Portland, Ore., shot from the roof of the Meier and
Frank Building in Portland on Thursday, February 23,
2017. At bottom of frame is Pioneer Courthouse
may have a reputation for putting birds on things and
performative quirkiness, but, as with most things, the
reality is a lot more complicated. Thatís a good thing,
and it should be the guiding principle for your next visit
to the city.
the advent of a certain IFC show starring a member of
Sleater-Kinney, Portland has been mythologized as a town
built on nothing but whimsy and underemployment. But like
any city, the reality is more complicated ó and a lot
the kind of city where you can learn to bike-commute
without fear, where bookstores rule and indie publishing
thrives. Itís also the home of the Decemberists, Cheryl
Strayed, Chuck Klosterman, Stephen Malkmus, the other two
members of Sleater-Kinney, and, when it comes right down
to it, some pretty fascinating city politics.
in its laidback pace of life, its slowly disappearing dive
bars, its casually gorgeous riverfront bike trail and its
transit-friendly navigability, and thereís much to love
about Portland. And Portland will love you back, if you
your only goal in taking a trip to Portland is to get your
picture taken in front the "Keep Portland Weird"
mural, while drinking a cold brew in a flannel after
hitting up the weed store but before going to the vegan
strip club, be my guest. You wonít need my help finding
those things, and they wonít give you a real sense of
the place, beyond the parts of it most easily reduced to
if youíre interested in getting to know what endears
Portland to the people who live there, hereís where to
start. Just remember to keep your preconceived notions ó
and your "Put a bird on it" jokes ó to
CULTURE OF RESISTANCE
is a beautiful city bisected by the Willamette River. Itís
home to iconic public art such as the Portlandia statue.
Few commutes are prettier than the ride over the Broadway
Bridge on a clear day, when Mount Hood is out, or biking
down the Eastbank Esplanade at sunset. But many of the
photos I have from my time in Portland were taken at
is partly circumstantial ó covering protests was part of
my job when I lived there ó but itís also just
Portland. Portland is a city that can always be relied
upon to show up in the face of injustice (or perceived
injustice) with civic-minded, contrarian panache and an
undying streak of creativity.
have protested everything from a Shell Oil icebreaker ship
bound for the Arctic in 2015 (savvy demonstrators
rappelled gracefully off the St. Johns Bridge) to vaccines
(see: the cityís recent measles outbreak).
most famously, Portland mounted one of several protests
nationwide the day after the 2016 presidential election.
Property damage incurred by a splinter group of anarchists
made headlines. What was less publicized was the peaceful
rally beforehand, and that in the same week, one of the
protestís organizing groups raised $32,000 to repair the
damage they hadnít caused.
months later, the cityís Womenís March drew 100,000
attendees, according to estimates reported to The
Oregonian. Not bad for a city whose population numbers
less than 650,000, and not surprising for Portland.
culture of resistance is indicative of a rare level of
civic engagement you donít find everywhere. For better
or for worse, itís part of the cityís DNA, a messy,
ongoing element to life in Portland that canít be
reduced to a quirky joke on a T-shirt.
when it is.
youíre in Portland, youíll probably spot at least one
incredibly cool-looking person wearing a shirt that reads
"Wild Feminist" across the chest. This is the
work of Portland women-owned, feminist-informed clothing
line Wildfang (1230 S.E. Grand Ave.; 404 S.W. 10th Ave.).
is a company that recently came up with an inventive
response to the uproar over Melania Trump heading out to
immigrant detention centers for children clad in a jacket
that read "I really donít care. Do u?"
Wildfang retooled a military-inspired jacket from their
own line so the back of it reads "I really care. Donít
u?" With all proceeds from the $89 jacket going to
the Refugee and Immigrant Center for Education and Legal
Services (RAICES), a Texas-based organization that
provides free or low-cost legal assistance to immigrant
children and families, the first 100 coats sold out within
an hour, and three days after the initial run was
announced, Wildfang had raised about $250,000 for RAICES,
a company representative told Teen Vogue.
is arguably one of Portlandís most visible clothing
companies, for its political stances as much as for its
clothing (which is wonderful ó they make a short-sleeved
button-down in wacky prints thatís a dream for long-torsoed
people of all genders). But itís just one of many local
clothing companies that make Portland a well-dressed city.
while weíre on the subject of shopping: Skip downtownís
Saturday Market, which manages to be simultaneously
underwhelming and kind of a madhouse. If you want locally
designed clothing, you can get it from Portland lines such
as Bridge & Burn (1122 S.W. Morrison St.) and Poler
(413 S.W. 10th St.), and if handicrafts are your thing (or
you really need a Nikki McClure print), try Tender Loving
Empire, Land Gallery and Crafty Wonderland.
youíve got a predilection for vintage, go digging for
thrifted treasures at Magpie (1960 S.E. Hawthorne), which
will impress even your coolest vintage connoisseur friend,
and where I found a red cocktail dress from the Ď60s
with an actual chiffon cape the last time I was in town.
It set me back all of $18.
