Feeling Hip(ster) in Portland’s Food & Beer Scene

Sometimes it’s hard to make a point of being a tourist in your own country.  I tend to be really terrible at this—international or bust.  But there are so many awesome places in the good ol’ U.S. of A.

While my list of super sweet scenery I need to see in the U.S. is long, there are only a handful of major U.S. cities that I haven’t been to.  Some I’m kind of “meh” on (lookin’ at you, Miami), and others have been right at the top of the list for quite a while.  Portland has actually been riding high atop that list for a few years at least, and so when I was looking for a fun girls’ trip over Memorial Day weekend, I decided that pairing the beauty and wine of the Willamette Valley with the quirk and beer of Portland was 100% the right call.

And boy, was it ever.

What to do in Portland, Oregon...tips for the first-time visitor on where to eat, what to see, what to skip

We all arrived Friday evening, tired and stressed from a brutal week (seriously, all of us had terrible weeks), and ready for relaxation, vino, food, and girl talk.  We spent Saturday and Sunday morning sampling the wines of Willamette (more on that to come!), Sunday afternoon hiking, and then got into Portland Sunday evening.

So without further ado, here’s my list of what to do in Portland and how we spent our 24 hours there!

We started at Huber’s for dinner (yes, Sarai got the flaming Spanish coffee; the rest of the food was…edible?).  Then we decided to grab a drink at Departure, on top of The Nines hotel.  It’s swanky, like being in a spaceship.  We arrived around 10p and it was super crowded, hard to get served and quite chilly out on the patio.  We each got an overpriced, watered-down cocktail and then hightailed it back to the hotel.

Pro tip:  skip Departure on a weekend night (especially holiday weekend) unless you’re looking to see and be seen.  You’ll get better drinks, value, service, and views elsewhere.

What to do in Portland, Oregon...tips for the first-time visitor on where to eat, what to see, what to skip

Monday morning my internal clock woke me up early (stupid West Coast time), so I put my running clothes on and went in search of coffee.  It was more walking than running since I’d forgotten that those yoga pants won’t stay up to save my life…

I left our hotel, which was right on the waterfront, and headed across the Hawthorne Bridge toward Coava Coffee.

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The best coffee, donuts, sights, and beer in Portland

Is this not the most Portland-y place you’ve ever seen???

What to do in Portland, Oregon...tips for the first-time visitor on where to eat, what to see, what to skip

I got a regular cappuccino and then a honey latte—a claim to fame for Coava.  The coffee in it is brewed with honey water from local bees, so is pretty sweet and not as strong as I like my coffee normally, but it was actually quite good.  I grabbed a couple pastries too, because…well, I mean, pastries.  Nobody needs to explain that.

Getting both drinks and the pastries (and my phone, wallet, and iPod) back across the bridge without dumping everything was nothing short of a miracle though.

Once I got back to the hotel, we all eventually got around and then headed back out in search of (more) coffee.  This time we ended up at Heart Coffee, which was also quite good.  Our choices were a little limited since it was the Monday of a holiday weekend, but I loved both Heart and Coava.  Stumptown and Ristretto were two others that were recommended.

Portland's street art game is awesome...and the city is super walkable. Tips for visiting this awesome city.

After coffee, donuts were a must, so we headed in that direction.  I was in awe of all the amazing street art we saw as we were walking throughout the different neighborhoods.  This was, hands down, my favorite.

Nommmmmm!  We went to Blue Star on several people’s recommendations, and were NOT disappointed.  It was so hard to choose flavors!

After waiting in line for about 20-30 minutes, we ended up with Blueberry Bourbon Basil, Passion Fruit Cacao (with a touch of cayenne), Meyer Lemon and Key Lime, and Orange Olive Oil cake donut.  All amazing.  I could have eaten like seven of them.  But as it was I was feeling a bit ill from all the sugar, caffeine, lack of real food, and time change, so probably good I didn’t 🙂

More walking…I loved all the cool older buildings and lettering on them.  This Portland Cement Co. building with those cool gold heads was one of my favorites.

Coffee, breweries, food, and much more--what to do in Portland, Oregon

If you’re feeling the effects of sugar and caffeine, probably should offset that with some beer and grease…first stop for Portland beer was Deschutes Brewery.

What to do in Portland, Oregon...tips for the first-time visitor on where to eat, what to see, what to skip

We each ordered a flight, where you can fully customize it.  I had the Fresh Squeezed IPA, Black Butte Porter, Pacific Wonderland Lager, Nitro Obsidian Stout, Altberior Motive, and Swivelhead Red.

That is 24 ounces of beer, and on top of the great burger, the hot pretzel and beer-mustard cheese, and the burrata flatbreads, I was insanely stuffed.  Good food though, recommend for that.  Beer was fine (not earthshattering), service was great, but good brewery food option.

So we definitely needed to walk off all the food, and it was getting later in the day at this point…our flights were in the evening, so we didn’t have forever.  We kept walking toward the Pearl District, with 10 Barrel Brewing in our sights.  I loved this pig smoker we saw on the way.

Then we totally lucked out…

We had no idea that 10 Barrel had a rooftop patio!  That was such a great surprise, and the overcast skies of the morning had yielded to beautiful blue and bright sun.  It was a perfect afternoon for just sitting on the patio, drinking a dark beer and talking to the locals.  We wished we’d found this earlier, and we probably would have just hung out all afternoon.

But alas, our time was running out.  We walked back toward the water and along the waterfront to our hotel.  There was a fair of some sort going on, so a bit crazier than normal.

What to do in Portland, Oregon...tips for the first-time visitor on where to eat, what to see, what to skip

We couldn’t have asked for a nicer day in Portland.  Really, the weather is a crapshoot at best, and we were so lucky.

With about 45 minutes until some of us had to leave for the airport, our brains all of the sudden decided they needed ice cream, and there was only one place that would do—Salt & Straw.   So we got an Uber over there…only to discover an insanely long line that we’d never have made it through.  Thankfully, the Google machine helped us find one of the other best ice cream places in Portland, just down the street.  Alotto Gelato was delish and didn’t have a line.  I got the cinnamon and banana gelatos and felt very good about my life choices.

Where to stay:  Portland Marriott Downtown Waterfront, 1401 SW Naito Pkwy.

Where to caffeinate:  Coava and Heart for coffee (Ristretto and Barista also highly recommended)

Where to eat:  Blue Star Donuts, Alotto Gelato (Salt & Straw if you can brave the line!), Deschutes Brewery

Where to drink:  Deschutes Brewery, 10 Barrel Brewing (awesome rooftop!), Base Camp was also recommended

Where to skip:  Departure, Huber’s

Tips for your first visit to Portland

  • Even though it’ll cost a bit more, stay somewhere super close to all the sights and food—Downtown/Pearl District or somewhere similar.  That whole area is super walkable, so you’ll save money and time on Ubers and the metro (though both are plentiful, easy, and affordable) and walking in Portland is half the fun.
  • There isn’t a gas station anywhere near the airport, so if you need to fuel up your rental car before returning, make sure you do your research on the closest
  • If you’re only staying in Portland, you don’t need a rental car (and it will cost you quite a bit to park it); the metro is easy to use, and an Uber or Lyft to the airport is also surprisingly affordable; if you’re spending time in Willamette you’ll definitely need a rental car

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What to do in Portland, Oregon...tips for the first-time visitor on where to eat, what to see, what to skip

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