Portland, Oregon: More Than Just Portlandia
Oh, Portland. Land of the bearded hipster, home of the overpriced latte. We’ve all seen Portlandia by now, and we know all the gags: Portland is a city where everyone is from somewhere else, where every person lists on their dating profile that they love hiking and play guitar, and where day-drinking a craft beer at an ironically dive-y bar is a normal occurrence; where people want to know the name of the chicken they’re eating at the farm-to-table restaurant and every third person is a raw whole-foods ethical vegan.
And all those things are true.
But there’s so much more to Portland. This is a city full of rich history—it’s built on Native land, so I don’t just mean settler history. This is a city that is home to all kinds of less sitcom-worthy scenes than the hipsters, like punks and cyclists and farmers and scientists and artists and inventors. This is a city nestled into ancient mountains, surrounded by evergreen forests, and soothed by gentle rain nine months out of the year, keeping it lush, green and clean. This is a city that moves; there is a strong current of activism in Portland and it’s not just the mainstream liberals you hear about in the news.
Portland also has some truly hidden gems tucked away between the myriad craft breweries and artisanal ice cream shops.
One of my favorite places in town is a little bar in SE Portland. A rustic sign, barely visible, declares its name: A Roadside Attraction. You approach it thinking it's someone's junky garage; the outside appears to be cobbled together out of old tin siding and rusty wagon wheels. A man who looks like Tom Petty casually checks your ID on the way in, and as you enter the covered patio, you suddenly feel like you're in a hobbit hole, if the hobbit living there was your grandpa. Fire pits are surrounded by tables, benches and chairs. The walls are littered with what can only be described as old-timey junk. You enter the building itself--which looks like a dumpy speakeasy, complete with piano and pool table--and order a $4 Evan Williams at the cash-only bar. This is not the place to order a cocktail.
The food is surprisingly good, and not entirely traditional bar food (although they have that too). You order a bowl of beans and rice to go with your whiskey, staring at the knick-knacks madly scattered around the room. Some guy in a sweatshirt brings you your food, and you sincerely hope he's actually from the kitchen. A little local hot sauce spices it up and makes for a satisfying, inexpensive meal. You leave feeling like you've been in another country, or even another world. The sounds of the street seem jarring, and you realize you didn't even remember where you were while you were in there.
For nature and beauty, look no further than one of the most amazing tourist attractions I’ve ever been to: the Portland Japanese Gardens, up in the southwest hills by the zoo and the arboretum. And I know I have good taste, because the former Japanese ambassador himself, His Excellency Nobuo Matsunaga, declared it “the most beautiful and authentic Japanese garden in the world outside of Japan.”
Set on nine acres, the park is composed of eight different gardens--everything from a traditional sand garden (like a mass scale version of those little ones people keep on their desks) to a tea garden, where guests can attend a demonstration of the formal Japanese tea ceremony every Wednesday. The park is beautifully designed so that something is always in season; it is one of the few places I’ve seen that is gorgeous all year round, and is worth going every season to get the full range of its presentations.
It would be impossible to list here all the lesser-known wonders of this city. But it is a place worth exploring beyond the major tourist attractions; a city full of sound, light, beauty and energy.