The Ultimate Portland Travel Guide
It’s difficult to find negativity in Portland. The city is surrounded by more green than you could ever imagine for a metropolitan area, each tree and plant different than the next. The food is incredible as restaurants and chefs are driven by the enormous local bounty of fresh produce and ethically-run farms. The music scene is exciting and diverse. Recreational marijuana is thriving. Portland is weird and wonderful in the best of ways.
And we’re not just saying that because our headquarters are in the Rose City. Because when this New Yorker set out for a 12-day adventure to the Pacific Northwest, she wasn’t biased about The Manual’s home base. Everyone will tell you how awesome Portland is, but you’ll never truly get it until you experience it yourself. And when you do decide to finally visit PDX, you should stay for at least a week, even though a week is hardly enough. For our Portland travel guide, we scoped out the best places to stay, eat, party, explore and shop so you can make the most of your time in one of America’s most vibrant cities.
We’d need a novel to tell you how amazing Olympia Provisions is, but for now you’ll have to settle for the CliffNotes. After taking a tour of their plant with owner Elias Cairo, we sat down to lunch at the restaurant’s original Southeast location. And we swear watching how the meat gets made makes it taste even better. Not that the piles of beautifully cured charcuterie—like French saucissons, pâté, pork rillettes, mortadella, chorizo and the list goes on—need any help. Don’t miss the Jasmine Rice Salad, a selection of perfect sandwiches and the chocolate sausage, one of the most interesting desserts we had on the trip. Buy a summer sausage to eat for lunch during one of the many nature experiences you’re sure to have during your stay.
When we arrived in Portland late Thursday night, Santeria was recommended to us for a late-night bite by the concierge at Hotel Lucia, and boy are we glad we took his advice. The little hole in the wall spot serves the West Coast Mexican food us New Yorkers are always craving when we cross the country, made with the bounty of PNW ingredients available. Both the traditional and green moles were the best we ever tasted, and the much-needed cocktails were strong and refreshing.
It’s best to bring a group when you visit this Argentine-inspired Portland spot so you can try as much as the menu as possible. But don’t let a small crew deter you from checking out their wood-fired grill, turning out some of the best meat dishes in the city. The grilled lamb heart flatbread was our favorite dish, and the maple-brined pork loin chop doesn’t disappoint. The vegetable dishes are deliciously vibrant, so make sure to get some greens on your plate too.
Andy Ricker’s original Pok Pok is a must, but make sure you either put your name in early or go on an off day because you will wait. But it’s always worth it for his take on North and Northeast Thai food. Definitely go for the specials where Portland’s finest produce is front and center, but you really can’t go wrong with anything. Ike’s Vietnamese Fish Sauce Wings are a must as is the Chom’s Laap Meuang, a spicy minced pork “salad.” Pok Pok has a killer bar program too, so don’t leave without trying a cocktail.
As world’s first sustainable sushi restaurant, Bamboo is serving some of the freshest fish in the city across its four locations. The menu is big and diverse with vegetable dishes and rolls that are prepared just as thoughtfully as the meat and fish selections. And they have a killer bar program with cocktails that marry east and west flavors perfectly.
This hearty sandwich shop started as a food cart and now has two brick and mortar locations in Portland. As the name suggests, Lardo is all about the pig with creations like the Korean Pork Shoulder with house kimchi, chili mayo, cilantro and lime and the Don Johnson, which is their take on the Cubano. Don’t miss the rotating guest Chefwich or delicious sides like the Parmesan-and-fried-herb-dusted Lardo fries and Buffalo pig’s ears.
Grendel’s Coffee House
This is the perfect neighborhood coffee shop, serving everything from fresh brewed beans to delicious sandwiches. You could find us there on most mornings carrying back a tray of strong black coffee, fresh squeezed orange juice and bagels stacked with hummus and avocado. Quick, friendly and oh-so-delicious.
This eatery takes inspiration from all over the American south, from South Carolina’s Lowcountry to the Creole and French influence of New Orleans. Favorites like crispy buttermilk battered fried chicken and Carolina pulled pork are on the menu alongside an excellent smoked chicken and andouille gumbo and a pimento cheese spread with homemade benne crackers. Screen Door is a favorite among locals and visitors alike, so go early if you venture there on a weekend.
With four locations in the city, there are no shortages of Stumptown around Portland. If you find yourself near one, stop in for the best cup of Joe you’ll have during your trip, in our humble opinion. Plenty of cold brew and other goodies like pastries and bagels are perfect for breakfast or a snack on the run.
