Posted by Gio Palatucci
When I travel, I'm usually on a mission to find one thing: a delicious meal. Some people enjoy seeing famous landmarks or exploring top museums, but for me, it's about engaging my senses– particularly my taste buds–to discover the true essence of a place.
Which is why it was a no-brainer when I chose to visit Portland, Oregon last month. Portland is known for its growing restaurant scene, diverse food truck offerings, plethora of microbreweries, and coffee obsession. Plus, it has plenty of green spaces to walk, hike, and bike off all those calories.
So falling into those categories-- eating and exercise-- here are five things I love about Portland.
Stepping Stone Cafe's giant pancakes (Photo: Gio Palatucci)
1. Breakfast I live in Washington, D.C. and although the city's food scene has made significant strides in the past few years, there's still one category where it's lacking: breakfast. Sure, D.C. has a decent number of weekend brunch places that cater to the hungover crowd with bottomless mimosas and Bloody Marys. But what I'm craving is a greasy spoon kind of joint where the griddle is fired up 7-days a week and the laminated menu hasn't changed in 15 years.
Portland was the answer to my breakfast lover's lament. Walking into Stepping Stone Cafe, a 50s-style diner, I'd found just what I'd been looking for-- cheesy omelettes, waitresses that never let your coffee cup get less than half-full, and gigantic pancakes larger than my head. Oh, the pancakes! I ordered a blueberry short-stack, foolishly thinking two of these thick yet fluffy disks would barely satisfy my hunger. Several insanely good forkfuls later, half of the stack still remained. I sheepishly conceded defeat to the waitress who quipped that I, "did a pretty good job," before whisking the plate away. Pretty good? Consider that challenge accepted! I'll be back, Stepping Stone, you just wait.
To hit all of Portland's best breakfast places in one trip, I recommend consuming the most important meal of the day, twice a day. Besides Stepping Stone Cafe, try: Pine State Biscuits, for artery-clogging breakfast sandwiches; VooDoo Doughnut, a city landmark; and Mother's Bistro, for their ginormous cinnamon buns (drool).
2. Beer You are guaranteed to drink well in Oregon, which according to the Oregon Brewers Guild, is home to 87 breweries. And when in Portland, you don't have to go to a fancy brewpub or upscale bar to sample the state's finest. Craft beers are on tap everywhere, even in some unlikely places. Take for instance, Portland's Major League Soccer stadium Jeld-Wen Field where the concessions stands have several Widmer Brothers beer on tap.
I sampled a lot of different beers on my trip, but the greatest discovery was Portland's own Rogue Ale's Hazelnut Brown Nectar which was just awarded the title of best brown ale by some fancy authority on all things good brews. I'm no beer connoisseur but for the average beer consumer like me, the light, nutty flavor of this beer knocked my socks off. Hands down the best beer I've ever had.
I didn't encounter a bad spot to throw back a few libations during my trip, but here are some standouts I'd recommend: The divey Marathon Taverna for a pre-Timbers match drink; upscale sports bar Thirsty Lion Pub for its wide beer selection and good food; Coalition Brewing Company for cheap beer flights that make up for the slow service; and Beulahland an eccentric yet cozy alehouse that's the perfect place to spend several hours catching up with friends.
Photo: Gio Palatucci
3. Bike Lanes There's only one way to get around Portland and that is by bicycle. Bikes are as ubiquitous in Portland as coffee shops or recycling bins. Wheels overflow the bike racks, fix-it and rental shops are on every corner, and the city's bike lanes aren't shoved off to the shoulder, they are painted right down the center of main avenues.
I like to ride but I am a terrible cyclist. I'm too timid, petrified of going down steep hills, and awkwardly fumble with the pedals when a red light turns green. But in Portland I felt at ease. Cars yielded to me and waited patiently (read: didn't honk) as I slowly crept across intersections. It was a thrill to ride around Portland, and not only did biking become a quick and easy way of getting around town but it also allowed me to explore parts of the city I might not have otherwise discovered.
Multnomah Falls (Photo: Gio Palatucci)
4. Hiking Green spaces are everywhere in Portland. There are so many urban hiking trails, walking paths, gardens, and other public green spaces to enjoy. But the highlight of my trip was renting a car and taking a short, 40 minute, drive to see the Columbia River Gorge.
The dazzling Multnomah Falls is the star attraction of this National Scenic Area located on the edge of Oregon's Mt. Hood National Forest. The falls are the first thing you see when you approach the entrance to the park and it's just a short climb to cross over that gorgeous bridge. You could spend an entire day in the park exploring all the different paths, which I would rank at an easy to medium level of climbing difficulty. But any muscle aches and pains are totally worth the climb. Be sure to scale the Angel's Rest overlook to take in stunning views of the river and surrounding mountains.
Other green spaces to enjoy while in Portland include: International Test Rose Garden, Japanese Garden, and Forest Park.
5. People I was astounded by the warm hospitality shown to me by all Portlanders I met. The best food and drink recommendations and hiking suggestions came from people who were eager to share their favorite local haunts.
I'll admit that I was a bit worried before coming to Portland that the people would be like the crazy characters from the quirky IFC series, Portlandia. But the folks in Portland were quite the opposite-- down-to-earth and very friendly. As my travel partner astutely described, the punk-rock, artsy, tattooed, hipster, or whatever-you-want-to-call-it vibe, many outsiders attribute to the city, is much more of a style than an attitude.
So I owe a huge 'thank you' to proud Portlanders like @andiamo, the staff at the Jupiter Hotel (@jupiterpdx), Matt at @portlandbeer, @GR8FoodCartsPDX, @allisonejones at Portland Monthly Magazine, @daveotuttle, @NatGeoKrista, @OBethPhoto, @TheyCallMeNels, @TDavidsonIII, Bethany and Ted of @twoOregonians, and the many others I met on- and off-line.
Thank you for sharing your favorite places to eat, drink, hike, stay, and explore in the great city of Portland. I'll be back. Let's grab a Rogue beer or two.
What do you love about Portland? Tell me in the comments section below.
Writing/sharing/tweeting from the crossroads of social media, travel, & tech. Read more about me, here.
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