Walking Paper Guide to Portland

If you read this blog there’s a chance you’re coming to Portland for PLA 2010 later this month. I’m happy to call Portland home and thought I’d share some places you might enjoy visiting while in town. I have no idea where people are staying but I hope you can get away from the Convention Center for a bit. It isn’t a terrible area but it isn’t one of the most appealing parts of Portland. Don’t worry if you’re not renting a car. TriMet is a good way to get around town and no matter where you are you can call Radio Cab (503.227.1212) to come pick you up.

Places to Drink

Portland is beverage crazy.

It is a way of life in Portland. Stumptown Coffee is the best known and highest regarded roaster/coffee shop in town. If you’re serious about coffee go to the Stumptown Annex on Belmont for a cupping at 11am or 3pm. I have a slight preference for either location of Albina Press and Barista to Stumptown. Wherever you are you’ll be within a block of a non-Starbucks cafe.

Another way of life in Portland. There are at least 30 craft breweries in Portland alone. Not bad for a city of under 600,000 people. Almost any bar or restaurant will have an above average selection but if you want the most and best selection check out Horse Brass (great fish & chips too) or Green Dragon (though I’m not crazy about the atmosphere there). If you like beer and make it to Hose Brass, walk over to Belmont Station to see over 1000 different beers for sale.

Mixology your thing? Go to Clyde Common (for dinner too), Beaker & Flask, Secret Society Lounge (vaguely Mason themed!) and/or the Teardrop Lounge (though the Teardrop is in the Pearl District. See “Things to Skip” below).

Places to Eat

Breakfast or brunch are the best meals of the day in Portland. Highly recommended are Simpatica (Sunday only), Bijou Cafe, Screen Door, and Gravy. Expect waits for the last two.

For lunch I suggest visiting one of the food cart pods in town. If you’re downtown the main one is on Alder. You’ll find Thai, Mexican, Peruvian (no flutes, thankfully), BBQ and more. Oh, and you could do worse for fast food than Burgerville. They source all of their stuff locally from the Northwest and seasonally too. There’s one by the Convention Center. If you happen to love grilled cheese you owe it to yourself to visit the Grilled Cheese Grill which is housed in a bus.

Dinner options are endless. Pok Pok has great regional Thai food. Toro Bravo is a favorite and serves tapas. Secret Society Lounge (see Spirits above) is above Toro Bravo (and incidentally, across the street from Multonomah County Library’s main office). Clarklewis has a nice happy hour for an early dinner. Go to Laurelhurst Market if you’re in the mood for steak. Olympic Provisions is a new and hyped charcuterie that opens for lunch and dinner on March 20th. For a prix fixe splurge go to Beast (and make reservations). Apizza Scholls is justifiably one of the most respected restaurants in Portland. The pizza is indeed excellent, especially the Tartufo Bianco (Mozzarella, pecorino romano with Truffle Oil and sea salt).

Vegetarians might want to check out the Vita Cafe and the vegan strip mall that includes a grocery store, tattoo shop, bakery and more.

Other miscellaneous spots for dinner and drinks include Doug Fir, Rontoms, and Moloko Plus.

Things to Do

Portland Art Museum. A solidly decent collection usually with interesting special exhibits. A Cy Twombly exhibit is around now!

Portland Japanese Garden. Wonderful. I try to visit once every season and have never been disappointed.

Eastbank Esplanade. A nice path for cycling/walking/jogging along the river. Cross over to the other side at the Steel Bridge and Hawthorne Bridge.

Rent a bike. If you want to get some serious riding in, rent a nice bike from Veloce Bicycles. There are many other places that rent commuter type bikes that’ll get you around town.

Forest Park. A huge park with a ton of trails for walking/trail running/cycling. A convenient place for some quiet time and fresh air. Start at the Thurman entrance or at Pittock Mansion. If you’re into hanging out outside, go to Mt. Tabor Park too. Not only are the views great but it is on a extinct volcanic cinder cone. You can see the crater by the basketball courts.

Laurelhurst Theater. My favorite place to see movies in Portland. Entrance to the movie, a beer (or soda) and slice of pizza costs no more than $10. The Bagdad is similar but has less of a selection of movies (and is part of a local chain that I have mixed feelings about).

Karaoke. What is it with librarians and karaoke? If you must sing, Chopsticks II is always wild and if you want to rent your own booth make reservations at Voicebox.

Ground Kontrol has a large assortment of vintage arcade and pinball games. It is a totally fun way to spend a few hours.

MCL Central Library is a nice, traditional library that is worth poking around.

Historic Columbia River Highway. If you have a car and the time, drive out to the Historic Highway and visit Crown Point, Larch Mountain, some waterfalls, then cross over a bridge to Washington, head back towards town and hike up Beacon Rock on the way.