Blue Star Donuts
This is where you’re going to find the best donuts in Portland, and they’re definitely up there for the tastiest in the country too. They use a classic brioche recipe from the South of France, so the dough takes 18 hours to make each day. Flavors like Mexican Hot Chocolate and Strawberry Mojito keep things interesting, so do as we did and buy half a dozen to eat over the next few mornings. You won’t be disappointed.
You have to stop into Voodoo, if only to try one of their overly sweet and sugary delights. You’ll find doughnuts that are every color of the rainbow, covered in things like M&Ms or a maple glaze with strips of bacon. Are they the best doughnuts you’ll ever have? Of course not. But as the kids say, do it for the ‘Gram.
Salt & Straw
If ice cream is what you’re craving, Salt & Straw is where you’re going. Known for their unique flavors and monthly specials made with seasonal ingredients, scoops like Goat Cheese Marionberry Jalapeno and Sea Salt with Caramel Ribbons are perfectly creamy against their crispy waffle cones. Or opt for the flight, four small bowls served on a wooden paddle so you can try a little of everything.
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If you’re looking to see a show in Portland, which you absolutely should do, Roseland Theater is one of the best places to go. The double-decker venue features a spacious ground floor with standing room only and a 21-and-over balcony with a bar and seating around three sides. We caught a Mac Demarco show when we were in town, and it was one of the best we’ve seen in awhile. Check out their diverse lineup of music and try to get some tickets when you’re in town.
This rooftop spot serves your favorite wines by the glass, bottle and in flights if you’d like to try a few. They also have great cocktails and food if you’re in the mood for something more. The modern interior if perfectly nice, but we’re here for the roof deck, offering a pretty great view of the Eastside, especially at sunset.
Doug Fir Lounge
Nestled in the corner of the Jupiter Hotel property, which we’ll get to in a bit, Doug Fir lounge is a restaurant, bar and music venue that probably has the coolest looking interior in Portland. Original woodwork and glass design draw on 1950s modernism, making you feel like you’re in a very swank upstate cabin with a solid bar program and all-day menu you can enjoy inside or in front of a fire pit on the newly renovated patio. Catch a show in the downstairs lounge if you’re in the mood for live music.
Most of our favorite bars in Portland are adjacent to music venues, and we wouldn’t have it any other way. Next door to the iconic venue Mississippi Studios, Bar Bar is serving up cocktails, boilermakers and small batch Scotches and bourbons for your sipping pleasure. They also serve burgers and snacks like fried pickles. The sprawling patio is a perfect place to meet up with friends any day of the week.
Hawk’s View Cellars
Drive about 30 minutes southwest towards Oregon’s lauded Willamette Valley, and you’ll come across the picturesque Hawk’s View Cellars Winery. Stop in and try their famous white pinot noir, and stay for a flight so you can get a taste for their entire range of excellent wines. The property is stunning with a sprawling outdoor space where you can relax with friends and take in Oregon’s natural beauty.
Situated in PDX’s historic Mississippi Avenue District, The Rambler is a neighborhood hang where you’re always going to find good cocktails and chill vibes. The space is a converted 1920s bungalow with front and back patios, fire pits, bocce ball and a billiards room. Like every other bar in Portland, The Rambler is required to serve food, so you can load up on tasty snacks like spicy buffalo drumsticks and Rambler poutine if you’re feeling peckish.
There’s something no one tells you about Portland until you arrive, and that’s that it has the most strip clubs per capita in the country. They’re full nude and serve alcohol, which is a rarity in about every state except Oregon. And Sassy’s is probably our favorite. The dancers are energetic, talented and most of them are covered in tattoos. You can choose from three different stages around the bar. People behave themselves because the bouncers are huge. It’s kind of the best, and you should definitely give it a shot if the mood strikes you.
Another excellent strip club in Portland, Devil’s Point is a one-stage show. Just like at Sassy’s, the dancing is heavily acrobatic and enjoyable to watch. Don’t miss Sunday’s famous Stripparaoke, where everyone who gets on stage to belt out their favorite tune will get a backup dancer for their turn.
