Gems in and around Portland Oregon
February 13, 2020
I have so many memories of traveling throughout Oregon as a little girl. We would often take family vacations up north; road trips including numerous stops along the way to eat and explore our way through the state. We gravitated towards the coast, but no matter what, we always made a stop in Portland. It’s probably why the state of Oregon and the city of Portland feel like a second home. Because of this and our love for the outdoors, Tim and I have taken our own road trips throughout Oregon. We have driven the entire coast, explored the central mountains, and like always, we stop in Portland.
Portland is a bustling city full of bridges due to the Columbia and Willamette rivers. The downtown area is filled with fantastic restaurants, great coffee shops, and contagious energy (even when it rains). It’s similar to all cities in the Pacific Northwest, in which it’s gloomy and rainy for months in the winter. But this means that there are trees lining the streets, there’s moss growing on the sidewalk, and the parks are always green. And there are several large parks within the city, it’s one of my favorite things about Portland. You can’t go far before you’re back among the trees.
I have a long list of things I love about Portland, but these places are my must-sees. Some items on the list are new discoveries that will now become regulars, while others I have been going to for years now. Best yet, if you only have a weekend in Portland you can visit them all!
Cup and Bar
This place had my heart right away, it’s a coffee roaster and chocolatier in one. Right when you walk into the spacious open-air building, you smell coffee and chocolate dancing in the air. The two (Trailhead Coffee Roasters and Ranger Chocolate Company) work together with the chocolatier selling their bars on the counter, the coffee shop providing freshly roasted coffee, and a mocha made with the two to make the perfect decadent sweet start to the morning. Cup and Bar also have incredible seasonal drinks that speak to the season and the traditional classics alongside desired pourovers.
Farmers Market at Portland State University
Anyone who knows me knows I love a good farmers market. And of all the markets I’ve been to, this one has to be my favorite. This year-round market, which is rare for a farmers markets in Oregon, is also one of the biggest I’ve been to. The farmers market is laid out so that you can do a circle around the entire market to make sure you don’t miss a thing. The market’s mostly filled with produce farmers, but there’s also butchers, flower farmers, fresh hot food stalls, locally made goods, and sometimes live music. The food is incredible. We found the first burrito in Portland that we actually enjoy from Oregon after visiting Enchanted Sun Breakfast Burritos. We found soy-free tempeh that we buy each time we visit now from Squirrel &Crow. We had the most wonderful conversation with the co-owner of Marshall’s Haute Sauce while sampling every delicious sauce they make. The vibe of this market feels more like a community social gathering, with everyone getting together to enjoy the fresh air on a Saturday morning versus a hustle to grab the best produce. It’s a great spot to chat with locals, eat incredible food, and relax under the large trees.
If I only eat at one spot in Portland the whole time I’m there, it’s here. I cannot express how much I enjoy everything about Shalom Y’all. This super small space holds so much love for fresh Israeli food, focusing on making vegetables the star and influenced by the Mediterranian. The pita bread paired with the silky-smooth hummus practically melts in your mouth. The chicken shwarma is filled with fresh herbs and shishito peppers, keeping a sometimes heavy dish light. My favorite on the menu is the hummus pitriyot. If you like mushrooms, you have to get this. And as suggested by our server, get the glass of white wine that pairs beautifully with the hummus.
I love the smell of books. I always had. Maybe it’s because we would go to the library every week as little kids, picking out a couple of our favorites to take home. This bookstore puts our local library to shame though. The multi-level bookstore is filled with thousands of books. It’s the perfect escape from walking around downtown and escaping into your own world for a bit. I easily lose hours here, discovering new books and walking around with more books than I can carry. There’s even a cafe in Powell’s, providing a great place to work or read your most recent purchase. I also find it to be a good place to buy Portland gifts and Oregon nicknacks.
Kim Jong Smokehouse
You’ll find Kim Jong Smokehouse in the fun and eclectic Pine Street Market. The market is filled with some of the best of the best restaurants in Portland, making it a popular and crowded during the lunch hour and after quitting time. But it’s the perfect spot to go with a larger group of people because everyone can get exactly what they want without having to pick a food style. There’s pizza, tapas, ramen, hamburgers, ice cream, and divine bibimbap from Kim Jong Smokehouse. Bibimbap is a Korean rice dish served with meat, individually prepared vegetables, an over-easy egg, and a gochujang sauce. The bibimbap at Kim Jong is even more special because it’s served with Southern-style smoked meat. I get mine with their smoked honey gochujang chicken and often have a hard time not eating the entire bowl even though I’m full halfway through. It’s that good.
Tim and I randomly found this spot simply by driving by and seeing how packed it was on a weekday morning. We knew we had to try it, regardless of what style of food it was. Lucky for us, it was homey warm southern-style food; perfect for a cold rainy morning. Apparently Screen Door is a big deal in Portland, sometimes having a two-hour wait on the weekends. So if you go, get there early and with a big appetite. They’re known for their fried chicken, and rightfully so. Screen Door doesn’t skimp on portions, including their chicken. Tim ordered the Cathead Biscuit Sandwich, which was much larger than a cat’s head. Screen Door does vegetables right too with their Organic Vegetable Hash. We wish we had more room in our stomachs to try some of their baked goods!
If you need an escape from the city and are looking for greenery, head over to Forest Park. If you’re not trying to escape the city, go to Forest Park. It’s beautiful. When you’re there, you can’t even tell you’re in the city. It feels as though you’ve left everything behind as you walk among the trees. There are more shades of green than you’ll ever see anywhere else, except for anywhere in the rest of Pacific Northwest of course. Moss covers everything. Water runs through the park with a creek and waterfalls scattered throughout. A great small hike for a quick visit includes taking the Wildwood Trail taking you to the Witch’s Castle, an old abandoned stone house. I can’t wait to explore more of these trails in future trips.
Breakside Brewery in Milwaukee
This is my favorite brewery in Portland! Every beer I’ve had of theirs is delicious. I first heard of Breakside from my uncle, but finally got to try it at the Great American Beer Festival in Denver. Out of the hundreds of beers that were there, Breakside stood out to me. Not only because I had heard of it before, but because every beer they had available to taste was good. I finally got to try their 2019 gold, What Great Beast, when we visited earlier this year. I understand why it won gold. The space is cool too, with a laid back vibe welcoming locals to relax over a beer or two. If we lived closer, we would be one of those locals.
Oregon City is another discovery suggested by my uncle. We all went there together the first time and have since stayed in Oregon City during our last visit to Portland. When you enter Oregon City, you can’t help but see the city’s Municipal Elevator. It takes tourists and locals from the riverside downtown up to a beautiful view overlooking the Willamette River, old factory buildings, and Willamette Falls. Regardless of the weather, it’s a beautiful view. Continue out of the elevator on the upper level for a paved walking path with more views of the old factory buildings and falls. After this, head back down the elevator and walk on over to Ingrid’s Scandanavian Food. I grew up eating lefse, a special Norwegian soft flatbread (more like a tortilla) made from potatoes, around the holidays so it feels a little extra special. Not only are they making fresh lefse, but they’re filling it with meatballs, sausage, and traditional Scandanavian fixings. I suggest ordering your food and heading next door to Arch Bridge Taphouse. They have a great selection of rotating local beers on tap, pairing perfectly with Scandanavian food.