Nestled in the leafy Pacific Northwest, Portland is a mini-metropolis with maxi-appeal. It's a creative hub, a culinary destination, a music capital, and an urban oasis peopled with eccentric locals. In fact, quirkiness is next to godliness in this vibrant city, a trait that is lampooned on the show Portlandia.
While gentrification has certainly altered P-town in recent years, and its population is rapidly growing, it's still more affordable to live here than in nearby Seattle and San Francisco. Portland is synonymous with coffee roasteries, craft breweries, food carts and bicycle lanes-more commuters pedal to work here than in any other American city. There is even an annual naked bike ride, in which thousands of riders go commando to protest for cycling rights. It's so perfectly Portland.
Inventive chefs, top-notch produce and a DIY sensibility mark Portland as a food lover's utopia. With more than 600 food carts around the city, you could theoretically dine exclusively from them, but you'd be missing out on some truly remarkable restaurants.
Breakfast & Brunch
Brunch is an obsession, and queuing up to nab a coveted place at restaurants like Screen Door (2337 E Burnside Street, screendoorrestaurant.com), which serves southern fare including exceptional fried chicken and waffles, is routine. Other humming venues include The Woodsman Tavern (4537 SE Division Street, woodsmantavern.com), a weekend eatery known for its fluffy biscuits, crab buns and seafood towers, and Tasty N Alder (580 SW 12th Avenue, tastynalder.com), which serves a globetrotting menu daily; I always order the radicchio, egg and manchego salad with bacon lardons.
For a different spin on brunch, there is the Scandinavian-inspired Broder. Broder has three locations but I prefer the airy space on the north-east side of the city (2240 North Interstate Avenue, broderpdx.com). Order the Danish pancakes with lemon curd and lingonberry jam, or the eggs baked under breadcrumbs in a skillet with spinach, fennel and tarragon.
Considering how substantial brunch is, you may not be quite ready to explore lunch options. That said, there is plenty to tempt you on both sides of town. Veganites would relish the meat-free bibimbap bowls at Blossoming Lotus (1713 NE 15th Avenue, blpdx.com), while carnivores will thrill to the house-made charcuterie at Olympia Provisions (1632 NW Thurman Street, olympiaprovisions.com). The latter also turns out one of the finest rotisserie chickens I've ever enjoyed.
At Maurice (921 SW Oak Street, mauricepdx.com), the resourceful chef Kristen Murray prepares exquisite brioche rolls, Norwegian meatballs and seasonal salads at her white-washed "pastry luncheonette". Pok Pok (3226 SE Division Street, pokpokpdx.com), meanwhile, is a crowd-pleasing Thai restaurant. Don't leave town without sampling their standout dish: chicken wings marinated in fish sauce and sugar. In a word, moreish.
The diversity of stellar dinner options is impressive for a city of over half a million residents. You could feast on Russian bar snacks, accompanied by a flight of vodkas, at Kachka (720 SE Grand Avenue, kachkapdx.com). Or you can dive into the "sustainable sushi" at the zen-like Bamboo Sushi (five locations including 836 NW 23rd Avenue, bamboosushi.com); its signature rolls are enlivened with jalapeno, spicy aioli and eel sauce.
At Langbaan (6 SE 28th Avenue, langbaanpdx.com), a hidden supper club behind PaaDee, guests dine on delectable Thai tasting menus. John Gorham dishes up scintillating Spanish at Toro Bravo (120 NE Russell Street, torobravopdx.com), while husband-and-wife team Greg Denton and Gabrielle Quiñonez have a devoted following for their Argentine-inspired restaurant, Ox (2225 NE Martin Luther King Jr Boulevard, oxpdx.com).
Ava Genes (3377 SE Division Street, avagenes.com) turns out lightweight, Italian-inflected fare with a focus on vegetables. Chef Joshua McFadden is a whiz with small "giardini" (garden) plates. McFadden recently opened Tusk (2448 E Burnside Street, tuskpdx.com), which gives Middle Eastern food an Oregonian locavore twist. Fancy some walnut baklava with sweet corn cream?
COFFEE & TEA
Forget what you think you know about American coffee. Portland's leading cafes are on par with anything in Sydney and Melbourne, and some of them are even better in terms of the breadth of their coffee offering. Stumptown (various locations including 4525 SE Division Street, stumptowncoffee.com) is the most applauded of the local breed, having expanded to LA and New York, but there are many others percolating with happiness. I'm partial to Heart (2211 E Burnside Street, heartroasters.com), Coava (1300 SE Grand Avenue, coavacoffee.com), and Crema (2728 Se Ankeny Street, cremabakery.com).
Telegenic types gather at Tea Bar (1615 NE Killingsworth Street, teabarpdx.com), for its organic, exotic teas, including brightly-coloured, tapioca-laced boba milk concoctions. Finally, if you're in the mood for a ginger chai latte and freshly-baked mini doughnuts, make a beeline for Pip's Original (4759 NE Fremont Street, facebook.com/PipsOriginal).
Mixology and gastronomy are intertwined in the Pacific Northwest. At Expatriate (5424 NE 30th Avenue, expatriatepdx.com), revellers pair luscious cocktails, such as the Dorleac with vodka, aperol, lemon, elderflower and honey, with chef Naomi Pomeroy's sensational bar snacks. Traditionalists will adore Multnomah Whiskey Library (1124 SW Alder Street; multnomahwhiskeylibrary.com), with its enormous cache of distilled spirits, but I prefer the jade-hued Green Room, its sexy sister bar downstairs.
