Portland – One of the Most Underrated Cities in the U.S.

Not many of us know just how beautiful this hidden gem of a place named Portland is in the state of Oregon, United States. I was one of them until it showed up on my Pinterest feed under “Places You Should Visit”. I was anyway planning a vacation (now you know what I do on Pinterest), and I thought I would give the article a read to know more about Portland. I was amazed at everything Portland has to offer! And there I was – booking my flight tickets to Portland.

How did I get there?

I was studying in Tucson when I made this visit so I took a connecting flight to Portland and back. If you’re in Seattle, it’s a 4-hour road trip (maybe think about going to Seattle as well!) and about an 11-hour drive from San Francisco/San Jose, California. Inside of Portland, I traveled with Uber/Lyft or walked to nearby places.

Where did I stay?

I stayed at an aesthetic-looking AirBnB studio home in Southeast Portland for a couple of days. It was affordable and ideally located. There were a ton of restaurants, cafes, and supermarkets nearby. When looking for a place to stay, think about the places you want to visit and select a hotel or an AirBnB that’s centrally located.

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Where did I eat?

In terms of food, Portland is best known for its food carts and who doesn’t love eating from them?! Here are some of the places I ate at:

Cartlandia

Location: 8145 S.E. 82nd Ave., Portland, OR 97266

Cartlandia is essentially an open space with a lot of food carts parked in it. There are multiple locations around the city so you can choose the one closest to you. The one that I went to had over 30 food carts and a beer garden. This one had plenty of parking space so if you don’t want to sit out in the open, you can grab some good food and eat in your car.

Jade Teahouse 

Location: 7912 SE 13th Ave., Portland, OR 97202 

A cozy place to grab some warm Vietnamese food and desserts.

Tea Chai Te

Location: 7983 SE 13th Ave., Portland, OR 97202 

Do you love to cozy up on a sofa and drink some warm tea? This place is for you! They offer a wide range of teas. I even bought some to take it back home!

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Voodoo Doughnuts 

Location: 1520 E Colfax Ave, Denver, CO 80218 

Forget everything else and stuff yourself with some amazing doughnuts from this place. It’s known for extensive decor, illustrations of voodoo priests and pretty pink boxes with their logo on them. They even have vegan donuts! If you happen to see a huge line outside this place, don’t be surprised – it’s a familiar sight. It’s one of the iconic places you should try out when in Portland and expect a queue as a result!

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Blue Star Donuts

Location: Multiple locations 

Yes, I ate a lot of doughnuts when I was in Portland, in case it’s not obvious yet. 😛 Blue Star is completely different from Voodoo. They have a wide variety of uniquely flavored doughnuts such as Lemon Poppy and Blueberry Bourbon Basil. It also has the traditional cafe options.

Gino’s

Location: 8051 SE 13th Ave., Portland, OR 97202 

I had been here for dinner over the weekend and it was full! The food is good and the restaurant has a warmth of a century old oak wood bar.

Portland City Grill

Location: 111 SW 5th Ave, Portland, OR 97204 

This is a fine dining restaurant serving American dishes with a 30th-floor view of the city’s skyline. Make sure you reserve a table! The view at night overlooking the Willamette River can be breathtaking.

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What did I do there?

These are all the places I visited when I was in Portland. By now you must know my style of planning – I group places that are neighboring so I don’t end up wasting too much time traveling within the city.

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International Rose Test Garden

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The International Rose Test Garden is the oldest official public free rose garden in the United States. It features over 10,000 rose bushes of approximately 650 rose varieties. The roses here generally bloom from the end of May through September. Unfortunately, when I was there, I didn’t come across any roses that had fully blossomed because I visited during the off-season. 

Portland Japanese Garden

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I kid you not, you will be at peace when you are in this garden. There is a shuttle that takes you up to the top of the garden, in case you don’t want to walk. But, the climb is quite easy and scenic, so get your walking shoes on! They offer five garden styles and each one of them is unique and alluring. My advice when you visit this garden is to immerse yourself while you are experiencing the garden and keep all your worrying thoughts away.

