City Snap Guide: Portland

“America’s Greenest City” and one of the “World’s Most Successful Cities” are just two of the titles Portland has graciously accepted over the years without making too much of a fuss. This northwestern Oregon metropolis, which sits near the confluence of the Willamette and Columbia rivers, is an outdoor lover’s paradise with a food and artisan craft distillery scene to complement well-exercised appetites. But it’s the spate of cultural riches this city modestly houses that continues to delight the tourists who feed they’ve stumbled upon their own Portlandia (if you’ve watched the IFC series created by Saturday Night Live cast member Fred Armisen, you’ll know what I mean).

Portland Potables

American-crafted eau de vies? You bet your fermented fruit! In 1985, Clear Creek Distillery‘s founder Steve McCarthy led the charge using his family’s Hood River orchard’s fruit to make a signature Portland eau de vie. More recently, eight new distilleries have opened around the city, helping spawn the Great American Distillers’ Festival every October. More than 40 spirits are sampled, with a bartenders’ competition and spirit appreciation seminars held for every thirsty traveller. Watch for the award-winning Bendistillery vodka and gin!

Free and Green!

The first Thursday of every month in Northwest Portland (Old Town and the Pearl District) offers up a cultural freebie that sees locals and visitors alike descend on shops that turn into artistic salons for the night, as well as bona fide galleries, for a jolt of art. Don’t miss the PDX and Elizabeth Leach galleries or the Pacific Northwest College of Art (PNCA) for cutting-edge mixed media, photography and sculpture. If you favour shopping over the aesthetic, head across the Willamette River to SuperVegan, the world’s first vegan mall (SE Stark and 12th Ave.) where hip clothing, cookies, cakes and even body art all proudly boast vegan and green-friendly cred. This is definitely an ‘only in Portland’ experience.

Top of the Charts

This is a town that likes its music varied and indie, and it’s where local gal Courtney Love (of Hole fame) met the late Nirvana frontman Kurt Cobain. Today, The Dandy Warhols, Modest Mouse, Everclear and The Decemberists are some of the bands that make Portland home. And if you remember the late 50’s/early 60’s blockbuster Louie Louie, you’ll be interested to know that the city’s Paul Revere & the Raiders as well as The Kingsmen both covered the tune to frenzied fame. You might catch a big local act at the Crystal Ballroom, featuring its floating dance floor, at the Doug Fir Lounge or the intimate Mississippi Studios – your chance to say “I saw (insert name of band) first!”

Pop Culture

The Simpsons creator and Portland native Matt Groening literally drew upon his hometown and family to create Springfield and the cartoon’s namesake animated family. Other creative types inspired by the city include filmmaker Gus Van Sant (Good Will Hunting) and cartoonist/illustrator Dan Steffan (Heavy Metal and other magazines). Maybe it’s nearby Oaks Park, an old-school midway – one of the oldest continually operating amusement parks in the U.S. – that keeps locals young at heart. The park’s Ferris wheel and charming roller rink are open year-round; happy skaters glide to the melodies of an old Wurlitzer pipe organ!

Get Away

A 30-minute drive from downtown Portland puts you in what some call ‘the Burgundy of America,’ aka the Willamette Valley wine country – one of the premier wine-producing areas in the world. The valley sits at the same latitude as France’s Burgundy region and there are more than 200 wineries to choose from, many of them producing the state’s signature Pinot Noir wines. While the film Sidesways extolled Pinot Noir’s virtues, the state’s Pinot Gris is quickly catching up in popularity. Head south from the city on the Pacific Highway and you’ll find Rex Hill Vineyards in Newberg – the entrance to wine country. Sample both versions of Pinot as well as Chardonnay, Riesling and Merlot. Keep going to Dundee, where you’ll find organic vineyard Sokol Blosser and Argyle Winery, which pours sparkling varieties in a historic tasting room. And you’ve just begun!

Happy travelling!