Victoria Bar (4835 N Albina Avenue, victoriapdx.com) is a rakish newbie from the backers of three other local bars, including Dig A Pony (736 SE Grand Avenue, digaponyportland.com), a cavernous speakeasy with DJs. Try the Pink Moose, with spicy tequila, grapefruit and bitters. Another infectious bar is the Charlie Horse Saloon (627 SE Morrison Street, charliehorsesaloonpdx.com), where crowds assemble for the $6 "shot and back". With hand-painted walls by artist Michael Paulus and an inviting U-shaped bar, Angel Face (14 NE 28th Avenue; angelfaceportland.com) might be the prettiest boite in town. But it doesn't coast on its looks alone: the drinks and bar food are both next-level.
As befitting a place where self-expression is valued, and where many artists have migrated, Portland's visual arts scene is richly varied. Mural art is everywhere you look, while some of the city's foremost galleries are located in the Pearl District-Froelick, Augen, Elizabeth Leach and Blue Sky among them. They exhibit a mixture of photography, abstract painting and conceptual pieces. Pearl District galleries open late on the first Thursday of every month, and a similar showcase unfolds in the Alberta Arts District during the summer. Newer arrivals such as Hap Gallery (916 NW Flanders Street, hapgallery.com) and UpFor (929 NW Flanders Street, upforgallery.com) focus on digital and new media. Disjecta (8371 N Interstate Avenue, disjecta.org) in North Portland is the nerve centre of avant-garde performances and shows. Public Art PDX (publicartpdx.com) is a helpful app guide to navigating free shows around the city.
Shopping in Oregon is a blast, and not merely because it's one of the few states with no sales tax. Frances May (1013 SW Washington Street, francesmay.com) is a fashion-forward emporium with Pendleton's amazing Navajo-inspired clothing, Stutterheim's bright raincoats and Rachel Comey's jumpsuits. Wildfang (1230 SE Grand Avenue, wildfang.com) makes a stand for tomboy-like women's clothing, while Xtabay Vintage (2515 Southeast Clinton Street, xtabayvintage.com) is its girlie opposite, with cocktail dresses from the '40s to the '70s and gilded accessories. Stylish guys head to Machus (542 East Burnside Street, machusonline.com) for athletic silhouettes and adaptable basics.
Poler (413 SW 10th Avenue, polerstuff.com) celebrates the great outdoors, with items such as their wearable sleeping bag. Check out the homegrown wares at MadeHere PDX (40 NW 10th Avenue, madeherepdx.myshopify.com), including Minnie and George bags, Urban Oreganics toiletries, and Caravan Pacific's table lamps. Stores like Lowell (819 N Russell Street, lowellportland.com) are adept at blending fashion, art and home items.
Portland is designed to be experienced on two wheels. Riding along the Willamette River, past rail yards, industrial buildings and numerous bridges, gives you a sense of the city's frontier past. The Springwater Corridor features even more bucolic scenery and wildlife spotting, including blue herons and black-tailed deer. Local companies including Cycle Portland (portlandbicycletours.com) and Pedal Bike (pedalbiketours.com) organise guided expeditions of the city's CBD, food carts and micro-breweries. Indeed, the city has so many breweries, it's been dubbed Beervana.
A recent arrival on the scene is The Commons Brewery (630 SE Belmont Street, commonsbrewery.com), known for its tart farmhouse ales inspired by Belgian beers. Not to be outdone, a flock of urban distillers and urban wineries are also competing for attention. Lastly, since recreational cannabis was declared legal last year, a slew of high-end dispensaries have also sprouted around the city. Not to be outdone, a flock of urban distillers and urban wineries, including Coopers Hall (404 SE 6th Avenue, coopershall.com) are also competing for attention.
Portland has spawned acclaimed musical acts as diverse as The Decemberists, Unknown Mortal Orchestra and Esperanza Spalding, and its live venues are equally eclectic. Doug Fir Lounge (830 E Burnside Street, dougfirlounge.com), named by Rolling Stone as one of best clubs in the country, presents a stream of indie performers every month in its intimate subterranean space.
Mississippi Studios (3939 N Mississippi Avenue, mississippistudios.com) is a one-time Baptist church reborn as a recording studio and artsy music venue, while Revolution Hall, (1300 SE Stark Street, revolutionhallpdx.com) was a former high school before hosting alternative shows. Killingsworth Dynasty (832 N Killingsworth Street, killingsworthdynasty.com) is a vegan eatery but also one of the buzziest nightspots, with rotating DJs, alternative bands and a lively crowd.
THE INN CROWD
The downtown Ace (1022 SW Stark Street; acehotel.com) remains a magnet for creative types, and its lobby seems like the city's unofficial waiting room; admittedly, an adjacent Stumptown Café encourages patrons to linger. Party people check into the Jupiter Hotel (800 E. Burnside Street, jupiterhotel.com), a converted motor lodge with mural walls, smartphone speakers, and a tattoo parlour. The hotel is also home to the Douglas Fir Restaurant and Lounge, whose woodsy interior resembles a rustic ski lodge. Or, in totally twee Portland style, you could stay at Caravan (5009 NE 11th Avenue, tinyhousehotel.com), a hotel made up of tiny houses on wheels.