A Quirky Guide to Portland’s Local and Surrounding Attractions

What to do in the city of Portland

We woke up to beautiful weather producing a strong desire to get outside for some fresh air! We drove to Washington Park and walked to the International Rose Test Garden. The expansive Washington Park contains a zoo, forestry museum, arboretum, children's museum, rose garden, Japanese garden, amphitheater, memorials, archery range, tennis courts, soccer field, picnic areas, playgrounds, public art and many acres of wild forest with miles of trails.

International Rose Test Garden

Who knew that Portland has an ideal climate for growing roses? The beautiful and well-manicured International Rose Test Garden is home to over 10,000 rose bushes with a shocking 650 varieties. We strolled between the rows of bushes to smell and admire the roses, which were still thriving in mid-October. The International Rose Test Garden is the “oldest continuously operating public rose test garden in the United States and exemplifies Portland's nickname, ‘City of Roses.’” (wikipedia.org)

There are a handful of arcades in the city which make for a fun way to kill an hour or two, especially considering that most have a full bar with light snacks. We stopped by the arcade, QuarterWorld. Ground Kontrol is another popular arcade option. Make sure you check out their times; they don’t open until the afternoon.

QuarterWorld is a retro arcade and museum with bountiful pinball machines and a bar serving pizza, bao buns, and carnival inspired treats. Home to over 34 different pinball games and 63 classic/new arcade games there is something for everyone! We spent an hour playing—or loosing—various pinballs games. We arrived before 6pm the cover was only $1 per person and the majority of games cost $0.50 to $0.75 per play.

Neighborhoods East of Downtown

We drove through many of Portland’s neighborhoods, most of which reside on the eastern side of the city. It’s in these small neighborhoods, not in the downtown area, where the real character of Portland subsides. Small privately owned coffee houses, cafes and craft breweries are spotted on nearly every block. Street side eateries mixed amongst traditional dining options make Portland a great city to satisfy all budgets and tastes.

Portland has one of the largest craft beer communities in the country—we stopped by a handful of microbreweries, fermentariums brewing sours, and cideries. Sours are hard to come by so finding a brew house that has dozens on tap is just unheard of. If you’re in Portland make sure you check out Cascade Brewing Barrel House where you’ll find well over a dozen types of sours ranging from 6% up to 12% ABV.

Theaters

Portland seems to have more movie theaters than any other city I’ve visited (and I’ve been to more cities that there are days in a year). Many theaters here have only one or two screens and charge a discounted price. We found a showing of the new horror movie Halloween, which cost only $5.50 a person! The theater was small and simple but showcased funky original 1950’s bathrooms (tiny in comparison to modern restrooms). At one point I looked at my map and noticed we were a 5 minute drive to half a dozen other theaters.

Saturday Market

We drove into the city to walk around the Saturday Morning Market. The Portland Saturday Market is an “outdoor arts and crafts market in Portland, Oregon. It is the largest continuously operated outdoor market in the United States”. We enjoyed seeing some locally produced art, petrified wood, street musicians, and a plethora of food trucks. I really appreciated the numerous booths selling handmade soap!


Unique Dining Experience in Portland - Off The Griddle

Off the Griddle, located in Southeast Portland is only a 15-minute drive from the Cascade Brewing Barrel House, which is as central as you can get in Portland. Street parking was abundant and free. The neighborhood was a blast to walk through; there were a handful of lots with dozens of parked food trucks serving food well into the night. Off the Griddle is a vegan/vegetarian restaurant/bar serving brunch, dinner, dessert.

Atmosphere

We quickly realized the popularity of this trendy spot as we took our place in the growing line behind the counter. Families with children, couples on dates, and friends in groups as large as 8 occupied the tables feasting on vegan fare. The restaurant was lively and colorful, local artwork adorning the walls. The line moved quickly and we placed our order at the bar, grabbed our table number and pitcher of water and took a seat. Our food was served fresh within 10 minutes—an impressive feat considering it was a Thursday evening at 7:30pm

