A creative's guide to Portland, Oregon: where to sleep, eat, drink and explore
If you're wondering who to thank for the clothes you wear, the food you eat, the robust coffee you drink, the blossoming craft beer scene and the rise of the bicycle, then look no further than Portland – one of America's hippest and most exciting cities.
Renowned for its trend-setting street food, over 75 micro-breweries and tax-free boutique shopping, Oregon’s cultural capital offers even the experienced traveller something new to discover. You, creative people, will feel right at home, as it also has a diverse array of visual artists and musicians with a thriving cultural scene – in 2013, The Guardian named Portland's music scene as one of the "most vibrant" in the United States.
And because the Pacific Northwest's cool capital is known for its liberal values and counterculture, its unofficial slogan is "Keep Portland Weird". This is where Portland's own Matt Groening was inspired to create the characters and places in The Simpsons, all of which you can explore. It's where you can enjoy some alternative yoga – goat yoga anyone? If you fancy a little magic, Portland has its own Mystic District too.
Trust us, you'll fit right in. Here's our guide to the city that everyone's talking about.
Where to stay
Opening this summer is The Hoxton. Situated in an iconic building dating back to 1906 and located in Portland’s Old Town Chinatown, the property will have 113 bedrooms, a rooftop restaurant, a basement bar, and vibrant, welcoming spaces where you can hang out with the locals. The interiors will be developed by Ennismore Design Studio in collaboration with local creatives and artists. And the restaurant will be run by local chefs, alongside a cultural events programme that will showcase the best makers, retailers and talent the neighbourhood has to offer.
Launching in spring is Jupiter NEXT, a sophisticated expansion to the original Jupiter Hotel. The new building will add 67 rooms, a restaurant and jungle-themed cocktail bar. You'll also be able to rent Pure Fix Cycles and Nutcase Helmets to explore the local East Burnside neighbourhood where some of the city’s most popular restaurants, bars and cafes can be found. Oversized windows will offer panoramic views of the spectacular city and Mount Hood.
Or, indeed, what about The Jupiter Hotel – a mid-century, renovated motor-inn-turned-boutique-hotel on hip Lower Burnside at Portland’s Eastside. It embraces urban life and the originality and vibrancy of the city. A great spot for modern travellers, cultural creatives and anyone who lives outside the box. It also has a club on-site called the Doug Fir-Lounge which houses open-mic nights, live music and comedy throughout the week. Starting from £90 per night.
Our final suggestion is The Porter, which has its own library, indoor pool and even a meditation centre. Yes, please. Rooms have been designed to resonate with Portland’s natural beauty and artisanal makers. Chef AJ Voytko takes charge in the kitchen at Terrane Italian Kitchen and Bar, the hotel's onsite restaurant, offering Italian-inspired American food including Neapolitan pizza. The hotel will also have a rooftop bar and a grocery shop for those looking to create their own picnic hampers to enjoy at the nearby Tom Mcall Waterfront Park, on the Willamette River.
Touristy things to do in Portland
Now that your bags are unpacked and you're ready to explore everything Portland has to offer, we've done all the hard work for you and chosen some creative and cultural highlights.
To get a good understanding of local history, kick things off at The Pittock Mansion, a century-old symbol of Portland’s dramatic transformation from a small lumber town to a bustling city. An architectural wonder, the house is furnished with antiques and objets d’art, including family artefacts, appropriate to its 17th, 18th, and 19th century French and English designs.
Next, head over to the Portland Art Museum, the oldest museum in the Northwest, and internationally renowned. Located in downtown’s cultural district, its campus includes an outdoor sculpture court and historical interiors with permanent collection galleries containing Northwest and Native American Art.
For a little fresh air, the Portland Japanese Garden is proclaimed as the most authentic Japanese garden outside of Japan, nestled in the West Hills. The experience includes three new garden spaces (in addition to the untouched original), a cultural village, a 20-foot Japanese-style medieval castle wall, a courtyard, and an education centre doubling as a tea café.
Then you can't miss the International Rose Test Garden. Founded in 1917, overlooking downtown, it's the oldest official, continuously operated public rose test garden in the United States. Currently, the garden features over 10,000 rose bushes representing more than 650 rose varieties. Portland Parks and OSU Master Gardeners offer free guided tours daily in summer at 1 p.m., meeting at the Rose Garden store. Why roses? Portland's climate is ideal for growing them, apparently, and has even been called the "City of Roses" for over a century.
Where to eat and drink
Try a dish at HomegrownSmoker, one of the world’s most famous plant-based food carts that serves classic Southern-inspired dishes including tempeh ribs with hush puppies and remoulade, chipotle slaw and faux fish po boys.
For more upmarket dining, Le Pigeon offers a rotating menu of creative French-inspired fare served at communal tables or the bar in a snug room. Or for a sweeter treat, try the independent dessert bars Voodoo Doughnuts and Salt and Straw.
For a refreshing beer (and where better to drink it than in Portland), the award-winning Belmont Station is a good shout. Its Biercafé features 24 rotating taps and a cask "beer engine" pouring world-class beer, cider and mead (yes, mead) on the "cleanest draft system in Portland".
The Cascade Brewing Barrel House is also recommended – a pioneer of the Northwest's style sour beer movement. Or, if you're a fan of video games, then Ground Kontrol is a fun spot to enjoy a beer and some classic arcade games from the '80s and '90s.
To sober up, grab yourself a coffee. Portland's renowned for its artisan coffee roasters. Check out Caffé Umbria, a famous Italian coffee house popular with locals. Or there's the rather wonderful Dragonfly Coffee House, an independent and fabulously cool haunt with its own art gallery.
For more travel tips, check out Travel Portland. We especially love the You Can in Portland game where you can "spin the you-can-o-mizer" to see everything you can do in this fantastic city.