Portland is literally green, with multiple squares, parks, botanical gardens and even the oldest official test garden for roses in the United States.
For great city views, I suggest venturing away from downtown to the International Rose Test Garden, which boasts more than 600 varieties of roses, and the Japanese Garden, considered one of the most authentic of its kind outside Japan. The day I visited the latter happened to be a rare, clear spring day in Portland, affording spectacular views of Mount Hood.
For Asian-inspired greenery within walking distance of downtown, I checked out the Lan Su Chinese Garden in Chinatown. The compact space features a series of bridges and temple-like buildings that were constructed by artisans from Portland’s Chinese sister city, Suzhou. Although dangerously close to Voodoo Doughnut, the garden features a lovely teahouse with a multi-page menu of teas and sweet and savory snacks.
As we sipped our green tea and sampled taro buns and almond cookies, we had our own “Portlandia”-esque moment of Zen when a woman at the next table regaled us with tales of the good life in Portland. The intense woman had left behind the harsh winters of her native Michigan and apparently never looked back, but hadn’t quite assumed the mellow approach to life that locals practice.
Episode 5: Put a bird on it!
If there were a template for the quintessential Portland neighborhood, North Williams would seem to be it.
The area’s main drag of North Williams Avenue boasts the usual mix of homespun restaurants and shops. There are the expected microbrewery, bike shop, tattoo parlor and modern takes on traditional food purveyors, including Chop butcher shop and Pix Patisserie.
There are individually owned boutiques selling letterpress cards and stationery, soaps and households items, and even a double-decker bus converted into a vintage dress shop. And, of course, there’s a place for mixologist-created cocktails — the Box Social — and the aptly named Tasty n Sons, a locavore restaurant in a warehouse-like space. The latter, which is open from brunch through dinner, riffs on comfort food with family-style portions and a clever cocktail list with various kinds of “Marys” and other libations.
I capped off my visit to North Williams — and Portland — with a stop at Queen Bee, the studio and factory store for a line of handbags and accessories adorned with birds. The latter would seem to have inspired a “Portlandia” episode, in which the characters proclaim that everything in life can be improved if you “put a bird on it!”
As I watched a young woman behind a machine do exactly that, I experienced one of those life-imitating-art-imitating-life moments that make for the best TV and travel.
Details, Portland, Ore.
DiGiacomo is a Philadelphia-based writer and co-founder of the City Traveler, an online magazine.