but the one we could get closest to – Bryan said we could drink out of it, which of course I did (he said side effects may include beard growth and penchant for fixed-gear bicycles – yes, he was a hipster!)
Lunch was at a small town called Hood River – I’d brought a bagel with me from the hostel (the hostel provides a free bagel and coffee each morning, and on the days I knew I’d be out all day, I’d take it ‘to go’) so I got to spend the whole hour wandering around checking out the shops.
Bryan recommended a place called ‘Artifacts – Good Books Bad Art’ which I spent quite a bit of time at, and COULD have spent a lot of money! In the end I spent $1 and got a hardcover running book! Yes, more books!
After lunch it was time to head up to Mt Hood, Oregon’s highest peak and home to the only year-round snowfield in the USA! Yes, you can ski and board in summer here!
We stopped a couple of times for photos on the way up, and on the second stop we got to go into the snow! It was pretty soft in places – one of my legs went in all the way up to my knee!
Last stop of the day was Timberline Lodge where we got to have a play in the snow and check out the views! And no, I wasn’t cold in the slightest! Before we went up the mountain the temperature was in the 80s which is high 20s in Celsius. At Timberline it was a very pleasant 17 degrees Celsius!
The journey home was a bit slow due to traffic heading into the city (everyone was probably out enjoying the sunshine!) but this sign amused me greatly!
I would recommend this tour to anyone visiting Portland who wants to get out and see more than just the city. Try to pick a day with good weather for an even better experience!
Due to the traffic, we got back later than scheduled and as a result I was unable to make it to the running group I had planned to go to, which had been organised by my Adelaide running friend Kay, formerly of PDX!
I did, however, make it to my other planned activity for the night, a gig at Dante’s (the ‘Keep Portland Weird’ place). I had wanted to go there for ‘Karaoke From Hell’ on Monday – karaoke with a live band – but couldn’t find any takers at the hostel and didn’t fancy going on my own!
Before Dante’s I went to Veggie Grill for a healthy meal, after 2 nights of pizza and donuts!
Then it was off to Dante’s where there were 3 bands on the bill.
First up was Portland’s ‘Latter Day Skanks’. Rather than try to describe them, here’s their bio:
The Latter Day Skanks started out as humble Mormons who felt different. The cross-dressing & hard rocking Latter-Day Skanks guarantee to blow your mind and rock your ass. Bring your naughty self to a show and leave your morals, inhibitions and virginity at the door.
Next up was ‘Beatallica’ from Milwaukee. It’s exactly what it sounds like. A mash-up of Beatles and Metallica. And I read that Metallica actually quite enjoy what they do!
The headline act was ‘Okilly Dokilly’ – a metalcore band from Phoenix who dress up as Ned Flanders and all their songs are Flanders-themed! I really enjoyed the show but it wasn’t really my kind of music and if I just heard the music without the visuals I don’t think it would have been quite so enjoyable! Still, a great end to a very entertaining night!
I took an Uber home and finished the last of my Voodoo Doughnuts!
Thursday was another warm day, so I decided to get outdoors again.
Firstly I walked to Washington Park (up a lot of steps – that was hard work! Going up hills and stairs is HARD!) and went to check out the Rose Garden. Unfortunately, due to construction, it was hard to get around and the only blooms I saw were on my tights!
Then I walked up the MAC (Multnomah Athletic Club) trail to the Wildwood Trail in Forest Park. Wildwood is 30 miles long – I planned to run about 10k on the trail but a landslide meant the trail was closed about 4km in, forcing me to detour. As luck would have it, my detour took me to a great viewpoint at Pittock Mansion!
It was great to run on a trail that was close to the city but at times felt miles away (until I heard the construction equipment or had to cross a busy road!)
After my run I went to 23rd St, to try out a few recommended places! First there was Salt & Straw, a Portland ice cream place known for unusual flavours (such as pear and blue cheese!). I had one of their seasonal flavours (floral themed for May) – iris liqueur with edible flowers!
Then I got a takeaway donut from Blue Star Donuts – I went with the orange and olive oil. I saved it for later in the day – so good – best donut of the trip so far!
The evening activity was an art walk through the Pearl District. The Pearl District houses many art galleries, and on the first Thursday of every month many of them launch new exhibitions, and have live entertainment and sometimes even wine!
It was a really good night, we went to heaps of galleries and in many cases the artists were present (so it was a good thing I kept my opinions on some of the pieces to myself, like “WTF is that meant to be?” or “Who would pay 10 grand for THAT?”
But I didn’t say that about any of these. These ones I liked!
Afterwards a few of us went to a bar near the hostel for a drink and bar snacks, and I finally tried a local pinot noir (which was excellent!)
One of the girls on the tour mentioned that she was vegan, so I asked for a recommendation for Friday’s lunch (being my last meal in Portland!)
I had an in-depth conversation with our guide, Robert, about topics including Trump, drug companies and horoscopes/star signs (we had to agree to disagree on that last one!)
On Friday it rained (which seems to be par for the course on the day I leave a city!) but I still needed to try a coffee from Stumptown Coffee Roasters, probably the best known proper coffee place in town. (Obviously Starbucks does not count as proper coffee!) so I walked downtown.
Next was another one of those Blue Star Donuts but when I got there they were out of the orange ones!
Then it was time to do my final packing, check out and take a bus downtown to Loving Hut, an all vegan restaurant that had been recommended. I had a fried rice and green tea, and I also got a complimentary soup which was delicious too! Perfect ‘last meal in PDX’!
I got to the airport in plenty of time, checked my bag (made the weight limit by the skin of my teeth!) and was excited to find a Blue Star at the airport! With my orange donut! AND, amazingly, the guy who served me gave it to me on the house! You could say, everything was coming up Milhouse!
Even the airport security staff were friendly! The friendliest in the world!
I went to the airport Stumptown outlet for a last PDX coffee but was tempted by their cold brew with coconut milk – like a vegan Farmers Union Iced Coffee (but better!)
Alaska Airlines are great – their overhead bins are nice and spacious, and they have charging points at each seat!
Portland is definitely one of my favourite places ever! Can’t wait to come back again!