Published March 19, 2012
The second season of "Portlandia" – a critically-acclaimed show on IFC that lovingly lampoons life in one of the country's most unique cities, if you've never heard of it – recently ended. But you want to know what's even more fun than watching Fred Armisen make jokes about Portland, Oregon on your television? Tuning into the actual city itself. Should you need a little push, here are ten compelling reasons to book a flight, like, now. (For all the lowest fares to Portland PDX from where you live, click here.)
1. It's exactly what you think. Funny hats, food trucks, obsessive baristas, urban gardening, bike lovers – Portland is practically a laboratory of all that's hip and cool in North America right now. Soak up the vibe with a visit to the city's legendary Saturday Market, which just launched its 36th season. The event – which actually runs both Saturdays and Sundays, in the city's historic Chinatown area – features tons of local artisans, as well as plenty to eat (portlandsaturdaymarket.com).
2. Take it from the top. Any city can do parks, but how many have gigantic arboretums, brimming with gorgeous flora from around the world, plonked directly on top of the downtown area? Just a short hike up from the bustle of the city center, the cool, green forests and manicured gardens of the Hoyt Arboretum remain one of Portland's finest assets (hoytarboretum.org).
3. Get schooled. Portland is known for inspiring its share of creativity, and schools like the Oregon College of Art – with a handsome campus among the trees on the edge of town – do their part to help channel all that inspiration. See tomorrow's big names today at the school's ever-changing Centrum Gallery, which rotates monthly with work from current students, as well as alumni and faculty. The Retail Craft Gallery on campus sells the work of more than 100 artists, all affiliated with the college (ocac.edu). A short drive down Burnside, back in the heart of town, the Pacific Northwest College of Art is a partner in the cutting-edge Museum of Contemporary Craft, which features a free First Thursday (of every month) event, where the museum stays open into the evening hours (mocc.pnca.edu).
4. Beer, schmeer. We all know there's a ton of really good beer around here. Has been for ages. But even cooler is the rise of the city's Distillery Row, a collection of – you guessed it – distilleries located within walking distance of one another, just east of the Willamette River. Together, they are working to ensure that nobody ever needs to drink out-of-town whiskey – or gin, or vodka, or rum – again. Each stop on the Row keeps weekend drop-in tasting hours – learn more at distilleryrowpdx.com.
5. Okay, fine, beer. Seriously. Coming to Portland and not drinking the local beer is kind of like going to New York and refusing to eat pizza. From Deschutes Brewery's heady black beers to Laurelwood's Organic Green Mammoth IPA, you really can't go wrong; make sure to also sample the more obscure stuff, such as Upright's complex sour beers or Cascade Brewing's barrel-aged Bourbonic Plague, with an ABV of – mind how you go – 12 percent. To brush up on the scene, check out portlandbeer.org.
6. Simply gorges. Remember how Seattle used to be the cool town and Portland was that little thing you sort of just breezed through? Well, Portland's the one everyone's paying attention to now, and you can still breeze through it. There's sprawl here, but not much – from the middle of town to the beginning of the protected Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area can take as little as twenty minutes. Once in, get off the freeway and slow down – there are dozens of waterfalls, more than 100 great hikes of all difficulty levels, and of course, that incredible scenery. Map out your route at gorgefriends.org.
7. Drink coffee. Portland's coffee is some of the country's best. How good? It's best-known roaster, Stumptown, went on not only to become an immense hit in New York City, but it's also getting its hooks into Seattle, too. They're still the big guy around here, but they're also just a start. Other roasters to know include Coapa, with its chic café in the Industrial District, Courier Coffee on SW Oak Street and Exacto Coffee, which is served at the cool GrindHouse Coffee in up-and-coming corner of North Portland. (Which you can refer to as NoPo, if you like.) If you're in a downtown hotel, your best bet is Sterling Coffee's simple but perfect Coffeehouse Northwest up on Burnside – it's been around a few years now, but it's still one of the most perfect venues in town. Learn more about what's brewing locally at caffeinatedpdx.com.
8. You gotta eat. Can we talk? About the food? From one of the best bacon-egg-and- cheese-on-a-roll breakfasts you'll ever eat in your life (at Bunk Sandwiches) to epic meat dinners at Laurelhurst Market, a butcher shop and restaurant, to a proper night out at Le Pigeon, spicy wings and cool salads from hipster Thai Pok Pok, crazy bad-for-you breakfasts at Pine State Biscuits, those food carts mentioned previously that serve up every kind of food you can imagine, all over town, to incredibly fresh vegetables and locally (and sensibly) farmed meats, to great Northwest fish and oysters and you name it – Portland is a town for people who really, really like to eat. Don't come expecting a ton of traditionally fine dining – but do come hungry. Really, really hungry. Maybe also bring stretch pants.
9. But save room for dessert. One of the most famous foodstuffs in town for a few years running now has been a now-oft-copied bacon maple contraption at Voodoo Donuts, but that's just the start of the fun. Here you have everything from "Cupcake Wars" champ Kyra Bussanich making magic at Lake Oswego's Crave Bake Shop to James Beard Award winner Kim Boyce, making waves at her new Sandy Boulevard bakery, called – rather simply – Bakeshop. But there's nothing simple about the pastry; Boyce has years of experience in top kitchens in Los Angeles. From rhubarb hand pies to fig buckwheat scones, you have to try it all.
10. Work it off. Eventually, even the most intrepid eaters and drinkers will be crying "uncle" – now you know why this town's as into outdoor activity as it is into stuffing awesome things down its gullet. It's called survival. And not weighing 400 pounds. If you're having trouble getting motivated to get up and get going, join a group bike tour – anywhere from an easy spin around downtown or a day out in the Gorge or up in wine country – through Pedal Bike Tours (pedalbiketours.com). If you prefer an upper-body workout, the Portland River Company offers cool guided tours – and instruction, too –out on the Willamette River (portlandrivercompany.com).
George Hobica is a syndicated travel journalist and founder of the low-airfare listing site Airfarewatchdog.com.