I am very lucky to have some fantastic friends who live in Portland, so it’s been high on my travel bucket list for quite a while. In January, I decided to plan a trip to Portland, Seattle, New Jersey and New York. Later on, I decided to add in a couple of nights in Vancouver too.
Portland was my first stop on what turned out to be an amazing fifteen days stateside. I was lucky to have access to some great local knowledge to lead me to some of the best places the city has to offer. Geocaching also played a big part in revealing some fantastic hidden gems.
Day 1: Pumpkin picking, Columbia River Gorge and German beer
After a long day of travelling from Dublin to Portland (via North Carolina) on Friday, a hearty breakfast was in order on Saturday morning so we went to for brunch at Fressen – a really cute little German bakery on NE 19th Avenue. Their Breakfast Sandwich – egg, bacon and cheese on a kaiser roll – was delectable and really hit the spot, setting us up for a day of pumpkins and waterfalls!
Price: $5 for the Breakfast Sandwich
Food: 4.5/5 Service: n/a, no table service
After breakfast, we headed to Sauvie Island, about ten miles northwest of Portland to go pumpkin picking! The island is largely comprised of farmland and it has several pumpkin patches.
Ok, so pumpkin picking is not a typical tourist activity but if you’re in the US in October and you want an authentic American experience, visit a pumpkin patch and marvel at the shapes, colours and size of both the pumpkins and gourds. Carving pumpkins is big news in the US and you’ll definitely see carved pumpkins on people’s doorsteps throughout October, as well as lots of elaborate garden decorations.
After visiting Sauvie Island, we headed to Columbia River Gorge to take in the views and visit a few waterfalls. The canyon stretches for 130kms and forms the boundary between Washington and Oregon.
Our first stop was the scenic viewpoint at Portland Women’s Forum. After a dry summer, the river was quite low but the scene was nonetheless breathtaking.
We continued on to Crown Point for another great panoramic view, before taking in two of the many waterfalls. The Gorge boasts the highest concentration of waterfalls in North America, with over ninety on the Oregon side alone.
Lower Latourell Falls is a smaller waterfall but still has ample parking. These Falls are unusual in that they fall straight down, rather than tumbling like almost all the others in the Gorge. The practically fluorescent colour of the lichen growing on the rocks is almost as impressive as the waterfall itself.
Next stop was the very popular 186 metre high Multnomah Falls. You can get a close up view of the lower falls just a five minute walk from the car park. Another short walk uphill to the footbridge and you are rewarded with a great view of the upper falls, as well as a vertigo-inducing view downwards to the lower falls.
After an eventful day, we headed to The Alibi Tiki Lounge for dinner and cocktails. This was a great spot – the atmosphere was buzzing without being deafening. I went for the Suffering Bastard cocktail – a perfect combination of gin, brandy and bitters, it really went down a treat. For dinner, I had the Kalua Burger – like a standard burger, but topped with melt in the mouth pulled pork. I cleaned my plate – it was simple food done exceptionally well and I loved it.
Price: $9.95 for the burger and $8 for the cocktail
Food: 5/5 Service: 4/5
We finished off the night at Stammtisch bar, which boasts 18 taps of a diverse range of German beers. It was almost like being in Germany…. except we all got asked for I.D. I should note here that if you are not American, some places will only accept a passport as proof of identification – you have been warned!
Day 2: Saturday Market, a hike on McIntyre Ridge and Voodoo Doughnuts
On Sunday morning, we headed to the Saturday Market in the Old Town. The name is deceptive – the market actually takes place on both Saturday and Sunday, every weekend from March to Christmas Eve. Running for 42 years, it boasts hundreds of vendors, selling everything from handmade watches to packaged spices to Portland tote bags (one of several self-gifted souvenirs I bought!)
After perusing the wares at the market, we headed out to Sandy to go for a hike at Wildcat Mountain. My main motivation for hiking here was geocaching (you can read about my geocaching adventures on this hike here), but this is worth the trek solely for the views of Oregon’s highest peak, Mount Hood, which is actually a dormant volcano.
We hiked to the McIntyre Ridge Viewpoint, which has an elevation gain of 240 metres and is a 7 kilometre round trip back to the Wildcat Mountain trailhead. If you want to do the hike, the Oregon Hikers website has some very useful information. Make sure to educate yourself about cougars before you venture into the wilderness anywhere in the Northwest.
We ended the evening by sampling some famous Voodoo Doughnuts. The original shop is located near to the Saturday Market but the queue was almost a block long when we were there in the morning, so we decided to go to Voodoo Too on NE Davis Street in the evening instead. Honestly, I thought ‘it’s just doughnuts, how good could they be?’ How naive of me. Believe the hype – these are the best I’ve ever tasted. And the greatest part is, both Voodoo One and Too are open 24 hours, 7 days a week, so you have no excuse not to sample them.
Day 3: City of Books, Washington Park and the view from Pittock Mansion
With my friends at work for the day, I was left to my own devices to explore the city. High on the agenda was a visit to Powell’s City of Books. The shop takes up an entire block on Burnside and claims to be the biggest independent bookstore in the world. Even if you don’t want to buy any books (luggage weight restrictions is a real problem!), go inside and marvel at the size of the place and the vast selection of books they stock – both new and used.
It’s easy to get lost but the staff are very friendly and willing to help, and the sections are colour-coded to ease your navigation around the aisles. I was short on time so decided to explore one section: travel (what else?). I managed to get away with only purchasing three books but I could have spent all day browsing and bought the place out if I had the time, money and luggage allowance to spare.
I had some geocaching business in Washington Park so I headed there next. This is a really nice park set over 400 acres. There is Pay to Park parking on site (cash or card accepted) and a free shuttle bus stopping at most of the park’s attractions. If you don’t have a car, you can take TriMet’s light rail or bus. The park is just a few minutes from downtown Portland but is a wonderful oasis of calm. I enjoyed the statues and monuments, in particular the Lewis and Clark Memorial, which bears a replica of the State Seals of Oregon, Washington, Montana and Idaho, as well as the bronze statues “Coming of the White Man” and “Sacajawea”.
My last stop of the day was a drive up to Pittock Mansion for the best view of the city. It is free to walk around the grounds of Pittock Mansion and soak up the vista, but you can pay an entrance fee of $10 (adult) to have a tour of the house. I came for the views and I was not disappointed. It was a humid day so it was sort of hazy, but the view was nevertheless very impressive.
The view from here is not to be missed while you’re in Portland – it’s free and easy to access with a rental car. If you don’t have a rental car, you can get the bus to W. Burnside and walk (uphill!) for half a mile to the mansion.
My time in Portland was too short (isn’t it always the way?). I will definitely be back to this city that prides itself on being weird.
In case you were curious, we did get around to carving those pumpkins we picked: can you guess which one is mine?
Do you have any tips on what I should do next time I visit Portland? Let me know in the comments!
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