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A Weekend in Portland – 10 things to keep you busy

Taking advantage of the statutory holiday on Friday, The Spaniard and I did a city break to Portland over the Easter holiday. Our reason for going was simple – it isn’t that far away from Edmonton, and well, my old roomie Marc said it is awesome.

Having seen only one episode of Portlandia I wasn’t sure what to expect, but I’d heard it was becoming quite the food destination in America, and since it was a haven for hipsters, I knew they would have loads of gluten-free options.

Portland didn’t really strike me as the kind of place you go where you need to check things off a list, but if you are looking for some inspiration, here are 10 things to keep you busy during a weekend in Portland.

Side note – we relied on public transit the whole weekend, including to and from the airport. We made great use of the $5 day passes that include access on city trains, buses and street cars. Congrats to the City of Portland on your public transit infrastructure – all of our drivers were on time and very friendly.

1. Start your day off with Breakfast or Brunch

Our AirBnB host joked that Portlanders have to go to bed early to just get up the next morning to wait in line for food. Incredible breakfast and brunch options in Portland are abundant, but neither of us was eager to wait in line for hours just to eat. Mainly we lucked out, and the one time we did find a line, we skipped it and stumbled upon a great place to eat next door to another massive line up. Here’s where we ate:

Our Air B&B host recommended a cute little spot just two blocks away called Trinket – Brunch & Spirits. Open daily from 8 am to 3:30 pm, we ducked in shortly after they opened and shared the Duck Eggs Benedict and Heuvos Al Pastor.

HunnyMilk is a pop-up brunch restaurant in Portland, Oregon, every Saturday and Sunday – from 9am to 2pm at 40 NE 28th Ave (inside La Buca). I had contacted Brandon with HunnyMilk to ask if they can accommodate celiacs, and I was so impressed by his prompt reply I felt I had to check it out. We arrived to no line up (yah!) but had to wait a few minutes for our table to be set, which gave us time to play a quick game on their retro Nintendo. Brunch is a build your own adventure experience – $20 bucks gets you: 1 drink + 1 savory dish + 1 sweet dish. Since the place is stocked with games, we managed to get in a game of battleship in between bites.

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The Spaniard opted for open face croissant-donut sammy with sunny egg, thick smoked ham, sharp cheddar and spicy maple along with the carrot cake waffle dipped in honey butter with cream cheese mousse, candy carrots and whiskey black walnut toffee. I loved my serving of crispy pork ribs with cheesy garlic grits, soft egg, avocado and a GF friendly serving of granola, whipped ricotta cream and astronaut strawberries.

My girlfriend Katie had recommended Tasty & Sons in north Portland, but when we arrived on Sunday morning the line was over an hour and there were limited true Celiac friendly options. Instead, we decided to walk west for a jaunt up and down the historic Mississippi Avenue. We walked past a large lineup outside Gravy and then stopped to check out the menu at Radar restaurant next door. The place looked busy, but had no line up. We managed to get a couple seats at the bar in front of the chef who was putting the finishing touches on each dish down the line. While all the brunch options getting turned out looked inviting, we settled on sharing two Celiac-friendly options – the beef hash and the chilaquiles. I was so happy we stumbled upon Radar. I absolutely loved sitting in front of the chef, asking questions and watching his efficient plating skills. It was a very memorable last meal from our weekend in Portland.

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2. Eat Designer Donuts
Just a few blocks from where we were staying was a Blue Star Donuts shop on Hawthorne St in SE Portland. Since there was no line we decided to stop in and The Spaniard had a chance to taste what the whole craze was about. While I would have opted for the maple bacon or raspberry rosemary buttermilk, he decided to go classic with a buttermilk old fashioned.

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The next day in the Pearl District we walked by the massive lineup outside Voodoo Doughnut – a legendary shop open 24-7 famous for their unique flavours and shapes. The Spaniard was tempted to yell go to Blue Star. Since Voodoo doesn’t do gluten-free and I hate massive lines, we can’t speak to how good they are. I did ask a man on the street holding a box how long he waited. He said he didn’t check the time (which I think is a lie and he was embarrassed to say how long he waited), but he did say they are worth the wait.

After brunch at Radar on Sunday we stopped into Blue Star Donuts again. While they were sold out of over half their options, The Spaniard managed to get two treats (Cointreau Creme Brule & Meyers Lemon & Curd), for our flight home.

Blue Star Donuts

3. Burn some calories on the 4T Trail
After indulging in breakfast at Trinket, (a donut and a gluten free muffin) and then a three course lunch at Little Bird Bistro, it was time to get moving again. From downtown we took the train to the Zoo where we started the 4.5 miles walking trail, which makes up the 4T Trail. Since the other three Ts are made up of train, tram, and trolley – I didn’t think it would be a challenging trail. We started shortly after an afternoon rain and I made it all of 10 meters wearing my no-grip Keds, jeans and leather purse before slipping and falling in the mud. I survived – and the walk through the woods and along look out points was lovely. We even stumbled upon an owl munching away on something he just caught about 15 meters from us on the trail. He finished his last bite and swooped back up to the tall treetops – it was amazing! It took us just over two hours to complete our hike; we caught the free ride down the sky tram and then caught a streetcar back over the bridge to finish off the last T. If you plan on eating as much as we did – I highly recommend the 4T Trail to burn some calories.

