It was early. Even the buzz of the busy Los Angeles airport didn’t jerk us awake. Gavin said this must be like how daddy feels, as we got out of the cab. It didn’t take me long to feel that adrenaline rush of being at the airport, and after all, this was our first mom-son trip without dad or little sister Sloane.
First stop after getting through security – Starbucks! I had to be alert and focused. I didn’t have Joe helping me with luggage or watching Gavin. But sure enough as we walked up to the gate, I realized I forgot our carry-on. Was this a premonition of how our trip would go?! I’m sure I blurted out something inappropriate as we ran to the security gate where my luggage was waiting. I took a deep breath, assured Gavin the Starbucks would be kicking in and we boarded our flight and made it to Portland without a hitch. It only took about 2.5 hours to get there, but I was still armed with gadgets that kept Gavin occupied. One worth mentioning was the Zhip. It’s a hands-free device that secured his iTouch to the tray table, while he watched his movies. Genius.
We jumped on the train instead of in a cab to soak-up city life and save money. We never take public transit in L.A., so this in itself was an experience. We happened to sit in the very last section where every homeless person who got on the train ended up. Gavin quickly learned not to stare and to make polite small talk when spoken to. After a good half hour, we arrived in downtown Portland. I have always loved the Pacific Northwest. I took a moment to take in the trees, buildings and people. We quickly headed for the Hilton (503-226-1611, 921 SW Sixth Ave), to drop-off our bags and start exploring. Our hotel was perfectly located within walking distance to many attractions.
We soon stumbled upon a farmer’s market, one of my favorite pastimes. Here we saw the most unusual mushrooms, sampled cheeses and picked out some flowers. There are a number of area markets that open in May. In fact, the Saturday market is the largest continuously operating open-air crafts market in the United States.
Next Gavin and I decided to rent bikes and put Portland’s well known bike- friendly status to the test. We headed to Kerr bike rentals on the waterfront. We first tried the Deuce Coupe ($20/hour) because it looked like fun. We quickly figured out the Deuce was not cut out to climb hills. So we traded it in for regular bikes ($7-10/hour) and were soon pedaling over the Hawthorne Bridge. Wow, the scenery was stunning. Within 10 minutes we arrived at the Oregon Museum of Science and Industry where we watched an IMAX movie (sit towards the top to avoid motion sickness) and browsed the featured video game exhibit. Gavin was in heaven playing the new Halo Reach game, while I totally dated myself and stuck to Centipede and Pac Man. There’s so much to do here, with more than 200 interactive exhibits; it’s a must see.
Our Portland tour continued to Powell’s City of Books (503-228-4651, 1005 W. Burnside). This flagship location occupies an entire city block, offering more than a million books. It’s actually the world’s largest independent bookstore that is bound to have something for all ages. After our time of exercise and education, we jumped on a streetcar and headed to The Pearl District, where our good friends from home, the Roskins, were waiting for us!
The Pearl District
The Pearl is perfect. No wonder our beachy friends don’t mind calling this their home-away-from-home. The short ride from downtown had us reunited with our friends and walking the streets of their neighborhood. My friend Jen’s husband is a producer for a show filmed in Portland – that’s why they were here; more on that later! The Pearl district used to be filled with industrial warehouses, but has drastically changed since the mid 1990’s into a haven of art galleries, shops and restaurants. I loved the modern architecture and restored brick buildings.
One store Jen, Sam and Molly brought us to was Cargo, a true international bazaar, and not to be missed. Here you can meander through the jam-packed aisles of jewelry, home décor, toys and unique tchotchkes. I could spend a fortune and many hours in here. We also ate at a restaurant worth mentioning. It was an authentic Italian eatery called Piazza Italia (503-478-0619). So delish, and I don’t say that lightly coming from an Italian family. The owner and wait staff visit your table, making you feel at home. I devoured the Linguine alle Vongole (Linguine and clams, $15.50). Everyone was happy with their dinner at this popular neighborhood spot.
