Getting To Know Portland, Oregon
Portland, Oregon is famously known for bikes, breweries, and babes (not in that order) but after a recent visit, Portland seems to be about so much more including farmer’s markets, hazelnuts, apples, bakeries, books, and outdoor sports. A small city that people live and work in, Portland is not a landscape of skyscrapers but rather a city of interesting buildings, greenery, bridges, and roads that are easy to maneuver.
Explore the Farmer’s Market, take a bike tour, spend a few hours at the largest independent bookstore in the country (Powell’s), indulge in the many bakeries (20+), breweries (40+), chocolate shops (10+), restaurants (dozens), visit a museum (more than a dozen), and enjoy the parks and gardens.
Portland Farmer’s Markets includes eight markets that operate six days a week (everyday except Tuesday) throughout Portland although there are literally dozens of other farmer’s markets that operate throughout the city and metropolitan area. The largest Portland Farmer’s Market is on Saturdays from 8:00 am – 2:00 pm in the center of the city on the Portland State University (PSU) campus (SW Park Avenue and SW Montgomery Street) from March 17 – December 15.
Spend a Saturday morning walking through the market that extends several blocks while sampling the fruits, dried meats, pastries, pesto, chocolate, and nuts or have a made-to-order breakfast at one of many restaurant stalls serving up eggs, omelets, tortillas, sausages, and potato hash. Some of the best bakeries in town – Pearl Bakery, Two Tarts Bakery – have stalls in this market and offer a wide selection of freshly baked breads and pastries including an orange anise bread sprinkled lightly with sugar and a croissant monkey bread pastry cupcake that melts in your mouth (Pearl Bakery) or petite hazelnut, chocolate, and peanut butter cookies from Two Tarts Bakery, all equally scrumptious.
For a special treat, stop by the “Market Gourmet” stall for a selection of sweet and savory tarts, scones, cakes, cookies, granola, mini quiches, and vegetable or meat tarts. The small pecan tart filled with sweetened and toasted pecans may change your mind about pecan pie. Monica Halici is known as “The Tart Lady” and her stall looks as pretty as an indoor tea salon with pink and red roses everywhere but its her creations that will cause you to pause and give thanks for butter, sugar, cream, nuts, fruits and her magical talents.
Fresh fruit is abundant at the market with a wide selection of apples, peaches (even in October), berries, grapes, pears, and more. Taste the samples and discover new types of apples such as the “Wealth” apple – an apple similar to the Honey Crisp but more tart. Most of the fruit comes directly from the growers who are only too happy to talk about the products from their orchards. The vegetables are equally well represented with multi-colored beets, carrots, and root vegetables piled on tables along with tomatoes that look, smell, and taste like real tomatoes.
Hazelnuts are everywhere – in pastries, sandwiches, desserts, and dinner entrees – and seem to be the honorary city nut. Stop by Freddy Guys‘ stall in the Farmer’s Market at PSU and purchase freshly roasted hazelnuts (grown by Freddy Guys at their local farm), Hazelnut Granola, and Marionberry Covered Hazelnuts (made only in the Fall and Winter). Cheryl’s Orchard has a stall selling fresh walnuts grown by Cheryl herself. Sold in 8-ounce ($8) or 1 pound bags ($12), the walnuts are crisp and meaty without the bitter aftertaste of supermarket walnuts. Fans of Cheryl’s walnuts can also call her up at 503-628-2798 to have walnuts shipped because she doesn’t have a website yet.
Consider having lunch at Mother’s Bistro at 212 SW Stark Street (about 12 blocks north of the PSU Farmer’s Market) – a local institution of sorts in an old building with heavy doors, brick walls, gilded mirrors, chandeliers, and velvet draperies reminiscent of someone’s grandparents home. There’s even a small cubby hole of a room designated for little diners that want to draw instead of eat. A bustling breakfast, brunch, and lunch spot, be sure to make reservations or be prepared to wait for a table in order to enjoy comfort food made from scratch including biscuits, french toast, crab cakes, cantaloupe sized cookies, apple crisp, and more.
After lunch, walk two blocks to the Pedal Bike Shop at 133 SW Second Avenue and take a 3-hour bike tour of downtown Portland that begins everyday at 1:00 pm (there is also a 3-hour tour that begins at 9:00 am). A relatively flat city, Portland has many neighborhoods – the Pearl District, Old Town, Chinatown, Northwest District – with distinctive characteristics and a tour on two wheels with a local friendly guide (ask for Sarah – a self-described 365 day a year bicycle rider who grew up in Portland and is very knowledgeable about the city, markets, breweries, and neighborhoods) provides visitors with a great overview of this very bike friendly city with pedestrian and cyclist paths along the riverfront. A 3-hour tour is $49 and includes the bike, helmet, and guided tour. Make reservations on-line or by calling the shop (503-243-2453). A bicycle tour of the breweries in the city is also provided and can be booked on-line at the store’s website: www.pedalbiketours.com
No visit to Portland is complete without a visit to Powell’s City of Books – the largest independent bookstore in the United States and the world. With nearly 70,000 square feet of books (1.6 acres of retail floor space) holding more than 1 million books, Powell’s is a book lover’s paradise where visitors can leisurely browse both new and used books (I spent nearly 2 hours in Fiction and never got past the letter “D”). The bookstore is so large that rooms are color coded (i.e. blue room is Fiction) and tours are provided for those who are overwhelmed by the sheer size of the store. Located at 1005 Burnside Avenue in downtown Portland, Powell’s is open 7 days a week from 9:00 am – 11:00 pm. Powell’s also offers books on-line, author forums, Espresso self publishing services, a rare book room, and even buys back books. A place not to be missed.
Within the downtown is the Japanese Gardens – an oasis of 5.5 acres of greenery – in which visitors can roam the paths or relax in five distinctive gardens that promote peacefulness, harmony, and tranquility. Open 7 days a week (Monday from noon – 4:00 pm and Tuesday – Sunday from 10:00 am – 4:00 pm), the entrance fee is $9.50 for adults, $7.75 for seniors and college students, and $6.75 for children 6 – 17 years old. Children 5 and under are free. Located at 611 SW Kingston Avenue on the west side of the city.
Portland has an abundance of museums to appeal to a variety of interests including but not limited to:
Portland Art Museum
Portland Institute for Contemporary Art
Oregon Historical Society
3D Center of Art and Photography
Oregon Maritime Museum
Oregon Museum of Science and Industry
The Portland Children’s Museum
Finish the day with dinner at the Veritable Quandary – an indoor/outdoor restaurant (in the Northwest neighborhood) that is famous for its Osso Bucco served with parmesan and basil risotto or try the fresh water Chinook salmon served with Forbidden Rice (a soft black flavorful rice). The menu changes often as the restaurant relies on local farmer’s markets and specialty food purveyors. Desserts are varied with a decadent butter pecan hot fudge sundae and plum crisp with vanilla ice cream among the standouts. The wine list is extensive (more than 200 bottles) and the if your party contains 6-8 guests, ask to reserve the wine cellar room – a private dining room with a large round table conducive to great conversation.
For more information (in 6 languages) on Portland, go to the Travel Portland website: www.travelportland.com.