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The Portland Local’s Guide for Non-Locals

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Portland (Un)seen

Portland is constantly evolving, but preservation is its finest quality.

For the folks who call Portland home, a normal day might include a naked bike ride, picking up a new outfit from a free pile, or eating all of your meals from a truck. It’s a town with a knack for turning elementary schools into bars, concert halls and hotels, and is home to everything from vegan tattoo shops to high-end salt vendors. Even as the population explodes and condos replace century-old buildings, Portland still holds on to its finest qualities: a love for the arts, unparalleled craftsmanship, and a true dedication to the DIY spirit. Here are some of the best eats, shops, and adventures the city has to offer.

Handcrafted and Custom-Made

You could dress head-to-toe, and/or design an entire home with products exclusively made in Oregon. On any given day you can go from sipping fresh sangria while watching someone custom-make a belt, to visiting a gallery completely devoted to animal and nature art. These aren’t just bored people with a quirky weekend hobby: The community is a creative hub for entrepreneurs, skilled manufacturers, and artists who don’t mind getting their hands dirty to make things for a living. Here are five spots that bespoke the hell out of goods you can’t get anywhere else.

BLAQPAKS.
2505 SE 11th Ave., Ste. 117

Being able to shake hands with makers is what gives the city a small-town feel. So it makes sense that the craftspeople who hand-stitch the high quality roll-top and messenger bags at the BlaqPaks workshop are the same folks you’ll likely see grabbing drinks at a local spot later. With the showroom attached to the workshop, the workers at BlaqPaks will gladly guide you step-by-step through their process up close.

TANNER GOODS
4719 N Albina Ave. 

The Tanner Goods flagship location isn’t just a store, it’s an experience. At the headquarters of these purveyors of durable designed goods and apparel, you can soak in the aroma of leather while you watch craftspeople run your belt or lanyard through the kick press (the machine used to install eyelets and grommets) to customize your new stuff. Peruse the record selection hand-picked by a rotating list of special guest vinyl curators. Examine the glass and ceramic wares, which are blown and tossed about a mile away at Tanner’s own Mazama Wares studio. After your customized goods are ready to wear, show them off over at the Wayback, the bar attached to the store.

OLO Fragrance (Top), Tanner Goods (Middle Bottom, Left), BlaqPacks (Bottom Right)

FIFTY24PDX
23 NW 5th Ave.

Every first Thursday of the month, Portland’s galleries host an art walk, debuting the freshest work by contemporary local and visiting artists like Jesse Reno, Tara McPherson, Craola, Marcos Lafarga, and Jeremy Fish. Located inside the streetwear shop Upper Playground, Fifty24PDX is the perfect spot to party and rub elbows with the local art community. If you can’t make it on a first Thursday, swing by between 11 AM and 8 PM most days to see their latest exhibition and pick up something from their carefully selected collection of pins, prints, and clothes.

ANTLER GALLERY
2728 NE Alberta St.

This gallery gives you the perfect excuse to check out Portland’s Alberta Arts District. It features rotating exhibitions of paintings, installations, zines, and sculptures inspired by the natural world. Their limited-edition prints featuring feathered, furry, and finned creatures make for an ideal, non-basic PDX souvenir. Antler also benefits the city’s own backyard by partnering with the Audubon Society of Portland for a fundraising art extravaganza every January. Since starting the benefit exhibition in 2013, the gallery has raised more than $11,000 to support wildlife conservation in Oregon

OLO FRAGRANCE
1407 SE Belmont St.

Normally you’d find the kind of items sold at OLO in a craft market or pop-up shop, but their handcrafted and bottled beauty products have their very own brick-and-mortar on SE Belmont Street. Surround yourself with leafy plants and elegant, locally focused fragrances in this wonderfully bright and open space. Self-taught perfumer and founder Heather Sielaff designs scents that evoke mossy forests, salty ocean breezes, and the smoke that lingers on your clothes after a roaring campfire. You could order online, but the hand-bottled process is best enjoyed in person.

