To some, Portland, Oregon is the perfect gateway to the natural beauty of the Pacific Northwest. Mount Hood, four national forests, and the Pacific Ocean all lie within driving distance.
To others, the “City of Roses” is synonymous with all things urban and hipster. Craft breweries, farm-to-table restaurants, bookstores and artists’ collectives have boomed alongside a surge in population.
Both ideas live peacefully side-by-side. No other American city pulls the tastes, the smells, and the spirit of the great outdoors into the city streets as deftly as Portland. It’s glamping in concrete tents.
A recent trip to Union Way (1022 W. Burnside St.), a shopping destination downtown, reinforced this idea beautifully. This tiny, inward-facing strip mall straddles two of Portland’s major thoroughfares. Rain pelted the wood canopy above its pedestrian corridor, releasing the smell of a log cabin. Close your eyes and you’re back at summer camp. Open them and you’re surrounded by two of America’s trendiest neighborhoods — Downtown Portland and the Pearl District — along with a boutique leather goods shop, and a candy store.
Cross the street and you’ve arrived at the closest thing to a Portland institution: Powell’s City of Books (1005 W. Burnside St.; powells.com). Whether you’re a local or a tourist, young or old, something here is bound to grab your attention. Powell’s claims to have more than a million titles on hand. Its collection of rare and out-of-print works adds to Portland’s worldly vibe.
Powell’s was established in 1971, making it older than most of the city’s businesses (and residents). It anchors the Pearl District, Portland’s version of Manhattan’s Meatpacking District. For much of the 20th century, the Pearl was a haven for underutilized warehouses and not much else. In the span of a couple decades it became home to film festivals, high-rise condos and a Whole Foods Market.
Walking across Burnside St. into the West End district, you’re greeted by an Ace Hotel that houses a Stumptown Coffee Roasters (1022 SW Stark St.) — two industry trendsetters that originated in Portland before migrating to New York and the world.
Eminently walkable, downtown Portland’s latest trends are easily discovered by foot. Start with the food. “We’re hitting that level of saturation where good restaurants are closing,” one local told me. “There’s too much competition.” Indeed, it’s easy to get frustrated by the long lines at one buzzworthy diner, duck around the corner to a less-crowded alternative, and find something unique, delicious and satisfying on the menu.
That was my experience with the bustling Tasty n Alder (580 SW 12th Ave.; tastynalder.com). At 9:45 one weekday morning, the estimated wait for a party of two was approaching two hours. When the first attempt failed, I wound up at Bamboo Sushi (404 SW 12th Ave.; bamboosushi.com), where tamago (grilled egg) dusted with chocolate left a good taste.
The next day I braved the wait and delved into Tasty n Alder’s Korean-inspired brunch menu. With giant portions, strong flavors, and guilty pleasures like the Tasty Steak and Cheddar Eggs (served on an oversized cornmeal pancake), the hype is justified.
For years, Portland’s food and beverage scene has driven tourism on its own. Just browse the area codes on Tasty n Alder’s wait list; they’re from all over the country. Portland claims to have more independent breweries (80 and counting) than any city in the world, and its annual summer craft beer festival is a major draw. At the Hotel Lucia, guests imbibe in complimentary craft beers every evening from 5:30 to 6:30 p.m. Next door, the Hotel Vintage (422 SW Broadway; hotelvintage-portland.com) takes a novel approach to wine tourism by pairing each of its 117 rooms with a bottle from a different local vineyard.
Marijuana tourism is a thing, too. Oregon became the first state in the union to decriminalize small amounts of possession in 1973. Addressing the crowd on a recent concert stop, the rapper Snoop Dogg praised Portland for having the most organic marijuana strains of any city he’s visited.
Maintaining Portland’s essence is no small feat. About a dozen skyscrapers will join the city skyline in the coming months and years. Population has already surged by an estimated 100,000 since the turn of the century.
And yet, the simple charm that spurred Portland’s growth remains intact.
IF YOU GO…
The Hotel Lucia is set in a landmark 1909 building, listed on the National Register of Historic Places. 400 SW Broadway; hotellucia.com
* Tucked inside a residential home, Han Oak serves traditional Korean food with a contemporary twist. 511 NE 24th Ave.; hanoakpdx.com
* Coquine serves creative, seasonally inspired dishes at breakfast, lunch and dinner (Dinner is only served from 5 to 10 p.m. Wednesday through Sunday). 6839 SE Belmont St.; coquinepdx.com
* Tusk specializes in Middle Eastern cuisine, served family style. 2448 E. Burnside St.; tuskpdx.com
* A local family-owned institution for more than a century, Besaw’s serves brunch and dinner. 1545 NW 21st Ave.; besaws.com
* The Red Star Tavern at the Hotel Monaco serves cocktails on tap in an upscale setting. 506 SW Washington St.; monaco-portland.com
* The Bacchus Bar at the Hotel Vintage offers local wine and inventive cocktails to accompany casual games of billiards and shuffleboard. 422 SW Broadway; hotelvintage-portland.com
* Loyal Legion offers the largest selection of local craft beer in an authentic brewpub setting. 710 SE 6th Ave.; loyallegionpdx.com
* The “Best of Portland” Walking Tours begin inside the Visitor Information Center at Pioneer Courthouse Square and offer a nice overview of the city and its history. Call to schedule one of several tour options. 701 SW 6th Ave., 503-774-4522, portlandwalkingtours.com
* MadeHere PDX is a dynamic showroom for local fashion designers, bakers, furniture makers and artists. Open from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday through Wednesday, 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. Thursday, Friday and Sunday, and 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. Saturday. 40 NW 10th Ave., madeherepdx.com
Note: This story appears in the January 15, 2017 edition of the New York Daily News.