Why is Portland so wonderful? If one were to read anything into the city’s motto, “keep Portland weird,” it would be that Portland has an unrivaled individuality. Artists and creatives come here to live their best lives and find a sense of community they cannot find anywhere else.
We are an unassuming bunch, with our coffee houses, our tattoos, and our sense of individuality. Everyone here is friendly; from the high-powered corporate lawyer to the starving artist living in a tiny home built by their uncle. No matter the age, race, creed, or background, here in Portland we all seem to have an unspoken rule: “Be kind.”
Many of my fellow transplants (Portlanders who have moved here from other places) have likened Portland to London. They refer to the dripping deluge of moisture that seems to have no end from October thru June, and yes, this is probably the most common of traits between the two cities. But that’s where the similarity ends.
Portland, despite its well-known stature, is not a terribly cosmopolitan city. Rather it is a mish-mash of heavenly eclectic neighborhoods, each with its own identity. Neighbors look out for each other just as they would in an small town. Portland has big-city culture while retaining a small-town friendliness. The best of both worlds.
An Urban Green Oasis
Portland is full of people young and old who love the outdoors. This is evident in the many green spaces you’ll find in town. Forest Park is one of the largest urban parks in the country, with 30 miles of hiking trails and large swaths of forest. Deep in the thick of it, you would have no idea you are in a large city.
Mt. Tabor Park is situated on a dormant volcano; Portland is one of only four cities in the U.S. that can boast a volcano within its city limits. The other three are Bend, OR (Pilot Butte), Jackson, Mississippi (Jackson Volcano), and Honolulu, Hawaii (Diamond Head).
Pier Park in North Portland is a great place for people watching and for taking in a round of disc golf. Bring your pooch here, a picnic lunch, and you have yourself a fun couple of hours. Not far from here is Cathedral Park, underneath the St Johns bridge (the most beautiful bridge in Portland) and home to the longest-running free jazz festival west of the Mississippi. Washington Park is where you’ll find the city zoo, an international rose test garden (apparently roses make good test subjects), and even a children’s museum. There are loads of trails and scenic viewpoints.
Then there is the world’s smallest park. Located smack dab in the middle of a busy traffic intersection. Mill’s End Park is a beloved Portland landmark.
Those are just the highlights.
More Food Trucks than You Can Shake a Stick At
Here we call them food carts. Because they are not quite a mobile as a ‘truck’. Most of our food stands are fairly stationary and rare move, unless they are going out of business, or graduate to ‘brick and mortar’ restaurant status.
There are over 600 food cards in the Portland area. Yes, you read that right. That is more food carts per capita than any other city in the world. Here you will find food carts congregating in “pods,” which are groupings of food carts. Grab some friends and go to lunch or dinner, and each of you can satisfy your own food cravings, as there are many options.
So why so many food carts in one city, you may ask? Well, because it’s profitable for the food cart owner. In a self-proclaimed foodie town such as Portland, owning a food cart eliminates the overhead required of a traditional restaurant. Indeed, several classically-trained chefs own and operate food carts here in Portland. Whatever type of food you crave, you are likely to find a food cart in Portland that serves it.
You Don’t Need to Love Coffee, But it Helps
While Portland is just south of where Starbucks began in Seattle, please do this author a favor and do not frequent the local Starbucks, with their double-roasted bitterness. There are so many local coffee houses here that roast their own beans, their own way, and do a much better job of it. Stumptown being one of them.
The starving artists here have to make a decent living somehow, and many of them find their way to the humble profession of barista. You will find an independent coffee house within a stone’s throw of any street corner in Portland. And we’ve got damn good coffee in any type of configuration or concoction you can think of.
Albina Press is a neighborhood favorite. The baristas will treat you like kin, and you can sit out on a picnic table with your nutty latte and freshly-baked scone. One of my favorite coffee joints is called Either/Or. They have a pretty good breakfast menu, and in the evenings the place turns into a cocktail bar with a DJ some nights. Pretty genius.
True to Portland’s reputation as a “green” city, sustainably-conscious Coava Coffee cares deeply about its java as well as its patrons. They seek only ethically sourced coffee beans, roast them to perfection, then brew a delicious cup that will leave you rightly caffeinated. Pair it with a flaky croissant and a good friend – there’s nothing finer.
Tea lovers are not left out. There is a fair amount of tea houses in town but since I’m not a tea drinker, I’m useless for recommendations. Sorry!
That is a broad-stroke description of my fair city of Portland, Oregon, USA. If you haven’t already been here, I urgently request that you come to visit us. As I said, we are weird, but oh so friendly.
You can find Susan’s Pacific Northwest wanderings at https://www.explorersue.com