48 Hours in Portland & How To Spend Them
I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: our trip to Portland was a total dream. My only complaint was that it was too short (literally 48 hours from leaving the airport to returning to it), and that I couldn’t physically consume any more food than what I did in such a short amount of time.
Portland is unique, filled with delicious food and beer, and an exemplary personification of the quintessential Pacific Northwest Lifestyle. More importantly, every person we encountered was so. nice. Being from the south, it takes exceptional kindness to wow me, but Portland did not disappoint. Even the TSA agents at PDX were making jokes and conversation with us as we were leaving — that’s not something you experience every day.
In summation, our trip was 48 hours of amazing food and amazing beer, with a lot of walking and a little shopping in between. There are so many more things we want to do when we visit again, but we made great use of our time and hit most of the big things from our list. If you’d like a play-by-play of where we stayed, how we got around, and what we ate, drank and saw while we were there, look no further:
Where We Stayed:
The Hotel Kimpton Monaco: Don’t let the price tag steer you away from this hotel if you look it up! We booked our room far in advance and were able to stay for $180/night with our (free) rewards club membership. The hotel is on the National Historic Registrar and even if you don’t stay there, you should pop in to peek at the architecture. Each room is personable and unique, and they have social hours, coffee service, and free bike rentals that make the price more than worth it. And if you want to stay downtown (which I recommend for your first time!) the location cannot be rivaled.
How We Got Around:
The Portland Light Rail: I hate public transportation. I ride BART often and every time it makes me miserable, sweaty, and anxious. The Portland Light Rail is the exact opposite of that experience. For only $2.50 we were able to get from the airport to our hotel, sit in temperature-controlled comfort, and see the city as we came in. While a Lyft might be faster, The Light Rail is much cheaper and provides a better value when you’re first arriving.
Lyft: Because Portland is 10/10 on the walkability scale, we only had to do this to/from the Japanese Tea Garden. Each time we had the friendliest drivers who had many helpful recommendations and made great conversation. While it’s a bit more expensive than what we’re used to in the Bay Area, it was worth it for the few times we had to make use of the service.
Our own two feet: Seriously, we walked everywhere and that’s exactly what I’d recommend. We walked distances that I’d balk at walking in Oakland or Berkeley because the town is just that pleasant. It’s mostly flat, mostly safe, and there’s a lot to see. I also think this is the best way to get to know a place, so despite my aching feet I highly recommend walking everywhere you can!
PDX: Maybe it’s a bit weird to talk about the airport on a travel guide, but Portland’s airport is the most interesting that I’ve been to. As soon as we off-boarded the plane, we saw murals, local eats, and signs advertising the history and richness of the culture there. It’s a fairly small airport but there’s a lot to see as you walk through.
Mother’s Bistro: After airplane coffee and pretzels, Mother’s Bistro was a lighthouse beacon in the darkness for these weary travelers. We dropped our luggage off at the hotel and walked over to this glorious restaurant with empty stomachs and high hopes — and Mother’s did not disappoint. Known for its brunch lines and delicious, no-frills food, we joked about eating here for every meal because it was just that tasty. Thursday at 10 AM didn’t require more than a 5-minute wait, but your mileage may vary. I had the seasonal pumpkin pancakes, while Harley had the honey ham omelette that was on special, both amazing.
Powell’s City of Books: When I was a kid, I had a fantasy that I would somehow remain in a Toys-R-Us undetected after closing time so I could enjoy all the toys without interruption. As an adult, I had a similar dream for my experience at Powell’s. I felt that I did a decent job of splitting my time between aimlessly wandering the aisles and power shopping, but I easily could have spent an entire day perusing their various and thorough selection. They also had some nice Portland-themed gifts made my local artisans that we didn’t see anywhere else (i.e. not your traditional gift shop fare). If you’re a book lover, you have to go here, and if you figure out a way to stay behind after hours, you have to let me know.
Voodoo Donuts: The quintessential donut place in Portland, Voodoo Donuts has it all — and by all I mean Cap’n Crunch donuts and the ability to get married there. It’s quirky, it’s touristy, and it isn’t the best donut I had in Portland (more on that later), but that’s not to say that it isn’t delicious and the novelty makes it worth the trip.
Tip: To avoid the famous Voodoo Donut line, go at a weird time — we made it there around 1 PM on a Thursday and didn’t wait at all.
OMSI: In hindsight we agreed that this wasn’t our favorite part of the trip, but it was still an informative way to spend a few hours on the East side of the river. We were mainly interested in the King Tut exhibit, but they also had some interesting interactive pieces that were (probably) geared towards kids. That’s also where the picture above comes from as they have a pleasant observation deck overlooking the river.
Old Town Pizza & Brewing: Is there anything in the world more enjoyable than delicious pizza and tasty beer when you’re absolutely starving? Our weird Thursday schedule had us skip lunch and find ourselves famished at 4:30 in the afternoon — Old Town to the rescue. I was a bit skeptical as this place is on the official Portland Visitor’s Guide due to being situated above the famed Shanghai Tunnels. Often places that are this famous aren’t worth the hype, but the ‘za and brews did not disappoint. We split a Dragon Lady (artichoke hearts, capers, sun-dried tomatoes) and split up 2 flights to sample every beer they had. Everything was delicious and the historic atmosphere couldn’t be beat.
Rialto: I wouldn’t classify Rialto as a must-see spot, but it was exactly what we needed. We wound up here because we were exhausted but felt 7 PM was too early to turn in, it was close to our hotel, and they had pool tables. It did turn out to be quite pleasant though, not too crowded and a fun place to shoot some billiards. We were also surprised to learn they had a jazz club downstairs, so we got to listen to live music while we played.
