Hip, arty, fashionable Portland embraces the alternative and celebrates the best of the US Pacific Northwest with an iconoclastic dining scene and a maverick mentality.
Alternative things to do and eat in Portland, America’s hipster capital
Portland has a reputation of being hip, arty and trendy. A liberal urban capital in largely rural and conservative Oregon state, it embraces an anythinggoes mentality. There’s an unspoken permission to do whatever you like, to be an iconoclast. If you want to infuse chocolate with foie gras, like David Briggs of Xocolatl de David, feel free. If you are inspired to serenade strangers by ukelele in the waterfront park simply because it’s a beautiful day, go right ahead.
One of the city’s most famous pieces of public art, the People’s Bike Library of Portland, embodies this maverick spirit. Bikes are unlocked weekly from this jumbled two-storey monument of cycles and lent to the public for crazy Zoobomb bike rides in the dark down the city’s rolling hills.
It’s easy to get around the city by bike and there are plenty of green spaces around town to explore (the city has the most cyclists per capita in the US). Clearly marked bike lanes and entire boulevards make it safe and easy to get around on two wheels. Portland-based Nike funded a new bicycle-share system – Biketown – that launched last year with 1,000 bright orange bikes available to rent from a hundred stations across town.
For beginners, the three-mile waterfront loop along the Eastbank Esplanade from the Steel Bridge to
Hawthorne Bridge is a scenic route entirely along pedestrian and bike paths. For a longer, but still easy and leisurely ride, extend the loop by riding past the Hawthorne Bridge along Springwater Corridor and the Willamette River, through the Oaks Bottom Wildlife Refuge to the Sellwood Bridge.
More experienced cyclists can ride east on Lincoln Street to Mount Tabor. A steep but brief climb rewards riders with panoramic views of the city from the top of this dormant volcano. Serious riders can enjoy a 50-kilometre round trip from Sauvie Island to Skyline Boulevard with more than 915 metres in elevation gain.
If you prefer to explore Portland on foot, there are numerous options. Mississippi Street buzzes all week, from Sunday brunch and shopping to a vibrant nightlife scene. Division Street is one of the most exciting culinary neighbourhoods on the West Coast, with casual foreign flavours at Pok Pok and Bollywood Theater, elegant dinners at Ava Gene’s and sweets at St Honore Bakery and Salt & Straw Ice Cream.
The compact West End, near the Pearl District, is just steps away from most downtown hotels. Browse independent boutiques such as Radish Underground, Wildfang and Tiny Loving Empire after enjoying a bite from the plethora of food carts.
But at the end of the day, our favourite sport in Portland is eating. Whether it’s an elegant sit-down dinner, street food from hundreds of food trucks gathered in pods around town, food halls such as Pine Street Market, meals in Portland are great value for money. At restaurants such as Le Pigeon and ambitious new Nomad, innovative tasting menus are precisely executed for less than US$100, remarkably affordable compared with similar meals in San Francisco, Chicago or New York. The city also has its fair share of
James Beard Award winners, the most prestigious culinary prize in America. It’s only fitting since James Beard himself, a champion of American cuisine in the mid-20th century, was born in Portland. Le Pigeon’s Gabriel Rucker, Beast’s Naomi Pomeroy, Pok Pok’s Andy Ricker and Vitaly Paley of Paley’s Place, Imperial and Headwaters at the Heathman are all recent winners whose restaurants should be at the top of any visitor’s list.
The city has a natural joie de vivre and reverence for anything locally made. Niche speciality food shops Jacobsen Salt Co, Cacao and Bee Local bring to life singular passions for handharvested salt, bean-to-bar chocolate and single-origin honey respectively in thoughtfully curated stores. Hip food brands Stumptown Coffee and Salt & Straw Ice Cream have built national reputations for innovation and quality.
Wherever you’re dining in Portland, be sure to try the local wine. Oregon is best known for pinot noir, but there are also great chardonnay, chenin blanc, gamay and sparkling wine producers.
The Willamette Valley sits on the 45th parallel, the same latitude as Bordeaux, France, and is home to more than 500 wineries. The short drive from the city (less than a hour) makes wine tasting an easy day trip or weekend getaway for Portlanders. There’s also a growing urban winemaking scene within the city, with Southeast Wine Collective as a prominent example.
End the evening in Old Town Chinatown, better known as Portland’s entertainment district. On Friday and Saturday nights, after 10pm, several blocks are closed to vehicle traffic for a street party with live DJS and great cocktails. Dance the night away at CC Slaughters and Dirty Nightclub, or enjoy duelling pianos at Barrel Room and cabaret at Darcelle XV.