4. Get lost in Powell’s City of Books
Home to over a million books; Powell’s is the largest new and used bookstore in the world. Occupying a full city block, I think it would be hard not to be impressed or inspired roaming through the labyrinth of bookshelves. While the culinary and travel sections are what stole most of my time, the most exciting book I found was a How to Speak Wookie – a manual for intergalactic communication. I had barely taken three steps before I could hear someone else pressing the buttons on the sound module.

5. Go On A Neighbourhood Stroll
Outside of taking public transit we ended up doing a lot of walking in Portland. Particularly in southeast Portland where we stayed, we found the streets lined with everything from quaint bungalows to mansions – and most with well-manicured lawns and gardens. Spring is a beautiful time in Portland- the magnolia trees and tulips were in full bloom. My favourite may have been the selection around the Ladd Circle Gardens in Hosford-Abernethy neighborhood – something we stumbled upon after finding the East of Eden gluten free bakery cart on Division street.

After we left Salt & Straw with a pint of ice cream on Saturday we found this massive uprooted tree that narrowly avoided one house and landed on the other neighbour’s roof.

6. Zen out at the Lan Su Chinese Garden
We were planning to go to the Japanese Garden in Portland, but the transit options were limited, so we opted for the more conveniently located Lan Su Chinese Garden in Chinatown instead. Modeled after the Ming Dynasty gardens of China, the garden is a tranquil oasis in the middle of downtown. Our favourite room offered a chance to practice our calligraphy and try our hand at Tangram – a puzzle consisting of seven shapes used to form specific shapes.

7. Go vintage shopping
The Spaniard has a limited tolerance for shopping, so if I was travelling alone, I could have spent hours pursuing the racks at House of Vintage – a 13,000 square foot space that is home to 60 independent vendors. With just ten minutes til closing I managed to find a dress that caught my eye – but you could literally spend a day in this shop.
Vintage shops littered just about every area of Portland we visited last weekend. Even the thrift shops were impressive – over at the Goodwill Boutique on Hawthorne I found a made in West Germany Escada blue velvet tuxedo suit. It wasn’t a thrift shop price, but for $50 US, I would have bought it had it fit (just think of the costume possibilities!)

8. Indulge in Happy Hour
When we arrived at Little Bird Bistro, we had just enough time to order from the lunch menu, but then also had a chance to take a look at the happy hour menu starting at 2:30 pm. We were tempted by our neighbours foie gras torchon, but since we’d already ordered the three-course price fix menu – we decided against it. Loads of restaurants offer an early (happy hour) or late (an hour-two hours before closing) menu.

After looking at Eater’s listing of 19 new happy hours in Portland, we decided on Rue the next day, which offers $1 oysters, $5 house wine and $5 pork belly.

9. Check out a Saturday Market
So, we happened to go to two Saturday markets. The Portland Saturday Market is an outdoor arts and crafts market nationally recognized as the largest continuously operating open-air arts and crafts market in the country. Since we had just eaten I wasn’t tempted by any of the food carts but there was some interesting locally handmade arts, crafts and foods from the Pacific Northwest if you have space in your luggage. We stumbled past the market later in the day and it was still packed – it is certainly a happening place on Saturdays in Portland.

We later found the Portland Farmer’s Market, which sets up at the Portland State University on Saturdays from 9 am – 2 pm. We didn’t have plans to make dinner, but for those looking to get crazy in the kitchen, this market had some incredible products for sale. I really liked this market, but be warned you better bring your wallet; a dozen free-range organic eggs will set you back $7.

10. Put On Your Dancing Shoes
To be honest we were bagged after two full days of adventure in Portland, but we had yet to experience a night out. Since The Spaniard and I met through salsa dancing, we decided to check out Aztec Willies, a restaurant that runs salsa nights on Saturdays. For $7 you can take a lesson at 9:45 pm, after which the lights dims and the DJ plays a mix of salsa, bachata, and meringue. The people watching was incredible, and we both managed to get a few dances in with some new faces. We left around 1 a.m. giving us just enough time to catch the last train and bus home.

Honourable Mentions:
Our longest line up was less than 10 minutes at Salt & Straw – Portland’s famous artisan ice cream. To avoid any risk of contamination we bought a pint of Almond Brittle with Salted Ganache and a waffle cone for The Spaniard. Once it softened slightly I scooped some into his cone. Portland appears to be the land of no judgement – so eating a pint of locally sourced ice cream on the sidewalk with a spoon is entirely acceptable.

After an exhausting Friday (which included the 4T Trail) we found ourselves on the couch of our AirBnB watching the NHL playoffs. During the intermission we walked over to ¿Por Que No? to order some take-away. The vibe was awesome and the food was great – it looked like a great place to sip back some margaritas and enjoy an assortment of Mexican food.

Disclaimer *
I don’t like beer, so I know we missed out on the whole local craft beer scene. I was open to going on a brewery tour, but it never happened; I think we were too busy eating. If you like beer – check out some of the suggestions on this list in between pints of craft-brewed local beer.

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