Portland lures weekenders with tax-free shopping, and keeps them coming back for the great food and hotels
If you think of Portland as a granola-loving, city-cycling, microbrewing mecca for urban free-spirits, it’s time you revisited this Pacific Northwest jewel
Portland is bursting with sophisticated restaurants, ranging from homey yet delectable brunches to amazing fine dining with unparalleled service.
And the shopping – if tax-free retail therapy alone isn’t enough of an incentive, you’ll be weeping with joy when you see what a style haven Portland’s become. Everything from home furnishings to clothing to fine art can be found here and most of it within walking distance from the downtown core. But if you get fatigued exploring different neighbourhoods, the MAX light rail system is free within the downtown core
Where to Shop in Portland
Between the competitive Loonie and the tax-free shopping, it’d be a shame not to indulge in a little retail therapy while in Portland. With so many stores and labels unavailable in BC, it’s a stimulating if not sensory overloading experience. The key is getting to know Portland’s distinct neighbourhoods, each offering its own fabulous array of shops.
The Pearl District – This area used to be filled entirely with industrial warehouses, but is now home to a splendid array of design and fashion stores that have taken over converted warehouse spaces. Top picks include:
- EWF Modern – original and sustainable home furniture and accessories
- Imelda’s Shoes – everywhere – there are shoes everywhere. If you have time for only one shoe store, come here.
- Anthropologie – whimsical and delightfully enchanting clothes for women
- And, of course, Powell’s – the famous independent bookstore that consumes an entire city block and offers over one million books.
Nob Hill (NW 23rd Ave) – This stretch of Portland is densely packed with fashion-savvy retail gems. Top picks here include:
- Souchi – independent women’s fashion store dedicated to luxury pieces with exquisite details, specializing in hand-knits and hand-picked collection items from coveted designers.
- Blush Beauty Bar – jam packed with beauty products and staffed by friendly and professional makeup artists and estheticians who are happy to give you advice based on your needs, not sales goals or product pitches.
- Oh Baby – award-winning lingerie boutique that offers an exceptional selection of hand-picked intimate apparel.
Alberta Arts District – This up-and-coming neighbourhood still has a grassroots feel, where the vibe is relaxed and either everyone knows one another or everyone’s just incredibly friendly. Stores here are concentrated along a one-and-a-half-block stretch on Alberta Street. Top picks include:
- Close Knit – it doesn’t get any cosier than this yarn shop, with lofty skeins of fluffy angora, tweedy Silky Wool and chunky sheep’s wool crammed into every nook and cranny.
- Bolt Fabric Boutique – as any modern domestic will recognize in a heartbeat, this store carries beautiful fabrics unseen north of the border.
Mississippi Avenue – this is a newly thriving neighbourhood that’s young, urban and hip. It’s filled with mostly independent boutiques, restaurants and some nationally acclaimed coffee houses.
- Flutter – a store crammed with novelty objets d‘art that makes you feel as if you’ve stumbled into Grandma’s attic. It’s filled with extremely eclectic, tongue-in-cheek pretty things that will make you want to buy everything.
- The Rebuilding Center – a unique non-profit centre that provides sustainable home furnishings from reclaimed materials. If you’re renovating a home, especially one with heritage details, this is the place to go for antique parts and original fixtures.
Where to Dine in Portland
If you like an early start, you’ll definitely want to try some of Portland’s amazing brunch spots. Tasty n Sons is typically packed by 10am on weekends with people in hour-long waits drifting down the stairs. Nobody’s complaining though. Any place that has chocolate potato doughnuts with crème anglaise; fried eggs and cheddar biscuit with fried chicken; and Potatoes Bravas with eggs is definitely worth waiting for.
Another morning hot spot is Simpatica, located in what was once a church-turned-music hall. It has its own off-site charcuterie and butcher shop, and prides itself on impeccable comfort food, making each dish fresh and from scratch.
When you’re ready for a midday meal try one of Bluehour’s daily “Bluehour Plate Specials,” featuring delicious three-course meals such as toot vegetable soup with crème fraîche and chives; fried egg sandwich on brioche with house-cured ham and Gruyere; and pumpkin crème chiboust with caramel sauce.
For dinner, Portland’s got fabulous dining options to leave you blissfully sated. For adventurous palates, head over to Oba! Its award-winning Nuevo Latino cuisine is as delicious as it is beautiful. Don’t even think about leaving without trying the guacamole, made table-side in a mortar and pestle with fresh herbs, seasonings and two luscious avocados. Other delectable dishes include the macadamia encrusted swordfish (it first appeared as a special nine years ago and was so popular it’s become a permanent feature), roasted butternut enchilada with creamy toasted walnut sauce (a vegetarian option that’ll have every carnivore at the table reaching over for ‘just one more bite’), and the signature Baked Argentina dessert, so beautiful you’ll actually pause (briefly) before devouring it.
At Fenouil, you’ll find familiar Pacific Northwest flavours heightened with a touch of French flair. With dishes ranging from hamachi crudo with yuzu koshu yogurt to bacon-wrapped Oregon rabbit loin to roasted sablefish in a chowder emulsion, all your senses will be tingling with joy. And to top it all off, the service, like the decor, is warm and gracious.
For a vibrant dining experience, don’t miss Saucebox, the acclaimed Portland hot spot noted by Bon Apetit and Travel + Leisure magazines for its stellar Pacific Island-inspired food and drinks. Try the outstanding "Shiso Best" cocktail, made from muddled shiso leaves, and don’t miss the Javanese Salmon, which the New York Times enthused is, “As good as salmon gets.”
Where to Stay in Portland
Location is everything and a downtown hotel will keep you in the centre of most activities in Portland. The Hotel Vintage Plaza is a recently renovated historic boutique hotel. There’s a cozy fireplace at one end of the lobby and an interior lightwell at the other end, making this a dramatic place to linger during the complimentary wine tastings every afternoon.
Not just about looks, the Vintage Plaza has substance, too. Always on the forefront of trying to encourage sustainability and environmental awareness in an industry rife with waste, the Vintage Plaza is as eco-friendly as an urban hotel can be. It’s done away with convenience packaging and instead has provided every bathroom with permanent dispensers featuring London-based Gilchrist & Soames luxury products.
Brought a hybrid car with you? Let them know and parking’s 50% off. And, like all other Kimpton hotels, this is pet-friendly territory.
The Hotel Lucia has garnered praise from Condé Nast Traveler and Travel + Leisure magazines, and offers a contemporary option for your downtown stay. The lobby’s minimalist black and white palette is a perfect backdrop for its impressive collection of artwork. Walls are adorned with framed originals from nationally recognized artists, including Pulitzer Prize winner David Hume Kennedy.
Rooms are styled simply and elegantly, and the beds are sumptuously comfortable. But in case a fluffy pillow-top mattress isn’t enough to lull you to sleep, pick a different set of pillows from the Lucia’s extensive pillow menu.
And if that’s still not quite enough, then press the ‘Get it Now!’ button on the phone and request one of their iPods, pre-programmed with a variety of playlists.
See more photos of Portland in our Weekend Getaways Photo Gallery
In-line photos courtesy Travel Portland, Oba Restaurant, Hotel Vintage Plaza/Eric Holland