This is an article in the 36 Hours In… series. To find more in the series, head here.
36 hours in Portland and Seattle, USA
Being so close to the US border in Vancouver, it was a no-brainer that at some point we’d like to check out our American neighbours to the south. One fine weekend we took the chance to visit Portland, Oregon, and Seattle, Washington, so we picked up a little rental car and headed south. After a tense two-hour wait at the border we were finally let into America.
I say tense because technically you’re only allowed six months out of every twelve in the US on the B2 visa, and we had used up that six months already and we’d left the States only seven weeks beforehand. I was stressing as we didn’t want to be refused entry to the US – if that happens it’s seriously difficult to get back in at any point in the future.
But it was our lucky day, and we got a friendly border control officer who granted us another six months on the visa! I wish we could stay that long, but alas, finances do not permit – we’ll have to come back another day to cover the western part of the country.
The drive south was long. After our long wait at the border we lost pretty much the whole day to driving, as we had decided to head to Portland first so that we could work our way back north over the following days. With winter approaching the sun sets early, and it happened as we were passing through Seattle – at only 3pm!
Hipsters? What hipsters? We’d heard Portland was full of hipsters. Maybe it was the cold weather, but we couldn’t find any! We couldn’t actually find many people at all on this bitingly cold Sunday morning. But hipsters or no hipsters, their legacy of good coffee and food makes Portland a seriously wonderful place to whet your appetite. After visiting Stumptown for an obligatory latte (Stumptown was our coffee saviour in New York City), we found where all the people in Portland were – in the line for Voodoo Doughnuts (1501 NE Davis Street).
These were tourists, not locals – we were later informed that locals don’t visit Voodoo. I can’t think why they wouldn’t as the donuts were spectacular (and most of them were cheap at only $1.75 each!), although the half hour wait in the line was pretty lame – but at least it wasn’t raining.
Once we got inside it was like dreamland. Pink sparkly walls with rotating displays with 50 different kinds of donuts, and WHAT do you choose?! I was thankful for the ten minutes we had to wait inside to make my decision (those of you who know me know that I am the most terrible decision maker when it comes to food!).We chose a Portland cream (kind of like a Boston cream with a chocolate glaze and custard on the inside), and a maple bar (a plain donut with maple glaze on the top). So damn good – we both felt a little sick afterwards but it was a happy donuty sick feeling!
We checked out the Saturday and Sunday Market on the riverfront, but as there was a mean wind whipping up off the water we didn’t stay long, and the crafts there weren’t to our tastes anyway. Wandering around downtown Portland was delightful, with its offbeat vibe, old buildings, charming grunginess, cute old cars, and food trucks. EVERYWHERE. Holy crap, I don’t know how many food trucks are in Portland, but it must be a few hundred – every car park in the downtown area was full of them! Unfortunately as we were there on a Sunday they were mostly closed (but this was probably good for both the wallet and the waistline). They looked amazing though!
Later in the day we stumbled across Deschutes Brewery, one of many breweries in Portland. Portland actually has the most breweries out of ANY city in the world, with the figure sitting over 60. Hell, that’s impressive. Shaun wanted to try them all but with only one night in the city we didn’t want to become too obliterated, so we chose two. We stayed at Deschutes for a delicious dinner and a couple of beers: paprika fries with manchego cheese, rosemary oil, and aioli, and pizza with hazelnuts, pork belly bacon, goat’s cheese, arugula, and pear slices (all local of course). Phenomenal. After Deschutes we went to Rogue Public House, and while Shaun had a beer I tried a homemade lemonade with mint – delish!
After a couple of beers we headed to our accommodation for the night, a lovely room that we found through Airbnb. Tom’s place was only five minutes from downtown but being right next to a big park made it feel much further out of the city! It was great. Part of the deal was that we got breakfast, and Tom makes a wicked quiche – mine had smoked salmon in it that Tom had bought on the coast near Portland and a buddy had smoked it for him, and the mushrooms in Shaun’s had been gathered by Tom himself! If you’re interested, here is Tom’s place – we totally recommend staying there! Click here to get $45 NZD off your first stay with Airbnb.
Historic Columbia River Highway (Route 30)
Early the next morning we headed off from Portland, with the aim to get to Seattle that afternoon. With a suggestion from Tom we followed the I-84 east of the city, and hopped on Historical Route 30 at the Corbett exit. What a great little drive! Route 30 (the Historic Columbia River Highway) climbs up the side of the gorge and winds its way above the river, away from the Interstate. There are some lovely viewpoints over the river, and numerous waterfalls along the way which have hikes of varying lengths that you can do. We stopped at Latourell Waterfall and Multnomah Falls, and were seriously impressed. We even saw a bald eagle!
It was so lovely to get off the Interstate and see some beautiful scenery – thanks to Tom for the suggestion (one of the huge benefits of staying in someone’s home rather than a faceless hotel)! We then headed three hours north to Seattle on the I-5, and checked in at our next Airbnb accommodation – a very reasonably priced self-contained flat.
Sleepless in Seattle? More like Freezing in Seattle. God, even though it was sunny, we froze our butts off (thanks, Arctic Bomb Cyclone Astro). Trying to warm up with a hot chocolate, we explored the Pike Place Farmers Market for much of the day. It’s a quirky place with lots of little alleyways, fresh produce, fresh fish being thrown around, bakeries, vintage stores, a bronze pig, a gum wall, and craft stalls. Oh and the original Starbucks. Pike Place Market is America’s longest continuously operating farmers market, having started in 1907. Impressive!
We were half intrigued, half grossed out by the famous ‘gum wall’ and all the little messages stuck to the gum. You wouldn’t want to get too close!
There were lots of quirky little scenes that made for fun photographing:
We ate lunch at Pike Place Brewery, and had the obligatory beer tasting. Yum!
After a wander along the waterfront we walked around the city streets for a while, and when we didn’t find anything too interesting (and also because it was too freakin’ cold!), we got back in our car, turned on the heater, and headed three hours north to Vancouver. While waiting at the border, we were treated to this stunner of a sunset:
It was such fun to visit America again, and to see some new cities and landscapes. We really, really liked Portland and wished we had been able to stay longer. But it’s ok – we’re saving the rest for next time!
Check out this great list of things to do in Portland – we’ve got heaps to do next time we go.
What should we put on the list to see next time we’re down in Portland and Seattle? Leave your comments below!
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