Exploring Portland

Portland is wonderfully offbeat. Quirky. Eclectic. The city’s unofficial slogan of “Keep Portland Weird” is a tidy summation of what this metropolitan gem charmingly subscribes to. “Weird” is the term appropriate to this hub of eccentricities, which lays claim to endearing titles including host to the world’s largest bookstore and site of an inexplicably high number of bridges. (Seriously, Portland, why so many bridges? There are like, twelve of them).

I grew up on Vancouver Island, just a hop, skip, and short ferry ride away from Portland, Oregon. A place I overlooked visiting for years in lieu of more faraway places.

Despite Portland’s close proximity, I never ventured to it, not even for a weekend stint. That is, until my sisters suggested it as the locale of our sibling getaway—the first in what we hoped would become a long-standing annual tradition. Therefore, a fair bit was riding on this “pilot” trip to Portland; and man, did the city ever deliver.

We booked our flights and began to collectively skim “Top Ten” lists on suggested attractions and activities to check out while in the city.

Though Portland offers an abundance of amazing locales, here are a handful of favourites, which fully lived up to their hype.

Claire-Patterson-Photography-Portland-Travel-1069Claire Patterson (Claire Patterson Photography)

Powell’s City of Books

Established in 1972, the Powell’s City of Books flagship location on Burnside Street is the largest new and used bookstore in the WORLD. It occupies an entire city block with over 3,500 different book sections. There is a coffee shop on site to keep you fully caffeinated while you wander the aisles and skim through the multitude of genres this place has to offer.

If you like to plan ahead, I suggest going in with a list of books in mind. If you’re a wandering spirit, then roaming the towering shelves at random and emerging with some unexpected titles, might be more your style. I recommend allocating a minimum of two hours to this goliath locale of good reads. Happy hunting!

Ground Kontrol Classic Arcade Bar

Ground Kontrol Classic Arcade Bar pays homage to the “golden age” of video gaming with over 60 classic video games and 27 pinball machines. This place boasts some seriously nostalgic game play with arcade classics spanning the 70s, 80s, and 90s. Some of my favorites included: Mario Bros, Street Fighter II Turbo: Hyper Fighting, The Simpsons, NBA Jam, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, and Frogger.

The place features a light menu and a full-service bar after 5 p.m. Change machines are on site, but I recommend going equipped with a pocketful of quarters at the ready to feed the slots and indulge in some serious Pac-Man play. This joint is located on 115th Northwest and 5th Avenue, and is an all-ages venue until 4:30 p.m. To preview the arcade games and pinball machines Ground Kontrol’s authentic game room features, visit their website.


There are dozens and dozens of amazing breweries to choose from, so it can be overwhelming to hone down one’s list to a manageable number. Two notable breweries I visited were Burnside Brewery (701 East Burnside) and Deschutes Brewery (210 Northwest 11th Avenue), both of which delivered on the trifecta experience of positivity: good beer, good food, and good service.

Deschutes Brewery offers up an impressive variety of finely crafted beers that range the full spectrum of flavor and depth. Their selection is impressive—whether it be one of their flagship brews, such as the Black Butter Porter or Mirror Pond Pale Ale, or a seasonal feature like their Autumn IPA. Deschutes Bond Series features more avant-garde interpretations of the almighty hop, including crisp IPAs infused with pine, citrus, and spruce. I would suggest ordering a sampler, (whether it be a personal selection or one of Deschutes curated series) to experience their impressive range. Sample some less conventional brews; the subtle nuances and bold flavors of which might expose you to a new favorite or two!

Claire-Patterson-Photography-Portland-Travel-1083Claire Patterson (Claire Patterson Photography)

Vegan & Vegetarian Restaurants

Portland has an impressive selection of top noche vegan and vegetarian restaurants. My younger sister researched some notable places known for serving up delicious dishes, sans meat. Although my digestive system was thrown for a loop—a situation that devolved into an overfamiliar experience that made us regret having a shared bathroom—I swear by day three of being a pseudo vegan, I felt pretty fab. 