Perhaps the most fascinating hotel in Portland, the Monaco’s eccentric beauty will hook you the moment you walk through the lobby doors. We encourage you to spring for a suite that features a spacious living room separated by French doors. Unique furniture, bright colors and a multitude of prints come together in perfect harmony throughout the rooms, and pillowtop beds, 32-inch flat screens and a well-stocked mini bar keep you comfortable in style. If you’re feeling social, companion goldfish are available to keep you company in your room. Complimentary house bikes, daily evening wine reception, 24-hour fitness center and custom printed robes will make you feel at home all throughout your stay. And you don’t have to venture far for a great meal. On-site restaurant Red Star Tavern serves a Northwest-inspired menu featuring local ingredients and an excellent cocktail program led by bartender Brandon Lockman. Go for a small bite, big meal or one of the best happy hours in the city.
Walking into Hotel Lucia is like stepping into a gallery. Although the historic building has been renovated, its old charm is still intact and mixed with the right amount of modern fixtures and art deco appeal. Hotel Lucia’s gallery features the largest collection of black and white photography by Pulitzer Prize winner David Hume Kennerly, and there’s a rotating display throughout the lobby (it was 3D printed jewelry when we arrived). The rooms are plush and comfortable, offering amenities like a pillow menu, on-call Salt & Straw ice cream and pet room service. Grab a quick bite at the Penny Diner downstairs, serving up great sandwiches and baked goods. And don’t forget the complimentary craft beer happy hour from 5:30-6:30 every evening.
After staying city-side for a few nights, we suggest bouncing east and landing at the Jupiter Hotel. Housed in a renovated mid-century motor lodge, Jupiter has a chilled out rock ‘n roll vibe you’ll be hard-pressed to find at other hotels across the city. Some rooms are smaller than others, so opt for a space with an extra sitting area if you want to stretch out or invite friends for happy hour. There’s also the option to stay bar side or chill side, depending on your noise tolerance. Doug Fir Lounge is on-premise, so you don’t have to wander far to see a show, grab a bite or settle in for a nightcap. The Jupiter staff is friendly and helpful, which truly takes this hotel to the next level.
No matter where you choose to stay while visiting Portland, one thing’s for certain—it’s not really vacation until you’ve had an on-demand Soothe massage. Soothe comes to you, no matter if you need to relax at home, in your office or on the move. Featuring 5-star therapists, you can choose from Swedish, deep tissue, couples massage and more, and the tip is conveniently included in the price so all you need to worry about is relaxing. Book two weeks before or two hours before and Soothe will bring the spa to you.
Not much has changed since Chris DeSanty moved his barbershop Iron Society from NYC to Portland. Sure, his light-filled space is surrounded by trees, but his same eclectic aesthetic remains intact. Taxidermy and brass fixtures fill negative space, vintage couches line the walls and you could only hope to find such a beautiful hand-painted floor anywhere else. Chris focuses on a clean, classic look that’s always precise and consistent. Make an appointment for a trim or proper shave, or pop in for his handmade grooming products like pomade and an addictive room/body spray.
See See Motor Coffee Co
If you love motorcycles and bike culture, you must stop in See See to say hello. They have all types of riding gear including helmets and leathers, not to mention their own line of awesomely branded merchandise. Refuel with a coffee and sandwich at the cafe next door when you’ve finished shopping.
Red Light Clothing Exchange
This is a mecca for all things secondhand. They have some funky new pieces too, but their selection of both vintage clothing and gently used secondhand could keep you here for hours. Pop in during an unexpected rain shower to peruse with every type of character you could imagine.
This massive “city of books” is just what it sounds like—multiple floors with row after row of every book you can imagine. Search for something new, used, out of print or whatever else your heart desires. If Powell’s doesn’t have it, good luck finding it.
The coolest thing about Portland is how close it is to some of the most beautiful natural wonders in America. A simple 45-minute drive out of the city will take you to the start of what we’ve dubbed the waterfall trail. Put Vista House into your GPS, and stop there first to take in the stunning view. From there, drive along the Historic Columbia River Highway, and you’ll start seeing signs for waterfalls like Latourell, Bridal Veil, the famous Multnomah and—our favorite—the Horsetail and Ponytail Falls loop hike. The hikes to see the waterfalls are short, and you’ll always stumble upon options for lengthier trails if you’re in the mood. It’s a great way to get out of the city, see as many sights as possible and still be back in time for happy hour.
Forest Park & Washington Park
If you want to explore the beautiful nature of the PNW, you don’t even need to leave Portland’s city limits to get your fix. At more than 5,000 acres, Forest Park is America’s largest urban forest with more than 80 miles of soft-surface trails. Washington Park offers some stunning attractions from the International Rose Test Garden to the Portland Japanese Garden. Strap on your hiking shoes and get ready to take in some of the city’s most breathtaking sites.
Photography by Max Schwartz