Bijou Cafe: There are many omelettes in the world. There are few delicious omelettes in the world. Bijou Cafe not only has many omelettes, but they have omelettes so stellar that I would feel comfortable declaring this the best omelette I’ve ever tasted. Locally sourced mushrooms and gruyere made up my omelette while Harley’s featured bacon and goat cheddar that came together perfectly. We also split a seasonal spiced pear muffin. Also, you know how the perfect breakfast potato is crunchy and crisp outside with a smooth center? Yeah, this place does that, too.
Japanese Tea Garden: You can easily get by on a Portland trip without a car, but the Japanese Tea Garden is worth the Lyft out of town. It isn’t served by easy public transit but we took a 10 minute rideshare to what’s lauded as “the most authentic Japanese garden outside of Japan.” Due to their limited hours we got there as the gates opened (10 AM) and were rewarded with a quiet, tranquil experience of wandering through nature. They have a koi pond, a bonsai grove, and a multitude of paths to wander down, plus a nice overlook of Mt. Hood and the downtown area from one of the buildings.
Pearl District: After the garden we took a Lyft back to town and picked an arbitrary spot in the Pearl District to start our self-guided walking tour. We meandered all through the area taking in the shops and architecture, both of which are abundant. If you’re an Anthropologie fan, I recommend popping into this one — the building alone makes it worth it and they have the largest selection out of any I’ve seen.
10 Barrel Brewing: The second brewery of our trip turned out to be my favorite brewery of the trip. 10 Barrel is known for their rooftop patio, but it was HOT so we opted to sit inside. We wound up with a waitress extremely knowledgable about Portland and beer, and got their Brewer’s Choice tasting flight and chorizo cheese dip to split. Their beers are interesting and dynamic (even their pilsner and pale ales have great flavor!), but their seasonal pumpkin sour stole the show for me. I’ve never had a beer that I loved so dearly. I’m biased because I love pumpkin and I love sours, but even if that’s not your thing you can definitely find a beer for yourself among their extensive list.
Von Ebert: Von Ebert Brewing recently replaced Fat Head Brewing, but we weren’t crazy about this spot. We got a flight to split and everything was neutral, but compared to other breweries in the area there wasn’t anything notable about this place. Its convenient location makes it a good segway to other spots, however, and the burger at the table next to us looked incredible.
The Cookie Dough Cafe: The entire time we sat at Von Ebert we watched happy people coming and going with their edible cookie dough so we had to stop in. Of all the kitschy food in SF the cookie dough craze hasn’t quite taken hold so I’ve been dying to try it. I don’t have anything to compare this particular place to, but I can say that it was absolutely delish and the perfect afternoon snack.
Deschutes: This is arguably one of the most famous breweries in Portland, and I noticed more than a few billboards and bus advertisements around. They had two featured flights so we got one of each, and split a Southwest Burger. They had a few more malty, porter-style beers than I was fond of but thankfully Harley likes those. Their pre-selected flights were a little bland and they had some more interesting-looking selections on the menu, but at this point we were SO FULL that we could hardly function and definitely couldn’t think about more beer. Also, the burger was delicious — I’d like to check this place out again to try some other things.
Ground Kontrol: After a much-needed nap and rehydration break, we walked up to Ground Kontrol, a barcade in the heart of the city. This was a fun spot with a great drink menu and a ton of games. While I had a bit of post-nap grogginess lingering, we still had a great time here (and I’m still incredible at Tetris, in case anyone was wondering).
Food Trucks: On the way back from Ground Kontrol, I got hit with the sudden hunger that can only come after day drinking and naps, for which food trucks are the only answer. Thankfully, one of Portland’s best food truck pods was 2 blocks from our hotel. I chose a cart called Buns on the Run because they promised me free cheese fries and I’m a sensible person. On their recommendation I ordered the Philly Cheese Steak; little did I know, I was about to enjoy what I’d be comfortable declaring the best Philly Cheese Steak west of Philadelphia. It was one of those meals that makes you feel a deep sadness when you’re too full to finish the entire thing. Buns on the Run did not disappoint.
Sidenote to this: Harley chose a gyro place that was delicious and also run by literal children. These 12- and 14-year-olds, respectively, politely explained that bars in Portland have a 4 AM last call, but strip clubs can stay open until 6 AM. Therefore, the food truck scene is popular with these late-night crowds, which is why it’s easier finding dinner at midnight on Friday than it is to find breakfast on Saturday morning in the downtown area.
Blue Star: We could not find a single breakfast place near our hotel that was open — see the note about the strip clubs above. I suffered through my hunger (no simple feat, if you know me) until we got to the airport, where there is a Blue Star Donuts location sent straight from heaven. I am not exaggerating when I tell you that I don’t believe it possible to make a donut better than these. We sampled four different kinds and each one was somehow better than the last. I will be dreaming about this donut, maybe for the rest of my life.
Stumptown: Another Portland staple found in PDX, which is really set up well for great shopping options! I got a souvenir magnet from Powell’s and my final cup of Portland coffee from Stumptown before boarding, which was the perfect way to wrap up our trip.
Holy cow that was a long list! Like I said, we really maximized our time there. I think it’s clear that my feelings about this place are overwhelmingly positive. In 2 days I experienced the best pumpkin pancakes, omelette, beer, cheesesteak, and donut I’ve ever had, and I can’t wait until we go back again! If you have any questions about what we did/our trip, don’t hesitate to ask. And if you go, let me know afterwards so I have someone else to gush about this place with!