The Hidden Gems of Portland, Oregon
Updated: Jun 13, 2022
Come to Portland for the food and beer, stay for the hiking, biking, and outdoor adventures.
Thanks to shows like "Portlandia," many people know Portland as a bit of a caricature of itself. The land of funky, artsy, somewhat snooty locavores. But, take the time to get up close and personal with Portland and you'll discover that it's not quite so over-the-top. There are tattooed artists and hipsters, yes, but also kids, grandmas, fishermen, farmers, and everyone in between. There is a lot of hype about a few establishments (think: Voodoo Donut), but the city offers a whole lot more than the standard highlight reel would have you believe.
If you visit Portland, enjoy the hustle and bustle of downtown, but make time to wander to the outskirts of town and you'll find yourself in a different type of city, one with peaceful, tree-lined streets, bird songs filling the air, and friendly locals tending their gardens.
"If you go, enjoy the hustle and bustle of downtown, but make time to wander to the outskirts of town and you'll find yourself in a different type of city with peaceful, tree-lined streets and bird songs filling the air."
What To Do
Forest Park: Yes, Forest Park makes an appearance on nearly every Portland-area "must-see" list, but it is deserving of the fame. The park offers 5,200 acres of forest and more than 80 miles of trails, all within walking distance of some of Portland's best restaurants and shopping districts. The park is lush, green, and buzzing with life. If you're looking for a breath of fresh air, Forest Park is the perfect place for trail running, hiking, picnicking, or reading beneath the canopy.
Bike: If you want to get a real feel for the lay of the land in Portland, biking is the thing for you. The city boasts some fantastic bike paths, lanes, and boulevards so you can pedal your way from West to East and back without stressing too much about car traffic. Using Google Maps as our guide, we completed a huge loop that took us from downtown, across the Broadway Bridge, through the Hollywood District, up Mt. Tabor, and across the Tilikum Crossing Bridge. It was an exceptional tour of the city and the perfect way to see beyond the typical tourist spots. Plus, biking is a great way to reduce your footprint while traveling!
Pittock Mansion: This historic house sits on top of a hill overlooking the city and offers stunning views of the river valley and mountains beyond. The mansion was built by the Pittock family and completed in 1914. If you're looking to learn a bit about the history of Portland, this is a good place to visit (note: admission to the museum is $12). Plus, the gardens are charming, so pack a picnic and spend a leisurely hour or two lounging on the lawn.
Columbia River Gorge: If you're looking for dramatic scenery and top-notch hiking, the Columbia River Gorge is the place for you. This expansive river gorge was carved by glaciers, settled thousands of years ago by indigenous peoples, explored by Lewis & Clark, traversed by pioneers, inundated with industry of all sorts, and is now a hot spot for boating, skiing, wine tasting, and more. There is an assortment of public transportation options that run through the Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area, so check those out to avoid renting a car. If you're heading from Portland to Hood River, I highly recommend stopping along the way for a hike (or two). Once you make it to Hood River, head down to the Hood River Waterfront Park for a beer and find a spot to watch the wind sports of all types.
Where To Eat
Ken's Artisan Bakery: This bakery quickly became one of my very favorite spots in Portland. Nestled on a quiet street corner in a tree-filled neighborhood, the space is warm, welcoming, and homey. The pastry case is filled with artfully decorated goodies and the bread stacked behind the registered is toasted and hearty looking. The morning bun is excellent, as is the plain croissant. (side note: I also highly recommend Ken Forkish's book "Flour Water Salt Yeast" if you're looking to get into bread baking)
Fuller's Coffee Shop: Looking for something a little more down-home traditional? Grab a seat at the counter at Fuller's Coffee Shop. Since 1947, Fuller's has been serving up heart-stopping biscuits and gravy, cheesy omelets, and mugs of hot coffee. The staff is friendly, so ask about the history of the place!
Besaw's: This is a great spot for happy hour (served every day from 5-7pm). The atmosphere is casual but polished, the house martini is strong, and the happy hour cheese plate really hits the spot after a day of city walking.
Park Avenue Fine Wines: This place is a real gem. Not only does Park Avenue serve as a well-stocked wine shop with very knowledgable sommeliers, it also offers a gourmet restaurant experience thanks to their partnership with Spatzel & Speck (check out the wine bar menu here). Every single thing we ordered was mouth-watering, so plan to go hungry. And, if you like games, Tuesdays are "blind tasting night" - taste three wines and if you guess all three correctly you are not only a genius but you also get the flight for $1.
Where To Stay
If you're looking for a spot downtown, the Dossier offers modern rooms, free beer tasting every evening, and free bike rentals. I also heard great things from fellow travelers about The Woodlark (across the street from Dossier).
Alternatively, look to Airbnb for a more personal experience by booking a room in someone's house in one of Portland's sweet neighborhood districts. Remember: when using Airbnb, look for local hosts whenever possible to avoid contributing to the problem of absentee landlords and investment properties. Plus, staying with local hosts means you'll get great recommendations and have an opportunity to learn about the culture of the place.