Portland was the last real leg of our road trip, staying there for three whole days. On our second day, we walked quite a lot through town.
Today, our main attraction was Washington Park with the International Rose Test Garden, Japanese Garden, and Oregon Zoo.
We decided to walk to Washington Park. Strolling along the downtown area, we saw that auditions for American Idols were held on Pioneer Courthouse Square. There were many contestants as the queues ran along the pavements of the entire block. On Washington Street, we saw some full building murals with great details as well as a surprising encounter with Dutch at indie design store Woonwinkel (935 SW Washington St), which translates to “living shop”.
We started our walk at around 10.15 am, when all delis along the way were closed, prepping for a busy lunch shift and found that the Foodtruck block (9th and 10th Ave between Alder and Washington Streets) only just started to set up. Therefore, we had to resort to a sugary breakfast at Blue Star Donuts (1237 Washington St).
Online there were basically two camps of Portland donut aficionados: Voodoo or Blue Star. We tried the latter as well but were disappointed. The bacon on my Real Maple Bacon donut was not the dust that was displayed, but roughly cut rashers that had not been properly cooked and were definitely not crispy. The waxy bacon fat resulted in a mouthfeel that was pretty abysmal. The kids had chosen the Cointreau Crème Brulée, which was good (but in hindsight not entirely a suitable breakfast for kids), but the Passionfruit Cocoa Nibs wasn’t fresh; the donut itself was just dry and stale. At almost double prices, I’d prefer waiting in line at Voodoo to get some decent donuts anytime. Not recommended!
International Rose Test Garden
Afterward, we experienced first-hand that Portland has quite some elevation. From the Burnside entrance, it was a pretty steep uphill climb to get to the International Rose Test Garden (400 SW Kingston Avenue). It was rewarding, though, as the views and smells in the garden were gorgeous. I mentioned before that Portland’s nickname is “City of Roses”, right?
Opened in August 1917, there are now over 7,000 rose plants of approximately 550 varieties from all around the world as new rose cultivars are sent to Portland for testing of color, fragrance, disease resistance, and other attributes.
The volunteers from the Portland Rose Society understandably were quite happy to be able to contribute to keeping this beautiful garden in tiptop shape. Smiles all around!
Portland’s Japanese Garden is also a treat, with more focus on landscaping than its San Francisco counterpart. Beside 6 different gardens, there are also koi ponds, a bonsai terrace, and expositions in the main Pavilion gallery and the Japanese Arts Learning Center. There is also a small restaurant diner, Umami, with a very appealing menu, but alas the waiting time exceeded one hour…
The elevated position of the Japanese garden also provides excellent views over the Willamette River and East Portland. The skies weren’t entirely clear, but the Cascade Mountains with Mount Hood could easily be seen on the horizon.
Luckily, there was a free shuttle bus from the Japanese Garden to the Oregon Zoo (4001 SW Canyon Road), so we avoided having to walk the long, windy and uphill road. In the zoo, the focus clearly was on local Oregonian wildlife, like the brown bear and the bald eagle. Due to the summer temperatures, many animals sought shelter in the shadow or stayed indoors. Therefore, not many pics were taken.
Marquam Hill / OHSU
When doing the research for the trip, I read somewhere that the view from Marquam Hill alone was worth the trip with the Portland Aerial Tram, also as it is only of the 2 aerial trams in the US, so off we went.
It was easy enough to get to there from the Oregon Zoo. We took a MAX metro downtown to Library and 9th, before heading to SW 11th and Taylor to take the connecting NS line streetcar to SW Moody & Gibbs. The only difficulty was the slight disorientation of the grid system when we got off the MAX and were trying to figure out which way to go for the streetcar. But we made it, and at the aerial tram stop, we found out that OHSU stood for “Oregon Health and Sciences University”, so it turned out to be a fully operational hospital with buildings at both stops of the aerial trams.
Therefore, it was us – as only tourists, together with doctors, nurses, and patients – taking the 4 minutes to ride up Marquam Hill to admire the view for a bit (which was indeed excellent and worth the $4.70 round trip fare) and back again.
Deschutes Brewery Public House
Another nickname of Portland is “Beervana”, unsurprisingly as there are more than 60 micro and craft breweries in the city alone. For dinner, we visited Deschutes Brewery Public House (210 NW 11th Ave). The company is originally from Bend, but we didn’t have time to visit their pub or tasting room when we were there.
Located in a former auto body shop, about one-third of the enormous space is reserved for open/communal seating with a sports bar atmosphere. The remainder was in table settling, mostly booths and tables on the sidewalk along with the entire building. Their wall of awards between the open kitchen in the back and the brewery on the side is pretty impressive! The decoration was in North-western style, so with loads of timber beams and wood gates with intricate wildlife carvings made by a chainsaw artist from Sisters, OR.
I guess that at least 300 customers can be served simultaneously. Still, we had to wait about 45 minutes for a table (we were there at around 7pm), which gave us plenty of time to buy cool souvenirs: some t-shirts and a hop scented car freshener.
Both the beer and food menus aren’t identical to the tasting room in Bend, but with 26 taps and daily beer menus, there are plenty of regular, seasonal and limited-edition beers to choose from. Sample trays ($12) with 6 beers came in 2 options: the “Classic Tray” and “Brewer’s Choice”, so we tried both and sampled each other’s tasting trays.
The Classic Tray consisted of Pacific Wonderland Lager, American Wheat Ale, Mirror Pond Pale Ale, Black Butte Porter, Inversion IPA, and the Passion Fruit IPA (the latter from their Bond Street Series, harkening back to the heritage of the first pub in Bend).
The Brewer’s Choice was more adventurous and consisted of: Trees of Doom Dunkel, Fresh Picked IPA, Botanic IPA, Black by Hopular Demand, Pinedrops IPA and the Raving Fan IIPA. Our favorite ones were the unsuspected fruity and herby beers like the Pacific Wonderland Lager, American Wheat Ale, and the Botanic IPA.
Food-wise, the gourmet pub grub was as good as their beers. The kids went for the Mac ‘n Cheese with additional bacon, and Chantal opted for the great-tasting Veggie Sauté, and I chose the Elk Burger (Durham Ranch elk, Gruyère cheese, roasted shallot-thyme aioli, sweet field greens, house-made American Wheat pickles. Bold flavors and damn tasty burger!
As the pours were 3oz / 100ml each, it was overall only about 2 glasses of beers a person that nights, but trying 12 different kinds of beer proved to be killing. We’re getting old… 😱
Powell’s City of Books
A trip to Portland is not complete without a visit to Powell’s, the world’s biggest independent bookstore. Their flagship store (1005 W Burnside St.) encompasses an entire block, 5 stories, 1,600 different sections, and 1 million volumes, so you can easily spend a full day here. At the entrances, there are even maps to avoid getting lost, but their employees are super friendly and help you find what you are looking for. In the hour and a half, we were there, we saw many books that we wanted to have – I especially resisted the temptation to wander off to the cookbook section as it was huge – but would crush our luggage allowance…
I did buy Exploding Kittens (🐈🔥🎇👍) though, a hugely popular card that grossed over $8m on Kickstarter.
‘It’s like UNO, except there are goats, magical enchiladas and kittens that can kill you.’ – CNN
Unfortunately, I was 1 hour too late to back the project a couple of years ago… I had totally forgotten about it, so it was great to find the card game here, and the kids totally love it!