I've hardly gotten out for any Pacific Northwest adventuring recently, but this past weekend I dashed down to Portland from Seattle for a long overdue overnight to see family and friends.
I'm always drawn to Portland around the holidays. Partly I'm nostalgic for childhood holiday season memories like visiting Santa on the top floor of Meier & Frank downtown or watching for the red nose on the White Stag sign as we crossed the Willamette River. Meier & Frank is long gone, but the huge neon sign is still there (although the words have changed).
When I arrived, the city was still slick and frosted in lingering snow from earlier in the week, but by midday things were warming up fast. After visiting with friends for a birthday and then meeting up with my brother and wife for lunch at the Grand Central Bakery in Multnomah Village (excellent sandwiches), I headed downtown for a few hours.
Compared to downtown Seattle, downtown Portland is more compact, walkable, and charming. Seattle grew quickly in the 1890s as a gold rush town (gateway to the Klondike) in a haphazard fashion, while Portland was settled more sedately by New Englanders. It shows in how each city is planned (or not) and laid out.
As usual, I made a beeline for Powell's Books on Burnside, perched at the edge of gentrified Pearl District. I could spend hours browsing this treasure of a huge bookstore, and came away with several books/ Christmas gifts for family and friends.
Overall I spent a couple hours wandering and shopping, and popped down to Pioneer Courthouse Square to see the Christmas tree (see top photo). While Portland has excellent transit in the form of streetcars, MAX light rail, and buses, I usually find street parking south of Burnside and up around 10th and 12th (forget about the Pearl).
Early evening was dancing and R&B at the Blue Diamond, east across the Willamette River on Sandy Boulevard. What I loved about this unpretentious bar was the great music, friendly atmosphere (a birthday boy was offering everyone free cupcakes and Voodoo Doughnuts), and a decidedly un-hipster vibe.
Instead of hitting up friends or family for a place to stay, this trip I was treated to an overnight at McMenamins Kennedy School in north Portland's Alberta Arts District. Okay, I will try to be balanced here - we weren't impressed with the comfort and quality of the room for the cost ($260/night), the alarm clock beside the bed randomly waking us up at 4 am, and that the cozy Dentention Bar was closed. We caught an okay movie in the theater, but alas missed out on the highlight of staying here, the saltwater soaking pool.
To be fair, they did give a discount when these issues were declared.
Before heading back north, breakfast was a delicious and interesting breakfast burrito at The Big Egg Breakfast Shop on Alberta. (sorry no photo). This cozy, cute little breakfast place was the perfect spot before the slog drive back north.
Even though I was born in Seattle and have lived there most of my adult life, Portland will always have a piece of my heart—especially during the holiday season.
When You Go
This post is just a teensy snapshot of what an overnight in Portland can be like. While I drove from Seattle (a little less than 3 hours via Interstate 5) this trip, the trip via Amtrak train is a wonderful way to travel. What do you like to do and see in Portland?