Top 20 Portland Picks: Beer, Food and Fun

In my life I’ve moved 18 times. One would think, with as happy as Bello and I are in our current home in Jersey City, I would never want to move again. Minutes from Manhattan, $1,000 a month saved in rent redirected towards travel and far more amenities than our Upper West Side apartment… and then we saw Portland. One visit and we could literally see ourselves putting down roots in Stumptown.

Portland has all the elements a wanderlustful couple like ourselves needs to settle down. On any given weekend, you could easily jump in the car and hit breathtaking beaches, wine country, Mt. Hood with Trillum Lake or Mt. Saint Helens for hiking. The city itself has one of the top food scenes and the largest urban parks in the country.

I could spend countless blog posts recounting each amazing experience Portland served up. Instead, I’ll list my top 20 picks for what to see, where to sip and dine while visiting the City of Roses.

I’ll start with Beer since after all, we are talking about Beervana! While there are certainly other places in the world with strong Beer cultures like Ireland, Germany and Belgium which I visited recently, I second naming Portland Beer Capital of the world. I joked in my last post, Goonies for Big Kids that “you’re never more than a hop, stout or a malt away from a new favorite” brew and it’s completely true. With 32 Breweries in the city limits (38 counting metro Portland), the diversity of local craft beer on tap is astounding.

In Portland, the bar tenders and waiters are a special breed and are not the least bit shy when it comes to suggesting and nailing a recommendation based on your dish or a quick rundown of what you do and don’t like. While you can get a great selection nearly anywhere you go, if you’re looking for a great spot to stop in the middle of a day of exploring or relaxation here are some fantastic Breweries to try:

Top Spots to Stop for a Brew

Brew Board Bridgeport Brewery
Brew Board Bridgeport Brewery
  • Bridgeport Brewery: My top pick not only because it’s Portland oldest Brewery and the building itself (an old rope factory built in 1888) draws you in; but, their beers are top notch, award-winning and tasty even to this newbeery. Plus, added bonus, their menu and pourboard broke down the main elements of beer in a simply to understand guide, one that finally made hoppy vs heavy make sense to me. I felt just a little smarter and a tad tipsier when it came to decoding all that beer speak around OGs, IBUs and ABV. Thanks Bridgeport!
  • MacTarnahan’s Taproom: Half-way here we wondered if we were lost as Portland Brewing sits in the crosshairs of industrial and residential. The minute you walk in your face to face with two huge copper brewing vessels imported from Bavaria. Opt for an outside table to enjoy a solid meal, sunlight and all the greenery Portland has to offer.
  • Rogue Ales: Purely on location alone, this spot is smack in the heart of downtown Portland. You can saddle up on a sidewalk bench to watch the hip, young, trendy artists amble through the Pearl District. Get your giggle on watching happy folks take wobbling hops off a BrewCycle.
  • EaT Oyster Bar: If you find yourself in the Williams District for Sunday brunch, which is pretty likely since numerous hot spots from Tasty n Sons, Lardo and Ned Ludd are all nearby, take a peek and see if there is a band at EaT Oyster Bar. You’re not likely to find this place on anyone else’s list for top spots for a beer. There are plenty of places in Portland with a FAR bigger tap list, yet the Sunday jazz band was so much fun and honestly just left me with a huge smile on my already relaxed, happy face. It felt like a steal to lay down $7 get two beers and a great show.

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Top Spots for a View

If you’re looking for a few fun ways to spend a little time in Portland before you find yourself saying, “I could go for a brew right about now” here are  few suggestions inside the city limits:

  • Japanese Garden: I didn’t just like my visit here, I LOVED it. Typically, my Husband and I pass on tourist attractions that charge admission, yet the $9.50 per person we paid here was well worth it. This is no tourist trap. The concept of beauty in all things, simplicity and zen are in perfect harmony here. The serenity and peace you gain in a visit is inspiring. No matter where I move, if I have a yard, I’m putting in my own small Japanese Garden with a coy pond, hands down that’s happening.
  • The International Rose Test Garden: You can park right between the Japanese Garden and The Rose Test Garden. Free to to visit, one can flutter between 10,000 roses in an enormous variety of colors, sizes and scents. It’s the closest you’ll ever come to being a butterfly.
  • Pittock Mansion: We skipped the house and were perfectly satisfied to scour the grounds in search of the best views in Portland. The surrounding gardens are full of hiking trails and well labeled greenery. The locals bring picnics and claim free spots on benches and picnic tables high above Beervana below.
  • St. John’s Bridge: Portland is a city rich with bridges, 11 when you count all that cross Willamette River. Most are best seen from a waterfront walk or one of the many boat tours in town. St. John’s Steel Suspension bridge arches gracefully over Cathedral Park, a relaxed, clean and scenic neighborhood gem.
  • Pearl District: Chock full of art galleries this downtown Portland neighborhood felt a bit like a more approachable version of Manhattan’s Meatpacking district. If you find yourself in town on a the first Thursday of the month, you’ll find an energetic neighborhood full of the hippest Portlanders and the doors to many galleries open late.
  • Forest Park: New York has Central Park and while I love it and have many a fond memory walking through the curves and trails, it’s a flat man-made hike. In Portland, Forest Park hosts 70 miles of hiking trails with views of Downtown Portland and Willamette River. Not to be missed, you’ll feel as if you’ve been in nature for days, not hours.

