Disclaimer: Now is not the time to travel! Greg and I went on this trip before the phrase “social distancing” came into play, and there was a lot of luck involved. That being said, though it may take some time, our current global situation with COVID-19 (the coronavirus) will eventually subside. And when it does…
I’d like to personally recommend Portland as your next travel destination. Seriously, I think everyone should go to Portland. We had a grand adventure there together.
Let me tell you all about it.
Neither Greg nor myself had ever been farther West than Oklahoma, which is why I decided that our vacation should be in the Pacific Northwest. And once that decision was made, Portland seemed the obvious choice. It’s a city known for coffee, culture, and a general sense of being interesting. Exactly what we wanted.
As I began to research hotels, I came across The Duniway. The hotel’s namesake was Abigail Duniway, a woman who “braved the arduous trail to Oregon” (back in the pioneer days), and made a name for herself by fighting for social justice, including women’s right to vote. She also owned her own newspaper. A hotel named after a beacon of Feminism like that was clearly the hotel for us.
I could easily do a whole post on how beautiful The Duniway turned out to be. We were immediately welcomed in with this wonderful sense that we were going to be taken care of–and that set the tone for our entire stay.
As it turns out, our hotel was right in the middle of downtown, and almost every restaurant/activity we wanted to try was within walking distance. That was a huge convenience (and a simple way to get in some exercise).
We asked the concierge if there was a good place nearby to get lunch, and they swiftly sent us on our way to Picnic House. We were tired and hazy, just off the plane, and at that point, we’d barely had anything to eat that day–thankfully I still had the wherewithal to snap this picture. It doesn’t really capture the restaurant’s full charm, though.
The best thing besides the delicious food (which perked us right up) was how reasonable it was. Walking in, we assumed the place was going to be a little expensive, seeing how nice it was. But–and this will make sense to my local readers–it was actually pretty similar to eating out at Stoby’s. (And there was no sales tax. I really can’t tell you how enjoyable it is to see something priced, say, $13 and pay exactly $13).
As a cherry on top, they gave us our check in an old Nancy Drew book! I wasn’t kidding about the charm.
Taking the rest of the afternoon to relax, we decided that we’d stay in that night and dine in the hotel restaurant, Jackrabbit. Just imagine the room in the photo above much darker and ambient, with no sun coming in the windows. It was a truly gourmet experience, with an excellent selection from the bar.
Our adventure was just beginning, and we were so glad to be sharing it with one another.
One particular quest on this trip was to try as many coffee shops as possible, which meant a new café for breakfast every morning.
On our first official morning in Portland, we went to Case Study Coffee Roasters. For those of you who know about my relationship with coffee, you won’t be surprised that I got a mocha latte at each and every shop visited. Obviously, I had to compare them all to my beloved Round Mountain at home. The Case Study mocha was definitely different–lighter, less of that espresso taste, and with a honey-like finish.
It’s also worth noting that the bagels in Portland were actual, proper bagels. Quite dense, and not at all like the kind you get at Kroger and pop in your toaster.
The rest of the morning was spent in the Portland Art Museum. That was the big activity on my to-do list. I love art, and I don’t get very frequent exposure to it.
Then to Southpark Seafood for lunch. All of this was within walking distance of our hotel, mind you.
After swinging back to our room so that I could change shoes (comfort counts when you walk everywhere), it was a short drive to the Oregon Museum of Science and Industry (OMSI). That was Greg’s big to-do.
And it was good fun, highly interesting, but…
The most extensive exhibit was called Body Worlds–all about the human body, as you can imagine. And all I can say is that it was probably for the best that I didn’t realize the figures on display were real human bodies until after we’d finished going through. (I’m notoriously squeamish about dead people).
It’s funny looking back, though, because as we were going along, Greg would occasionally ask me if I was okay. And I would be like, “Yeah, of course; why wouldn’t I be?” Little did I know…
That was our biggest, busiest day. Two huge museums with only lunch in between–more work than you’d think.
Our next breakfast was at 40 LBS Coffee Bar.
This one had an industrial, almost Steampunk aesthetic, which was very cool. Right up our alley. And as far as the coffee, I found the 40 LBS mocha to be fairly similar to the one at Case Study. There definitely seemed to be that same honey finish to it.
From there, we walked more or less across the length of downtown, looking around, swinging into little stores along the way. We weren’t just aimlessly meandering, though; we had an end-goal.
Right after a bite to eat…
Having asked our concierge about a good place to get sushi, we ended up at this marvelous place called Bamboo.
Greg is the sushi lover between us, and that’s what he got (I did try some). I got smoked mackerel, which was served to me, still smoking, in that cute little basket. And I want you to know that seafood in Portland makes all other seafood seem like garbage. This was the freshest, most delicious fish I’d ever had. It was as if I was tasting it for the first time.
I even liked the sushi.
Powell’s City of Books, the world’s largest independent bookstore, was the big one on our mutual to-do list. Greg and I are both Ravenclaws, if that helps you understand our motivation.