Ecola Beach State Park. Again, if you have a free day and like the beach, drive one hour out to the coast. It may or may not be sunny, but it will likely be windy and the water will be 50*F. It is guarenteed to be rocky, rugged and beautiful.

Mt Hood. It is very possible to leave town at 7am, get four hours of hiking or skiing in and be back in town by 2pm. Just sayin’.

Places to Shop

Powell’s City of Books is a legendary bookstore for good reason. It is large and has a great selection, including used books. If the topics appeal to you don’t miss Powell’s Books for Home and Garden and Powell’s Technical Books.

Jackpot Records. Good selection of new and used vinyl (and CDs). The main location is within walking distance of Powell’s.

Reading Frenzy is a great place for small and independent publications. There are books, zines, posters, cards and all sorts of great stuff. Also easily walked from the above two. Speaking of zines, Microcosm is the hotspot.

Things to Skip

Multonomah Falls. It’s the #1 tourist destination around here. Sure, it is tall and nice looking but with the crowds and noise from the highway I don’t consider it a pleasant experience. You’re not going to hate it if you go but there are just so many better waterfalls. The best ones, of course, are difficult to get to but if you have a car (or are up for a long bike ride!) and want to see something better than Multnomah Falls check out The Pearl District. In recent years this post-industrial zone has been “revitalized” and is now pretty much like any other shopping district in any other city. There are some unique things (for instance, a Chinese badminton brand store) but this area is the least Portland-like place in all of Portland. You’ll be close by if you visit the main Powell’s shop but I wouldn’t make in depth exploration a priority unless you want to buy some big ticket items sans sales tax.

There you have it. I hope you have a good time in Portland.

This really just skims the surface of what Portland has to offer. Get in touch if you have any questions.

33 thoughts on “Walking Paper Guide to Portland”

  1. Oh NOW you post this! I had a friend in Portland last week for the National Council on Public History conference and I was trying to scrape together recommendations based on my time there as an undergrad. I didn’t do too bad, though! She’ll just have to visit again, I suppose, and get around to all your recommendations too.

    Good post!

  2. Thanks, Aaron. On YouTube is a Visiting Librarian’s Guide to Portland that mentions food carts at 5th St. And Alder. Have any recommendations about which carts? How long would it take to get there from the Conference Center?

  3. Once again, I have mixed emotions about not attending this conference. You’ve reminded me of many of the reasons I adore Portland. This was a great post; wish I was going to get to see you!

  4. Rick, it shouldn’t take too long to get downtown via TriMet from the conference center. Maybe 15-20 minutes?

    Kathy, I’ve not eaten Moroccan food in Portland but I have had Moroccan dishes at Toro Bravo (listed above).

  5. What about the Hoyt Arboretum? Is it worth a visit? I want to see some really big trees – where’s the best place w/out having time to rent a car & drive somewhere?

  6. I’ve not been to the Hoyt Arboretum. I will say, though, that getting into Forest Park is a pretty representative taste of what PNW forests are all about. That’s your best bet for big trees/moss/creeks w/o a car.

  7. Aaron, as always a great guide to what needs doing! For more cheap eats check out Willamette Week’s Cheap Eats feature (more and more food) http://wweek.com/editorial/3618/13763/. re: Arborteum – the plus side is you can get to the south edge by light rail (walk up the hill to the water tanks and stroll). 5th and Alder carts are a 10 minute light rail (MAX) ride plus 2-block walk from Conv Center. And then walk back along Waterfront Park across the Steel Bridge (pedestrain/bike level) and up to the Conf Center if the weather is nice. We look forward to seeing you in Portland! – Liz @ PDX

  8. Kathy, not sure if you’ll see this in time, but for a Moroccan restaurant, try Marrakesh on 21st ave. The interior is a little cliche, but the food has not disappointed in the handful of times I’ve gone. You can do a 5 course prix fixe dinner for about $20 where you choose the entree (lamb m’rouiza is my fav).


  9. My crew and I stayed at the Nines (posh, has a Library, biggest T.V. I’ve ever seen in a hotel) – and loved the light rail. We strapped on a jet pack and went to Cannon Beach, Ecola State Park, the Haystack Rock, Multonomah Falls and a few others, the Vista house, Powells, and other local places.

    My friend owns Indish: http://www.indishrestaurant.com/ – on 21st and I ate there a couple of times. Go have a beer and tell chef Laura howdy.

    I loved Powell’s signage. Good signage tickles the Librarian soul. Wish I had seen your list before we went!!!

  10. My crew and I stayed at the Nines (posh, has a Library, biggest T.V. I’ve ever seen in a hotel) – and loved the light rail. We strapped on a jet pack and went to Cannon Beach, Ecola State Park, the Haystack Rock, Multonomah Falls and a few others, the Vista house, Powells, and other local places.

  11. Once again, I have mixed emotions about not attending this conference. You’ve reminded me of many of the reasons I adore Portland. This was a great post; wish I was going to get to see you!

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