PORTLAND, Ore.—Revisiting Portland after 25 years, I discovered a diverse city peppered with restaurants, boutiques, and art galleries galore, with the cafés and teahouses being a great place to mingle with the welcoming and accessible Oregonians.
Portland’s colorful neighborhoods are reachable by light rail, bus, and even Uber. Burnside Street divides the city north to south, while the Willamette River divides it east to west. I donned a pair of comfy walking shoes and, with map in hand, set out to get up close and personal with this highly walkable city, feeling part of the socially and environmentally aware urban vibe.
On my first afternoon, I ambled along the quiet, tree-lined North Mississippi Avenue in the northeast. A stop at Townsend’s Tea Company is a must, with more than 100 varieties of loose tea. Some teas are medicinal and very inventive, such as kombucha, which settles the stomach.
I passed vintage buildings and charming boutiques until I reached Paxton Gate, an unusual store featuring a blend of exotic plants, mounted insects, and taxidermy. Further north is the John Palmer House, a Victorian landmark built in the 1890s, once a Conservatory of Music and now a B&B.
I completed my exploration of the area with a visit to the Alberta Arts District along 12th and 31st avenues. A haven for health shops and the creative spirit, here is where the arts abound—with complete buildings converted into works of art.
I also stopped by Caravan—The Tiny House Hotel on 11th Avenue, the first of its kind in the country. These 120 to 170-foot trailer homes on wheels have become quite popular.
“It has grown in the past five years from being a fringe niche to capturing the imagination of the mainstream, [and is now] regarded as the tiny house movement,” said owner Deb Delman.
The day ended with dinner at the Revelry, a restaurant specializing in tasty Korean-style dishes set in an artsy industrial space in the southeast of the city.
My downtown stay at the Hotel Monaco on SW Washington Street was a great stepping stone to explore the southwest and West End areas and the popular Pearl District, which was transformed in the 1990s from an industrial zone to a mixed-use urban complex, complete with swanky shops, cafes, and loft living. Further south toward West Burnside Street stands the block-long Powell Books, the world’s largest independent bookstore—well worth a browse.
Heading along lively SW 10th Avenue, I discovered a cornucopia of food carts, a popular Portland dining option. Though tempted, I continued my walk to SW Broadway and the historic Heathman Hotel and noted restaurant Headwaters for creative seafood fare. My taste buds explored the flavorful squid carbonara, stuffed mussels, and octopus appetizer.
I walked off my meal by heading to the Portland Art Museum, the seventh oldest museum in the United States and oldest in the Pacific Northwest, with 112,000 square feet of galleries and artworks from ancient times to today—including works of the indigenous peoples of North America.
One of the highlights of my day was seeing the scenic West Hills and magical Japanese Gardens with its recent $33.5 million expansion. After a stroll through lush waterfalls and elaborate foliage, I headed to my favorite neighborhood of all, the vibrant northwest area on 21st and 23rd avenues, for an unforgettable dinner at Paley’s Place. Set in a handsome Victorian building, the establishment serves farm-fresh ingredients with an artistic presentation. The nearby Caffe Mingo is also highly recommended for fine Italian fare.
A trip to Portland wouldn’t be complete without a tour via a rent-a-car of the verdant vineyards of Willamette Valley, about 20 miles from downtown. The valley is home to more than 500 wineries featuring a predominance of fine Pinot Noir, and then some. I stopped at Beckham Estate Vineyard in Sherwood where owner/artist Andrew Beckham showcases his original ceramic art and unique terracotta storage vessels for fermenting and aging wine.
Other memorable stops included Willamette Valley Vineyards in the town of Turner and then on to the charming city of Albany. Here I visited the Carousel Carving and Painting Studio, where volunteers have contributed over 160,000 hours of carving wooden animals in preparation for the new Historic Carousel and Museum. Recommended restaurants include Sweet Red Bistro and Sybaris, where I enjoyed a savory salmon over a delectable sweet potato slaw.
By far, Corvallis was my favorite stopover in the valley. I ended my stay in this quaint college town with a peaceful walk along its soothing riverbank. But it was the short session of goat yoga at the outlying Emerson Vineyards, surrounded by emerald scenery amid the farm life, where I luxuriated and embraced the true taste of the rich, natural beauty lying just beyond popular Portland.