Fifty24PDX (Top & Bottom), Antler Gallery (Middle Left & Right)

Music Venues as Original as the Bands that Play in Them

Whether it’s to thwart seasonal depression or simply because people like to party, Portland is home to tons of amazing concert venues. Be it a small bookstore or a state-of-the-art venue, expect unforgettable live performances in unlikely settings. Thanks in part to having so many great places to play, the city’s a breeding ground for underground talent. From punk to funk, bands like Dead Moon, the Dandy Warhols and the Decemberists all cut their teeth playing local clubs. On any night of the week you can find big names, small names, and bands that formed 10 minutes ago playing all over town.

DOUG FIR LOUNGE
830 E Burnside St.

Doug Fir—next door to the Jupiter Hotel, a revitalized motor lodge—is a homey upstairs/downstairs locale. On the ground floor is a restaurant and bar resembling a log cabin floating through space—a must for happy hour before heading downstairs to the lounge, one of Portland’s premier music venues. Whether you want an intimate R&B night or some face-melting guitar riffs, the wood-centric design makes for incredible acoustics whatever the genre. 

REVOLUTION HALL
1300 SE Stark St.

Rather than bulldoze an abandoned school, the owners of Revolution Hall installed a bar on the roof and outfitted the old auditorium with a state-of-the-art sound system to host everything from talks with Madeleine Albright to Weird Al concerts. The multipurpose space is essentially a one-stop-awesome-night shop: You can grab some pizza inside at Marthas Cafe, sip on a cocktail in the Sunset Room, or snag one of 24 beers on tap in the Assembly Lounge before you head to the auditorium for a show. Weather permitting, the rooftop boasts some of the most gorgeous views of the city.

Doug Fir Lounge (Top, Middle), Crystal Ballroom (Bottom Right), Revolution Hall (Bottom Left)

CRYSTAL BALLROOOM
1332 W Burnside St.

The Crystal Ballroom is an all-day experience for the true music fan. This historic multipurpose hall with vaulted ceilings and opulent chandeliers is owned by the McMenamin family, who also own several breweries and theaters in the Pacific Northwest, including the Crystal Hotel across the street. (They like to call this stretch of town “rock ‘n’ roll row.”) To really nerd out pre-show, join the tour of the ballroom and brewery, which departs from Ringlers Pub on the street level of the ballroom every afternoon, to learn the history of their famous “floating” dance floor.

TURN! TURN! TURN!
8 NE Killingsworth St.

For a place that screams, “Yes, you’re in Portland,” head to Turn! Turn! Turn! to scour the racks for records, books, and zines while local underground musicians play punk, jazz, psych, and all kinds of other sounds. Their beer tap rotates as frequently as the vinyl, so check this place out to stay up-to-date with Stumptown subculture. 

ALADDIN THEATER
3017 SE Milwaukie Ave.

The Aladdin has lived through almost every version of Portland. It started out in the 1920s as a vaudeville theater showcasing performers like Jack Benny, went on to become a movie theater, and now flourishes as a live music and comedy venue. Here, you might catch big names like Bon Iver, Cat Power, or David Byrne playing intimate shows, or laugh your ass off at comedy performances by Neal Brennan or Jen Kirkman.

Turn! Turn! Turn! (Top), Revolution Hall (Middle Left), Doug Fir Lounge (Middle Right), Aladdin Theater (Bottom)

Step Outside and Take it All In

Portland shines by letting nature be nature. Forest walks are abundant within the city limits. Bike trails zigzag in every direction. Swimming in the same water with cargo ships is an everyday occurrence. Portland is home to the largest urban forest in the country, the smallest park in the world, a park built on a volcano, and another situated on an island popular with nude bathers—you just have to decide how off-the-beaten-path you want to get. Here are five destinations where humans and nature let it all hang out in PDX.

FOREST PARK
Northwest Portland

Known as the largest forested park inside city limits in the country, this woodsy escape includes a 30-mile hiking trail known as the Wildwood Loop. Less outdoorsy types should check out the Witch’s Castle, a moss-covered stone structure built in the ‘30s on grounds that were used by early settlers. It was abandoned in the ‘60s, but legend has it that the secluded structure was taken over by high school kids in the ‘80s as the best kegger spot in the city.

EASTBANK ESPLANADE
SE Salmon St.

