18 places to check out if you’re visiting Portland.

I never intended to move to Portland.

I visited one summer because I was teaching a couple of writing workshops at my friend’s art studio. I was only planning to stay in town for a few weeks, but the moment I drove into Portland my entire body started to feel… warm, tingly and glow-y. Like sunshine emanating from the inside. I felt so happy and alive. So… “home.”

Serendipitous things kept happening, day after day. It felt as though “signs” encouraging me to stay in Portland were coming from every angle. I didn’t want to leave. So I didn’t.

Then a few months later, I met the love of my life. Meeting Brandon felt like one more big “thumbs up” from God.

Yep. Portland is where I am supposed to be.

I’ve lived in Portland for a couple of years now. If you’ve never visited, you should.

Where else can you find the World Naked Bike Ride… shops that exclusively sell dream-catchers and terrariums… miniature donuts glazed with Nutella, honey, and sea salt… legal recreational marijuana (!)… and over 5,000 acres of gorgeous, pristine forest parkland for hiking and exploring… all in one place?

Here’s a list of my favorite spots in case you’re planning a trip to PDX sometime soon-ish…
 

FOOD

Bamboo Sushi. http://bamboosushi.com/

My favorite sushi in the entire universe! For a light meal, try the Garden of Eden roll with spicy albacore, cucumber, and apple. If you’re feeling decadent, get the Sumo burger with bacon, white cheddar, and a fried egg on top. Brandon and I often split the burger — it’s huge! Everything in the entire restaurant — from the sustainably farmed fish, to the locally-sourced meat, to the reusable chopsticks, to the energy efficient hand dryers — is selected thoughtfully, with great care and respect for people and the environment. I love that.

Ataula. http://ataulapdx.com/

Spanish tapas in a groovy, hip space. One of my favorite places for a special “date night.” Definitely order the Nuestras Bravas, which are these rectangular, golden brown crispy potato bites with an amazing sauce on top. It cannot be explained. It must only be tasted.

PaaDee. http://paadeepdx.com/

I’ve gotten take-out from this Thai restaurant so many times, the servers know me on a first-name basis. I am obsessed with the Guay Tiew Lui Suan (delicate little spring rolls with tofu, corn, shitake, and carrot, wrapped in soft rice paper) and the Gra Prao Muu Grob (crispy pork belly with green beans, basil, garlic, and chili).

They also have a “special” which is not listed on their website: Brussels sprouts with egg and a magical crack-sauce that I fantasize about in my dreams. Also! When your check arrives, they tuck the slip of paper inside a vintage book. Last time, my book was a biography about Farrah Fawcett, which was so fascinating, I didn’t want to give it back.
 

COFFEE

Common Grounds Coffeehouse. http://commongroundspdx.com/

It’s open late-ish. It’s cheerful and laid back. They serve coffee and also beer and wine. They don’t mind if you bust out a set of watercolor paints to do an art project on your table. What more do you want?

Barista. http://baristapdx.com/

I had one of my very first dates with Brandon at a Barista shop, so it holds a special place in my heart. If you enjoy latte foam art, elegant design, and hipster-dudes with fancy facial hair, this is your spot!

Anna Bananas. http://annabannanascafe.com/

This is the kind of place where you can be an accountant or a circus juggler or dress like a mermaid and nobody cares or bats an eye. It’s grungy and tattered, but in a good way. The coffee is great, the vibe is chill, the art is quirky, and sometimes they have live music. They have a couple of locations. The one in the St. John’s neighborhood is my favorite.

Confession: in addition to these indie coffee shops, I also have one particular Starbucks that I fervently love. I know it’s not “cool” to love Starbucks, but I do. The baristas at this Starbucks know me, always remember my favorite drink, and ask about my work and life. They’re so nice. To my local Starbucks crew: I heart you.
 

BRUNCH

Yes, brunch gets its own category!

The Screen Door. http://screendoorrestaurant.com/

If you’re visiting on a Saturday or Sunday, be prepared to wait anywhere from 45 minutes to 2 hours for a table. But it’s worth it. Get the pineapple mimosa, pecan-encrusted bacon, and the Bananas Foster French Toast soaked in vanilla custard, topped with rum flamed ‘nanas, cinnamon and whipped cream. WTF.

Canteen. http://canteenpdx.com/

Canteen is basically the complete opposite of The Screen Door. Everything is vegan, clean and fresh. I love the Super Veggie juice, the Maca & Friends smoothie (ask them to add spinach), and the Oatmeal with goji berries, hazelnuts, cacao nibs and fresh fruit. You can browse through the latest issue of VICE magazine while you wait for your shot of pureed ginger or blue-green algae to be prepared.

