Five Amazing Alternatives To Portland’s Top Five Tourist Attractions

Ok, I don’t actually know if these are Portland’s top 5 tourist attractions but they sure do get talked about a lot.

5.  Voodoo Doughnuts

If there is one business in Portland that has come to exemplify the “Portlandia” image of Portland, it’s Voodoo.  I’m going to let you in on a little secret.  This place is the biggest tourist trap in Portland.  The donuts are good, but certainly not worth waiting in a line like this:

Alternative:  Blue Star Donuts

If you want the actual best donuts in town and not wait in line forever, only to find out they are cash only…try Blue Star.  You will not be disappointed.

4. Portland Saturday Market

I like the Saturday Market, however, is it really any different than any other saturday market in any other city?  A bunch of hippies get together to sell some arts and crafts.  It’s fun, but not that special.

Alternative:  Saturday Farmer’s Market at PSU

The Farmers Market is definitely overshadowed by the Saturday Market, but for me this has come to embody Portland more than the Saturday Market.  Portland has developed such a foodie culture and the Farmers Market reflects that.  The number of vendors there is nearly endless and they are all local.  Local meats, cheeses, breads, fruits, and vegetables.  You name it, if you can cook with it, you will probably find it.  If you wanted to have picnic at the zoo or any one of our great parks, this would be the place to shop.

3.  The Pearl

Yes, there are lots of great places to eat.  Yes, there are lots of great bars.  Yes, this place is overhyped.   The Pearl has a lot of great qualities but the artsy soulfulness of the Pearl that once exemplified Portland is gone.  It has been replaced by million dollar condos and overpriced restaurants and shops.

Alternative:  North Mississippi / North Williams

There are probably more great restaurants and bars packed between these two streets than anywhere else in Portland.  In the last 5 years this neighborhood has exploded.  I swear everytime I look around there is something new going in and it is not going to stop anytime soon.  The next big thing in this area will be when the City reduces the two lane road that is N. Williams down to one lane so bicyclists can have their own lane.  How very Portland.

2. International Rose Test Garden

Rose Garden

The Rose Garden is awesome, but it is small and during the summer it can get pretty overcrowded.  It can be nearly impossible to find parking and good luck getting a picture without some strangers in it.

Alternative: Crystal Springs Rhododendron Garden 

Crystal Springs Rhododendron

Crystal Springs, is definitely a local’s spot.  You will not see that many tourists here.  The garden is big, is built around a man made lake, and is just as pretty, maybe more so, than the Rose Garden.

1. Powells City of Books


Powell’s City of Books is awesome, it is so big you need a map. If you read, this place is a must.  As far books go, there is no alternative.  But what about those folks who are not big readers?  Well, if you are a movie fan then let me suggest a different experience.

Alternative:  Cinetopia

Unfortunately, you will have to make a trek out to the suburbs, but for the movie fan this is an unrivaled viewing experience.  You can even drink one of Portland’s delicious craft beers while watching the film.  You know this place is over the top (but in a good way) when they are going to be putting in a movie theater on the Las Vegas Strip.


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Portland Geography: Where The Heck Is The Pearl Anyway?

There are many qualities I love about Portland but one of my favorites is the distinctiveness of our neighborhoods.  At times it seems like each neighborhood is its own self contained little town.  There are a lot of great restaurants, breweries, cafes, and pubs, spread across Portland in a variety of different neighborhoods.  Because Portlanders love to talk about food this naturally leads to conversations like this:

“Hey, have you been to Escape from New York Pizza in Northwest”

“Yes I love it, have you tried Pine State in Alberta?”

As a visitor when you ask people for advice on places to eat, you will often get a response like “you should try ______ in the Pearl.”

The restaurant recommendation may be spot on but where the hell is the Pearl? For locals or frequent visitors when we hear “Alberta,” “Northwest,” “The Pearl,” etc… we know exactly what the person is talking about.  For example, Northwest is technically all of Portland west of the river and north of Burnside.  However, when us locals talk about Northwest we are referring to the neighborhood that encompasses the blocks around NW 23rd between Burnside and Vaughn.