Prasad, located at 925 Northwest Davis Street, shares a bright, open space with Yoga Pearl Studio, and features a selection of fresh and ethically sourced cuisine including: hearty salads, savory bowls, fresh-blended juices and smoothies, and locally roasted coffee. As a carnivore, even I enjoyed subbing out my standard steak and chicken wings for one of their unique, vibrant, and entirely meat-free dishes, such as the Urban Bowl: a delicious blend of mixed greens and veggies with cabbage-apple kimchi.

Homegrown Smoker, located at 8638 North Lombard Street, dishes up some savory vegetarian and vegan eats, which capture the smoky, wholesome essence of barbecuing, minus the meat. Homegrown’s menu offers flavourful, finger-licking items, including: smoked tempeh ribs, hearty burgers and sandwiches, and hand-cut sweet potato fries smothered in their delicious no-cheese sauce and three-bean chili. Next door is the equally delectable Vtopia Cheese Shop and Deliwhich offers up a variety of soups, salads and sandwiches. Order one of Vtopia’s popular cheese platters to sample a wide variety of their nut based cheeses.

Voodoo Doughnuts

Prepare yourself before hitting up the Voodoo Doughnuts location on 22nd Avenue and 3rd Street, Southwest as the line tends to be long. By prepare, I mean, empty your bladder prior to committing to the near-mandatory thirty-minute wait. A wait so worth it you’ll be back again . . . most likely the next day.

Fill one of Voodoo’s token pink cake boxes with any of their plain, powdered, glazed, dipped, sugar-coated, or jelly-filled delights. Voodoo is famous for their raised yeast doughnuts—a batter that makes deep-fried treats taste deliciously light. “The Homer” was a personal favorite—an airy confection dipped in strawberry icing with a smattering of rainbow sprinkles. Voodoo also features an assortment of cake doughnuts, which are denser and richer in flavor, and includes a delectable range of mouth-watering crullers, dusted in cinnamon sugar or coated in a generous layer of chocolate, maple, lemon, or traditional glaze. Voodoo also caters toward the vegan population with a selection of dairy-free delights.

To avoid being overwhelmed at the counter, preview Voodoo’s menu online in advance; if only to narrow it down to a dozen or so favorites.

Portland Voodoo Doughnuts

Shop Till You Drop

If you are a fan of eclectic and unique stores, Portland abounds in vibrant retail districts featuring interior design shops, art galleries, and locally owned apparel and accessory boutiques. Pioneer Place, located at 700 Southwest Fifth Avenue, in the heart of downtown, spans four city blocks. Pioneer Place houses internationally and nationally recognized brands where you can get your designer fix. This popular retail hub boasts an impressive range of fashion fare, from high-end to casual, including: Kate Spade New York, Tiffany & Co., Michael Kors, J. Crew, H&M, and Forever 21.

There are many neighborhoods in Portland, each with their own distinct vibe in which to shop till you drop, including the Pearl District and Downtown Core. In terms of stores, Tender Loving Empire and WM Goods are both trendy, locally-owned retail gems, which I highly recommend checking out.

Tender Loving Empire, located at 525 Northwest 23rd Avenue, abounds in charming and lovely treasures; you may purchase half the store after perusing their stylishly curated merchandise. Their beautiful wares include accessories, prints, home décor, health and beauty products, jewelry, tote bags, and apparel. WM Goods, located at 1136 Southwest Alder Street, is an urban boutique featuring women’s apparel, home décor, and accessories. The store is worth a visit if only to admire the bright, airy space which it occupies. Though it’s  likely you will succumb to temptation and purchase a unique “find” or two.

The Portland Saturday Market (which is deceptively titled as it runs all weekend), is held along 2 Southwest Naito Parkway,  between 10:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. (11:00 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. on Sundays) from early March until late December. Explore the multitude of tents spanning the streets near the riverwalk, with unique vendors, aromatic food stalls, live music, and a diverse range of entertainment. It’s a bustling environment that features some of Portland’s finest (and, subsequently, most interesting) citizens. Needless to say, the people-watching is pretty top notch. The majority of stalls feature local artisans and their hand-crafted creations, including jewelry, prints, paintings, clothing, pottery, home and garden décor, and more.

