Since I was going to Stevenson, Washington for a conference for work, Al & I decided to add a few days to the beginning and end of my trip and make it a mini vacation as neither of us had been to the northwest USA before. Before we left home, we had agreed we were not going to plan every minute of every day.
We flew out to Portland, Oregon on a direct flight from Toronto on the last Friday of September. As expected, it was an uneventful flight and we arrived in Portland way past our bedtime in Ontario but still early enough for dinner in OR.
Transportation from the airport to the downtown area was easy enough. We had a few options: airport shuttle, public transit, taxi, Uber or Lyft. We’d never heard of Lyft before but apparently its quite like Uber. The airport information person explained the public transit was an inexpensive efficient way to get downtown but we decided the airport shuttle was our best bet considering we had luggage — $14 each for door to door delivery. Shuttles run every 30 minutes or so.
The shuttle dropped us off at the Benson Hotel which we had booked using Hotwire. This was the first time we had used Hotwire and were very pleased with the hotel. The Benson is part of the Coast chain which we had never heard of before. It was built in 1913 and wears its age well – it’s a beautiful hotel. It is within walking distance of the Pearl District, Pioneer Square, and downtown which gave us lots of options for things to see and do.
Because of the time change between Ontario and Oregon of 3 hours, we were up very early and ready to start our day. Unfortunately, there isn’t much that opens in downtown Portland early. We ended up having breakfast at our hotel because it’s Palm Court starts serving breakfast at 6:30. Most places didn’t seem to open before 9:00 on a Saturday morning. Our server told us that the only place that she could think of that opened early was TJ Maxx at 8:00. That wasn’t quite what we were looking for. Breakfast was great; service was great as well – but it’s not cheap eats.
Powell’s City of Books opened at 9:00 so that was our first stop of the day. If you have any interest in books or some different gifts ideas, Powell’s is the place to go. Powell’s takes up a full city block and they bill themselves as the largest new and used booked store in the world – I believe it. The have 9 large rooms which are then divided into sections. I have more than enough books at home to read so I passed up buying books but did buy a few small gifts here.
After Powell’s, we headed out for the Portland Saturday Market which was one of the places we wanted to see. Because our vacation time in Portland was limited to the one day, we had agreed we were just going to wander and enjoy the day. On our way to the Market was Voodoo Doughnuts. Voodoo Doughnuts was one of the places that was recommended on several travel sites. It was easy enough to spot with a line-up outside on an otherwise empty street. The line moved pretty quickly since it’s cash only inside. There is a wide variety of doughnuts. Al went for the Memphis Mafia which is a banana fritter topped with peanut butter, peanuts, chocolate and chocolate chips. I went with the Portland Cream which is basically a Boston Cream doughnut with a set of eyes added. The doughnuts were tasty but only a “wow” because of the selection available.
Before we made it to the Portland Saturday Market, we ran into another market area. The Skidmore Saturday Market area seems to be an add-on to the Portland Saturday Market. The Skidmore market does have some handmade items but there is also a lot of typical tourist stuff. When we made it to the Portland Saturday Market the first thing we saw were a couple food stands. One was selling empanadas and the other one had perogies. I so wished I was hungry! The Market is full of all kinds of artisan crafts made locally or at least in Oregon. I especially loved the pottery items but decided against buying anything that was going to get bounced around in our luggage for a week and then have to survive the baggage handlers at the PDX and YYZ airports. I did pick up a bar of handmade soap for a gift. There are also a number of other food vendors so if I were able to plan my time a bit better for the market I would make this a lunch stop. I should point out that although it’s called the Saturday Market that it is open on both Saturday and Sunday.
Our walk continued toward the Pearl district but had us wandering through Chinatown. At one point, there was a full block barricaded off. Inside that block there were services for the homeless. There was an RV marked for medical and another one for dental. A tent was set up for haircuts. There was a band playing and food was being served. We asked a bartender about it later in the day and he explained that because of the size of the homeless population in Portland that there are a lot of services provided for them.
The Pearl District is a more upscale area. Lots of boutique stores. Lots of restaurants and bars. We knew Portland was the home of a large number of breweries so our afternoon entertainment was to wander around and check out some of the beers and some of the stores. We had heard Deschutes Brewery was the place to visit but every time we went by the line-up was out to the street. We did stop at 10 Barrels (good beer, poor service), Fat Head’s (good beer, good service) and Henry’s 12th Street Tavern (good beer, poor service). Next to 10 Barrels is a tiny little spot called Back Pedal Brewing (good beer and good service). The bartenders there are chatty and willing to share their knowledge of the Portland beer scene. They explained that because they don’t serve food that children are not allowed – you can bring your dog in but not your kid. We found that a lot of places in Oregon are dog friendly. They also explained that the east side of the Willamette River is the place to go for all the micro breweries. Obviously, we had not researched very well on this point since we never made it to that area. Ah, well, next trip.
By the time we made it back to our hotel for a short nap, dinner at The Original Dinerant (good food, excellent service) and then back to our hotel, we were exhausted and called it an early night.
Check back for my next blog installment for our travels the next day when we took the long route from Portland to Stevenson, WA.