City of Books (1005 W. Burnside St.) is legendary for a
reason, and itís one of Portlandís touristy stops you
absolutely must not skip. The small-press section is great
for scoping out books from local indie publishers
(Portland has a bounty of these; try Future Tense, Tin
House or Perfect Day for a starter kit). The kids and YA
sections are a massive treat for children and anyone who
was once a child, the true crime section has rubberneckers
covered, and the best-seller wall is always a fun glimpse
into what the cityís reading and thinking about. (Hate
crowds? Visit Powellís second, smaller store in the
Hawthorne District at 3723 S.E. Hawthorne Blvd. Itís
thatís not the only good news Portland has for physical
media-loving Luddites. Portland is home to a wide array of
excellent, cheap movie theaters that almost all sell pizza
and beer (the Laurelhurst Theater, at 2735 E Burnside St.,
even has mimosas). Living Room (341 S.W. 10th St.), down
the street from Powellís, has extremely comfy
armchair-style seats and a full-service menu. And the
Hollywood Theatre (4122 NE Sandy Blvd.), the only theater
in Oregon equipped to show movies in 70mm, is kind of an
institution. Itís where Iíve gone to see everything
from Agnes Vardaís "Faces Places" to David
Lynchís "Wild at Heart," with a guest
appearance from Barry Gifford, whose novel the film is
if your film nostalgia extends to video stores,
still-standing Movie Madness (4320 S.E. Belmont St.) is
also worth a visit. The platonic ideal of a friendly
neighborhood video store, this is where you can find an
out-of-print edition of "Silence of the Lambs,"
or pay a visit to a tiny collection of Hollywood
treasures, including one of the prosthetic ears used in
"Blue Velvet" (yikes!).
of the best things about Portland is that you can actually
go on a full-blown hike without leaving the city.
Northwest Portlandís Forest Park is a sprawling,
urban-adjacent gem. In Southeast Portland, smaller but no
less impressive Mount Tabor is home to an extinct volcano,
huge cedars, oddly grand outdoor reservoirs and, at the
summit, a beautiful view of the city. If youíre in the
mood for a bike ride, the Springwater Trail, along the
Willamette in the Sellwood neighborhood, is the most
picturesque stretch Iíve ever ridden ó youíll cruise
down a flat, paved trail that passes a wildlife refuge and
an amusement park.
to tack another destination onto your Portland trip? The
coast is an easy drive, if youíre in the mood to
Instagram Haystack Rock (as is customary). But if you make
it that far, you should consider driving across the
four-mile Astoria-Megler Bridge between Astoria and
southwest Washington. Across the river, in tiny Seaview,
youíll find my favorite vacation spot anywhere: the Souíwester
Lodge (3728 J. Pl., Seaview).
twinkle lights, pine needles, sea air and vintage chrome,
the Souíwester has easy access to miles of trail along
the beach, plus an assortment of accommodations, including
restored travel trailers (Potato Bug is my favorite!),
old-fashioned vacation cabins and a jaunty lodge. On
summer mornings, grab a cup of coffee at the lodge, then
sit outside your trailer with a book and while away a
couple hours until breakfast. Itís the most pleasant way
to start your day.
know, I know: You feel obligated to go to Voodoo Doughnut,
alleged fried-dough icon of Portland. But unless you want
to wait in line for a dry-in-the-middle doughnut coated in
gluey layers of Day-Glo frosting and novelty toppings like
(stale) Froot Loops, donít.
a real treat at Blue Star (1237 S.W. Washington St.; 3549
S.E. Hawthorne Blvd.; 3753 N. Mississippi Ave.), which
makes dense, chewy, flavor-saturated doughnuts using a
brioche-style flour. The result is sweet ó doughnuts
should be sweet ó but not so sweet itíll make your
teeth hurt. The buttermilk old-fashioned is my favorite
ó a meal in itself that tastes like spun butter and
sunshine and pairs perfectly with black coffee for a quick
breakfast. And if youíre a nostalgic East Coast
transplant, you might also appreciate Sesame Donuts (1503
S.W. Park Ave.), which was originally a Dunkiní Donuts
franchise, and makes the closest thing to a "regular
coffee" you can find in the Pacific Northwest.
fancier meals, Le Pigeon (738 E. Burnside St.) is where I
took my French cooking-expert aunt when she visited for
French-inspired Northwest fare. Little Bird Bistro (215
S.W. 6th Ave.) is another good option for a Parisian meal
thatís closer to the traditional thing. And I can say
nothing but good things about the Ace Hotelís
restaurant, Clyde Common (1014 S.W. Stark St.), where I
have passed many a pleasant evening over honey-butter
popcorn and cocktails with friends. For breakfast (or any
meal, really) head to Lauretta Jeanís (3402 S.E.
Division St., 600 S.W. Pine. St.) for coffee and pie thatíll
satisfy your inner Dale Cooper.
the afternoon, Portlandís summertime back patios become
its oases. I recommend the ones at Night Light Lounge for
chill neighborhood bar vibes or brunch (you can almost
always get a table), Aalto Lounge (3356 S.E. Belmont St.)
and Rontoms (600 E. Burnside St.) for eavesdropping on
extremely hip Tinder dates and A-plus people-watching, and
the Space Room Lounge (4800 S.E. Hawthorne Blvd.) for when
you really just want a dive and a picnic table.
the piece de resistance of Portlandís outdoor drinking
options can be found at Revolution Hall (1300 S.E. Stark
St.), a converted high school in Southeast Portland that
now operates as a venue for music and comedy, and has the
nicest rooftop bar I have ever been to, with a 360-degree
view of the city, and an air of quiet blasphemy (youíre
drinking at school!).
the thing about Portland, though: Portlanders know how to
show up to a protest, but they also know how to have fun,
and the more time you spend in the city the more youíll
see how closely linked these things really are. Portlandís
politically minded scaffolding is what holds up the cute
exterior, but fun, after all, can be its own form of
you understand that, itís a lot harder to laugh at it.