Wednesday, July 20, 2016

Portland is Not Overrated

I have a tendency to be *slightly* antagonistic at times when it comes to cities. Ones that have it all on paper tend to not resonate to me (San Francisco comes to mind). They can seem too done. Too plastic. Too perfect. The cities toward which I gravitate are grittier, flawed, need work. That's my version of perfect. When visiting Portland, Oregon for the first time last week I didn't have high expectations. Everyone loves Portland. It's at or near the top of the list on everything: public transportation, walkability, green space, density. After spending four days there I have to admit Portland is nearly flawless, and I absolutely loved it.

It was my son's first trip to the west coast, and my little 19-month-old traveler's 15th U.S. state he's visited. At first my husband questioned whether we should take a toddler across the country, but I'm a twisted person and enjoy these types of parenting challenges. I contend the only way he'll be a good traveler is if we just do it knowing it's going to be challenging at times. Thus far it's worked for us.

We left the Lansing airport in the evening and hopped two flights: a quick one to Minneapolis and a longer flight to PDX. Our son did great on both flights. We arrived in Portland around 9:30 PST which made it past midnight for us. We found an awesome car service, TJW Transportation, that offers car seats. We didn't want to deal with the hassle of taking one, and Travis came through for us. He was prompt, professional, all around awesome. If you're traveling to Portland with a child I could not more highly recommend him. Even if you're traveling without a child - he's great. 

Our son has been waking up around 5 am eastern time, so we were really wondering what the change to the west coast would do. Fortunately he slept until around 5 am pacific time which was much more doable. On our first early morning we took a walk around the city. The beauty of having a toddler that wakes up early is we had the city to ourselves. We grabbed coffee and walked right by a running store where of course I did some damage later in the week.

We also happened upon Voodoo Doughnut which I did not realize was a thing. There was a very short line, so we grabbed doughnuts and let our son play in the outdoor tables. Of course Portland is awesome so they just closed off an alley with tables, strung lights across and made a cool public outdoor space. On the walk back to our hotel we passed food trucks everywhere. I'd love to know the food truck/brick and mortar restaurant ratio because there are so many food trucks in Portland. I don't even know how one could choose which one to go to!

My husband was in Portland for a conference and had a lot of work to do, so my son and I got to explore toddler style. After a long nap we took light rail to Washington Park. Portland's public transportation system is comprehensive and fantastic. Once I figured out how to navigate it we hopped a train to the park, home of the Oregon Zoo. My husband is always our vacation planner, and I headed to the park with very little idea of what we'd do. It turns out Washington Park is enormous. We had to take a 20-minute shuttle to the playground, the largest in Portland. It only took about 30 minutes for said playground to wear out my son, and we headed back for our second nap of the day. 

We walked all over downtown, and my little dude was a champion. Unfortunately the time change meant an early night and room service, but room service is one of my favorite traveling guilty pleasures. 

On Friday morning we were up early again and walked down the river front trail among runners and bikers. We walked to Old Town to get a photo of the famous White Stag sign. It turns out Old Town is slightly sketchy (let's nicely say in transition) particularly at 6 am. We rather quickly took our photo and headed back toward the hotel.

You don't get shots like this by sleeping in.
I had a friend from Lansing in Portland for a different conference, and we met for lunch at Raven & Rose near my hotel. While my son is a fantastic traveler, 19 months is not the ideal time for dining with a toddler. My friend also has a little guy (a few months younger) and was thankfully patient with my kid's antics. 

While walking on Saturday I discovered a beautiful park stretching several blocks in the cultural district. We had a delicious breakfast at Swank (I highly recommend the eggs benedict) and my son got to play in the park. Saturday morning was also the Portland Saturday Market which is huge and awesome. It takes up two large areas of the city: along the river and across the street in Old Town. It's almost overwhelmingly large with so many vendors. My son and I perused the crowded market checking out local art, t-shirts and street performers. It's a fantastic use of public space.

Cultural district

Crowds at the Saturday market
In the afternoon we visited Powell's City of Books. I love books and reading, and this store is colossal. It's the largest new and used bookstore in the world occupying an entire city block. I was in heaven. We bought a few book for our son and let him run around the children's reading area for a while. Definitely a highlight of the trip. We followed the book store with drinks and dinner at Deschutes Brewery, another beautiful space. 

As I look back on the trip I can't entirely remember how we filled all of our time, but such is life with a toddler. My only regret is that I only got in one run on Sunday morning. The baby's schedule and my husband's conference schedule made it too challenging. Portland is a really hilly city, so I look forward to visiting again and running those hills.

My happy guy playing in a fountain downtown
I've thought a lot about why I loved Portland so much, and I think there are two reasons: street design and green space. Portland has trees everywhere. There are trees along busy city streets. There are parks, both small and large, everywhere. For a city with well over half a million people the streets are narrow and designed for multi modal transportation. Portland is clearly not designed for cars. The streets are designed for transit, bikes and people. The narrow streets feel intimate. The trees almost feel like they're hugging you. I've never really loved the west coast, but Portland doesn't feel like the typical west coast. It feels like an old friend.

Street design porn 
Portland is a vibrant city that has it all, and I loved everything about it. I'm trying to think of a criticism and I can't. I'm looking forward to exploring it again and spending more time in my running shoes. It turns out Portland is not overrated.   

Maybe this is why Portland feels like an old friend? 

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