Sure it’s a smaller West Coast destination, but Portland, Ore., doesn’t suffer from an inferiority complex. Forget about walkable: This city is bikeable. It also is an easy town to figure out and simple to navigate – from the funky vibe of the Alberta Arts District, to the city’s posh Pearl District and out as far as the stunning Silver Falls State Park.
Getting there: Flights into Portland’s International Airport (PDX) can be direct from Charlotte. For only $2.50, you can then take TriMet’s MAX Red Line light rail that will drop you off feet from your hotel in the city center. The TriMet (www.trimet.org/schedules/maxredline.htm) does a great job providing peace of mind, even conducting random security sweeps before you board. Note if you are dragging carry-on luggage: Be prepared for an arduous trek through the lengthy airport. You may want to check your bags so you can pick them up at the baggage claim, which is closer to the light-rail boarding area.
Also, consider a seven-day pass on the TriMet or simply hop one of the ubiquitous cabs that prowl the city streets; rates rarely rise above $10 a ride.
Staying there: In the Lloyd District, on the east side of the Willamette River, is the sparkling Hotel Eastlund (www.hoteleastlund.com). This new boutique property is appreciative of all things intimate and luxurious. Their room have tight, modern feng shui that is softened by textured throws, headboards and nice amenities, including free Wi-Fi and personal service.
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Within steps of the Oregon Convention Center and Portland’s Moda Center, Hotel Eastlund is easily accessible by Portland streetcar as well as the MAX light-rail system, making it the perfect base camp for exploring all nooks and crannies of the city.
However, the ideal launching pad for any extended Portland stay is the exclusive and pricey Hotel Vintage (www.hotelvintage-portland.com). Being centrally located in the heart of downtown grants you the flexibility of walking or using their onsite bicycles to vibrant downtown destinations like Pioneer Courthouse Square, Pioneer Place mall, Powell’s Books and the Pearl District.
Things to do: The Evergreen Escape shuttle van will meet you right outside your hotel for an enchanting tour of the Willamette Valley, home to many of the region’s award-winning wines. Your guide will tell you the rich history of Oregon wine country and why the soil is ideal for handcrafting world class Pinot Noir. It’s a grape half-day expedition. (Details: www.evergreenescapes.com.)
Every Saturday, under the historic, downtown Burnside Bridge, Portland hosts one of the largest craft markets in the Pacific Northwest. Get there early and enjoy the festive atmosphere and energy as local vendors prepare for a day of brisk sales. Featured: quality art and handmade crafts. If you’re looking for a few one-of-a-kind gifts to bring home, the Portland Saturday Market (www.portlandsaturdaymarket.com) is the place to find them.
Washington Park (www.washingtonparkpdx.org) hosts numerous activities for the entire family. The park’s Japanese Gardens will excite your senses – and all you need to do is cross the road to the International Rose Test Garden to discover why Portland is “The City of Roses.” As you descend into the bountiful array of varieties, you will immediately be greeted by potent fragrance. Photo opportunities are never ceasing, and the Test Garden will be appreciated by all ages.
Stroll around the trails of the park’s Hoyt Arboretum (www.hoytarboretum.org), which features a collection of trees and perennial display gardens. Kids will delight in exploring the raw nature of the Pacific Northwest as they meander through groves of humongous trees. Also at the park: the wonderful Oregon Zoo (www.oregonzoo.org).
Dining there: Dominating Portland’s popular brunch scene, Tasty n Sons (www.tastynsons.com) serves up an eclectic and innovative menu. The flavorful culinary collision of their signature dishes – like North African sausage with couscous, cauliflower and an over-easy egg – are simply scrumptious. The small plate servings are meant for family-style sharing. The restaurant’s bloody marys are the perfect antidote to a late night out.
Go meatless in one of the city’s most funkified and beatnik neighborhoods – the Alberta Arts District. At Natural Selection (www.naturalselectionpdx.com), chef/owner Aaron Woo conjures up a sophisticated “mostly vegan, and completely vegetarian” menu featuring the freshest of Oregon’s produce. Seats in this intimate setting are coveted, so book your reservations now, or there will be little chance of dining at this wildly popular (but expensive) restaurant.
Where else but Trifecta Tavern + Bakery can you find an appetizer consisting of American ham on hot rolls covered with drizzled honey alongside raw oysters on the half shell? This mashup of bistro, bakery and bar is a do not miss anytime you visit Portland. A strong old-school cocktail and wine approach complement the wide array of comfort food available in this Eastside gem of a restaurant (www.trifectapdx.com).