There’s definitely not a shortage of incredible places and pit stops to eat in Portland. One way to sample a variety at one time is through Forktown Food Tours (503-234-3663). There are a few different walking tours, but ours touched on seven unique eateries, including a one time 1930’s brothel, an award winning PB&J food cart, and a traditional Jewish deli. This three-hour culinary experience taught us many interesting facts about the city, chefs and ingredients used for creating insane recipes and seasonal cocktails. We sipped and snacked on kumbucha tea, hardwood smoked pastrami sliders, pizza with pork chorizo and a spicy Thai PB&J, O.M.G. The best part is that it’s almost guilt-free eating, since you’re walking the entire time you’re not eating.
Another way to taste your way through different cuisines is to hit the food carts that are set-up in pods or groups throughout the same general vicinity in down town. Here you’ll find Brazilian, Mexican, Japanese and BBQ foods to name a few. There are up to 200 carts at certain times of the year. With that selection the pickiest of eaters are sure to be satisfied.
One of the hippest restaurants Gavin and I hit was at the Ace Hotel (503-228-2277, 1022 SW Stark St.). The architectural eye candy hits you the minute you walk in to the hotel. The Breakfast Room restaurant is bright and inviting and served-up innovative farm-to-table plates. Someplace I’ll definitely try again when I’m back.
And if you’re one of those people who craves a doughnut now and then, you must try Portland’s own, Voodoo donuts (503-241-4704, 22 Southwest 3rd Ave. Cash only-ATM available). It’s a 24-hour doughnut shop, with the craziest selection of decorated doughnuts. Along with your sugar high, you can also get hitched, as legal wedding ceremonies are held here too. Strange I thought, but according to the enormous painted wall across the street, that’s how people like it in Portland. In the end Gavin didn’t think his doughnut was worth the half hour wait, but the experience of it all won us over.
From doughnuts to tapas, my only meal without Gavin in Portland was at Toro Bravo. The great thing about this restaurant is The Secret Society upstairs (503-493-3600, 120 NE Russel St.). This is the type of lounge you don’t leave for a long time. It’s a 1907 Victorian era bar that transports you back in time with its dark paneled walls, vintage furniture and a cocktail list to match. There is also a ballroom recording studio, and a menu chalked full of yummy treats. Soon it was time to move downstairs to a vibrantly painted, lively room. Toro Bravo was packed with communal tables and a bustling open kitchen (503-281-4464,120 NE Russel St.). The Spanish tapas menu was overwhelming because it ALL made my mouth water, no joke. The dishes ranged from Moroccan tuna with dried cherry couscous to squash dumplings and lamb. The griddled bacon wrapped dates were divine. This was a fun girls night out!
Hollywood may be the mecca for movie stars, but Oregonians get their fair share of star sightings too. According to the Oregon Film Office, more than 400 feature films have been shot in the Rose State. Currently two popular cable series have set-up shop here as well. We were lucky enough to visit the set of TNT’s Leverage. Remember my friend Jen? Her husband Marc is a producer/director for the show. Leverage is a fast-paced drama starring Timothy Hutton. Hutton leads a four-person team with unusual and unethical skills, who help ordinary people fight corporate injustices. The day we visited the set they were shooting in a furniture warehouse. We saw how the crew transformed and shot in the space. Of course the highlight was when Gavin and Sam used the slate or clapperboard to start a scene. Very cool. Don’t miss Leverage’s action-packed season 5 premiere, on TNT Sunday July 15th at 8/7c.
That’s a Wrap
It doesn’t surprise me that Portland’s been named by Travel & Leisure magazine, as the number one in their list of the Best Cities in America for summer travel. There’s endless sightseeing, biking and hiking. Take Forest Park for example. One morning after breakfast we drove down a residential street, and nestled among the homes was the entrance to this gorgeous park. A 30-mile trail runs through it, inviting hikers, bikers or even horse back riders to take a reprieve from city-life.
There’s also plenty to do outside city limits too. Explore the Willamette Valley Wine Country, just 20 miles from downtown Portland with nearly 400 wineries. Another area of interest is Mount Hood, located 60 miles from Portland. It boasts the longest ski season in North America, spring skiing anyone? And lastly the Oregon Coast. I’ve been before on my move from Seattle back to Los Angeles. The rugged and mysterious coastline will stop you in your tracks, it’s one of the most majestic coastlines I’ve ever seen. The fog, trees and crashing waves makes you want to throw on the heaviest gauge wool sweater you own, and start writing a novel. It’s inspiring. All I have to say is get booking!
This trip was sponsored by: Travel Portland
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