2011 MUST DO: Portland Weekend Getaway

The little city to the south has stepped up its game – time for a visit.

Portland has long been the “go-to” spot for carefree (no planes or trains, just automobiles) getaways from our beloved city. Once just the quirkier little sister to Seattle, Portland continues to step up its game. Every time we turn our heads it’s as if little sis matures another step towards becoming a real big-city contender.

And that’s why, if you’re looking for a no-fuss no-muss break from your day-to-day, we cite Portland as the number one “must visit” weekend getaway. So whether you’re craving a good Pinot, live music or eccentric shopping (hold the sales tax please), it’s time for a road trip.

Have a beer while getting your haircut at Bishops, peruse the farmers markets for vegan-anything, or watch a movie at a high school gymnasium-turned living room amphitheatre. Pick your vice, Portland can fill nearly any prescription.

Getting There.

The 144 mile drive down I-5 takes two and a half to three hours (as long as you calculate your timing perfectly enough to avoid the hell that is Tacoma-Olympia traffic) and is a breeze with a good playlist or juicy gossip from your girlfriends.

If you don’t feel like driving, Amtrak has a relaxing route from Seattle to Portland with a fantastic view of the hills, and even better view of the bartender. And if you plan your train travels just right, you could arrive in Portland in time for happy hour.

Getting Around.

You can effortlessly navigate Seattle (right?), so Portland will be a breeze. There are four sections to the city. Downtown is the SW area, including the Pearl District and Pioneer Square. Hit the boutique shops down 23rd street in the NW, then head over the Broadway bridge to Mississippi street in the NE, your hipster spotting and happy hour delight. And land in the SE Hawthorne District, where bouncy street performers line the sidewalk strewn with artwork.

Where to Stay.
Hotel Lucia ~ Photo: Jonathan Bishop

The current best-of-the-best list includes The Nines, a luxuriously sexy hotspot located in the center of downtown in the renowned Meier & Frank Building.  Or rest your happy-hour ridden head at the trendy Hotel Lucia located downtown. (Be on the lookout: It’s possible to spot the occasional “getting away from it all” celeb in your neighboring rooms.)

If you’re looking for a chic spot outside the city, the Jupiter Hotel has every kind of room you could ever imagine, located in the SE with an amazing restaurant/bar attached — the Doug Fir is covered in fluffy bear skinned walls, crystal elk-antler chandeliers, and tree stump round tables to holster your beer. This hotel also has a music venue attached to the bar, hosting local and floating live bands every night of the week.

Time to Eat.

Got the munchies? This city lives for foodies and street-food lovers alike. Restaurants abound, but Portland is known for its food carts — you can spot them in any part of town. Carts cook up everything from French crepes to Ethiopian finger food, Greek Gyros or even fancy PB&Js with the crust cut off.

Must-Stop Spots.

The Kenndey School

The Kennedy School, one of a million McMennamin’s establishments in the Portland area, was an elementary school in its now-historic, previous life, until it was refurbished into a hotel/bar/restaurant/movie theatre/brewery experience.

The food is the same familiar greasy bar food supplied at their endless other funky joints around town. But it’s still worth the visit.

The classrooms are now hotel rooms, (chalkboard and desks included) the boiler room is a two-story pool bar, the auditorium is a movie theatre (plush couches, recliners and whatever else they could scrounge are your seats) and the steam room houses a fine oval soaking pool. When did staying after school become so exciting? Only in Portland.

It’s Always Happy Hour.

Portland has one of the best happy hour selections this side of the country, so be sure to take advantage of some great apps while sipping on a sweet martini before searching for the perfect dinner spot (if you ever make it that far).

If you’re in the Pearl, Paragon is a local favorite, mirroring the unpretentious ambience of the surrounding art galleries. The menu features American Brasserie-style dishes using local ingredients, such as the corn and green chili ravioli, or the grilled lamb chops with sweet garlic nicoise olives. But you’re here for the cocktails – the majority of their creations is made with their own house-infused spirits. Just try to sample only one.

Jake’s Famous Crawfish - Crab Tower
Dinner Time.

Portland City Grill is the best place for a juicy steak and killer calamari — but it’s mostly noted for the stellar view of the city (think the space needle without the rotating floor).

If this is your first time to Portland, you can’t leave without stopping by Jake’s Famous Crawfish restaurant, in the heart of downtown — renowned as one of the top ten seafood joints across the nation. Their happy hour may be to die for, but Jake’s is best known for their varieties of more than 30 fresh fish and seafood options that are flown in daily (think fresh Oregon Dungeness crab, salmon on a cedar plank and plump scallops, for starters).

If you’re on the hunt for something less standard-Pacific-Northwest, head under the Morrison Bridge on the eastside and you’ll find the dimly lit Creole hole, Le Bistro Montage. The sketchy location and offensive service make it a refreshingly New-York-City sort of experience. And, as is par for such a course, long rows of white linen tables seat you practically in the lap of the couple next to you — so eavesdropping is an expected element of the evening. Montage has the best oyster and mussel shooters in town, and their signature seafood linguini is a favorite. Or in need of a little spice? The jambalaya will kick your ass. Just be sure to order a signature cocktail to accompany it; taste aside, the mere act of asking for a “Swell Looking Broad” or “What’s up Tiger Lily?” makes it all worth it. Even if you’re not one for leftovers, attempt to save some just for the show that follows — they’ll wrap up your dish in a tinfoil-shaped elephant or a sword the size of your date. Entertainment at its finest.

All About The Shopping.

The Saturday Market, Portland’s open-air-take on Pike Place, has artsy souvenirs, top-notch local products and live music near the waterfront. Located right next to the Burnside Bridge, Saturday Market is right off of the max line if you’re staying outside the city, and the perfect place to take in the view.

Don’t forget to take further advantage of the lack of sales tax, and head over to NW 23rd Street, where the best boutique shopping runs some 12 blocks, starting from Burnside. If you’d like to stick closer to downtown, Pioneer Square has an excellent three-story shopping center as well – though it’s not a far cry from what you’ll find in downtown Seattle.

Beer Me.
Powel’s Bookstore ~ Photo: Jonathan Bishop

Whether you prefer Ambers or smooth lagers, Portland has more breweries per capita than almost anywhere else in the nation.

Local favorites include tried-and-true Deschutes, Rogue and Henry Weinhardt, and smaller finds like the Lucky Lab, Amnesia on Mississippi, or the Roots breweries. There are several companies that will take you on a tour of the best breweries, shuttling patrons door to door; just ask the local tourist office for details.

Other To-Dos.

Get lost in the entire-city-block stop that is Powel’s Bookstore on Burnside, the largest new and used bookstore in the nation.

At night, live like the locals and grab a copy of the weekly Mercury, Portland’s printed music guru, and head to one of the endless underground venues for some live tunes.