To paint a little bit of a picture for you, Powell’s is the size of a city block, and three stories high, and it’s filled entirely with books. Imagine the library from Beauty and the Beast, except way bigger.
They even have a rare book room upstairs. Take a moment to soak that in.
We ended up spending around $60 there altogether, including the cute magnet and t-shirt, and we were congratulating ourselves on our self-control.
Feeling a little worn out at this point, we stopped at Never Coffee on the way back to the hotel. One of the owners of Round Mountain had actually recommended this place to me, so it was on our list of things to check out anyway. We got iced mochas–being pretty warm from our walking, and from the sun that happened to come out along the way.
We both felt mostly neutral about this coffee shop. It was still very good, but we were just using it as a quick refreshment, not paying that much attention to the nuance of the flavors. Not gonna to lie, after the bookstore, we were just plain tired.
But it was the perfect little spot to take a break.
Our final breakfast was a two-parter. And Part I took place at Blue Star Donuts.
We had been advised more than once that we were better off getting local donuts, rather than going to a big chain like Voodoo. Blue Star seemed to be a favorite, so that’s where we ended up.
We tried the maple bacon, the CBD Nutella, and the raspberry rosemary (which I got almost entirely for that beautiful color alone). They were all yummy, though I honestly couldn’t eat much more than a bite apiece. I’m used to small, non-sugary breakfasts, and anything this rich was really too much for me that early in the day.
Part II was at a coffee shop called Public Domain Coffee. All of the cafés we visited were pretty much at random (as long as they looked good), because–surprise–there are like 10 million places to get coffee in Portland. We decided on this one the day before when we happened to walk past it.
Since this was our last coffee shop of the trip, here’s our final verdict…
We judged all of these places by two different categories: best vibe/aesthetic and best coffee taste. For best coffee taste, Greg chose 40 LBS as his personal favorite. As for me, I chose this one. The Public Domain mocha was heavier on that espresso flavor than the others, and it didn’t have the honey finish I had come to expect.
And we both agreed that when it came to best vibe/aesthetic, Case Study was the winner.
But while I’m on the subject of coffee, I want to use this opportunity to say that my own Round Mountain Coffee remains the best of them all in my eyes. It’s fair to imagine that I’m biased, but well, the RMC mocha strikes a perfect balance between chocolate and espresso, and for me, that’s just what it should be. That’s what home tastes like.
That afternoon, we wanted to do some shopping, and we ended up exploring a different part of the city a short drive away. Our first stop was easily our favorite. Paxton Gate was a small store filled to the brim with taxidermy, fossils, crystals, and oddities–everything my husband and I happen to love.
Greg walked away with a small T-Rex tooth and a couple other little things (he’s always had the more expensive taste), and I chose some new crystals to add to my collection. It was all so interesting, and when we asked about a good place to grab lunch, they kindly pointed us in the direction of a cluster of food trucks down the street.
Street food is a mixed bag, depending on where you’re at. But I can tell you that in Portland, you can rely on it to be good (and quality).
I have always loved the idea of Raman, but I’d never had any that lived up to my expectations until I got some from this Japanese stand. And the rest of the food you see was from a Korean stand right next to it. Amid all the trucks were a bunch of picnic tables, and though it was a little chilly out, we sat in the sun, and it was perfect.
We walked up and down the avenue after we ate, ducking into whichever shops caught our eye. I bought this cool, minimalist ring (pictured above) in one of the boutiques. There was a plant shop, a comic book store, just a little bit of something for everyone.
And honestly speaking, I’m thankful we visited when we did, because parking anywhere was difficult enough, and it was the off-season for tourism.
That evening, I decided that for our last meal of the trip, we’d go to Ruth’s Chris Steakhouse, a restaurant we’d been passing on the street every day since we’d gotten there. It turned out to be bigger and much fancier than I had assumed from looking in the windows, but all the better. We had an exquisite dinner. Neither of us took any pictures; we could focus on nothing but the food and drink. But I will say this: Greg got a lobster tail with his steak, and he gave me a couple bites. And it further drove home what I was saying earlier about Portland seafood. Even the lobster that I had tasted in Maine last summer was trash compared to this. So apparently, it’s the Pacific Ocean that produces the good stuff.
Back at the hotel later on, after a drink together at the lobby bar, we had no choice but to start packing up; our flight home was the next morning. We agreed, however, that we both would have happily stayed a few more days if we could have. Speaking as two homebodies who will always love sleeping in our own bed the most, we adored our time in Portland. By our second day there, we had already decided that we want to go back.
And I know in my heart that we will someday.
I’m glad to be back and writing again. I hope you enjoyed the story of our Portland journey, because it’s not over yet! This post laid out the bones of the trip, so to speak, and next week, I want to put a little more meat on it.
In the meantime, stay safe out there. Stay at home if you can. Things have gotten a little weird, but we’ll get through it.
Have a beautiful week.