How can you spend only one day in Portland and still feel like you got to experience many different facets of what this city has to offer?
Near the end of August, my friend Kristina and I decided to go on a spur-of-the-moment road trip up to Portland for the weekend. The drive up is about thirteen or fourteen hours, so aside from a brief excursion to a bar downtown on Friday night, we really only spent one full day in the city since we had to leave early Sunday morning in order to make it back to Los Angeles by the end of the night. Even though we didn’t do too much Friday or Sunday, we actually did quite a bit on Saturday, so let’s delve into that a little bit.
On a related note, I’ve been in Portland before with my family, but it was more like a stopover on the way to Seattle than anything. We went to the International Rose Test Garden and some other places in the area (Multnomah Falls and The Grotto), but that was about it.
Anyway, let’s try to answer the question that we started with and hopefully this will give you some ideas in case you ever only have a bit of time to explore the City of Roses.
Even though the forecast called for rain this weekend, I still wanted to go on a hike since this city has such a beautiful natural environment surrounding it. Driving through Oregon after so many hours moving through most of California is a lot more manageable because of how lovely it is to see so many tall trees flanking each side of the road. Anyway, we woke up early to go to Forest Park since it seemed like a lot of people recommended it online. It was like being in another world.
Forest Park itself contains over 5,100 acres, so we were only in a small portion of it. Everything was just so green and full of vegetation. I liked imagining that we were in a Jurassic Park movie and a stegosaurus or a triceratops might be found a little further along the trail. There are actually over 70 miles worth of trails in the park, but we did a simple 2.7 mile loop that began on Leif Erikson Drive and accessed the Wild Cherry, Wildwood, and Dogwood trails in the park.
There were other people there either walking their dogs or doing some trail running. I would LOVE to have a park like this back home since it seems like the perfect place to go out for a nice, cool run. I guess the closest thing that we have would be Griffith Park, but there isn’t a lot of vegetation to keep you in the shade. It was the perfect hiking weather and it actually didn’t rain too much (or at all) while we were there.
After a brief return to our room to change, we headed to Portland State University to check out the Portland Farmers Market. The event happens on Saturdays from 8:30 or 9:30 AM (depending on the month) until 2 PM and features a lot of different vendors from the area showcasing their wares. It’s mostly food products like cheese, vegetables, and fruit, but there are also several booths selling flowers and other products as well. It’s such a large farmers market and I would love to go here if I lived in Portland to get my groceries for the week or see what possible flavors I could experiment with in the future.
From there, we walked several blocks down to the promised land, also known as Powell’s City of Books. Powell’s is the largest independent bookstore in the world. It really is massive and I was quite overwhelmed at first by just how many rooms and books there were in the store. I felt like I both wanted and HAD to buy a book here, but I also wanted to make sure it was 1.) a book that I would want to read and 2.) a book that would actually make a relevant purchase based on where I was.
I was originally thinking about getting a book about books or libraries or bookstores, but I ended up finding something more appropriate. It was a book called Wildwood by Colin Meloy of The Decemberists about a girl living in Portland going on an adventure in the woods to save her little brother. I read through the first couple pages and knew that this was the one for me. I’ve already read several of the chapters and I already like it much more than another book that I have been reading.
Kristina’s car was parked by a meter, so we had to head back before time ran out. Once we got to the car, we continued our day of exploring at the International Rose Test Garden in Washington Park. There are over 7000 plants in this garden and about 550 different kinds of roses. When you walk through the garden, you can also learn the names of the variety that you are looking at. Some are appropriate, while some are just a little strange. Many puns like “Scentimental”.
We went to the nearby Portland Japanese Garden afterwards, though I’m not sure what I should say about this place other than it’s a nice Japanese garden and that Portland is sister cities with Sapporo, Japan. I’ve visited several different Japanese gardens before (in Little Tokyo, the Huntington Library, and even this same one in Portland), but of course I would rather see it in Japan.
At this point the rain started to pour and people were scrambling to make their way to their cars or to find shelter. It was almost 5 PM already so many places in the park were closing and a lot of people had already left by the time we went back to the car.
We were hungry, so we went back downtown to a bar called Tug Boat Brewing to eat and grab a drink. I got the mac and cheese and an Atlas blackberry cider. While we ate, we played some trivia since the bar has a board game shelf and trivia games are my go-to. We didn’t really get a lot of time to stay in the bar though since we then had to rush off to walk a few blocks to make the 6 PM tour of the Shanghai Tunnels, also called the Portland Underground.