Claire-Patterson-Photography-Portland-Travel-1268Claire Patterson (Claire Patterson Photography)

Japanese Garden

Situated on an urban summit in Washington Park, Portland’s Japanese Garden feature lush greenery, meandering streams filled with luminescent koi fish, a full-scale Chinese garden, centuries-old bonsai trees, and a diverse network of pathways leading to stunning lookouts and scenic nooks; ideal for a relaxing moment of quiet contemplation.

I would highly recommend tagging along for one of their complimentary tours. Ours was headed by an incredibly quick-witted and charismatic lady who I believe was named Gladys, or something equally as endearing.

Portland Japanese Gardens

Walk, Train, Wander

Wander, everywhere. Tool around Portland’s inner city and explore the different districts, each with their own unique identity. Admire the city’s collection of public art expressed in a variety of disciplines such as painting, sculpture, ceramics, and fiber. Portland boasts over 1,000 outdoor public pieces, an impressive curation ranging from murals to architectural integrations to historic statues. Free iPhone apps, like Public Art PDX, make exploring the Portland public art scene seamless with an interactive map displaying the location of over 400 pieces of public art, along with an image and accompanying artist’s statement.

While you explore, stop at virtually any coffee shop for some of the best caffeinated brews you will ever have! Some favorites included Coava Coffee Roasters (1300 Southeast Grand Avenue) and Heart Roasters (2211 East Burnside Street). Coava pares down all pretenses and features an open, industrial space with a minimalist layout and stunningly crafted brew bar where they serve up topnotch coffee and locally made pastries.

If you are looking for something a little more eclectic, visit Tōv a coffee shop located inside a double-decker bus parked on Southeast Hawthorne. This joint’s unconventional quarters are colorfully painted with a snug seating arrangement; perfect for cozying up and sipping some unique coffee flavors. Menu offerings include Turkish coffee and mochas infused with homemade chocolate-wine sauce.

Also, if you buy a $5 all-day transit pass, you can hop on the train and take the different lines to various ends of the city. We purchased a pass, jumped on, and did the full circuit. It was the poor man’s tour of Portland, and a great way to go!

Claire-Patterson-Photography-Portland-Travel-1146Claire Patterson (Claire Patterson Photography)


*All credited images, including the feature photo, were captured by the talented Calgary-based lifestyle and wedding photographer, Claire Patterson.  To view more of Claire’s stunning work, visit her website: Claire Patterson Photography or follow her on Instagram: ClairePattersonPhotography

*Images of both the Japanese Garden and the Voodoo Doughnuts storefront were sourced from Shutterstock.

17 thoughts on “Exploring Portland

    1. Thank you, Amy! I’m glad to hear it reminded you of home. You must be from a pretty special place if it embodies the same kind of charming quirkiness as Portland! Bridges and all!


  1. *slowly picking jaw up off floor*

    The size of that bookstore though!! I need not make any other plans should I go to Portland. Noted. I don’t think I would ever leave! Nice write-up. It’s definitely known for being a quirky, cool place!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I wish I could take credit for the photography portion, but sadly I cannot! My friend, Claire Patterson, who is an AMAZING lifestyle and wedding photography based in Calgary, Alberta, captured most of the beautiful images you see displayed. Thank you so much for commenting and I’ll pass on your compliments to Claire as well. 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  2. I love this post! It is so insightful, considering I am thinking of basing a character in Portland. I think the Universe brought me here. I loved the pictures and your words.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. That’s an amazingly thorough travelogue of a wonderfully weird city! I love your writing style, lyrical and light but at the same time packed full with interesting insights. I’m glad you found my site in blogosphere and I look forward to “stalking” you some more! 😊

    Liked by 1 person

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