A Balanced Guide to Portland
If you’ve been following along on my journey, you likely know that I recently spent a little over a month in Portland, Oregon. This was the third extended stay on the nomadic journey my partner and I embarked on at the end of February 2019. Portland seemed to check a lot of the boxes that make for a place that we could possibly want to call home someday, and while neither of us left feeling like it was home, we very much enjoyed our time there and we’d gladly return when the occasion arises to! The last guide I shared was A Wellness Guide to Santa Fe when we spent a couple of months there this past spring and I wanted to share something similar for Portland. Rather than calling this a ‘wellness guide’ I simply feel like sharing it as a conscious-minded guide that includes wellness/healing things, more indulgent things, experiential things, and more. I guess you could call this guide more of a mixed bag, which is exactly what my experience there felt like. What I’ve included in this guide are some ways to get the most out of your experience in Portland the next time you may find yourself there for a few days, a whole month, or even longer:
Spend time in the parks :: Portland has many wonderful parks to explore throughout the city, all varying in their size and offerings. In the neighborhood we stayed in in Northeast Portland, there was one park within a couple blocks and another about a half mile away. One of those parks was Alberta Park, which I especially loved for its grove of giant Douglas Fir trees, swings, and a section where they were rehabilitating native plants with a wood chip pathway winding through them. Another, larger park that I very much enjoyed was Washington Park. It’s situated on a big hill near Southwest Portland and includes highlights like the International Rose Test Garden, Oregon Holocaust Memorial, Japanese Garden, and Hoyt Arboretum [the latter two, we did not visit]. Sections of the park like the rose garden can get crowded, especially on weekends, but there are so many plants, trees, and spaces to explore that you’re bound to find a quiet spot to enjoy that’s all to yourself if you’d like.
Eat local :: If you know anything about Portland, you know that the city’s restaurants, markets, etc. love to promote all things made locally. Usually that means goods sourced within the state and the more general Pacific Northwest region - in which case, the closer goods are sourced, the better. There is no shortage of places to eat and purchase food items that are local to really get a taste of the area and it all happens to be super delicious anyway. Here are some standout restaurants and places to buy food that we got to experience during our time there:
Farmers Markets - We had two farmers markets near us. The Woodlawn Farmers Market and the Alberta Farmers Market. The one in Woodlawn is very petite with only about 6-10 booths. So, if you’re not staying in the area it might not be worth a trek to visit, but if you are, it is filled with friendly vendors and a nice variety of produce, baked goods, pre-made food, and packaged goods. The Alberta Farmers Market is much larger and draws quite a large crowd. They have similar things to what is available at most farmers markets, but with some extra interesting booths like one selling ashwagandha products, one selling a delicious chai tea concentrate, and one selling unique homemade nut mylks [like lavender honey almond mylk].
Restaurants - I’m just going to go ahead and do it. I’m going to list out some of our favorite restaurants that we experienced that highlighted locally sourced ingredients:
Seastar Baker / Handsome Pizza - This place is open during the day as Seastar Bakery and open in the evenings as Handsome Pizza. They have a brick oven which they bake nearly everything on their menu in. It’s all delicious. The pizza was a highlight, their vegetable side specials were too, as well as their coffee drinks and toasts served in the mornings.
Expatriate - Just yum. The amazing creator behind Side Hustle Designs recommended this place to me and it did not disappoint. From the interesting and well done food, to the exotic cocktails and well thought out wine list, it’s a fun date night spot to check out. I’m not entirely sure how much they promote the use of local ingredients, but there are a lot of locals there, so you get to eat with locals!
Jacqueline - This little french-inspired spot in the Southeast is just perfection! They serve fresh, local seafood dishes that are truly special and unique. The menu changes regularly and they mention what producer or farm many of the ingredients come from on the menu itself. Go for their happy hour where oysters and some beverages are discounted for a real good time.
Co-op grocery stores - I love co-op grocery stores! Anywhere I can find one, I’m there. I fell in love with them when I was attending university at UCSB and our itty-bitty college town/beach town had an incredible co-op that my friends and I would frequent. Fortunately, there was one not too far from where we were staying in Portland, the Alberta Co-Op Grocery, where we’d do a lot of our grocery shopping.
Get out & explore the wilderness :: I think it’ll come as no surprise that a big reason I wanted to go spend time in Portland in the first place, was to explore all the nearby wilderness it has to offer. While there are trails to explore just on the outskirts of the city, you’ll be well rewarded for venturing a bit further out. One weekend we headed out southeast to the high desert and another we headed out west to the lush woods and ocean:
Heading out southeast - One weekend we decided to head out to Bend, OR, a small city in Central Oregon’s high desert. I was shocked to find how diverse the topography of this state is in just a couple hours driving distance. The drive to Bend took us through the woods to Mount Hood, through the mountains, and out into the high desert. The mountain views can’t be beat near and around Bend and it’s definitely worth exploring. Be sure to also check out the tiny pioneer town of Sisters which is about 25 minutes away from Bend by car.
