As timing goes, we probably picked the worst possible weekend for a road trip across the US border from Vancouver. Back in September, when my friends and I decided to visit Oregon on Remembrance Day weekend, we had no idea that Donald Trump would be elected the 45th President of the United States days before, sparking riots on the streets of Portland and the Canadian dollar to tank against the USD. However, we were not deterred from making our trip, and nor, it appeared, were the rest of the residents of Vancouver, half of whom seemed to descend on the US border at the very same time as us. Four hours of traffic and queuing at immigration later, we finally left Canada behind us, leaving us just an easy five-hour (!) drive ahead.
Alas, we eventually made it to Portland, just about 13 hours after we set out, and managed to avoid any of the riots which had closed many of the city’s streets hours earlier. Despite our late arrival, we were able to take in a huge amount of what the ‘City of Roses’ had to offer.
Portland’s Saturday Market, despite its misleading name, is open all weekend in the Old Town neighbourhood. The open-air market personifies what the city is famous for – its thriving art scene. If you prefer authentic souvenirs and homemade jewellery, you’ll burn holes in your bank account here. The market also houses a main stage with local performers – however it’s entirely hit and miss whether they help or hinder the shopping atmosphere.
Powell’s City of Books
Portland is home to the world’s largest independent bookstore, which doubles as one of it’s biggest attractions. The store has nine
colour-coded rooms, spread across several floors and an entire city block. Oregon has no sales tax and with a favourable exchange rate, you could easily spend a small fortune in this store. Set aside an afternoon to give yourself adequate exploring time and bring snacks incase you get lost and can’t find your family/friends/way out.
A prominent idea on my Bucket List was to see a Mortified show in Portland. Mortified, which I previously wrote about on this blog here, is a stage show which sees adults read some of the most embarrassing extracts from their teenage diaries, poetry, letters, etc. The comedy show first began in Portland in 2002, and now takes places in multiple cities around the world and has its own podcast.
For less than $20, you can catch it in the Amber Rose Theatre in Portland’s Arts District. It’s an excellent kicking-off point for a night out, and the area also boasts plenty of cool cafes and restaurants, as well as a sea of street art to enjoy.
If you ask people where to go in Portland, they’ll inevitably name Voodoo Doughnuts on the list. So here I am, putting it on my list. BUT I really want to emphasise that no doughnut is worth standing in line for an hour to buy, which is easily the amount of time you could spend waiting there. However if you get to Voodoo Doughnuts reasonably early on a Sunday morning (we went around 10am), you can probably be up to the counter and out the door with your box of doughnuts in 20 minutes.
The shop itself is cute, the doughnuts come in every kind of colour and flavour and a box of 12 only costs $11 (plus tip, because ‘Murica), so if you really, really love deep-fried confectionary and have the patience and the time, by all means check it out. For those who see the line and run in the opposite direction, feel no regret that you’ve missed anything – you haven’t.
Overall, while there may not be a list of very obvious ‘touristy’ things to do or see in Portland, it’s still a city worth putting on your West Coast itinerary. As the tv show Portlandia has long-promised, it’s a hipster’s playground, from arcade bars to street art to over-priced coffee. The food is also fantastic. If I can pass on any wisdom from my experience, it is to have a large arsenal of car games prepared for any road trip like this. ‘I went to a sex shop in Portland and I bought…’ killed the guts of an hour and trivia quizzes saw us most of the way to Seattle. Alternatively, you could just be smarter than us and leave early in the morning.