The racing-starved Pacific Northwest is hosting a major-league event this weekend when IndyCar rolls into Portland International Raceway for the Portland Grand Prix.
As relatively new Portland residents who have fallen in love with the city and region, my wife Sarah and I are hoping out-of-town visitors have a chance to experience some of the things we love about Portland.
Here’s a brief guide to some of our favorites for those coming into town for the IndyCar race.
OVERVIEW: Portland’s charm is in its neighborhoods/districts and not so much downtown, which is dealing with an increasing homeless population. For those staying in the downtown area, the Pearl District (NW quadrant of the city) is a gem and has tons of excellent dining and drinking options. If you want to see the true soul of Portland, make sure to visit a district like Alberta (NE), Mississippi (NE) or Hawthorne (SE). Northwest 23rd St. is another great area to walk/dine/drink/people-watch.
CAN’T-MISS SITES FOR A SHORT VISIT:
— The International Rose Test Garden peaks in June, but there are still some blooms on the bushes through mid-September. It’s a great place to spend a quiet 30-60 minutes walking around and looking at the various colors.
— If you have a car, Multnomah Falls (a 45-minute drive from Portland) is quite impressive and has a parking area literally in the middle of the interstate.
— If you’re lucky enough to be here on a clear day, views of Mt. Hood from the city are stunning. To reach the best vantage point, drive up to Pittock Mansion (free) and check out the scene overlooking downtown and the mountain in the distance.
— The Oregon Coast is only an hour and a half away! For a sampling of the coast, drive to Cannon Beach and check out Haystack Rock, then take a stroll along the cliffs of Ecola State Park.
Honestly, you’re not going to go wrong with a restaurant in Portland. If it has four stars or more on Yelp in this picky, foodie town, it definitely will not disappoint.
Even after being here more than a year and trying to get to many new places, we’ve barely scratched the surface. There’s something for every taste.
That said, some of the favorites we’ve visited are the modern tapas-style Tasty n Sons in NE Portland (or its sister restaurant, Tasty n Alder in SW) and Toro Bravo (same concept and creator as the other two), the fast-casual-but-excellent Grassa (locations in NW and SW), Por Que No for tacos (locations in NE and SE) and our favorite breakfast/brunch spot, Tin Shed on Alberta (NE) — though many locals swear by the brunch at Screen Door.
If you want a real Portlandia-type experience, check out a hipster bar called the Bye and Bye that serves only vegan food (my favorite meal is the BBQ Brussel Bowl).
Also, Portland is known for its abundance of food carts (like food trucks except they don’t move) and you may find a food cart pod you like.
Portland is a beer mecca (more than 70 breweries here!), so there’s likely a brewpub near wherever you’re staying. My favorite (and probably the most popular) is Deschutes (Pearl District), though you could also consider 10 Barrel, Bridgeport, Widmer Brothers, Stormbreaker…the list goes on. We honestly haven’t been to more than 10 percent of the breweries, so you may have to look elsewhere for an expert opinion.
— The donut battle typically comes down to Voodoo Donuts (tourist hotspot, way more famous with its crazy toppings) or Blue Star (unique flavor combinations like Blueberry Bourbon Basil). Locals would tell you to go to Blue Star (several locations throughout city).
— Want ice cream? Well, it’s going to be tough to beat Salt and Straw, which has the craziest flavors we’ve ever tasted. If you go, be prepared to wait in line — but don’t forget to ask for as many samples as you want (they encourage it). If you want an alternative, Ruby Jewel has custom ice cream sandwiches (you pick the ice cream flavor and the cookies that go around it).
— Are you a pie person? Random Order Bakery on Alberta has slices of pie that are out of this world. That’s not to take anything away from the mouth-watering Lauretta Jean’s, though.
Did you really think we were going to forget the coffee? Though many of the coffee shops here can be a little pretentious (and intimidating for those who aren’t coffee experts), there are some world-class places to go. After all, it rains here like eight months out of the year — so cozy coffee houses are a must.
Like the food, it’s one of those “you’re not going to go wrong” situations, but our favorites include Cup and Bar (NE), Sisters Coffee (NW), Barista (several locations), Ristretto Roasters (several locations) and Case Study (Alberta).
In all honesty, though, a lot of people might look at you funny if you came to Portland and didn’t visit Stumptown, since that’s the famous one (and you wouldn’t be disappointed).
— Into farmers markets? There’s an amazing one on Saturday mornings at Portland State University. We go every chance we get.
— Our favorite bookstore (and the biggest one we’ve ever seen) is Powell’s in the Pearl District. You’ll be blown away if you like books.
— Want to bike? Grab a Biketown bike share and ride down to the Tom McCall Waterfront Park and do a loop to the other side of the river on the Eastbank Esplanade.