I remember reading about getting “shanghaied” when I was studying abroad in China. It was in my Shanghai guide book and it mentioned how people were taken from the US and shipped off to work as slaves. The Shanghai Tunnels were basically a series of underground passageways where unsuspecting victims would plummet down from trap doors and then be imprisoned and shipped off on ships that were docked in one of Portland’s…ports.
The tour started out at Hobo’s Restaurant in Old Town Portland and everyone was asked what kind of tour they wanted. I thought that it was just going to be historical, but then the ghost tour option was presented and many people loved that idea. I loved that idea too since the supernatural is pretty interesting to me and I enjoyed the ghost tour that I went on in New Orleans. I don’t know if I believe in ghosts (I do believe in energies), but even if these ghost stories were made up, I enjoy a good story. The Shanghai Tunnels were also featured in the season 6 premiere of Ghost Adventures.
We were taken down through a series of stairs in front of the restaurant and then led through a short section of what was underground while our guide told us stories of old-timey brothels, how drunken men would get caught in trap doors, and, of course, the ghosts. Some of the stories were quite unsettling and involved doors opening and closing or crying ladies and disappearing phantom men. There was also supposed to be a scent that some visitors could smell at a certain area which is supposed to be attributed to a prostitute. Our guide didn’t tell us what the scent was in the beginning, but a kid correctly identified it as rose after smelling it himself.
I don’t really have much pictures from the underground and I believe that people were asked to put a watermark on images from down there since there is still a book about the tunnels waiting to come out, but it was pretty dark anyway. I think I’ll leave what’s down there to the imagination.
Something to note, there are some people, including university professors and historians, who don’t believe that the Shanghai Tunnels actually existed. You can read more about that here.
The guide also mentioned how Portland is still a major hotspot for human trafficking, including sex trafficking, in the United States. I remember learning about this problem in a short at the Asian Pacific Film Festival, but there are girls who go missing pretty often and it appears that gangs in the city have been playing a big role in the trafficking industry.
The sun was still out so we went to Bailey’s Taproom for a drink. Bailey’s was actually the bar that we went to on Friday night, but it was such a chill place to hang out and they also had trivia games. On Friday night, I had ordered the Bridgeport Tilikum Crossing: Orange Line white IPA because I like witbier (a white IPA is basically an IPA/witbier crossover) and it was from Portland. I liked it a lot and even ordered a growler to take home since I think it’s a pretty nifty souvenir from the city known for its beer.
This time though, I tried the Alameda Yellow Wolves of Thailand (also from Portland) and the Cascade Lakes Check Your Head (from Richmond, OR). Oh gosh, I think I remember liking the Alameda but not being a big fan of the Cascade Lakes one. I’m not a beer expert, so my process in selecting a drink is usually just picking a name I like if there aren’t any witbier options available.
Bailey’s doesn’t serve food, but we got tacos from Santaria across the street delivered to our table, which was cool. I was starting to get into a sort of drunken haze, so we decided to walk it off a bit and head to Powell’s to browse one last time. By then, there were a lot less people around and the store was already closing so we headed back to Bailey’s again before making one more stop at Voodoo Doughnuts.
Voodoo Doughnut was another location that we went to Friday night since, like Cafe Du Monde in New Orleans, it is open 24 hours. Unlike Cafe Du Monde, I don’t really think that Voodoo Doughnuts deserves all the hype since I didn’t particularly enjoy any of the doughnuts I got. I tried the Captain My Captain (stale Cap’n Crunch cereal on a doughnut), the Miami Vice (I liked the colors and wanted one with sprinkles), and the Voodoo Doll (probably my favorite out of all three). One thing to note about these doughnuts are that they can be incredibly sweet. I actually like sweet things more than other people I know, but that Cap’n Crunch one was a little too much. At least you can get married here?
I didn’t buy any doughnuts for myself on this second trip and instead got some to bring back home to see what my brothers thought of it. After that, we went back to the motel to rest up for an early departure.
I actually loved Portland a lot and would definitely consider moving there if I had the financial stability and the opportunity. There is just a very easygoing vibe that pervades the area and I could see myself being a regular at Forest Park and Powell’s. I really liked the downtown area, though some parts were especially sketch, and I just want to keep exploring its quirks in the future. There’s a slogan that pops up a lot in the city that says “Keep Portland Weird” and it’s that weirdness that gives it so much character and captures my curiosity. I mean, we were only there one day and we got to see such a wide spectrum of culture and history and this is only some of the touristy things. There’s still tons out there to uncover.
We were able to make it back to Los Angeles before midnight, after a brief lunch with one of Kristina’s friends in Sacramento, and just like that the weekend was over.