Lan Su Chinese Garden

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This garden is smaller in size as compared to the Japanese Garden but equally attractive. A beautiful courtyard greets you as you enter and then as you walk, you will cross some small bridges and covered walkways. Right in the middle is a scenic lake with a traditional Chinese teahouse in the background. Me being a crazy tea-lover, a good chunk of my time in this garden was spent in the teahouse. If you’re a tea-lover as well (even if you’re not), picture this – you’re sitting in a pretty and traditional teahouse, sipping aromatic tea with a teacake, faint sunlight on your face and a stunning view of a lake. Loving the picture I painted? That was me and I loved every minute of it. Did I just make you think about visiting a café? Hah!

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Oregon Zoo

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The Oregon Zoo is a popular family spot in Portland. This zoo is huge so make sure you give it enough time. When you’re walking through all the sections of the zoo, you’ll feel like you’re right in the middle of a forest. You can choose to start with any section, but keep a zoo map with you so that you don’t miss any section. My favorites were the Amur tiger, sea otters (how adorable are those?!), and the colorful flock of birds.

Pittock Mansion

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The 100-year old Pittock Mansion is Portland’s story. It’s a two-story mansion that is full of history and it belongs to Portland’s first and most influential families. After I completed the tour of all their vintage rooms, I headed out to find a pretty backyard with a panoramic view of downtown Portland. Don’t miss this view!

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Powell’s City of Books

This is the largest new and used bookstore in the world. I was an excited child when I entered the bookstore. It’s honestly a reader’s dream to surround yourself with a million books!

Pioneer Courthouse Square

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This is a public space in the heart of downtown. If you happen to visit during Christmas, they place a huge Christmas tree in the middle of the square, twinkling with Christmas lights. The Mile Post Sign right outside the square is the most photographed and displays cities worldwide along with their distance (in miles) from Portland.

Tom McCall Waterfront Park

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This park is right next to the Willamette River and very close to downtown from where you can get a stunning view of the river. I honestly hadn’t planned on going here but stumbled upon it as I was walking. It was lush green when I was there and trust me, it’s a beautiful park that you don’t want to miss!

Mill Ends Park

According to the Guinness Book of Records, it’s the smallest park in the world. This park is a small circle (2 feet across) and is located right in the middle of the road and close to the Willamette River. I honestly didn’t realize how small it was until I saw it. Not kidding, but it took me a while to figure out where it was even when I was standing right across it. 😛

Portland Aerial Tram

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The Portland Aerial Tram (or the OHSU tram), is an aerial tramway that lets you travel between the OHSU campus and the city’s South Waterfront district. This ride lasts for 3 minutes. Even if it’s windy and cold up there, the ride is totally worth the view of the magnificent Mount Hood. You also get to cross the Willamette River aerially and get a bird’s-eye view of the city!

Cathedral Park

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The Cathedral Park neighborhood is one of the prettiest. This park is right on the bank of the Willamette River and under St. Johns Bridge. This bridge is majestic and if you walk a bit towards the neighborhood, there’s a place from where you get a symmetric view of the bridge’s cathedral-like columns.

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Things to keep in mind!

  • It’s usually windy, cold and rainy in Portland so make sure you check out the weather before packing your bags.
  • The MAX light Rail or MAX is a rail system that publicly serves the city of Portland. Here’s where you can check the map and fares: https://trimet.org/max/
  • As you saw, there are quite some places around Washington Park. If you get your car, the parking fee there is $2 per hour and $8 all day. MAX also has stops close to these spots so check Google Maps.
  • Generally speaking, winter isn’t the best time to visit because it can get exceedingly cold and windy and the gardens aren’t in full bloom.
  • Don’t miss the White Stag sign, also called the “Portland Sign”, located in downtown. It’s a lighted sign atop the White Stag building.
  • Portland is divided into four parts based on directions – South East, South West, North East, and North West. If you ask anyone for directions there, they will guide you using these directions; just a heads up! The Willamette River separates the East from the West.

Did I make you think about adding Portland to your travel bucket list? I sure hope I did because you don’t want to miss this beauty! Let me know in the comments below whether you want to visit or you have already visited. Have an awesome day! 🙂

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