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Quick guide to Portland hikes, shopping, brunch, and bars, by neighborhood


Portland Rose Garden in late summer.  Photo by Kristin Carlson.

The perfect day in Portland involves a fulfilling outdoor excursion---taking advantage of the many hiking, biking, or architectural opportunities like walks over one of the many bridges---bookended with a dose of plentiful neighborhood restaurants, bars, and especially brunch.

The best things to do in Portland, based on my own recent first trip there, are arranged here by neighborhood to help you plan your days in this well-loved and charming Pacific Northwest town.

Southeast Portland:
Mount Tabor is an easy and breathtaking hike with a view overlooking the city and its lock and dam and reservoir. There are plenty of shady spots for picnicking, and lush plantlife everywhere.  Dogs are welcome.

Shopping and drinks:
Explore SE Hawthorne and SE Belmont for much shopping of clothes and shoes, including great finds at "high-end consignment" boutiques, martinis, and desserts on the sidewalk.

The brunch:

Zell's is delicious. Free adorable scones and jams with your coffee, and a delectable selection of cornmeal pancakes, garden omelets, and thick French toast.

The lunch:
Pok Pok, fresh, spicy Thai food in a lovable setting with outdoor seating and all your favorites.

The dinner and bar:
Savoy Tavern & Bistro, a "Wisconsin-inspired" restaurant.  Comfort food with a few culinary touches, like baked mac-and-cheese, seasonal greens, and a "cheese curd platter." Huge but fancy drinks, like a cucumber-tini twice as tall as your head.  Check out some taxidermied animal heads and so-bad-it's-good wallpaper while you're there. SE Clinton and 25th.

Downtown Portland:
Look for a bike race.  There's bound to be one whenever you're there. Watching one of these intense, nearly demolition-style events is truly exhilarating.  Or, hop on and bike around the area yourself.

Powell's mega 8-story mammoth new, and used, and rare, and out-of-print bookstore.  Really, everything you could ever want.  It's like heaven.

The brunch:

Virginia's Cafe is a Portland stand-by on SW 10th between SW Yamhill and SW Taylor.

The lunch:

Feuding Indian Chaat house street carts, on the corner of SW 12th and Yamhill.

The dinner and drinks:
Grab a pizza and some beer, and BYO into one of the old movie theaters.  Three birds with one stone, and lovely old architecture to boot.

North Portland:

1000 Acres, for amazing views of the river confluences and and beautiful day hikes.  Full of treed groves, open meadows, and blackberry bushes along the path---and all the blackberries you can eat in summer--great for dogs and bikers, like all of Portland. Outside the city near Troutdale. Exit Lewis and Clark State Park.

The brunch:
Overlook Restaurant, cheap Greek diner.  This place served the largest, freshest cinnamon rolls I have ever seen.  And, the eggs and pancakes were surprisingly fresh and not even greasy.

The lunch or dinner and desserts:
The up and coming North Mississippi has many good restaurants and bars.  Pix is a cute and fun dessert-centered little spot with light snacks, drinks, coffees, and outdoor seating.  Choose ever-changing items from the pastry display at the counter. Try the macaroons.

The bar:
Vendetta, of course! Great drink specials and... shuffle board. Yes.  That's on North Williams and Skidmore.  I believe the special I had was Maker's and Ginger (seems to be a Portland favorite), but it was more like a Maker's and Maker's. Amnesia Brewery is also fun, if the weather is nice and you can enjoy the outdoor space.

Better Together, Northwest and Northeast Portland:
Outdoors (Northwest):
Washington Park, Rose Gardens, and Pittock Mansion. 
Not usually one for roses in particular, the Rose Gardens still blew me away.  A quiet stroll on a somewhat cloudy day was a photographer's dream, even for a photographer not usually one for flowers.  Off season, reading the inventive names of the varieties is as much fun as seeing the flowers themselves. Throughout Washington Park and near Pittock Mansion, a large network of scenic pine forested hiking trails offer days' worth of adventure, and also connect to Forrest Park - one the largest urban parks in the country. Although I did not get to visit them myself, Oregon Zoo and the Japanese Gardens are also nearby.

Now, into The Alberta Arts District, with recommendations and foodie bliss straight from the locals:

New Seasons Market, tasty upscale grocery local to Portland and only found in the area.  Perfect for a backyard grill session, picnic, or dinner with some local friends at home.

The brunch (Northeast):
Tin Shed, good food, long wait.
Petit Provence, yummy French pastries.
The lunch (Northeast):
La Bonita, cheap, good Mexican.
Random Order, coffee shop, great pie.

Dinner and bar:
Bye and Bye, all-vegetarian meat alternative barbeque type American classics with nice local beer.

For more info: