As someone who has lived near Portland, Oregon for almost two decades, I guess I’d call myself somewhat of an expert. I recently returned to Portland after my second year at UCLA and had a month to play tourist in my hometown. These are my 6 must-sees in the Pacific Northwest whenever I come home.
1. Salt and Straw
Though the native Portland ice cream brand has many locations throughout the city (and has since sprouted up in Venice Beach, though I’m rather salty about LA stealing our ice cream), my favorite is the Alberta Street one. The neighborhood is quiet and a little artistic, with street murals, craft stores and boutiques.
Most recently, I grabbed a honey lavender single scoop because I wanted a mild taste, but the Stumptown Coffee and Burnside Bourbon is stronger and richer. Salt and Straw, known for unique flavors, has a menu with some permanent items and some season ones, which I recommend testing out. Once I had a poutine ice cream that was delightfully savory and not at all disgusting (unlike Harry Potter’s weird jelly beans). Another season featured alcoholic drink flavors like mojito (aka mint ice cream).
2. Powell’s Books
Yes, it’s a classic since 1971. The bookstore spans multiple blocks with multiple buildings. It’s a new and used bookstore that has aisles and aisles of books to browse.
I can find anything I’ve ever needed at Powell’s plus some cute stationary and trinkets and random books. The shelves have staff recommendations if you’re actually looking for a good read, but it’s fun to just go get lost for an hour among the rooms named after colors i.e. “Come find me in the Rose Room.”
3. Hike along the Columbia Gorge
Dozens of breathtaking hikes line the Columbia River Gorge, especially on the Oregon side of the river. The huge Multnomah Falls is here but it’s often packed with tourists and doesn’t offer a very challenging hike (it’s about half a mile on a paved route and visible a few steps from the car).
Local favorites are also along the same road just a few miles down, like Angel’s Rest (challenging) or Oneonta Falls, which I just completed with two friends this weekend. About a mile in all, the entire trail consists of climbing over a treacherous damn of logs and then wading chest-deep in ice water. At the end of the trail lies the falls — stunning (see above). The mist sprayed my face, and my friend was crazy enough to swim right under the falls. It has a very “off the beaten path” feel since there is no “hike” but is more like a true immersion with nature in the form of scaling logs and braving the stream.
Bonus: On the way, stop at Crown Point for panoramic views of the whole Gorge (right image).
4. Donut taste-off
My friends fancy Blue Star Donuts. My mom prefers Pip’s Original. I actually enjoy the touristy brand Voodoo Doughnut. The only way to choose your fav is to sample them all — in one day. Pip’s has small bite-sized babes that are warm with great texture from creams or sugar toppings. Blue Star hasn’t impressed me, but their poppyseed is popular.
My Voodoo staple is the pot hole (it combines my typical go-tos of Oreo and cream-filled because it’s a cream-filled bar with chocolate frosting and Oreos on top). My other recommendations are the oreo, maple bacon (yes it tastes like breakfast) and apple fritter. You can go to the Voodoo Doughnuts on Davis Street to avoid lines at the downtown Burnside location.
I don’t care what kind or where, but you have to have coffee when you’re in the Northwest. My family’s main coffeeshop is Barista, but there are many cafes with picture-perfect lattes in Portland and the suburbs.
This is probably more of a me thing than a typical local Portlander thing, but the sunsets are gorgeous. The higher up the better, of course. Since the PNW has so many clouds, the sunsets — when not too overcast or dreary (read: in the summer) — reflect oranges and pinks all over the sky. This was just from last week, and it only gets better.