Easily one of the most entertaining places to people-watch, the Eastbank Esplanade along the Willamette River is populated by commuters on weird bikes, skaters grinding ledges, and the occasional drum circle. Walk a few blocks down the trail to check out the Oregon Museum of Science and Industry or hop on a speedboat for a whiplash adventure on the river. Poet’s Beach, which features a path of stones engraved with children’s poems about the river, is a favorite spot among locals to pack a picnic and take a dip. Just watch out for the wakes.

Cathedral Park (Top Right, Top Left, Bottom Right), East Bank Esplanade (Bottom Left)

MT. TABOR PARK
SE 60th Ave. and SE Salmon St.

Mt. Tabor is an oasis of coniferous and deciduous trees sprouting upwards of 160 feet from the soil of a dormant volcano. Wandering the park’s trails and steep steps help guide you to the summit, which offers a 360-degree view of the city. The park features three of the city’s five open drinking water reservoirs. Reservoir 5 is a major producer of hydroelectric energy for the city, as 14 million gallons of water flow from it every day. It also happens to boast some of the best westside views of the town. 

SAUVIE ISLAND
North Portland

Just north of the city is Sauvie Island, one of the largest river islands in the country. It offers ample opportunities for bird-watching and hiking, but most people come for a sandy beach escape. Walton Beach is the most accessible and popular spot for swimmers, while the more adventurous might check out Collins Beach a quarter-mile down the road. Just don’t be surprised if you see some naked sunbathers taking a leisurely stroll—parts of Collins Beach are clothing-optional.

CATHEDRAL PARK
N Edison St. and Pittsburgh Ave.

Weirdly enough, this former garbage heap is the place for riverside relaxation. Cathedral Park sits underneath the picturesque St. Johns Bridge and offers a nice spot to dip your feet in the Willamette. Once a campsite for the Lewis and Clark expedition, it was a literal dump until the ‘70s, when neighborhood activist Howard Galbraith rallied the community to raise an astonishing $7.5 million over eight years to clean up the area, transforming it into the striking site it remains today. Portland’s community spirit revitalized Cathedral Park, making it a park by the people, for the people.

Sauvie Island (Top, Middle Right), Mt. Tabor (Middle Left), Cathedral Park (Bottom Left), East Bank Esplanade (Bottom Right)

Fill up on Food Carts and Fine Cocktails

Each meal is better than the last in Portland, and it’s easy to understand why. Every bar is required by law to serve actual food, restaurants serving innovative culinary mash-ups abound, and the countless food carts make for some intense repeat-customer competition. From mandatory brunch to shots at last call, these neighborhood eateries and niche bars will keep you full and fuzzy all day and well into the night.

LARDO
1212 SE Hawthorne Blvd.

Lardo started as a food cart, but has grown into a multicultural restaurant juggernaut. The mad foodie scientists responsible for the menu somehow manage to combine Latin, Asian, Southern, and classic American flavors to create next-level sandwiches. It's nearly impossible to choose just one, but you can’t go wrong with the Pho’Rench Dip. This tasty spin on a French dip is layered with Thai basil and sambal mayo, and dipped in a legit pho broth. Pair that with the Dirty Fries, which are loaded with pork and peppers. 

GRAVY
3957 N Mississippi Ave.

Brunch is obligatory in this town, so it’s hard to find a spot without a wait. But the wait is worth it at Gravy, where the breakfast-all-day menu sticks to your ribs and the libations keep the night bright. The piled-high Monte Cristo is not to be missed, and it’s always a good idea to order a round of fry cakes for the table. Every plate coming out of the kitchen is sure to have you rubbernecking, so just focus on your Bloody Mary and you’ll be okay.

Lardo (Top), Gravy (Center Left), Cat's Paw (Bottom Left), Kennedy School (Bottom Right)

CAT'S PAW
3565 SE Division St.

A neighborhood throwback, the Cat’s Paw is a place for skaters over 30 to reminisce amid the artwork filling the bar by Mark Gonzales, Mike Giant, and Dennis McNett. Owner Mic-e Reyes, former team manager of skateboard company Deluxe Distribution, found a way to bring something new to Portland and do it the right way. This cozy bar is perfect for anyone looking to gulp a couple cheap rounds in Southeast Portland.

KENNEDY SCHOOL
5736 NE 33rd Ave.