If you are going to be visiting Portland it is important to know where a few key neighborhoods are.  These are the neighborhoods with the most popular restaurants, bars, breweries, and shopping.  For orientation purposes I will start with downtown.  For one, this is where most of you will likely be staying and, second, it is a good reference point.


Downtown will most likely be your home base.  Since downtown also happens to be mostly commercial with lots of office towers and places that cater to the working stiffs, it is mostly dead at night and on weekends.  The exception would be around Pioneer Square, the mall, and on the north end close to Burnside.



If you are into the clubbing thing, then this is where the action is.  Personally, I hate Old Town.  I can’t stand clubs, and sixth avenue in Old Town is known as crack alley amongst law enforcement because it is basically an open air drug market. But if you want to dance and party at the clubs, this is where it’s at.

Old Town


Ahh, so this is where the Pearl is.  The Pearl used to be an old warehouse district west of Old Town.  Now it has turned into the definition of urban living in Portland.  It is home to Powell’s City of Books, great restaurants, bars, and shopping. The Pearl is a must visit.

The Pearl


Northwest is home to NW 23rd Street.  23rd is lined with great restaurants, bars, and shops.  There is a lot going on in this part of town plus a good hotel at the Inn at Northrup Station.  I would actually consider staying up here instead of downtown.



I love this part of town.  Hawthorne borders one of my favorite residential neighborhoods in Portland, Ladd’s Addition.  Hawthorne is home to great restaurants and is also known for its vintage shopping.  Even the Goodwill on Hawthorne is phenomenal.



I often consider Belmont and Hawthorne to be one big awesome area in southeast Portland.  There is a lot going on between these two parts of town.  If bed and breakfasts or vacation rentals are more your style this area should be high on the list of options.



I love this neighborhood.  If you come down here you will see what I mean when I say that neighborhoods feel like their own little towns (it helps that Sellwood use to actually be one). Sellwood is known for its antique shops that take up a block on Milwaukee and Bybee.



North Mississippi has really come of age in the last five years or so.  On the eastern side of this neighborhood is N. Williams which is currently exploding with new restaurants and bars.  I swear every time I drive up N. Williams I see a new bar or restaurant going in.



This neighborhood is home to Last Thursday a street fair on the last Thursday of every month.  The neighborhood is known for its eclectic shops and also, of course, good places to eat.


When you visit, try to explore some the neighborhoods on the east side of the river.  You will get a much better feel for the character of the city, plus I think all the best restaurants and breweries are on that side of town anyway.

Portland Geography 101: Navigation
Portland Geography 102: Portland Bridges
Portland Geography 103: Surrounding Areas

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Additional Thoughts On Priceline

So I wanted to take a minute and address a couple of comments that have come up on my Priceline posts and use them as learning opportunities.  The first comment is from Holly.

“I would NEVER use Priceline for a car. We did and when we got to Orlando airport the Hertz counter had a line two blocks long to pick up cars. We waited for 30 minutes and realized it would take longer to pick up the car than it did to fly to Orlando. We went to a neighboring car rental desk, rented a car (for more) and were on our way in a matter of minutes. Priceline “customer service” reads from a script and refuses to refund our money. I understand the no cancellation/refund policy but effectively Hertz could not provide us with a car. Hertz says they do not get paid unless we pick up the car so Priceline pockets the money and we pay twice. I have disputed the charge but will NEVER use Priceline again. Too many things can happen and their offshore customer service reps are like robots who have absolutely no authority to listen and respond (even the manager)… CRAZY…”    Continue reading

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The Trimet App, An Essential Portland App

A year ago Trimet launched a mobile app that allows you to purchase bus and MAX tickets on your phone.  This month the app sold its one millionth mobile fare, and for good reason. The app is super convenient and easy to use.   The app is much more convenient than the old way of doing business.  For the MAX, that meant buying tickets from a kiosk, if you were lucky to find one that worked.  For the bus, that meant buying a ticket from the bus operator but they only took exact change.  The app has made things soo much easier.  Continue reading

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