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Portland city guide: what to see plus the best hotels, bars and restaurants

Its famous, derided even, for hipster coffee and craft beer, but theres so much more to one of Americas coolest cities and there are new direct flights from London, too

All hail Portland! The Pacific Northwest trail-blazer is a vibrant hub that celebrates the four cool Cs of coffee, cycling, craft breweries and (food) carts. Whats more, new direct flights four times a week in summer with Delta from Heathrow start on 27 May, making what was a torturous journey with connections in either Atlanta, Seattle, San Francisco or Vancouver a more bearable 11-hour trip.

This is a contradictory, rapidly evolving and messy place, which for many is teetering on the brink of boom or bust. See, Portland is about much more than those tourist must-have buzzwords or hipster hit lists.

The city of roses is also a city of protest against police brutality, against Trump. Its many bridges across the Willamette river give it an industrial look, yet it is surrounded by lush Oregon landscapes, with Mount Hood, the Columbia river gorge and Cascade mountains a short drive away.

Powells
Powells City of Books on West Burnside Street. Photograph: Robert Hull for the Guardian

It has been lampooned in the TV comedy Portlandia, especially for its cyclists, yet cars still dominate even if the many new apartment blocks dont offer parking. But then another irony is that public transport via bus, streetcar and the MAX light rail line is an efficient and affordable way to get around. What I really love Portland for, though, is its otherness its celebration of the outsider. In his book Fugitives and Refugees: A Walk in Portland, Oregon, Fight Club novelist Chuck Palahniuk asks local writer Katherine Dunn about the city. We just accumulate more and more strange people, she said. All we are is the fugitives and refugees.

Against this backdrop, Portland has one of the worlds best bookshops, Powells City of Books, hosts a major tango festival and, for all its craft breweries, the wine scene is just as vibrant. It also retains the problem of homelessness that distressed travel writer Jan Morris during her visit in the 90s, and which she documented in A Writers World. I left with the feeling that maybe Portland could do with just switching off for a few minutes to regroup. But thats never going to happen because, amid all the tumult, theres too much stuff going on.

WHAT TO DO AND SEE

Promise of a rose garden and more

Japanese
Photograph: Tom Schwabel/Getty Images

A hike in Washington Park, with its views to Mount Hood, is a short MAX light rail ride from the centre. Kids will enjoy Oregon Zoo and Childrens Museum, but the scene-stealers are the Japanese Garden and the International Rose Test Garden. The former has just had a $33.5m expansion overseen by Tokyo 2020 Olympic stadium architect Kengo Kuma and offers the beauty of bonsai, a moon bridge and serene gardens and pavilions. The Rose Garden celebrating its 100th anniversary is another calm spot, with vivid blooms and city views.
Adult $14.95, child 6-17 $10.95. 611 SW Kingston Avenue,
japanesegarden.org

Jet boat down the Willamette river

View
Photograph: Getty Images

With a skyline marked by offices and spiralling concrete roads, Portland is not a stereotypically picturesque place. But this river-divided city does do a fine line in bridges. Seeing them from a jet boat provides fresh air, the occasional fast turn and splash, and an architecture lesson on, among others, the Burnside, Hawthorne and Steel bridges. The start/end point outside the Oregon Museum of Science and Industry (OMSI) offers an opportunity for further fun learning or to dry off!
Tours from $31 adult, $21 4-11s, +1 503 231 1532, willamettejet.com

Explore the neighbourhoods

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A shop in the arts-and-crafty Alberta district. Photograph: Alamy

Downtown Portland isnt overrun with chain stores, and theres an independent spirit on its streets and in the group (pods) of food carts, but my love of the city grew through exploring its neighbourhoods. Go north-east to the Alberta district for arts and crafts, the wonderful community-owned Alberta Co-op Grocery, bars (Radio Room, Alberta Street Pub) and a theatre. Venture south-east to Hawthorne for the ragged charm of the Bagdad Theater, an atmospheric place to catch a (cheap) movie, or visit one of the outposts of Tender Loving Empire for local art and souvenirs at a store that runs its own record label. The Mount Tabor district has its own extinct volcano, and the superb Tabor Bread bakery. But dont stop with this trio: Mississippi Avenue has craft breweries and the musician-owned Mississippi Studios and then continue exploring in Division, Belmont and Nob Hill.

The arts

Portland
Portland Art Museum

For rainy days and Portland has its fair share as well as creative inspiration, Portland Art Museum is a must. Founded in 1892, its in two buildings joined by an underground walkway and has an array of Native American, north-western, modern and contemporary art, plus fantastic photography. For smaller-scale shows visit Old Town/Chinatown, where the Blue Sky gallery majors on photography; just feet away are the equally impressive Charles A Hartman and Froelick galleries.
Adult $19.99, 17 and under, free. 1219 SW Park Avenue, portlandartmuseum.org

Soccerball with a cutting edge

Mascot
Mascot Timber Joey cuts a slice of the Portland Timbers log after the team scores. Photograph: Alamy

