I was recently doing some work for the Sesame Street: K is for Kindness Tour, and I had to travel to cover the Portland, OR date. It was my first-ever time in the Rose City, so I tried to maximize my hours to see as much of the city as I possibly could.
My work brought me out to the Portland ‘burbs, where I spent the day at the Washington Square Mall (9585 SW Washington Square Road), a really nice shopping complex where one of my local Summit friends used to hang out as a teen. (PS: Hi, Kim!) When I was done, I took an Uber into downtown, checked into my room at the elegant Hilton Portland & Executive Tower (921 SW 6th Avenue), laced up my Skechers, and got ready to pound the pavement.
Downtown Portland is an extremely walkable city, and walk I did! I strolled through downtown, first making a quick stop at Departure Portland (525 SW Morrison Street), a swanky bar, lounge, and restaurant featuring a rooftop deck with stunning views of the city and Mt. Hood.
I then made my way over to Voodoo Doughnuts (22 SW 3rd Avenue), a place that I’ve wanted to visit after seeing it on so many tv food shows. Although pretty much all of my PDX friends and contacts told me that Voodoo was not all it’s cracked up to be, I was still set on going there. As expected, there was a huge line wrapped down the side of the building, and with only limited time I wasn’t sure I wanted to stay. I happened upon three young guys who were trying to take a group shot, so I offered to take one for them. I asked if the donuts were worth the wait, and they said they were “just okay,” and then offered me a donut from their stash! (They had bought a dozen.) So, after quieting the suspicious New Yorker in me, I took one of theirs and went on my merry way. It was a chocolate donut topped with chocolate frosting and Cocoa Puffs. It tasted like a Dunkin’ Donut chocolate frosted on a bad day, although the frosting was thick and yummy. So, in the end, I was glad I got to try one, but without the wait.
Fueled by sugar, I passed some food truck parking lots (food trucks are huge in Portland) and the entrance gate to Chinatown, which is pretty much abandoned these days. I stopped in at a super fun little spot called Ground Kontrol (511 NW Couch Street), a vintage video game arcade and bar. I was thrilled when I got carded (although I learned later that Portland is extremely strict about checking IDs), and I played a few rounds of pinball.
After enough buzzers, bells, and bumpers, I walked through the Pearl district until I arrived at Powell’s City of Books (1005 W Burnside Street), the largest new and used bookstore in the world. So, imagine how big the biggest bookstore in the world is, and you probably still won’t understand how big this store is until you step foot in it. I was probably in there for about an hour, and I didn’t even leave the first floor! Powell’s takes up an entire city block, so they even give out maps. Don’t miss this place if you ever get to visit Portland.
I kept on walking and exploring the city, until was ready for dinner. I was heading towards a Vietnamese restaurant near my hotel, but instead I stumbled upon Fresh Roll (600 SW 4th Avenue), a casual little place serving Vietnamese “street food.” I enjoyed the most satisfying bowl of rice noodles with grilled shrimp and lemongrass chicken with a refreshing fresh ginger lemonade. Highly recommended! After dinner, I strolled through the upscale Pioneer Place Mall (700 SW 5th Avenue) for a bit, and then called it a night. (Or maybe my feet just realized they’d had enough!)
Since my time in Portland was so limited, I hired a local tour company to take me around on my last day. I found Oregon Tour Company online, and I wound up booking two of their tours back to back. I spent the day with owner Pete Woodburn, and I could not have made a better use of my time or money. We started out early in the day on the Portland City Tour, where I learned a lot about the history of the city while exploring its layout as well as the sprawling neighborhoods that surround downtown Portland. What I loved about the city were all the little neighborhood hubs, where you’d find a strip of restaurants, shops, bars, etc., but there were really no national chains to be found. Everything was really unique, mom & pop type places, and it was a welcome change from our strip mall culture. We stopped at the most delicious donut shop--Tonalli’s Donuts & Cream (2805 NE Alberta Street)--where I enjoyed an amazing, fresh Old-fashioned Cinnamon Crunch donut. It blew yesterday’s donut away by far! Since Pete is a longtime resident of Portland, he was able to give a real insider’s tour of the city, talking about everything from crooked politicians to where the Grateful Dead and Jefferson Airplane used to stay when they were in town.
In between tours, I grabbed lunch at Nong’s Khao Man Gai (609 SE Ankeny Street), which is known for their simple-yet-delicious poached Thai chicken. It was just the perfect fuel I needed to continue on my second tour of the day, which was the Columbia River Gorge Tour. This was about an hour ride (with views of Mt. Hood and even Mt. St. Helen’s in view) from Downtown Portland to Multnomah Falls, a 611-foot waterfall that was just beautiful. Pete took us to a few other off-the-beaten path falls, including Latourell Falls which had an amazing neon green face from the rare lichen that covers it. I didn’t think I was going to have enough time to get out to see this part of Oregon, but I’m so glad that I did.
Once back in the city, I stopped in for dinner at McMenamin’s Blue Moon Tavern & Grill (432 NW 21st Avenue) for a delicious burger and tater tots. After that, it was back to the airport and back home with a wish that someday I’ll get back to Portland again.
Jennifer Niederhoffer is the founder of Impress Media, an independent lifestyle & entertainment public relations and editorial services firm. You can follow her on twitter @impressmedia or @themommysreview.