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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 THREE | You’ll be doing a bit of driving today. First you zip across the Fremont Bridge and up to Alberta Street, the main drag of the Alberta Arts District, which would be the Brooklyn of Portland if all of Portland weren’t the Brooklyn of Portland. Your destination is Beast. Here, chef Naomi Pomeroy, a 2014 James Beard Award winner, runs a bright, homey one-room space with two large communal tables bracketing a prep station. Clearly, Beast’s reputation has traveled: All but two of the eight people at your table are out-of-towners.

“It’s always been this communal setup,” server Lisa Perry says. “You get to meet people you wouldn’t normally meet.” So it is you share a convivial four-course brunch of a rhubarb clafoutis (custard with whipped cream and bacon); a light hash made with pork shoulder, fresh vegetables and a poached duck egg; a cheese plate; and a thick cube of chocolate cake. It is possibly the best brunch you’ve ever eaten.

Having fueled up, you’re ready to split town. One of Portland’s selling points is its proximity to a host of beautiful natural landmarks. Just a few minutes east of town you find the Historic Columbia River Highway, which winds up a hill to Vista House, a 97-year-old sandstone and marble rotunda perched on a cliff high above the massive Columbia River Gorge. You soak in the view, thinking that it hasn’t changed much since Lewis and Clark rafted through on their way to the Pacific a couple of centuries ago.

From here you descend back into the canyon, the road winding through Douglas firs, over old stone bridges and past waterfalls until you reach 620-foot-high Multnomah Falls, the second-tallest year-round cascade in America. You pull over and walk along Multnomah Creek, looking for spawning salmon, then climb the trail to Benson Bridge. You pause here for a while, enjoying the mist from the powerful falls on your face.

An hour east of Portland you reach Hood River, where you stop for lunch at the Double Mountain Brewery. You order a dry-hopped Vaporizer pale ale and scarf down a brick-oven pizza topped with goat cheese, kalamata olives and peppadew peppers. From here, you wander around the corner to a microbrewing pioneer, the employee-owned Full Sail Brewing Co. You grab a seat on the deck, looking out over the river, and nurse a bourbon barrel–aged porter, watching windsurfers flit about on the water.

Upon returning to the city, you check in at the eighth-floor lobby of the Nines hotel, beneath a seven-story atrium that bathes the luxe (and LEED-certified) interior in sunlight. You drop your bags and munch on the cheese plate in your room, which has a view of Pioneer Courthouse Square, the lively red-brick plaza known as “Portland’s Living Room,” before heading up to the rooftop bar, Departures. The vibe is different up here; with the wall panels glowing pink and purple and the bling-flashing crowd on the sun-blanched rooftop, you feel as if you stepped off an elevator in Vegas.

Back on the ground, with the sun still shining, you stroll across the Burnside Bridge to dinner at Le Pigeon, where you sit before chef Gabriel Rucker’s open kitchen and watch flames rise from the range as the tattooed cooks deftly prepare a succession of adventurous French dishes: suckling pig croquettes, sturgeon pastrami, beef-cheek bourguignon, shrimp-crusted halibut. Each course is delicious and complex and comes with a perfect drink pairing. You do not have room for dessert.

It’s your last night in town and you’re ready to rock out. You’ll be doing this practically next door, at the Doug Fir Lounge. Once a seedy motel, the property was converted a few years ago into a boutique hotel and a bar that looks like a modernist hunting lodge that doubles as one of the city’s best music venues. As Nashville-based indie songwriter Katie Herzig and her band take the stage, you look around the crowd—the studiously casual, comprehensively inked Portlanders who have helped make this the hippest town in America—and decide there may be an even better place to mark the end of your visit, a place that’s conveniently located right up the street.

“People who grow up here or move here love it,” says Gin Hicks, an artist at Fortune Tattoo. “There’s an intense need to preserve it and nurture it and take care of it, and that rolls over into how people express themselves.” With this, she clicks off her tattoo gun, pulling away to admire her work. You say goodnight and head back across the Burnside Bridge, the city lights twinkling on the river, a bright red rose tingling on your forearm.

Hemispheres managing editor Justin Goldman is still kinda bummed Carrie Brownstein wasn’t waiting to greet him at the Portland airport.

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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