Portland has never been on my radar until Portlandia came out. After that, I was anxious to check out the weird, quirky city that was shown as being ridiculous and hipster, yet liberal and eco-conscious. The only other things I've heard about Portland is the abundance of vegan food, so with all of my favorite things in one place, I booked a weekend trip on labor day weekend. Here is a run-down of my impressions and some itinerary items (especially food, beer, and coffee spots) to hit up!
Overall first impression:
My first impression was happy when I flew over the forests of Oregon to reach our destination. Oregon looks like Sweden from above with their lush forests and water. I'm a big fan of nature and I love that I don't have to fly through a cloud of smog as I do when I come back home to LA. My second impression is "Where is everyone?!". I mostly felt like downtown was a ghost town. I expected hordes of people on a Friday night, but it mostly seemed like a scene out of 28 Days Later when the whole world has died from a zombie attack and no one is around. This place is QUIET and compared to other cities, isolated. But that is good and bad, as I come to enjoy the quietness of the city. With only 500k people in Portland, it is really small. However, this created a very relaxing, pleasant weekend where traffic, smog, long lines, and crazy people were not to be seen (mostly).
Some of my favorite restaurants are here, and also has to do with the cheap prices and no sales tax. Food is cheap, brunch is king, and vegan is EVERYWHERE! Being vegan in Portland is so passe I feel. No one cares if you want to ask for soy milk because they offer soy, almond, hemp, rice and whatever else they come up with. Vegan brunch was standard and weekend brunch lines are where are the people are hiding. Friday night drinking is so over! Brunch lines all day long are in! Here is a run-down of must eats for the vegan traveler:
Paradox Cafe - Cheap, tasty brunch. Two people with huge breakfast plates with tip = $14. What?!
Vegan strip mall - Food Fight! and Sweetpea Bakery: There are three vegan places all in a row. I really enjoyed the almond croissant at Sweetpea, and the selection at the small grocery store Food Fight! was actually pretty great. Portland is known for supporting their community and it shows with the made in Portland selection. There are a lot of items I have never seen before, and I've been to the largest vegan grocery store in the world.
Back to Eden Bakery - This is a MUST (see my full review). They have my favorite biscuit sausage gravy bowl and soft serve banana split of all time. Don't ask, just go.
Sweet Hereafter - This is a vegan bar! Super good food, surprisingly. I expected low-quality for a bar, but they have fresh, healthy food that is really flavorful. I loved the bowls. The beer was great too, and a ton of local brew options. The wait here was insane, it took about 1 hour to get our food order.
VooDoo Doughnuts - Seriously, the best doughnuts in the world. Try the Portland Cream Doughnut and the Voodoo Doll doughnut. Half of them are vegan, half not - just ask.. Worth the trip to Portland just for this. If you want me to bring you a doughnut to LA next time I go, comment on this post!
Beer and Coffee:
The beer here is really great. Sweet Hereafter and Rogue were my two favorite spots. Rogue was by far the best and I loved their fruit salad cider. Portland has the most microbreweries of any city in the world, so check one out!
Local coffee shops are abundant here, and you can't go wrong anywhere. I went to Stumptown, the hipster spot. I still like Blue Bottle and Intelligencia better, but you can get your hipster coffee fix at least.
Forest Park is a 15 minute bus ride from downtown, and it is a lush forest perfect for a nice, relaxing hike surrounded by water and huge trees. You can go for a mile or 10, whatever you're up for. Definitely worth the short trek.
The good -
I love Portland for the food, amazing transit system, forests, bike trails, and push for community and local businesses. There are no fast food chains here, you will see the entire city promotes locally made and really sticks to it. Every store supports a local artist or business owner, and it is really refreshing. I also love that you can go to a forest in 15 minutes, but be back in the city for lunch. The houses are cheap and the times slowly crawls as you relax for your second plate of brunch on the weekend. I felt fully relaxed and we really enjoyed our time here. I would love to live here someday, except for....
The weird/bad -
Portland is 80% white. It is one of the least diverse places I've been in America. It's oddly liberal, yet not integrated. I saw one Indian family and a few Asian people while I was there. That's about it. People are hipster, but they are 90's hipster like it is 1995 and no one told me. Tie dye is cool here still and Soundgarden is still a band for some reason. There are also a lot of hippy-homeless that hang around and pan handle. They swarm VooDoo doughnuts all day. I definitely prefer them over the LA homeless that have actual mental problems though.
So, go to Portland for a trip. Eat your heart out, get drunk, and bring back some doughnuts. Then, head back home to a city that respects diversity like LA or SF and enjoy the high prices of good weather and at least a few more races.