The experience of a sunny spring day in downtown Portland, Ore. can compete with any city in the world. Rain-weary locals come out of the woodwork, decked out in shorts and flip-flops despite temperatures only reaching the upper-50s. Local markets and food carts sprout from the ground like tulips, dotting the city with a colorful garden of activity.
When touring your own city, you can choose to eschew the touristy things that bring visitors to your hometown or embrace them with open arms. We did the latter and took in all that Portland has to offer in one, long Saturday.
We started out at the Portland Farmers Market. For 25 years, the year-round market lining the South Park Blocks near Portland State University has drawn both tourists and locals alike for produce, flowers, food and entertainment. We met up with Viktoria’s high school journalism teacher who lives in the area.
After scoring some fresh locally-grown vegetables and a cup of french-pressed coffee from Nossa Familia Coffee, we sat down for lunch at nearby East Side Delicatessen. The small deli has an awesome vegetarian menu, including custom-made sandwiches. The Veg-Italian sandwich on dark rye bread is pure joy.
With our parking meter nearing expiration, we moved toward the Willamette River to visit Portland Saturday Market. Once a counter-culture haven, the largest open-air market in the U.S. has grown over the last 40 years to take up a significant section of Old Town/Chinatown. The market has lost a bit of its edge over the years, but has firmly held onto its hippie ethos.
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Old Town/Chinatown has seen significant change over the past decade-plus, establishing itself as a must-visit for many out-of-towners. The world-famous Voodoo Doughnut is a big part of that. Portlanders have a love/hate relationship with Voodoo in the years since tourists and television foodie shows discovered it. Weekend lines often stretch 100 deep down the sidewalk of SW 3rd Street and it’s not unusual to wait upwards of 30 minutes to get inside.
Embracing the full tourist experience, we hopped in line behind a couple visiting from Calgary, Alberta in Canada. Acting as surrogates for the Chamber of Commerce, we answered all of their questions about the city and even talked them into waiting in the doughnut line. Once we arrived at the front, they bought the classic Voodoo Doll, Bacon Maple Bar and cream-filled Cock-N-Balls. We opted for the head-sized Tex-Ass glazed doughnut and the Elvis-inspired Memphis Mafia, a banana fritter covered in chocolate and peanut butter.
Waterfront Park is the perfect place to walk off those extra-large doughnuts. Named for former governor Tom McCall, the 30-acre park was built in the 1970s to reconnect downtown Portland to the Willamette River. We even spotted the Unipiper, a Darth Vader-masked unicyclist who can often be seen spewing flames from his ever-present bagpipes.
Next, we headed to Northeast Portland. While downtown gets all the attention, the eastside is where Portland’s “weird” culture truly lives. As the craft beer capital of the world—Portland is home to 61 breweries in the city limits, 91 in the metro area—it’s easy to find a place for a cold one. We stopped in at Breakside Brewery and Great Notion Brewing, then proceeded down NE Alberta Street.
The Alberta Arts District was once the heart of Portland’s African-American community, but gentrification has pushed long-term residents out while bringing in new shops, restaurants and housing focused on a higher-income market. As a result, Alberta Street is the subject of many national studies on the effects of gentrification.
Ignoring the cultural impacts, the street is a vibrant and lively mix of old and new Portland. The street is brightened by murals, some from the non-profit Forest For The Trees art project and others from local artists.
One of the most impressive is the recently-completed mural of female civil rights leaders painted on the side of the Black United Fund offices. The mural features portraits of Coretta Scott King, Ruby Bridges, Ruby Dee, Angela Davis, and Maya Angelou amongst powerful images of change and evolution.
We waited in one last line at the Salt & Straw artisanal ice cream shop for Portland’s best ice cream. Famous for collaborations with local chefs, brewers and more, the current menu features flavors created by neighborhood school children. The Elementary School Inventor Series has yielded some interesting flavors, including the Bean and Cheese Burrito featuring sweet red bean paste, cream cheese and soft tortilla strips.
If You Go
Portland Farmers Market at Portland State University
SW Park & SW Montgomery. Open Saturdays year-round.
Portland Saturday Market
Tom McCall Waterfront Park, 2 SW Naito Pkwy. Open Saturdays and Sundays from March through December.
22 SW 3rd Avenue. Open 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
Breakside Brewery Dekum Pub
820 NE Dekum St. See website for hours
Alberta Arts District
NE Alberta Street from NE 7th Ave to NE 15th Ave. Hours vary by shop.
Salt & Straw
2035 NE Alberta St. Open 11 a.m.-11 p.m. daily.