By the writers at PSFK
Located in the Pacific Northwest, Portland, Oregon, is an exceptional city noted for its beauty, access to the great outdoors and abundance of culinary treats. With a profusion of flora and fauna, combined with an urban sensibility and love for all things independent and artisan, this city is the ideal place to recharge and be inspired. Portland is laid-back, friendly and buzzing with creativity.
Begin your day in this West Coast gem by venturing to the Saturday Market, where you can see the best of artisanal Portland. A bit of a misnomer, the market is held every Saturday and Sunday from March to December, and features local creatives showcasing their wares, ranging from handmade soaps to jewelry to hand-thrown pottery. Weaving through the stalls, you can peruse distinctively Oregonian goods, while sampling ethnic foods and taking in free entertainment.
While the Saturday Market is reminiscent of old-school Portland – a bit granola and tie-dye in its vibe – you can then head over to Noun to check out the newer retail scene. This store, called such because it is a ‘person’s place for things’ is a curiosity shop, art gallery, and modern décor boutique all wrapped up in one. Representing old and new, it is uniquely Portland, with a well-curated selection of vintage and modern items, including art, furniture, local jewelry, typewriters, books, and ephemera. It also shares its retail space with Saint Cupcake Deluxe, so you can enjoy some baked goods while surveying the stock of contemporary and vintage finds.
Portland is known as the “City of Roses” for good reason – with its wet, mild winters and dry, warm summers, it is the ideal climate to grow the flower, and you’ll see and smell the blooms as you travel around the city. But to witness a truly spectacular sight, head to the International Rose Test Garden. Set up in 1917 to preserve European roses that were threatened by the war, the Garden now holds over 7,000 rose plants of over 400 varieties in its corner of Washington Park. It is free to stroll through the garden, breathing in the fragrant air and taking a moment to let the mind wander.
If you want to see a different side of Portland – its gritty side – take a tour of the Shanghai Tunnels (or the Portland Underground as it is formally called). Lying beneath Old Town and Chinatown, these tunnels linked the basements of bars and hotels of the city’s downtown, so that deliveries could be made from the Willamette River directly to the businesses’ storage holds. But the tunnels have a more notorious past, and Portland legend has it that they were used for “shanghaiing” – the 19th-century practice of kidnapping men and forcing them to become sailors on ships to the Orient. Touring the tunnels, you’ll see former opium dens and holding cells and discover a new perspective to this seemingly squeaky clean, green city. Explore the myths of the underground and the crimes that took place in it on this historically fascinating and inspiring trip into Portland’s past.
After exploring Portland’s historical offerings both above and below ground, it is time to discover its culinary offerings. Although mobile dining is a growing trend, there is no place that does it quite like Portland where the food cart scene is a bona fide phenomenon. There are hundreds of carts parked in lots all over the city in clusters known as pods. At any given time, there are over 175 carts open and offering food to hungry Portlanders. These carts serve gourmet cuisine on the cheap, and situated side-by-side, there is a healthy amount of culinary competition, which breeds creativity and innovation in the food-making craft. Though the variety may be mind-boggling, there are three carts that have to be on your must-eat list. At the largest pod on SW 10th Avenue and Alder, there is Nong’s Khao Man Gai cart. You have to appreciate a place that serves one item, which it has completely perfected. Come here for a rendition of a traditional Thai street food dish, khao man gai, which is poached chicken served with rice, and a fermented bean sauce and broth on the side. Garlic-y, ginger-y and addictive, with one bite you’ll understand why Nong doesn’t need to sell anything else.
“Portland provides never-ending inspiration with a dash of Pacific Northwest congeniality.”
For a taste of the old world, head to SW 5th Avenue and Oak, to the green and red food cart, Tabor, serving up traditional Czech fare such as goulash, spaetzle, paprikash and fruit dumplings. But if you are really hungry, bite into their Schnitzelwich, a gargantuan sandwich with traditional breaded pork or chicken schnitzel and a sweet paprika sauce. When the sun sets and most carts close up for the evening, head over to Cartopia, the only late-night food pod in Portland on SE 12th and Hawthorne, where most carts stay open until 3 a.m. For a midnight snack, try Potato Champion, the cart that has perfected the art of the Belgian frites. Served in a cone with a choice of gourmet sauces such as Rosemary Truffle Ketchup or Tarragon Anchovy Mayo, this is the place to satisfy your late-night cravings.
Food carts, art galleries and museums are ubiquitous in this town, but to really be inspired, head away from the traditional galleries and go to 12128, an exhibition space housed on a former crab fishing boat, the Labrador. Founded by recent art school graduates Kyle Thompson, Lewis Feuer, Caitlin Ducey and Zoë Clark, the 135-foot-long crabber hosts art shows curated by these young artists, featuring progressive contemporary work. The floating gallery is an opportunity to see art that is created outside of the normal strictures of the art world, in an equally unconventional setting.
Another unique space away from the accustomed gallery environment is False Front Studio. Located in a residential neighborhood in northeast Portland, this converted grocery store is an alternative exhibition space that houses artists and fosters local talent. Artists live and work at False Front, creating innovative works while feeding off each other’s creativity in the co-op environment. At these two alternative art spaces, you can experience Portland’s independent art scene, where art is created without compromising for commercial appeal.
To cap off your day in Portland, it is essential that you partake in its artisanal bar scene. While beer is well-loved in this city and microbreweries are a dime a dozen, venture to Distillery Row for something a bit different and a bit stronger. Here you can go to microdistilleries, which provide tasting and tours on the weekend, so you can learn about, and then taste, carefully crafted spirits that will warm you from the inside-out. Located in the southeast Industrial District, these distilleries are creating unique and new liquors reminiscent of the Prohibition era. House of Spirits, in particular, boasts an “old world philosophy for the new world palate,” creating small-batch liquors to pique the taste buds. Down the Row is New Deal Distillery, which specializes in artisan vodka, made in small amounts with locally sourced ingredients. Here, “drink responsibly” not only refers to quantity, but the quality of the libation, with an environmentally sustainable distillery operation and promotion of local ingredients and distributors. Walking down Distillery Row (which is not actually one street, but a cluster of distilleries near one another), you’ll find inspiration from the entrepreneurial spirit of Portland and its dynamic artisanal community, but just remember to take small sips.
Portland is known for raining nine months out of the year, but that doesn’t stop Portlanders from being a creative, vivacious bunch. With a strong – bordering on obsessive – passion for quality artisanal wares, and an independent mindset, it is an opportune place to reinvigorate your creative thinking. Whether enjoying its lustrous green outdoors, the vast culinary offerings or the variety of artistic happenings, Portland provides never-ending inspiration with a dash of Pacific Northwest congeniality.