Portland is always keeping it weird – in the most wonderful ways possible. And given it is under two hours from Seattle – even less from several more southern Washington cities – it makes the perfect weekend getaway road trip.
The Grandeur of the Great Outdoors
Nicknamed the “City of Roses,” Portland is home to the International Rose Test Garden, the oldest official continuously operated public rose test garden in the United States. There are well over 10,000 roses on property as well as stunning views of Mt. Hood in the distance. Both the Portland Japanese Garden and Lan Su Chinese Garden are also well worth the visit. The Japanese Garden features 5.5 acres of tranquil streams and an authentic tea house, while the Chinese Garden was built by Suzhou artisans as homage to their treasured Ming Dynasty style gardens and takes up an entire city block in historic Chinatown with its man-made lake, mediation areas, bridges and rich landscaping.
And then there are the waterfalls. Oh, the waterfalls! Located just outside of Portland, the Columbia River Gorge boasts the highest concentration of waterfalls in North America. There are 90 in total, and at 620 feet, Multnomah Falls is the largest. Among the best ways to explore as many as possible in one day is via a guided bike tour, some of which leave directly from downtown Portland, including Pedal Bike Tours, which also boasts an energetic Portland bike tour and a local brewery bike tour worth checking out. Or, if seeking a less exercise-intensive way to explore, hop on the Portland Aerial Tram, which travels 3,300 linear feet at 22 miles per hour and offers sky-high views of the entire city and surrounding waterways. There are also some excellent afternoon and sunset cruises offered along Portland’s Willamette River, notably the Portland Spirit, which offers picturesque views of the city skyline as well as impressive dinner and bar service.
An Epicurean Oasis
Beyond a delightful dinner cruise, whether out for affordable eats or into more elevated epicurean exploration, Portland has you covered. Named among the best culinary cities in America, Portland should be on any food lover’s travel to-do list.
So, what should be atop the gastronomic bucket list when one arrives? That’s easy. Start with 13-time James Beard Award-nominated (and two-time winning) chef Gabriel Rucker and both his fine dining institution Le Pigeon as well as its sister concept, Canard. If you watched “Top Chef,” you are already obsessed with him. If not, you should be.
Just a few other mouth-watering options include: Southeast Asian-inspired Gada Gado; seasonally influenced Coquine; Pacific Northwest cuisine icon Paley’s Place Bistro & Bar; and impeccable pasta-focused Campana. There are some seriously impressive watering holes downtown too, including Loyal Legion, which has 99 craft beers available to sample, and Portland Cider Company, which was founded by an Oregonian and a family of British expats with the mission of bringing cider, handcrafted in the English tradition, to the Northwest.
Food trucks more your style? There are more than 200 individual food trucks within the city limits. The best way to sample around and find favorites is to seek out a food truck pod, which is a collection of carts that stay in the same place versus those that are mobile and always in a different locale. There are four pods in Downtown Portland alone, making it easy to nosh until one’s heart is content.
A Daytripper’s Delight
Beyond the outdoor adventures and culinary curiosities, Portland is also the perfect home base for one of many day trips outside of the main city limits. Among the best side trips for a day while in the area: Willamette or Mt. Hood Territory, also known as the final destination of the Oregon Trail. (And by Oregon Trail, we mean the actual trail that helped populate the western half of the country nearly 180 years ago, not the iconic computer game of the same name that helped every child of the 1980’s learn to use technology.)
Mt. Hood Territory has more than 20 can’t-miss tasting rooms and wineries. One suggestion––try the Willamette Wine Loop, which is located in West Linn’s Historic Willamette District and has a series of four wineries within minutes of each other: Campbell Lane, Pete’s Mountain, Tumwater Vineyard and Twill Cellars. If seeking destination wineries, don’t miss Beckham Estates and Villa Catalana Cellars. Beckham actually ages some of its wine in massive terra cotta clay pots called amphorae they make themselves, and ceramic art is displayed in the tasting room. Villa Catalana’s tasting room was inspired by San Clemente de Tahull, a 12th century Romanesque church in Spain, and in also serves as a rare plant conservatory where many unusual tropical plants flourish.
Don’t worry, beer lovers, you are covered too. Craft beer is such big business in the area that there is a Mt. Hood Territory Tap Trail. The free passport showcases some of the newest breweries in Mt. Hood Territory, as well as some perennial favorites, with discounts at participating businesses.
Rest Your Head
Finally, no matter where in the region you roam, you likely need a place to rest your head. Our advice: splurge and stay at a hotel right along the water while visiting. The Kimpton RiverPlace Hotel is an ideal option. Just south of downtown along a pedestrian river walkway, Condé Nast Traveler named RiverPlace among the top hotels in the Pacific Northwest for its spacious waterfront suites – notably one- and two-bedroom options with marina views, full kitchens, romantic fireplaces and ample patio and deck space – as well as its indulgent seafood restaurant, Tide King & Fish Shell.
Featured photo credit: Travel Oregon