Heading out west - On another weekend, we made a day trip out west from Portland. We drove to the Tillamook Forest to hike and explore which was gorgeously green and lush, with gushing rivers and creeks. After hiking through the forest and along a river, we drove a bit further until we reached the Pacific Ocean. Being by the Pacific on the West Coast of the US is one of my happy places, so I was a happy camper to dip my toes in the freezing water and take a late afternoon nap on the sand. The area of beach we ventured to was Oceanside/Netarts and it was absolutely picturesque and the trip there was only about 1.5-2 hours from Portland. Nothing like the wild coast of the PNW to soothe the soul.
Check out local events :: We happened to be in Portland during the peak of summer - August. We were blessed with predominantly dry weather in the 70s-80s most days [not what you typically expect of Portland weather]. Accompanying the beautiful weather were a lot of local events to experience. Here are a few that were especially fun for us:
Flamenco Fridays at Bar Vivant - Now, I’ll preface this by saying that this was an August-only event series, so don’t get too excited if it’s not that time of year when you read this. This authentic tapas restaurant does however seem to have other events to enjoy. We only attended one Flamenco Friday, but it was such a highlight! This restaurant has a large outdoor space where the show takes place and the dancers and musicians were truly talented and knew their stuff [fun fact: my aunt has studied and danced Flamenco for nearly 40 years and I grew up watching it and being around it, so I know when I see a good show!].
Portland Saturday Market - This market has so many local vendors present it can almost feel overwhelming to see it all, but if you trust your intuition and let it guide you around, I’m sure you’ll see and find exactly what you’re looking for [or didn’t know you were looking for!]. From handmade soaps to turquoise embedded cutting boards, and exotic tea blends to ceramic jewelry [shoutout again to Side Hustle Designs because this is where I discovered her and her beautiful creations], you’re sure to find something unique and special to take home with you. Or if you’re more in a browsing mood, this place is a feast for the senses and is inspiring overall.
Treat yourself & relax :: The last, but not least, category in this guide is saved for my personal favorite - ways to treat yourself & relax. When we arrived to Portland, we had just come off of a month of active travel. We had traveled to NYC, Lisbon, Athens, a couple of Greek islands, Seattle, Orcas Island, and finally Portland. I was exhausted and anxiety had been creeping up and becoming a more regular occurrence. So, taking care of myself was big priority [as it always is, but especially then]. Here’s some of my favorite places and treatments that helped me feel grounded and supported:
Golden Hour PDX - I cannot speak more highly of this place. Not only is it a beautiful refuge off a rather busy street in Southeast Portland, but they have something for everyone if you ask me. They have perfected making eastern medicine accessible in a very fashionable way mixing healing modalities like acupuncture, massage, and aromatherapy. Their treatment rates start at $35 for their signature treatment up to $120 for longer, more customizable treatments, providing quite a few options with different price points. While in Portland, I tried their Golden Hour Chair Treatment which is a 35-minute treatment with acupuncture, aromatherapy, and targeted massage while sitting in a very comfortable recliner chair in their beautifully decorated and peaceful common space. I also tried their Your Are Free [Stress Relief] treatment which is a longer 60-minute treatment with acupuncture, aromatherapy, massage, and cupping. This treatment is done is a private treatment room and is so grounding and perfect if you’ve just been traveling a lot or will be traveling a lot, like me. They also curate beautiful, conscious products like herbal bends, essential oils, non-toxic lipstick, face & body oils, etc. available in their shop. Do yourself a favor and book yourself a treatment here next time you find yourself in Portland. You won’t regret it.
Knot Springs - This place has the best concept - it’s a ‘social club for wellness lovers’. They mix spa treatments and hydrotherapy with fitness classes, all set in a beautiful apartment building called The Yard. Knot Springs has an option to just use the pools [or ‘springs’] for a couple of hours, which look out onto the city. They are all indoors and look out onto the city with an outdoor terrace to enjoy too. While they are not natural hot springs, they really allow for a relaxing and healing experience. The pools area consists of an exfoliation shower, tepidarium [96-98 degree pool], caldarium [102 degree pool], cold plunge, sauna, and steam room. They recommend going in a specific order and hydrating with complimentary water and tea during your time there. It’s quite luxurious and I left feeling like my jaw, which had been feeling tight and clenching in my sleep frequently, actually released for the first time in a long time! I felt more present, grounded, and truly relaxed afterwards. If you’re feeling exhausted, anxious, or stressed, or if you simply love this sort of thing, it is definitely worth a visit.
That’s what I’ve got for you! I hope you find this guide full of inspiration whether Portland is somewhere you’ve visited before, you want to visit, or maybe it’s just getting on your radar now. Oregon is a beautiful state and Portland is a special city that somehow maintains the presence of it’s natural surroundings. I’m not sure when I’ll be back, but there sure are a lot of things I look forward to experiencing again whenever that is.