Portland is a beautiful, chilled out, practically perfect little city. I I loved its style, the feel, and the food. Read on, and see why…
A Unique and Yet Classic Style
I’ve been to some iconic US cities this year – Miami, for example – that feel instantly recognisable from TV and film, and have a distinct style of their own.
I wasn’t expecting that from Portland – I’d been told the food was good, and that it’s a relaxed town, but I wasn’t expecting the great sense of place it has.
It felt really…American. Which probably sounds silly (especially if you are American), but it’s very clean, the houses are so different from the architecture we have in the UK, and their legislation has meant that the high-rises have been kept to a minimum, and so it feels like a really lovely and complete little city.
I was lucky with the weather – it was sunny pretty much all the time, whereas I have been told by friends and locals that it tends to rain, a lot, there usually (more like England). Check the weather before you go, but don’t let it put you off. Portland is a hardy little city (they say the only people with umbrellas are the tourists).
There’s also ways around the rain – in the centre of town there is a small shopping mall (Pioneer Place) which is connected by underground tunnels, with no need to go outside while you’re fulfilling your consumerist fantasies (I didn’t know this, but a lot of people come to Portland to shop because there is no sales tax, so it’s cheaper than many other places in the States). And go in August and you could get lucky and enjoy blue skies and sunshine.
Fabulous Fusion Food
One of the things that makes Portland distinct is the food. They have a bevy (600+) of both static and roaming food trucks in the city, something I haven’t come across before – in the UK, a food truck tends to be a burger van, and not something you’d go out of your way to eat at, unless you’d had a few pints.
In Portland the food trucks cover a wide range of cuisines – Chinese, Indian, grilled cheese (yes – and this one had a massive line up!), donuts, pancakes, and Georgian (that’s Georgia near Turkey and Azerbijan not the one in the States!).
There’s also a big emphasis on experimental fusion food. This was a bit hit and miss for me – kimchee in my burrito from one food truck pushed me a bit too far outside my comfort zone…
I did like the fact that there are plenty of coffee shops as well as some great vegetarian food. I’m putting together a separate post on the restaurants and cafes that I visited, so I’ll link to that here when it’s up.
Airbnb is still fairly new to me – I’ve stayed in a handful of places in Malaysia and the States, but the experience has been pretty positive so far. I was a bit nervous this time as I’d only stayed in a room in someone’s house once before (in Macau, China). (If you’re interested in AirbnB read my ‘Beginners Guide to Airbnb’)
When I arrived on the doorstep, I was stunned at how gorgeous just the outside of the house was. Inside was just as lovely. The house reminded me a little of a wooden version of the house I’d grown up in as it was light and spacious with plenty of room, and real atmopshere.
Part of that was the wonderful hosts I had, who were both professional musicians, and who I could have hung out with a lot more to hear about their interesting lives (you can’t take a psychologist anywhere!). But they provided the perfect balance of courteous hospitality and personal space – and they even went above and beyond when my shoulder went into spasm and I had to get some things from the pharmacy (if you want to stay with them, their Airbnb listing is here – I can recommend it!).
Their ‘vintage’ house was where the NE and the SE of Portland meet, a little outside the main hubbub of the centre of Portland, and had the most lovely park, Laurelhurst Park, across the road. I went for a walk there each morning before breakfast, and felt very calm and grounded. The weather helped, but it was such an oasis of green and calm that it was a real balm to the soul after I’d been in the intensity of the WDS conference the week before.
One thing I was very glad to do was to meet up with a friend I’d met at yoga school in Thailand. Unfortunately, I forced her to go on an organised tour of the city (the ‘Best of Portland’ tour), which I had high hopes for, but turned out to be a bit of a bust. We weren’t impressed. 🙁
I like stories about a city, and the people who’ve lived there, and this was more about the public transport system and the environmental creds of the city.
There was certainly some interesting facts, and if you’re interested in engineering, architecture or why Portland is considered one of the ‘greenest’ cities in the states then you might find it intriguing. For example, Portland’s city government have invested heavily in public transport, bike facilities and many public parks, to the benefit of locals and tourists alike. Matt Groening (the creator of The Simpsons) grew up in Portland, and many of the characters’ names are taken from street names in the city. I was impressed by the statue of Portlandia (to the left) the second largest hammered copper statue in the States after the State of Liberty. It’s nearly 35ft tall, just to give you some perspective.
One weird thing about Portland – to me – is that you’re not allowed to ‘pump your own gas‘ (that’s fill up your own tank of petrol to us Brits). Not something I’ve come across before. There are also some other unusual features of the city, like the arts tax.
But the tour didn’t really engage myself or my friend, and we found ourselves talking at the back like naughty school kids. The company have plenty of other tours and seem to be thought of very highly so we might just have been unlucky.
We made up for it by doing a little walking on our own, and my friend, who’s a local, told me some stories about the city – such as the background to the tiny Mill Ends Park, the world’s smallest park, a two foot urban park in Portland – and then we went and sat in a pub by the river and enjoyed happy hour. Nice!
(I thought that sub-heading made me look cool. Like I know about the scene. Whatever the scene is.)
There are lot of beards in Portland.
Beards, bookshops and beer, funky little coffee places, plenty of veggie food and good wifi. This was more than enough to make me want to come back, but the city itself also had what I’d describe as a relaxed feel (in a, ahem, unrelated fact, Marijuana became legalised in 2015 in Oregon, much to my amazement – I mean this is America folks!?!).
I didn’t do a lot of tourist stuff, so I can’t comment on tourist hot spots as much (here’s the official visit portland site for that). I did go to a microbrewery or two (not on purpose) and I actually drank beer and enjoyed it – that’s me out of my comfort zone right there!
‘Keep Portland Weird’ is both a bumper sticker and unofficial slogan of the city, and I guess it’s the reason I saw a man dressed as Darth Vader in a kilt on a unicycle playing the bag pipes. Yeah. Anyway, here’re some weird portland tourist attractions if you want to play tourist in some more unusual ways.
Why Did I Love Portland So Much Again?
I’ve been mulling over this since coming back to the UK. The city left a great impression on me, and I definitely want to go back. It reminded me a little of San Francisco, and a little of Vancouver. I think the thing that I liked most was just how very liveable the city is. Easy to get around, great food and coffee, interesting and kind people – from a Digital Nomad perspective, it has pretty much everything. If the prices were in baht rather than dollars, I’d be living there now!
If you’re looking for a place to hang out in for a couple of weeks, for a relaxed holiday where you can mooch, enjoy nature, meet interesting people, taste delicious and sometimes quite unusual food, and even shop, then Portland’s a great place to be.