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Portland: Part 1 of a soulful summer getaway to Oregon

We’re blessed to live in a place that offers an incredible change of scenery without driving too far. Portland is one of our favorite destinations, any time of the year. We’re talking about a true, rejuvenating vacation — no workcation. Transformative travel is the need of the hour as we cross the third year into the pandemic. A lot of us are still nervous about international travel, but luckily, there’s plenty of adventure to be had close to home.

Come summer, Portland buzzes with festivals and is radiant with fragrant roses spilling over everywhere. Besides the stunning natural beauty it offers, the Rose City is also a living, pulsating cultural melting pot. Admire impeccable Japanese aesthetics and minimalism at The Japanese Garden, enjoy nonna-worthy Roman-style pizza at Cooperativa, sip terroir-forward wine and jive to hip-hop music at the Crick PDX, dig into Indian chaat at DesiPDX, and just submerge yourself into cultures while staying in the PNW. There’s so much that is quintessentially, endearingly Portland.

We wanted the best of everything — urban wining and dining and to be close to nature. So we did just that! With Mount Hood just an hour away, it was lovely to explore Portland for a couple days and then go off the grid in Columbia Gorge and Mount Hood territory, before returning home, having filled our cups to our heart’s content. With that in mind, here is a relaxed itinerary for a trip of a lifetime.

Urban excursions in Portland

Stay

Location, location, location! The chic Heathman Hotel is just steps away from everything that the vibrant city of Portland has to offer. From food trucks to high-end restaurants, shopping to parks, wine lounges and breweries; the best attractions are just a short walk away. The hotel opened its doors in 1927, almost a century ago, and has been through many contemporary updates since, while maintaining its classic vibe. Edgy and hip, the hotel offers luxurious rooms filled with vibrant artwork. In fact, beautiful art adorns each and every part of this hotel. The unique library is a bookworm’s delight, perfect for curling up with a hot cuppa and a thrilling read.

Explore

A blissful morning spent in the Portland Japanese Garden is a complete treat for the mind, body and soul. The garden has something different to offer in every season, and no matter how many times you visit, each visit will bring a unique perspective. Summer brings an iridescent beauty to the garden, with sparkling brooks, leafy canopies and verdant green everywhere you see. It is also the season when the purple Japanese iris are in full bloom, popping beautifully against the expanse of green. Walking to the top of the hilly garden reveals an unparalleled view of Mt Hood. At the Umami cafe, you can get yourself a grassy matcha tea, and just soak in the sun-drenched views. One of the best ways to enjoy the garden, in our opinion, is to just slow down, stop and stare. For those seeking cultural activities, the garden offers a plethora of events and programs, ranging from the art of ikebana to tea ceremonies to bonsai demonstrations.

Powell’s City of Books, a veritable Portland institution, is also the world’s largest new and used bookstore. The bookstore occupies an entire city block in downtown, and houses a mammoth collection of books! You could have a marvelous time getting lost in a maze of books, or you could streamline your search using this detailed map. Either way, it is absolutely worth taking a digital detox for a couple of hours and including this gem in your Portland itinerary. Look out for author talks and literary events while you’re there.

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With over 2,200 animals from more than 260 countries, the Oregon Zoo is the oldest zoo west of the Mississippi. The zoo is divided into zones, and visiting the African Savanah or the Polar Passage is like traversing through continents in just a short walk as you look at the magnificent wild animals that call the zoo home. From zebras to elephants to even vultures - if there’s an animal you’d want to see, you will most likely see it here. The zoo is all about preservation and education, a fact that is clearly highlighted in the interactive exhibits at different points and in the carefully-cared for animals in clean, spacious enclosures.

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Sibeiho, in Chinese dialect (Hokkien), is a profanity, aka f---ing good. Well, that describes their products superbly, because they are indeed, extraordinarily good. They sell finger-licking delicious sambal, a spicy Singaporean condiment that can elevate any dish instantly. Think avocado toast jazzed up with Nasi Lemak chilli, or spicy sambal drizzled over piping hot ramen. They offer a variety of sambals with varying heat levels and flavor profiles, with each being yummier than the other. They also offer other snacks, cookbooks, crockery and highlight other women-owned brands in their store. These make great gifts for back home!

Eat + Drink

The highly Instagram-able Smith Teamaker Cafe makes a strong case for having a tea ceremony any time of the day — breakfast, lunch, or a late afternoon pick-me-up. Tea is used in unexpected, myriad ways on the menu: brining, marinating, seasoning, granola spice, to name a few. The Forager’s ‘Bahn-Mi’ has tea-brined maitake mushrooms, the turmeric noodle bowl comes with tea leaf kimchi, macarons are sandwiched with green tea-infused buttercream, and crispy breakfast toasts are slathered with Lord Bergamot berry jam. Of course, there is plenty of vibrant tea to pair with these dishes. The Masala Chai stands out particularly. It is a robust Assamese black tea with notes of clove, cinnamon, cardamom and other spices. We loved how the spices complemented the tea leaves in the brew, and did not overpower this beloved Indian tea. Snag a spot on the deck and bask in the glorious Portland sunshine while sipping this concoction. You’re sure to have a spring in your step all day long.