With no major baseball or NFL franchises in town, the sporting spotlight falls on basketball side the Trail Blazers and the 2015 MLS Cup-winning Portland Timbers football (soccer) team. The Timbers 21,000-capacity Providence Park is a short stroll, bus/tram or bike ride from Downtown and a fun venue to watch the kick-and-rush of US football. A highlight is watching mascot and lumberjack Timber Joey chainsaw a slice off a tree trunk when the home side scores. Tickets sell fast and the 4,000-seat expansion isnt due till 2019 so book.
Tickets from $18, Providence Park, +1 503 553 5400, timbers.com

WHERE TO EAT

Breakfast and brunch

Vegan
Vegan scramble at the Tin Shed Garden Cafe

In the Alberta district, the Tin Shed Garden Cafe serves brunch until 3pm and is a rambunctious, fun, dog-friendly spot that bustles on weekends. Try its big hit burrito ($12) or one of the doggy-themed scrambles: the Fetch (bacon and egg) or the Stay (with mushrooms, seasonal greens and roasted sweet potato (both $9.50). The nearby Cup & Saucer Cafe is a good backup option, the Tommy-go-Hammy omelette ($10.50) is recommended. In Downtown, Kenny and Zukes is a deli-diner to fall in love with great french toast ($10.50) and bagels (from $2.50). At Tasty n Alder and award-winning sister restaurant Tasty n Sons, the trendy set either arrives early or is prepared to wait in line for the frittata with Italian cheeses and salsa verde ($10) and/or the lemon ricotta pancake with blueberry syrup ($7). If patience deserts you, try Cheryls on 12th, where breakfast is served till 4pm the croque monsieur ($12) really delivers.

Lunch and dinner

Afuri
Afuri Ramen

In an airy, industrial-chic space in the Belmont district, Afuri Ramen is the Tokyo-based chains first branch outside Japan. Apparently, the owners picked Portland for the softness of its water vital for making the broth integral to a good bowl of ramen. The yuzu shio ramen ($15) makes a fine light lunch, though dumplings, sushi and salads are also excellent. Pok Pok PDX on Division Street is chef Andy Rickers take on Thai street food, and has spawned branches across the city. Portlands ever-changing food cart scene is simply too big to do justice to here, but a good way to learn about the carts history is on a tour with Brett Burmeister (foodcartsportland.com).

Viking
Viking Soul Food trailer at the Good Food Here food carts pod on Belmont Street, south-east Portland. Photograph: Greg Vaughn/Alamy

Noble Rot on East Burnside keeps it seasonal by growing many of its ingredients on its rooftop garden, while the views across the river arent too shabby either. Try the sweet potato falafel, quinoa, roast vegetables, harissa and sumac yogurt ($23). In Hawthorne, Caf Castagna is a more affordable alternative to the adjacent, Michelin-starred Castanga restaurant its baked penne with gruyre, caramelised leek and onion ($15) has a definite wow factor. And server, bar staff and taxi driver recommendations (all suggested several times) include: Coquine (modern American), Ox (steaks), and Kachka (Russian).

Sweet treats

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Salt & Straw. Photograph: The Washington Post/Getty Images

More than a few people suggested that Blue Star Donuts (around $3, five locations) had stolen the halo of heavenly sugar provider from Voodoo Doughnut. My chocolate and almond ganache certainly powered me through the afternoon! If ice-cream is your scoop, then Salt & Straw (four locations) will tickle the tastebuds. The one-scoop sea salt with caramel ribbons plus hot fudge ($5.10) I had made for a super Sunday sundae.

WHERE TO DRINK

Loyal Legion

Loyal

Venture to this Eastside bar to try a cavalcade of local craft brews. It claims to offer 99 Oregon beers on tap and, though I cant personally vouch for all, the Ancestry Golden was light, the Yachats was smooth, the Block 15 was malty and the Oakshire Overcast Espresso Stout was a creamy, energising shot of success. The staff seem to know the intricacies of each brew. Happy hour is 3pm-6pm, daily, and the food list includes amazing sausages.
Tasters from $2, 16oz from $5. 710 SE 6th Avenue,
loyallegionpdx.com

Portland City Grill

Portland

The pink granite facade of the US Bancorp Tower has earned it the nickname Big Pink, and the skyscraper is one of Downtowns most distinctive landmarks. However, its the views of the Cascade mountains from Portland City Grill on the 30th floor that really grab the attention. Theres an extensive food menu, but come for the cocktails (try the Portland city streetcar, $12, or the Huckleberry, $10) plus prolonged happy hours (Mon-Sat from 4pm-7pm and from 9pm to closing, Sunday noon to 11pm, drinks from $4.75).
111 SW 5th Avenue,
portlandcitygrill.com

Ecliptic Brewing

Ecliptic

More than a few locals I spoke to referred to John Harris, who started Ecliptic in 2013, as a legend. The Oregon brewer certainly has a rich craft beer legacy, having worked for McMenamins, Deschutes and Full Sail. Ecliptic is near the Fremont Bridge in the Mississippi district and the cavernous bar-restaurant is home to its brewery (tours available Mon-Tue, Thur-Fri). My six-flight tasting selection ($11) featured pilsners, IPAs, sours and porters.
825 N Cook Street,
eclipticbrewing.com

Hubers Cafe