Observations on Portland, Oregon

No, this isn’t a jewelry post…but it’s leading UP to one (here it is), so stay with me. On Saturday I turned 46. I’ve been having such an itch to travel, that I hopped on a plane and landed in Portland by happy hour to celebrate the big day. Why Portland? Well, I hadn’t really been there for probably 25 years, it’s relatively close, the weather forecast was good, they have tax-free shopping, and there’s a jewelry store there that I’ve been dying to go to for years. Need I say more??

During my two full days of exploring, I must say that I developed quite a few opinions of this fair city. Some may offend you (my apologies), but that’s certainly not my intention. So here goes.

1. People in Portland are frickin’ NICE! And I’m not just talking about the common courtesies. Here’s a couple prime examples. On my birthday evening, I took myself to the Portland City Grill, with amazing views of the city, given that it’s 30 stories up. Clearly it’s the “place” for celebrations in town, as virtually every surrounding table was having a birthday. Not only was the table of 8 next to me uber-friendly (celebrating Grandma Dorothy’s 70th birthday), but they actually PAID for my $60 dollar meal. Really?!  Really…


View from the Portland City Grill
View from the Portland City Grill

Oh, and then the next day, I stumbled across Papa Haydn on 23rd Ave. The description of the croque madame with turkey pretty much had me drooling. They had a long wait for a table, even for one. Instead of making me wait, they said, “Well we also own the restaurant next door, Jo Bar. Though they have a different menu and kitchen, why don’t we take you over there, and we’ll get you the meal you want. Un-BE-lieveable. I must admit, it was one of the best lunches I’ve ever had.  Not a speck was left on my plate when I left.


Yummiest lunch of the trip!
Yummiest lunch of the trip!

2. To look like a local, wear a puffer jacket. This appears to be the “it” item in Portland. Be it Patagonia, Columbia, or Athleta, it’s all about the puffer jacket. And yes, these were worn in the nicest of restaurants as well as on people out running. Guess that makes getting dressed each day pretty darn easy.

3. This leads me to the next point…I would not have a job in Portland. I think people are very secure in their casual, personal styles, and why would they pay me to shop for them? Not an insult, just an observation. In addition, there really wasn’t a large diversity in shopping resources.

4. Traffic? What traffic?! Traffic is, for all intents and purposes, nowhere to be found downtown. I’ve heard that the I-5 gets pretty backed up heading up to Vancouver after 3pm, but the streets downtown were practically empty at all hours. Here’s shots of both the freeway through town and one of the main streets downtown during commute time. Hello…cars…???


Freeway during morning commute
Freeway during morning commute


8:30 am, downtown...
8:30 am, downtown…

5. Portland has public transportation wired! Be it the bus or the Max train, you can pretty much get anywhere you want. Perhaps that explains the lack of traffic? Very clearly mounted transportation maps and labeled stops seem to make having a car an extra, not a necessity. (SF…take note!) At first I panicked that Uber didn’t operate there, but I seemed to survive just fine. Imagine that? (Sidebar: many of the cars clearly had snow tires on, as the Max doesn’t take you to snowboard on Mt. Hood.)


Very clear maps!
Very clear maps!

portland max train
6. Make-up is definitely optional (and generally avoided), while piercings, tattoos, and beards are encouraged. Enough said.

7. Clearly food carts are a “thing.” Though I was too skeptical to try any of said street fare, there were numerous outposts of food carts, and they were super popular! Granted, in off hours I saw more than one drug deal taking place (eyes averted, of course), but during meal hours, they were doing gangbusters!


These outposts can be found around town.
These outposts can be found around town.

8. Cars stop to let you cross the street! This as so opposite of San Francisco, where I swear, many drivers think they’ll get “points” if they bump you.

9. Did I mention it’s beyond clean? I could have counted the number of trash items I saw on the street on one hand. Yet I never saw anyone out there cleaning. Why is that?! Is there a magical street cleaning fairy? I don’t get it.

10. Oh, and they’re VERY serious about their recycling. I had to take a minute to actually determine which slot to deposit my bottle! Good luck to the non-English speakers.

portland oregon recycling
11. Speaking of which, I was shocked at the lack of cultural diversity in the city. I’m used to being in a racial mixing bowl, but this city is pretty darn white. Again, not a criticism, just an observation.

