Portland, Oregon was my first solo stop on my big American road trip and I absolutely loved it. It might have a reputation for being the home of the hipster (and that reputation might be well-deserved) but Portland is still an incredible place to visit.
8:30am – Start your day the wrong way at Voodoo Doughnut
I know, I know – doughnuts for breakfast might be my most unhealthy suggestion yet, but if you want to escape the hour long queues at Voodoo Doughnut then early in the morning might be the best time to go. Plus, it’s open 24/7 so you can get donuts as early or late as you would like! The choices at Voodoo can be overwhelming with piles and piles of yeasted, cake, filled and vegan donuts in a huge range of flavours and shapes. Get at least two (one for now and one as a snack later) or if you are with friends get a whole load and split them between you. The McMinville cream and Mexican hot chocolate donuts are delicious, you can’t go wrong with a classic voodoo doll and if you ever wanted a donut shaped like a joint or a private part of the male anatomy then there is literally nowhere else for you but here.
9:30am – Find your inner peace at Portland Japanese Garden
Portland Japanese Garden is an absolute joy. Located in Washington Park, it is 9.1 acres of quiet trickling streams, perfectly manicured gardens, art installations that look so organic they could have been grown rather than made and and man-made waterfalls. It might be a little on the pricey side at $14.95 for an adult ticket (and the Umami cafe, while wonderfully authentic, is incredibly expensive) you could easily spend hours here. It’s so peaceful, and because it’s so large it is easy to feel alone even at the busiest of times of day. Take your time, wander round and wind up feeling a little bit more zen than you did before. Top tip: come in September/October if you can – the autumn colours make the gardens even more beautiful than they usually do.
11:30am – Grab a bargain at Powell’s
I imagine heaven looks a little bit like Powell’s City of Books: the world’s largest new and used bookstore covering an entire city block and containing over a million books. It’s a labyrinth that is very easy to get lost in, and even easier to find a bargain in. If you can think of a book, Powell’s will have it. Take note of the staff and customer recommendations that litter the shelves, find that rare first-edition you have been tracking down or watch your own book being published using the Espresso Book Machine. Bought too many books? Powell’s also runs a resell programme to buy your old books back off you. If you love books, I can guarantee you will fall head over heels for an entire city of them!
12:30pm – Lunchtime at Lardo
Sandwiches don’t get better (or much bigger) than the ones at Lardo, on SW Washington Street. It’s all about pork and beef, carbs and fat: there may not be too many healthy choices here, but there are plenty of delicious ones. The Korean pork shoulder sandwich is salty, crunchy, savoury and just a little bit spicy and the dirty fries (with pork scraps, marinated peppers, herbs and parmesan) will have you so full you’ll be rolling out of the door. I’ve also heard very good things about the crispy pigs’ ears with hot honey sauce but didn’t quite have the guts (or the room) to try them. Lardo combines flavours from all over the world with top quality meat and a whole lot of beer on tap – and what more could you ask for from your lunch?
1:30pm – Take a drive to Multnomah Falls
Next, hop on the Columbia Gorge Express at the Gateway Transit Center and take a ride out to Multnomah Falls. It’s only about 45 minutes from the centre of Portland and you can make as much or as little of the trip as you want. If you are in a rush, the trail to the top of the waterfall and back to the shuttle bus stop is only around 2 miles round trip or you can take the longer 6 mile route via Fairy Falls. If you are feeling really up to a challenge there are even longer and steeper routes for you to take a crack at. If you want to make things even more difficult for yourself, don’t pack any trainers so you have to hike in flip flops like I did. Just be aware that you will be stopped my many concerned Oregonians (Oregonites? Oregoners? None of these sound right to me…) who will question your footwear choices more than seems strictly necessary.
6:00pm – Dinner at Boke Bowl
I was going to recommend ChkChk!! on NW 23rd Ave for chicken sandwiches that would put even Chick-fil-a to shame but I just learnt that it has closed down and my heart has broken very slightly. Instead I am going to recommend Boke BowlBoke Bowl which is equally delicious but has far less chicken sandwiches, what with it being a ramen restaurant… Regardless, the miso mushroom steamed buns are an absolute delight and the bone pork ramen is somehow warm and comforting while still being really fresh and light and refreshing. They also serve peanut butter and jelly steamed buns which I feel has to be crossing some kind of culinary line but I guess stranger food combos have worked in the past!
8:00pm – Laugh out loud at ComedySportz
Buying tickets for ComedySportz will probably be the best $15 you’ll spend in Portland (and sometimes these are massively reduced on the day of the show – I got mine for $4!). This fast-paced improv show is completely hilarious without ever straying into vulgar and encourages audience participation without ever forcing it. Both teams are so in sync with each other and their reactions are so fast – they were throwing out witty lines with barely a second’s thought and almost everyone of them was hitting the mark. It’s a great introduction to improv if you haven’t been to a show before: it’s very light-hearted, not too obscure, and no-one takes it too seriously. If you want to see a grown man doing a mime of John Lennon on a seesaw in zero gravity (and why wouldn’t you?) look no further than ComedySportz on NW Kearney Street.
10:30pm – Eat some late night ice Cream at Salt & Straw
Okay, time for some honesty: part of the reason that I love Salt & Straw is that I got some free ice cream there because it was my first day in Oregon and I am an absolute sucker for free stuff. Even if I had paid full price, I would be singing the praises of Salt & Straw from the mountaintops: it’s incredible quality, made in store, in completely bizarre flavours that somehow just work. The flavours change monthly – so my beloved carrot cake hazelnut and fennel maple have been discontinued – but there is also a fixed collection of ‘set’ flavours including lavender honey, almond brittle and olive oil (don’t knock it until you have tried it). One of the best things about Salt & Straw for someone as indecisive as me is that you can a) have tasting spoons of as many flavours as you want and b) get two mini scoops for the price of one big one. Bear in mind that the queue will be out of the door even late at night, and accept that however long you wait for it will definitely be worth it.