Since we’ve lived in Washington State, we’ve enjoyed visiting various places in the Pacific Northwest. One of our favorite trips is to Portland, You might be wondering why we don’t go to Seattle. A lot of that is because of the difficulty in finding parking in Seattle, and also because Seattle is built on really steep hills that both Big Al and I have trouble navigating.
We can catch the Amtrak Cascade train in Tacoma, and be in downtown Portland in about three hours. When we travel east on Amtrak, we have a choice of going through Portland or Seattle. Union Station in Portland is much more welcoming than King Street Station in Seattle, and they have a First Class lounge with comfortable chairs and couches and coffee and tea service.
Our favorite hotel in Portland is the Residence Inn by Marriott. It’s about two blocks from the train station, and right in the Pearl District. In the days (pre-COVID) when I was traveling a lot I had many points saved with Marriott and I really liked their hotels – particularly the Residence Inns. Breakfast was always included with the Residence Inns and they did a really great job with eggs, cereal, baked goods, fruit, and waffles, etc. The Residence Inns also have kitchens with a stove, refrigerator and microwave, as well as plates, silverware and a few pots and pans, if you want to save money on meals.
Your best bet is to take the train down the evening before, so you can get an early start the next morning. I’ve done this and similar trips with Al, and with my sister, and with #2 son and his child. The trip with my sister was for the eclipse in 2017. The trip with my son and grandchild was so my son could take photographs (he’s a budding photographer.)
The Pearl District used to be a warehouse area not far from the river, but all the old buildings have been torn down, and new high-rise apartments and hotels took their places. The city made sure that there were a lot of open spaces left for parks and green growing things. Another perk for that hotel is that it’s only a block from a trolley stop. There are two trolley routes that connect in the middle of downtown, and they run every 10 to 15 minutes. You can buy a day pass or a 3-day pass, so it’s just perfect for a weekend or midweek visit.
A visit to Portland always begins with a trolley ride to Powell’s Books. It’s an enormous book store on five or six (or maybe more) floors. If they don’t a have book, chances are it’s never been printed. They have current best sellers, and used books from years ago. I can, and sometimes do, spend several hours there, just browsing the shelves and reading snippets of whatever catches my eye.
From there, don’t bother with the trolley because about a block away is Pensey’s Spices. They have a wide selection of all kinds of herbs and spices, and you can get dizzy just sniffing the air. If you’ve read a recipe calling for an exotic spice from India, of something special from Iran, chances are you can get it at Pensey’s.
By this time it’s probably getting to be lunch time, and just up the street is a “nest” of food trucks. It covers a whole city block and you can choose from whatever cuisine takes your fancy. You may have seen the food trucks on Guy’s Diners, Drive-Ins, and Dives. Less than a block away from the food trucks is a pocket park where you can sit and enjoy your purchases, while you rest and do a spot of people-watching.
After lunch, it might be a good time to visit the Nike store with all the branded sports goods, as well as new arrivals that you haven’t yet seen on players for the University of Oregon. (Eat your heart out, Adidas.) There are several other major brand department stores in the area, too.
Next, jump on a cross-town trolley to ride to the north of town, and then get off and reverse your travels. You’re still not so far from your hotel that you wouldn’t want to walk back, If you do walk back stop and get an ice cream cone to lick on the way. You probably want to go back to your room and rest a while (maybe to read something you picked up at Powell’s.)
You, hopefully, have made a reservation at Fogo de Chao for dinner. All the walking you did will help counteract the calories you will probably eat at dinner. Fogo de Chao is a Brazilian restaurant that’s heavy on the fire roasted meet, served on a skewer by gauchos who will bring you your favorite cuts. Unfortunately, the trolley doesn’t run really close to it, and besides your feet are tired from all the walking you did today, so get the concierge to call a cab to take you back to your hotel.
After another big breakfast, catch the trolley to the campus of the University of Portland. On Saturdays they have a wonderful farmers market with piles of fresh vegetables, smoked meats, fresh cheeses, homemade pickles and jams and jellies, fresh bread, cookies, pies, cakes, and cupcakes. I hope you have an empty backpack to carry your purchases home, because you will need one.
This would be a good day to eat lunch in your room, feasting on the bounty that you have just bought, so take the trolley back to your hotel. After you’ve rested a while, walk to Voodoo Donuts, for dessert. From there, it’s an easy walk to Riverside Park where you can see people roller skating, watch the riverboats on the river, and, if you’re lucky, watch the drawbridges open and close.
You can catch a trolley that crosses the river and see the Convention Center, and the sport’s arena. There are many more restaurants and shops there that you might want to explore. As you return across the river you can get off at OMSI – The Oregon Museum of Science and Industry. It’s a great place to visit and play with exhibits. It caters to everyone, but kids especially like it because of all the interactive learning that’s available.
Outside of the OMSI you can catch a trolley back to the hotel. The hotel has a lovely courtyard and you might like to share a bottle of the Oregon wine you bought at the Farmer’s market while you sit outside and enjoy the fresh air.
There are innumerable restaurants with superior ratings close at hand. Pick one within walking distance, or at least within walking distance of a trolley stop.
After breakfast at the hotel it would be a great time to spend some time exploring the parks near the hotel, and then take a trolley out to the end of the line and return. Go back to the hotel, pack and check out, leaving your bags with the doorman. Take the trolley to Pho Van Fresh and have some of the best Pho around, and by that time, you’ll need to return to the hotel to get your luggage, and walk back to Union Station.
Portland is a great place to visit and spend a three-day weekend. I highly recommend it.