A girls’ weekend in Portland

Monday, 12 August 2013

For my mom’s 70th birthday, we did a girls’ trip to Portland, Oregon for the weekend. I hadn’t been in about 20 years and we were pleasantly surprised by vibrancy of the city. There’s much to see, do, and most importantly, to eat!


The Nines Hotel is situated right downtown, on top of the Macy’s department store.  The location is very central, near the Pioneer Mall and Nordstrom, but also walking distance to the waterfront and the Pearl District.  Rooms are plush, decorated in a soothing and on-trend blue and brown colour scheme and service is very friendly.  There is a great rooftop bar, perfect for a pre-dinner cocktail and taking in the city.


Our room at the Nines Hotel


When I think “German” I don’t usually think great food. But Gruner does German with a modern and decidedly delicious twist.  I had a great sparkling wine cocktail with candied rosemary, the beet-pickled deviled egg starter was yummy and popular, and the quark spatzle with ham and sugar snap peas was to-DIE-for.

I ate a great lunch of fish tacos and the intriguingly-named cocktail Penicillin #2 (how can you not order something with a name like that!?) at Irving Street Kitchen.  I loved the space too, high ceilings and lots of reclaimed wood.

Andina is a bustling Peruvian restaurant that has won a slew of awards. We went with a tapas selection that included chorizo and a traditional potato dish called causa. Definitely book ahead for this one to avoid the wait.   

Portlanders are big on breakfast and brunch.  We had delicious omelets at the busy Bijoux Café, on 3rd and Pine.  Great coffee too.  In fact, there is no shortage of tasty java in Portland.  A stop at Stumptown Coffee is pretty much a must. (Plus, many coffee shops and restaurants serve the brand.)

There is a huge food cart community in Portland, said to have 500 open at any one time, most of which are clustered in pods. Great for a quick bite on the run.  There are also enough brewpubs here to delight any beer drinker.  (They even offer tours.)

Two places I missed because of the HUGE line-ups were Voodoo Donuts and Salt and Straw ice cream.  I actually waited in line at the latter but gave up after 20 minutes because we were going to miss our plane. (Actually, we did miss our plane but that’s another story. When Air Canada says the gate closes 60 minutes prior to departure, they really mean it!) So if you have time to spare when you’re in Portland, be sure to check them out and report back.


The quark spatzle with ham and sugar snap peas at Gruner


The atmosphere at Irving Street Kitchen


While there is no shortage of big department stores, malls, and box stores in Portland (a “city” Target just opened right downtown), I enjoyed poking around the many boutiques instead. Three clothing boutiques I recommend are Steven Alan, Lizard Lounge and Frances May.  They all carry men’s and women’s clothing, jewelry, and some small knickknacks.

Powell’s Books is known as the biggest independent new and used bookstore in the world. And walking through the doors will have you thinking, what e-books?  You can easily lose yourself in here for hours.  I went home with a book on dogs (‘natch) and some hilarious greeting cards.  

If you’re feeling a bit nostalgic and/or peckish, head to Rocket Fizz, for an awesome candy and old school soda selection.  The saltwater taffy array is particularly mouth-watering.  (I recommend the vanilla.) You can buy a small bag for $5.99 and they literally don’t want you to leave until you’ve filled it full up. 

Canoe has a beautiful collection of housewares, and be sure to stop in at Cargo for a huge selection of world imports, like lanterns, Chinese slippers, folk art and textiles.  I came home with some necklaces that I saw at a Vancouver jewelry store (I don’t want to name names but it rhymes with Shoe Tuby), for half the price.

Gilt carries a treasure trove of vintage and antique jewelry. On my visit, there were a lot of great gold bangles and chain necklaces. The vintage diamond ring collection almost made me want to get married again!  


Powell’s Books storefront


Candy-filled Rocket Fizz


Chinese lanterns at Cargo


For eating, drinking and shopping, you can’t beat a stroll through the Pearl District.  The waterfront, or technically riverfront is a great place for a walk or a run.  There you’ll hit the Portland Saturday market (though it was open on Sunday too. Time for a name change?) I also recommend a trip to the International Rose Test Garden in Washington Park, the largest garden of its kind in the US.  It boasts over 500 varieties of roses and over 10,000 plantings.  In full bloom, it’s stunning and smells divine.

I found Portland very walkable, but was also impressed with the public transit, which includes streetcars.  It’s inexpensive, easy to use, and very convenient.  We only had three days but there’s plenty more to do and see. I’ll be back!


Some of the beautiful roses at the International Rose Test Garden



The crazy line-up at Voodoo Donuts!





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  • Heather Fowlie

    We couldn’t stomach the lines at Voodoo in our last trip either, but we are at a great little smoke house restaurant that served Salt And Straw. Yum. I have to go back for a month just to try all the places I want to eat. Portland is a foodie heaven.

  • http://www.annaandkristina.com/ Kristina

    Yes, totally, so many great places to eat. I may have to go back in winter, hopefully the ice cream line-up will be shorter then!

  • Bao-Van Hill

    This is awesome. We are planning to go to Portland mid September and your reviews and recommendations are timely. Voodoo donuts looks like it would be hard to get in though. I am excited for the Rose Test garden and hope that they will still be there when we go!