Travel Guide: Portland, Oregon

A trip to Portland, Oregon has been a bucket list item of mine for quite some time now. I figure that any city with a slogan referencing how weird it is {“Keep Portland Weird”} is a  place that I need to check out, and quickly. So, par for the course, I convinced my girlfriends to visit for an extra-long weekend under the pretense of world-renowned food, excessive amounts of pinot noir, and weird vibes all around. Read on for my travel guide to Portland, Oregon.

See my Instagram photo journey through Oregon via my hashtag #caro_in_oregon

Where To Stay

The Mark Spencer Hotel – In the heart of the Pearl District, this downtown Portland spot has been recently renovated and is the perfect home base for exploring on both sides of the river.

Where To Eat

Blue Star Donuts – In a town known for epic donuts, Blue Star wins my vote for “best of the best.” This spot is miles better than Voodoo, which is instagram-worthy but not nearly as tasty.

Ned Ludd – The idea of the hearth is central at Ned Ludd, a tiny little dinner spot filled with twinkle lights, dark wood, and charm. We loved the sweet corn gnocchi and seared albacore tuna, and don’t miss the warm salted chocolate chip skillet cookie with milk for dessert.

Olympia Provisions – Cheese plates, charcuterie boards, and bloody maries. Oh, and a wicked ham, apple, and blue cheese sandwich. Come for brunch and linger over drinks at this homey spot that feels like classic Portland.

Le Pigeon – A culinary adventure that absolutely cannot be missed. This James Beard-award winning chef and institution boasts incredible meat dishes and each was more delicious, innovative, and beautifully plated than the next. Note that the menu is primarily meat and I do not recommend it for vegetarian diners.

Ex Novo Brewing Co – The Portland microbrew scene is absolutely exploding, and Ex Novo is the perfect spot for enjoying a flight and trying some of the best. Snag a picnic table outside, order some flights, and don’t forget a side of extra crispy bacon and pickled watermelon rinds.

Ava Gene’s – This Portland institution lives up to all expectations and more. Having officially sampled the majority of this Italian-locavore menu, I can say with confidence that you cannot go wrong with any dish. But I’m seriously not kidding when I say that we ordered upwards of a dozen dishes (and 4 bottles of wine – but who’s counting?!)

Tasty N Alder – This walk-in-only brunch spot in the heart of downtown has a warm and cozy vibe and a menu item for all palettes. Do not on any account miss out on the malted chocolate milkshake and french fry app (they are meant to be dipped), and my favorite entree, the korean fried chicken and kimchi bowl.

Stella Austin – In the enchanting yet lowkey Alberta Arts district, this casual taco spot is not short on flavor. Grab a michelada, double up on guac and queso, and don’t forget the fried avocado tacos for a stellar lunch while shopping the area.

What To Do

Explore the Pearl District – Right in the beating heart of downtown Portland, the Pearl District boasts Portland mainstays such as Powell’s Books (it’s an emporium), the Union Way arcade, and ALL of the donuts (I recommend doing a Voodoo vs. Blue Star tasting one morning before you walk around).

Explore the Alberta Arts District – All the way up in northeast Portland, this was one of my favorite areas in the entire city. This district feels like a little town unto itself, with a quirky main drag featuring everything from galleries (check out Guardino and Ampersand), little shops (loved Screaming Sky, Amelia, and Tumbleweed), and tons of food trucks and restaurants (Case Study Coffee Shop and the aforementioned Stella Austin are big wins). Spend a few hours around lunch time walking around and popping into all of these little gems.

Burnside Bridge – There are a few bridges over the Willamette River, which slices between east and west Portland, but the Burnside Bridge features the iconic White Stag Sign and thus is my top pick. Take an amble over the river with a coffee in hand, and don’t forget to take a #selfie in front of the Portland white stag.

Washington Park – For an already nature-conscious city, Washington Park provides even more opportunity to feel one with the local environment. Walk around and immerse yourself in the stunning rose garden and the Shakespeare Garden, but do not under any circumstances miss getting tickets to the Japanese Garden. It is the epitome of zen and makes you feel miles away from the big city.

Side Trip – Wine Country

If pinot noir is the name of your game, do not miss a foray into Oregon wine country while visiting Portland. Choose McMinnville as your home base (we stayed in the lovely and spacious La Rambla Lofts on the main street there), and spend your days meandering between wineries and trying the best that the region has to offer. I loved Winter’s Hill, Sokol Blosser, Domaine Drouhin, Red Ridge, and Coeur de Terre, but my list could go on. Don’t miss Hotel Oregon for rooftop drinks and Community Plate for an incredible breakfast (plus epic sandwiches to-go for a picnic at the vineyards).

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