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Top Spots to Eat on a Budget

When my Husband and I travel, I research the dickens out of where to eat. My goal is to find the spots where Chef and budget shake hands and call it a truce. Perhaps after 10 years I’m jaded on New York’s dining scene because Portland impressed the crispy pork fat loving heck out of me. Here are a few spots sure to leave you feeling guilty over how much you eat not spend on the bill.

  • Tasty n Sons: It’s all SO good, you’ll want seconds even if your stomach is screaming ENOUGH! If you have the chance order a few dishes with friends and insistent on the House Made Rueben.
  • Little Bird: Hello lover! This adorable joint is pretty female friendly as far as decor and ambiance but what got me, was the Crab Roll with herbs, jalapeños, pickled celery aioli and shoestring potatoes. Hands down this was the best thing I ate in Portland. The combination of ingredients sang. Go for lunch. With Le Pigeon the Sister restaurant winning top awards in the city, dinner can be tricky.
  • Bamboo Sushi: Truly the best, absolutely fresh sushi I’ve ever had, sorry Morimoto, I do love you! Bamboo is the first certified, sustainable restaurant in the world. I’d discovered it through a Netflix documentary and man was I glad we took the time to give it a try. For some reason sushi didn’t seem like what Portland would be known for but Bamboo sushi is destination eating at it’s finest (which probably in and of itself goes against the sustainable approach… but we were in Portland anyway!)
  • Pok Pok: Ok I admit it, we were lame NYers thinking if we went late, we could get a table. Pok Pok doesn’t take reservations and when arriving at this lovely gem in such a hotspot neighborhood, a table is not waiting for you. We opted to carry out but don’t tell anyone! The food was still fantastic when we arrived at our hotel and in my memory bank, I ate the signature game hen and sticky rice beneath that portico like all the other Portlanders.
  • Olympic Provisions: Charcuterie so good, you’ll wonder what you’ve been eating all your life. We stopped by the Northwest location intending to pick something up to go; but, the minute my Husband saw the place, we were staying. A charcuterie board with two cheese later and we could not have been happier. The location, ambiance and obvious dedication to perfecting the craft of cured cuts makes any carnivore feel like they hit the meat lottery.
  • Nuvrei Bakery: Not since Paris have I been so delighted with pastry. From their website, you’d think… really? From their counter you’ll think Oh My! Pastry perfection leaves you swooning on sight. A coffee, local papers and bright sunlight make you want to move to Portland just to start your days at the Nuvrei counter.

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Top Portland Road Trips

If you are fortunate to have enough time to dedicate a day or two to road trips outside Portland, forget that – make sure you do have enough time to venture outside the city limits. You’re in the middle of the Pacific Northwest and in one of the most diverse geographic areas of the country. Here are just a sampling of perfect road trips Oregon has to offer the lucky folks that visit Portland:

  • Columbia River Gorge: 26 waterfalls, 3 dams and from what I can tell just over 40 parks make up this majestic and magical area. You could spend weeks camping your way through. We spent a little time at the Big Horse Brew Pub which turned out to be the perfect spot to relax and take in a sweeping view of  the sights the Gorge has to offer.
  • Mt. Hood: The highest point in Oregon, this active volcano is an ever present backdrop in Portland. We drove out and back in one day, I wish we had taken more time.
  • Trillium Lake alone begged us to stay a while and seemed to be one of the natural wonders of the world with its clear mirror like waters reflecting Mt. Hood, rather than a lake formed by a dam in the 60’s.
  • Fruit Loop: Located through the Columbia Gorge, just an hour from Portland, you can get your fill of everything from local wines to lavender and every fruit and vegetable you can imagine. Personally, I just love the name of the area but when you see it, all the mass produced “organic” markets throughout the US will seem like a relic of the past.

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There is always a story or two in the news about NY’ers picking up and moving to Brooklyn,  Jersey City, Beacon New York even now indeed Portland and yet few of us do it. I have a feeling the folks that want to “keep Portland weird” would like to keep it that way. For now, Bello and I are staying put. Look out though Portland, I’m coming for you! I adore your quirks, getting everywhere in the city in twenty minutes and all the green. The food for me is top notch and the beer, well three cheers for Portland all around.

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