Boasting five bars in various classrooms (including one in the boiler room), a movie theater, and hotel rooms, Kennedy School is one of Portland's most distinctive destinations. Wander the creaky hallways of this former elementary school until you find the Courtyard Restaurant, and ask for your drink in a plastic cup so you can take it into the 100-degree, supremely relaxing soaking pool. You can also order up fresh-squeezed juice cocktails in the Honors Room or peruse the extensive rum list in the Caribbean-themed Cypress Room. You’ll learn more at this drinking adventure wonderland than you ever did in actual school.

TASTY N SONS
3808 N. Williams Ave., Suite C 

If you’re into incredibly decadent diner-esque foods, Tasty n Sons promises a food coma to remember. Start out with an order of hush puppies and an iceberg wedge. Ease your way into some sliders and maybe a little BBQ. Add a gooey round of mac and cheese somewhere in the mix, and try to save room for the baked-to-order chocolate chip cookies or a dark and stormy featuring coconut ice cream.

Gravy (Top), Lardo (Center Left), Tasty N Sons (Bottom Right, Center Left)

Dead Birds, Live Records, and Sex-Positive Toys: The Best Local Shops

You don’t see a lot of big-box stores in Portland. Thanks to the citywide spirit of supporting all things local, most of the businesses are small and stand the test of time. Portlandian business owners emphasize educating their customers along with selling their products, and often have lofty ideals in mind, whether it’s paying homage to nature, revitalizing a bygone era through unconventional design, or promoting body positivity. Here are five shops to hit up when you’re in town.

CARGO
81 SE Yamhill St.

Cargo can be a sensory overload of colors and trinkets, but it’s a thoughtfully curated collection of goods in a warehouse along the railroad tracks near the Morrison Bridge. It delivers the shopping experience of Balinese bazaars and Guatemalan mercados all under one roof. Update your bedroom decor by pairing an authentic Kantha quilt from Bangladesh with a hand-painted Japanese mask, or peruse the selection of Pakistani jewelry after a session with an in-store tarot card reader. You can get a little something from practically anywhere in the world.

PAXTON GATE
4204 N Mississippi Ave.

This taxidermy-filled shop offers some creepy but quaint curiosities. Wildebeest heads and samba-dancing mice keep watch from one side of the store, while plants bloom, crystals shine, and an impeccable book selection awaits on the other. Add in the vintage medical supplies and a selection of do-it-yourself taxidermy classes, and you have yourself a real-deal Portland adventure.

Cargo (Top Left, Top Right), Music Millennium (Center Left, Center Right), Lounge Lizard (Bottom)

LOUNGE LIZARD
1310 SE Hawthorne Blvd.

Lounge Lizard features an immaculate selection of mid-century modern furniture. Most people aren't going to buy a couch on vacation, but you might seriously consider it after browsing the designs packed from floor to ceiling. It’s easy to fill an hour or more admiring the craftsmanship of home goods that don’t come from that place that also sells Swedish meatballs. Keep your eyes to the sky, because their lighting decor is mind-blowing and easy to ship back home.

MUSIC MILLENNIUM
3158 E Burnside St.

Longtime Music Millennium owner Terry Currier was the first person to slap “Keep Portland Weird” on a bumper sticker (albeit biting the phrase from Austin), and he’s lived the motto to this very day. He sparked beef with Garth Brooks in the ‘90s after the country crooner wanted to pull his albums from stores selling used CDs, an event that inspired Currier to help invent Record Store Day. Swing by to catch indie rock in-store performances, browse the eclectic music selection, and shake hands with the legend himself—assuming you’re not Garth Brooks.

SHE BOP

909 N Beech St., Suite A

This friendly, female-owned sex shop can cater to just about every kink and fantasy imaginable in a safe and fun environment for all genders and sexual orientations. From classes about cannabis-fueled passion to self-stimulation, She Bop is a sex-positive adventure worth your time. Check out their events calendar to join a workshop, and leave Portland satisfied in more ways than one.

Cargo (Top), She Bop (Bottom Left), Paxton Gate (Bottom Center, Right)

Discover everything you can in Portland and start planning your trip today at TravelPortland.com.

All photography by Amanda Leigh Smith