Food

On the menu, The BBQ Jackfruit Sandwich caught our eye. We first encountered this dish in Lombok, Indonesia where the muslim population derived a tasty alternative to pulled pork. In addition to the sandwich we also ordered the Goddess Bowl loaded with kale, butternut squash, brussel sprouts, apple, carrot, cabbage, cashew ricotta, and “honey” mustard. We split the two dishes and were pleasantly satiated. The BBQ Jackfruit Sandwich topped with pickle chips, slaw, and zesty ranch was smokey and moist. The slaw added a fresh crunchy tang. The texture and appearance of the jackfruit closely resembled pulled pork the flavor was savory without the characteristic fatty richness of pulled pork. This BBQ jackfruit sandwich was a true winner. We would gladly choose this healthier and more sustainable BBQ sandwich over pulled pork any day. The Goddess Bowl was fresh and beautifully prepared. Although the cashew ricotta did not quite resemble cheese it still provided a creamy texture that we both enjoyed.

BBQ Jackfruit Sandwich & Goddess Bowl (Kale Salad)

Takeaway: Off the Griddle Restaurant

The experimental yet flavorful food coupled with a light hearted atmosphere made for a great dining experience. Although this place serves vegan fare don’t let the ‘V’ word discourage you— Off the Griddle may skimp on the meat they don’t skimp on taste. Vegans and meat-eaters alike will find a satisfying meal at Off the Griddle. If we find ourselves back in Portland we are eager to try their Reuben!


What to do in the surrounding areas

We arrived in Camas, Washington in the evening and were immediately delighted by the quaint downtown. Here we found the well-maintained tree-lined streets aglow with soft rope-lights. We intended for Camas to be our home base while exploring Portland, only a 25-minute drive away. However, Camas quickly charmed us in its own right offering curb appeal, a diversity of restaurants and brewpubs and ease of walkability.

Our Lodging at Camas Hotel

The historic Camas Hotel sits proudly on the corner of main street right in the middle of downtown.  We were greeted by the friendly hotel staff, offered a coupon booklet with local deals and a parking pass valid for free parking in their guest lot. The Camas Hotel conveniently offers rooms for all budgets. We tried both the European style bedroom and en-suite bedroom during our stay.  Both rooms were clean and comfortable with coffee, seating areas, and thoughtful small touches highlighting the history of the area. Each floor of the hotel features a community kitchenette stocked with kitchen basics for those looking to prep their own food.

European Style Bedroom

The European style room made us nostalgic for our travels in Europe where sharing a bathroom is a perfectly acceptable and sustainable practice. The European style rooms, sans bathroom, boast their own vanity sinks, so brushing your teeth and washing your face can done in the privacy of your own room. There are two spacious communal bathrooms on each floor, each containing a shower, sink, and toilet. We found the bathrooms clean and inviting. Not once did we experience a wait.

Shared Bathroom

Ensuite Bedroom

Our ensuite bedroom was charming with that quintessential boutique hotel feel. While having our own bathroom initially sounded convenient, after our hassle-free experience using the communal bathrooms, we found the private bathroom to be superfluous. For those planning to spend the bulk of their days getting out and exploring Camas and Portland the absence of a private bathroom will largely go unnoticed!

Breakfast

Continental breakfast was served each morning in the sunny second floor atrium. The tasty breakfast spread includes cereals, fruits, eggs, yogurt, toast, pastries, juice, coffee, and teas. Over coffee we chatted with friendly guests who remarked on their pleasant stay. 

Columbia River Gorge

At the suggestion of the owner/manager of the Camas Hotel we took a trip out to see the Columbia River Gorge. Unfortunately many of the trails on the Oregon side of the gorge were closed due to forest fire damage. We asked a gas station attendant in the area for trail advice. He recommended Beacon Rock Trail. It was a short yet steep hike up to the top of an old volcano plug.

Mushroom Foraging at Mount Hood

Sylvie forages for lobster mushrooms in Mount Hood, Oregon

I visited an old friend east Portland in Boring, Oregon. We spent the day foraging for mushrooms in Mount Hood National Forest. Though it was our first time foraging, it’s not an uncommon activity among locals. A word of caution: there are many varieties of mushrooms and some are poisons to humans. Some that look safe may in fact be toxic. Unless you are an expert you should forage just for fun and not for consumption! There is a popular mushroom in the area called a lobster mushroom. It’s a special type of mushroom that once infected by a parasite transforms in color and texture. Our search turned up one lonesome lobster mushroom but it wasn’t quite dark enough to eat—it’s a bit early in the season so maybe we’ll have some luck if try again.