Lunchtime at Cooperativa is a lesson in delightful, seasonal eating. It is a bit different from your usual Italian marketplace. The produce they use is all grown within a 30-mile radius from their door. The food here consists of seasonal, farm-fresh PNW produce with hearty Italian flavors and cooking techniques. The stunning space houses an Italian marketplace, food hall and bar. The square pizza slices are made the (correct) Italian way and let the star ingredients shine. The pizza is made Roman-style; rustic, naturally leavened and generously drizzled with olive oil. The toppings are unconventional and brilliant — think roasted Yukon Gold potato roundels, rhubarb and even Nutella. Don’t miss their deeply-savory Sicilian latte, redolent with pistachio cream and just a hint of sweetness. Keep an eye out for daily specials like Nettle Gnocchi and white truffle risotto. Want to chef it up yourself? They also offer high-quality Italian ingredients like fresh or dried pasta, cheeses and a smorgasbord of olives, amongst many other things. Psssttt... if cooking isn’t in your repertoire, they have the most delicious pre-made sauces and condiments to whip up an authentic Italian meal. Mamma mia!

Nicholas Restaurant at Madison is a family-run restaurant that serves authentic Lebanese and Mediterranean cuisine. The space is charming with its one-of-a-kind mosaic tiles and gilded gold decor. While the setting is exotic, the food is both extraordinary and unpretentious. In keeping with true Lebanese hospitality, you’re served warm olive oil and freshly made pita as soon as you sit down. Start with the mezze platter, which comes with hummus, tzatziki and muhammara and sets the tone for the meal. Move to melt-in-your-mouth kebabs and turmeric rice, which pairs perfectly with Lebanese wine. Save space for the bird’s nest pastry, which comes drenched with honey, and garnished with slivers of candied pistachio. It’s worth making a reservation as the place usually runs full.

Papi Chulo’s call themselves 'Portland’s Birria Masters,' and the honorific is completely justified. The birria tacos are sublime, but the Baja-style fish tacos and camarones stand their own, too. Pair this delicious taco affair with — what else, but spicy margaritas to match!

Flying Fish Co. offers a fresh catch market, dine-in patio and chef’s shack. Owner and chief fishmonger, Lyf Gildersleeve infuses his magnanimous and creative personality into every square inch of this eclectic space. The operative word here is fresh. Think fresh-from-the-ice Wild Oregon Tuna made into an umami poke bowl, complete with seaweed, sushi pickles and a fiery Tobanjan sauce. If shucking fat oysters and slurping juicy mussels is your idea of a good time, then this is the place for you. Get their Tom Yum Bloody Mary — it is as flavorful and spicy as it gets. With bright graffiti, outdoor seating and smashing seafood; the place is a vibe in itself.

Amaterra Winery’s spanking new tasting room seems to be a world away, a bucolic escape that feels like wine country but is mere minutes from downtown Portland. Amaterra means “for the love of the Earth,” and the winery reflects this on every level. The stunning venue features a 12-acre vineyard, chef-driven restaurant, outdoor event lawn, and expansive valley views. From the vantage perch on the hillside, you can see a gurgling brook, snaking grapevines and trees peeking below. Look further ahead to see Willamette Valley sprawled gloriously for miles and miles. The most pertinent question beckons: what to drink here? Try the tasting flight. The 2018 Pinot Noir is a perfect summer sipper. Pair it with pan-seared scallops to match the wine’s earthy flavors. The atmosphere here is languid and relaxed, yet peppered with tinkling glasses and lively conversation. This is the place for a romantic date, a jovial evening with friends, or just when you want to escape from it all.

Straightaway is stirring and shaking up the cocktail industry, one flavorful cocktail at a time (pun intended!). From potent Old-Fashioneds to herbaceous Negronis, and everything in between, they offer a line of very sippable canned cocktails. With summer upon us, their canned offerings make easy portable drinks for the beach, picnic parties or alfresco patio dinners. What we love is that, unlike most canned libations, these are not saccharine sweet. At the end of the day, these are real, honest-to-goodness cocktails, just canned for convenience. We’ll be carrying them in our pockets (and storing them in coolers!) throughout summer. Oh, and they have a wonderful Portland tasting room where you can sip to your heart’s content.

Check out The Crick PDX, a brand new wine tasting room by Abbey Creek. Enjoy fine Oregon wine and snacks at this groovy hip-hop-themed space, smack in the heart of downtown Portland.

A trip to Portland would be incomplete without hitting up the bustling food cart scene, a nod to the city’s experimental palates and diverse culinary talent. These days, the coolest food carts group together in a ‘pod’, making it fun and easy to get a taste of many different cuisines. While you’d be hard-pressed to find a corner in the city without a food cart, our favorite one is the Pioneer Courthouse Square food cart pod. Options include jammy egg sandwiches from Fried Egg I’m In Love, feel-good rice bowls from The Whole Bowl, or tasty Mexican plates from Amelia’s Mexican Food.

With its booming coffee scene, Portland has so much to choose from. Portland Cà Phê, Super Joy Coffee and Reforma Roasters are heritage-focused roasters brewing phenomenal coffee.

Last but not the least, check out St. Beatrix and its cute new renovated cafe and enjoy drinks like smoked mocha or lavender matcha. They also serve delicious pastries, biscuit sandwiches, tartines and soups among other delicacies.

Stay tuned for Parts 2 and 3 of a Soulful Summer Getaway to Oregon

Aakanksha Agarwal is a freelance writer for Seattle Refined. Follow more of her adventures here. While some of the products, services, and/or accommodations in this post were provided without charge, all of the opinions within are those of the author and the Seattle Refined editorial board.

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