12. There’s a lot of character in their architecture. As I strolled through residential neighborhoods, I admired how most of the homes had big front porches. Even apartment buildings had such cool architectural details, that I couldn’t help but stop and take note.


A downtown apartment building
A downtown apartment building

13. Oh, and the views of Mt. Hood and Mt. St. Helens are downright gorgeous. Here’s the view of Mt. Hood from my hotel room. Not bad. If I’m not going to be near a beach, then mountains are my next favorite thing.

mt. hood oregon
Now that I’m home, I’m queuing up Portlandia on Netflix. Dying to see if what I saw resonates with their take. (I’m actually glad I didn’t see it before my trip, so I could go into this adventure with no pre-conceived notions.) Granted, these are my observations from just two days, but it’s made a lasting impression. Have you been to Portland? Do you live there? What are your thoughts?

I know, I know…you want jewelry. Don’t worry. Next post up will be what I found on my journey! Promise. xo

Hangin' on 23rd Ave.
Hangin’ on 23rd Ave.

28 thoughts on “Observations on Portland, Oregon”

  1. I vote for a new travel blog written by you! This was fantastic. You know I know Portland from visiting Trish so often. You captured it perfectly. Can’t wait to hear about your jewelry finds. My guess is that all of them work well with an outdoorsy look :).

    1. Really happy that you liked the article, Brooke! And yes, you must know Portland pretty darn well. Your sister was the one who recommended Portland City Grill. 😉

  2. First of all Happy Birthday!
    Second, I love your picture on the bench.
    Third, I too love Portland and cant wait to hear about you adventure.
    Have fun!

    1. I appreciate the birthday wishes, Melodee! I think you’ll like some of the jewelry I saw there. 🙂

  3. Very fun post. I was thinking of you all day…so glad it was exciting! Your observations are so similar to ours when we visit Oregon & Washington. Driving, NOBODY passes each other. It is so unusual to see this!

  4. So interesting to learn more about Portland. Food there sounds yummy. And a belated Happy Birthday to you!

    1. Thanks! You should definitely go check out the town sometime. My next visit, I want to go explore all the nearby hiking, and take a trip out to the coast.

  5. Hi Amy!
    Great blog on Portland…love the honest (non critical!) descriptions and photos. I’ve been wanting to go there and now just might…although it’s hard to get me away from the ocean. Look forward to seeing what sort of amazing jewelry you unearthed while there.

    1. So glad you enjoyed my take on Portland, Nancy! When you visit, you’ll just have to make sure you include a visit to the coast–I’m sure there’s some sea glass up there!

    1. I bet you are right, Rick! I just needed a local with me to point me in the next direction…next time!

  6. Glad that you enjoyed your trip to Portland. And I agree, you missed out on the food carts.

    And yes – the lack of cultural diversity is a shock, especially when coming from the Bay Area (I moved from Hayward to Eugene to Portland). It’s one of the few things I miss from living in California.

    1. I did see a grilled cheese food “bus” on Hawthorne–would have tried it, except I was headed to Porque No? for a Mexican feast. So much great food up there!

  7. Nice abbreviated tour of Portland! If I had just two days to explore, I’d hit downtown and head up to NW 21st and NW 23rd and loop back through the Pearl district too!

    I object to your photo of an empty downtown street, alluding to Portland’s easy rush hour commute. While our rush hour traffic is fairly easy to navigate, it is busy enough. Downtown is congested, as are all our freeways during the work week. I am willing to bet money that photo was taken at 8:30am on a Sunday, or a holiday!

    1. Thanks so much for the comment, Emily! Believe it or not, these photos were taken on a Monday, and not a holiday Monday. I think just compared to San Francisco, the lack of traffic was quite dramatic. And as I mentioned, I heard it’s pretty brutal heading to Vancouver after 3.

  8. I enjoyed this post Amy, and share your sentiments. I’ve visited twice now from Florida and loved it each time. I found the people, food, transportation and character really enjoyable.

    All of the colorful green-space, nature, mountains and streams were the icing on the cake. Taking public transit that works, without needing a car was a big stress relief as well.
    I wrote a write up a couple of years ago on my visit you may enjoy:

    Do you have any plans to go back?

    1. Thanks for the comment, Jeff, and I really enjoyed your article as well–thanks so much for sharing! I know another guy (ironically also named Jeff) who shares your digital nomad status and loves traveling the world. I’m sure I’ll go back up there, but next time with a friend, so I can take advantage of the hiking and exploring the coast.

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