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Three Perfect Days: Portland

America’s hipster capital is home to world-class dining, dozens of microbreweries, a quirky arts scene and some of the most beautiful parks and natural landscapes in the country. Other than that, it’s pretty nice here.

Author Justin Goldman

A few of the 11 bridges that cross the Willamette River in downtown Portland / Daniel Cronin

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DAY ONE | You wake up at the Ace Hotel, a boutique property in Portland’s revitalized West End neighborhood, and immediately rue your lack of skinny jeans. The Ace is quintessential Portland: Leonard Cohen lyrics painted on the walls, a photo booth in the lobby, a record player in your room. It sometimes feels a bit too cool for school—but you’d probably adopt this attitude too if Gus Van Sant had filmed Drugstore Cowboy in your house.

You’re feeling coffee and doughnuts this morning, in part because Portland does those two things better than anywhere else. On your way out the door, you grab a latte from Stumptown Coffee Roasters, then take a short walk down Burnside, the street that separates Portland’s north and south sides. Here you find Voodoo Doughnut, a legendary line-around-the-block fried-dough joint, where you pound down a bacon maple bar and the store’s eponymous confection, a chocolate-covered voodoo doll with raspberry jelly innards and a pretzel stick protruding from its chest.

Somewhat overfed, you take a vigorous two-mile stroll over to Washington Park, in the West Hills, where you are instantly soothed by the sculpted flora of the Portland Japanese Garden. Transfixed, you half walk, half float past the koi pond and the stone garden and onto the back porch of the pavilion, where a resplendent view of Mount Fuji—er, Mount Hood—causes you to catch your breath.

From here, it’s a few flights of stone stairs down to the International Rose Test Garden. Founded in 1924, this is the oldest continually operating public rose garden in America, and quite possibly the prettiest. You wander through a maze of multicolored hedgerows, admiring the apparently endless variety of Portland’s signature flower—Betty Boops, Scarborough Fairs, Blueberry Hills. You’d stop to smell them, but with more than 10,000 roses in the garden, that would take all summer.

You’ve worked up an appetite by the time you get back downtown. Fortunately, the city center is Foodcartlandia, its corners overrun with vendors offering everything from schnitzel to paleo fare. You step up to Nong’s Khao Man Gai and order the signature dish, a Thai street creation comprising rice and poached chicken topped with a hot sauce that torches your taste buds. They die happy.

After lunch, you make a pilgrimage to Powell’s City of Books. The world’s largest independent bookstore, Powell’s takes up an entire city block and is so cavernous that the information desks provide maps. You head to the fourth-floor rare book room, where used book buyer Kirsten Berg shows you a copy of D-Day narrative The Longest Day that includes an inscription from the author to Eleanor Roosevelt. “I love the things people stick in books,” she says. The volume’s price tag ($2,000) is prohibitive, so you pick up a copy of local author Katherine Dunn’s fantastically weird novel Geek Love and make for the cash register.

Your mini shopping spree isn’t over yet: You’re going to need some vinyl to spin on that hotel turntable. As it happens, there are two excellent record shops within three blocks of you: Everyday Music, where you pick up a copy of the late, great Elliott Smith’s self-titled album, and Jackpot Records, where you get the new record from local indie band Blind Pilot. Arturo Diaz, the store’s relaxed clerk, explains why Portland is a mecca for record shops. “It’s the pace of the town,” he says. “People slow down.”

“Brewvana,” as Portland is sometimes called, is also regarded as the craft-brewing capital of America. Committed to exploring another important aspect of local culture, you head to the east side, home to Breakside, one of the best brewpubs in town. Your fedora-wearing bartender, Jack Johnson, recommends the Salted Caramel Stout and a Kumquat Wit tinged with fruit and a bite of coriander. “Trust me,” Johnson says of the odd-sounding flavors. You do, and are duly rewarded.

From Breakside it’s a short bus ride to your dinner spot, Lincoln Restaurant. The first eatery opened by “Top Chef Masters” alum Jenn Louis, Lincoln offers Pacific Northwest cuisine that emphasizes local ingredients. You start with one of the few exceptions to this rule—the slow-cooked, impossibly tender grilled octopus—followed by baked hen eggs and Forty-Seven Percent Chicken, wryly named, Louis explains, because, served minus the wing, “it’s not a half chicken.” Even a few percent shy, it’s an exceptionally good bit of bird.

It’s late, so you head back toward the Ace. On impulse, you decide on one more detour before bed: Pépé le Moko, a narrow subterranean bar that feels like the dining car of a train going through a tunnel. Your bartender, Talia Gordon, insists you try a Grasshopper. “It’s like an adult milkshake,” she says, passing you a glass of mint green froth. The booze snob in you is skeptical, but you slurp it down and decide that all desserts should taste like this. Later, back in your room, you drift off to Elliott Smith whispering from the turntable: “I’ll show you around this alphabet town.”

7 Responses to “Three Perfect Days: Portland”

  1. Cara Tobias Says:
    July 1st, 2014 at 6:52 pm

    And there is SO much more to do in the Portland area in a week! Regarding fashion , “Project Runway ” winners and select vintage that compelled a white house visitor to fly in to buy her gown for the inaugural.And then there is NIKE world campus on the way to one of the best loved coasts in the world. Thanks for the LOVE!

  2. Sue lang Says:
    July 16th, 2014 at 7:21 am

    Thank you

  3. Cornelius Cornhagen Says:
    July 29th, 2014 at 12:21 pm

    The second-person narrative is kind of creepy. Are they ordering me to do this stuff? Are they presciently forecasting my future? Is the author having an out-of-body experience?

  4. Mary Says:
    August 23rd, 2014 at 6:51 pm

    Good advice if you’re a rich alcoholic inclined to get a tattoo. Pretty small demographic for this article.

  5. Julee Jackson Says:
    September 1st, 2014 at 10:30 am

    I was born and raised in Portland and vicinity. I now live in Florida. Returning to Portland for a few days vacation and LOVED this article. Will check out most of places this article refers to. Thanks, downloading it now. Having trouble finding a way to download the iPhone app though.

  6. Nonya Says:
    November 6th, 2014 at 7:56 pm

    Where are these world class restaurants you speak about? I can’t find good food anywhere when in the area. It rains non stop, people stare at you if you wear clothing other than fleece and the down town has zero nightlife. One of the worst cities ever been to. No culture, no food, no entertainment and not a whole lot of sunshine. PASS!

  7. Karen Nelson Says:
    October 31st, 2015 at 2:18 am

    Soggy Portland is cold & depressing. It also has snowy winters. But some people like that. I guess all the rain keeps it green. Bring your Birkinstocks, woolen socks, down vest, and extra Vitamin D!

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