HunnyMilk. http://hunnymilk.com/

Shameless plug alert! HunnyMilk is my boyfriend’s brunch restaurant. It’s only open on Saturdays and Sundays, for now, though that’s likely to change soon. A fancy foodie website called Eater calls HunnyMilk one of “the best Portland pop-ups to try now” and one of our Yelp reviewers declared, “Holy mother of brunch! This place is amazing” with food that “will leave you speechless.”

I am so proud of Brandon for opening HunnyMilk — his dream! It’s happening! — and I help him out by working as the hostess / server every weekend. We create a really fun experience with coloring sheets, crayons, vintage toys, a book to write your haiku-of-the-day, sparklers to celebrate the fact that it’s the weekend, and other forms of silliness. Come say “hi” sometime.
 

FITNESS

The Grinning Yogi. http://grinningyogi.com/

The first time I came here, I immediately fell in love with the quick, challenging pace of the class. It was tough. I got sweaty. I stopped “thinking” and just started moving and breathing. That’s what I look for in a yoga class. Then, towards the end of class, Toni Braxton came through the music speakers, followed by a live recording of an all-boy’s choir singing a cover version of a Radiohead song. Then I knew: THIS IS MY FAVORITE YOGA STUDIO FOREVER AND EVER.

The studio owner, Jamie, is an awesomely inspiring woman who competed at the 2006 Olympics and who leads workshops on redefining success, recovering from eating disorders, and more. I am seriously tempted to enroll in her yoga teacher training program even though I have no desire to become a yoga teacher. She’s just that cool.

Hot Yoga For Life. http://hotyogaforlife.com/

If you want to sweat, sweat, sweat, and sweat more, until your mat is drenched and you are wondering, “WHY DID I COME TO THIS HORRIBLE CLASS?” except you know that after it’s over you are going to feel amazing, then… come here. However, don’t come here if your hair has just been freshly dyed because — as I learned, tragically — you will melt into a sad puddle of drippy hair dye which will stain your tank top and ruin it forever.

Pure Barre. http://purebarre.com/

It’s like ballet, except instead of dancing gracefully, you are holding onto a ballet barre while you tremble and shake because your instructor is making you do five hundred thousand squats or squeeze a plastic ball between your thighs one million times. This class is always so much harder than I think it’s going to be — and I love it.
 

SHOPS

She Bop. http://sheboptheshop.com/

Body-positive, sex-positive, female-owned SEX SHOP! Want an amazing selection of vibrators? You got it. Want to attend a class on “communicating in the bedroom” or “the fine art of cunnilingus”? Who doesn’t! Their shops are bright, clean, fun, and inspiring. Imagine if Apple or Lululemon opened a store full of dildos. It’s like that.

The Meadow. http://themeadow.com/

Imagine stepping into a beautiful shop that only sells chocolate, caramel, various kinds of fancy sea salt, and fresh flowers. You just stepped into The Meadow.

Sloan. http://sloanpdx.com/

I am very picky when it comes to clothing. My philosophy is, “If I am not 100 percent obsessed and excited to wear it RIGHT NOW, I won’t bother buying it.” So it’s rare that I find a clothing store like Sloan. Every time I go, I find at least three or four things that I’m obsessed with. I recently found two (!) pairs of jeans that actually fit me well, and that I love, which is basically a historic event because jeans never fit me properly. Thank you, Sloan!
 

NATURE

Sauvie Island. http://sauvieisland.org/

A beautiful river island just twenty minutes or so from downtown Portland. Visit in the springtime and you can pick berries to take home. Visit in the autumn and go to the pumpkin patch! Brandon and I often daydream about buying a plot of land on Sauvie, getting sheep and cows, and becoming inn-keepers or artisan honey producers or something. Maybe one day. Stranger things have happened!

Forest Park. http://forestparkconservancy.org/

Over 5,000 acress of parkland, right on the edge of the city. Big, epic trees. Creeks. Waterfalls. Birds. Stones. Leave your cellphone at home and just wander. Then afterwards go get a croissant at St. HonorĂ© Boulangerie, which is just a quick stroll from one of the park’s many entrances.

Mt. Tabor Park. Info at: http://portlandoregon.gov/

I had my very first date with Brandon here. We sat on a bench, ate sandwiches, and discussed our favorite cheeses. Tabor is permanently, lovingly etched in my heart. Come here in the late afternoon, find a grassy spot, have a picnic, and watch the sun set. One of the best views in the city. Then catch a $4 movie at the Academy Theater, very close by, where you can eat pizza and drink a beer (or a fancy Kombucha beverage) during your film.
 

In closing & summary:

Dear Portland,

I love you.

-Alex