Travel Oregon: Discovering Portland’s Museums & Eclectic Culture

Travel Oregon: Discovering Portland’s Museums & Eclectic Culture

WJ Tested: Portland, Oregon

Travel Oregon: Discovering Portland's Museums & Eclectic Culture

Travel Oregon: Discovering Portland’s Museums & Eclectic Culture

Our annual trip list is never complete without at least one visit to Portland, Oregon – also commonly known as The City of Roses or Beervana. As our sojourns to this eclectic west coast city (population 583,776+/-), are, more often than not, during the summer months, we decided that a February trip would give us the opportunity to experience another side of this hip city. Of course, it would include beer, but we also planned on spending time getting to know the arts and cultural venues of Portland, too.

Hotel Vintage Plaza - A Kimpton Hotel

Hotel Vintage Plaza – A Kimpton Hotel

 

Love wine? Enjoy historic boutique hotels? Then you’re bound to enjoy the hotel we called home for 3 nights during this recent getaway. Upon arriving on a very rainy Sunday afternoon at Hotel Vintage Plaza, a historic downtown wine-themed hotel, we were warmly welcomed by the friendly doorman and front desk clerk. After promptly being checked-in, we made our way to the seventh floor and the spacious and well-appointed Henry Estates Suite (rooms and suites are named after local wineries or vineyards).

After getting settled in, we realized we were both hungry and thirsty and needed to rectify the situation – tout suite. So, a quick phone call down to the front desk was made, inquiring where they would recommend for the nearest happy hour. To our delight, they suggested the hotel’s own bar, PazzoBar, where happy hour runs daily from 3pm to 6pm. Minutes later (and without having to venture out in the downpour) we were comfortably seated in the bar, and ordered a thin-crust 3-topping pizza ($7) and a pint of Laurelwood Free Range Red ($3.50). The pizza was perfectly prepared and a new beer was added to our ever-growing list of favorite brews. What a great happy hour deal this turned out to be!

Best Portland Happy Hours

Best Portland Happy Hours

Before heading back to our suite to relax for a while before our evening out, we dropped by the hotel lobby to partake in the complimentary wine reception for hotel guests (daily from 5-6pm). Both red and white wine were available to choose from, so we each sampled a tasty Cabernet Sauvignon from Chile.

Kells Irish Restaurant & Pub

Kells Irish Restaurant & Pub

As Portland is a fairly compact city, and walking is one of our favorite ways to get around, we didn’t mind venturing out in the evening on foot – even though it was pouring down rain. Our destination was Kells Irish Restaurant & Pub and as it was Sunday, there was a live Irish jam session happening in the bar starting at 7 pm, followed by the poplular Dave Ross on stage at 9 pm. The quaint pub atmosphere was charming, and we were thrilled by the many Irish beer options on tap – especially delighted by a correctly poured pint of Guinness (not easy to find outside of Ireland).

By the time we left Kells the rain had subsided, and the 15-minute walk back to our hotel was perfectly pleasant. A not-too-late night out gave us the opportunity to relax and enjoy our hotel suite before calling it a night. Complimentary wi-fi throughout the hotel and guestrooms was an added service we much enjoyed.

Day 2
Our first morning at Hotel Vintage Plaza began by collecting coffee and newspapers (“complimentary, my dear”) from the lobby to take back to our suite. We also enjoyed being able to make our own coffee in the room with the Keurig coffee maker (with pods of Tully’s Coffee), and being newshounds, we joyfully settled in with The New York Times, USA Today, The Wall Street Journal and The Oregonian in order to catch up on world happenings.

Sightseeing in Portland, Oregon

Sightseeing in Portland, Oregon

By the time we were ready to venture out into downtown, the weather had brightened somewhat and it had stopped raining. So, with no specific plan or destination, we decided that we would first roam around downtown and just see what we came across. Our meandering route took us to Pioneer Place Mall (hey, there’s no sales tax in Oregon), Voodoo Donuts (open 24 hours), Portland Street Food Vendors (various locations and great for picking up lunch or a snack), Chinatown (visit a grocery store for fun), and then in search of a cool happy hour.

Brasserie Montmartre in Portland

Brasserie Montmartre in Portland

Luckily for us we found Brasserie Montmartre (definitely cheaper than a flight to Paris) and they run happy hour daily from 2-6:30 pm. Here we chose a few appetizers from the happy hour menu to bide us over for the afternoon. Starting with a glass of house white wine ($4), we then enjoyed Warmed Rillettes served with crostini ($3), Beef Bourguignon ($5), and crispy Frogs Legs with aioli ($4) – all quite delicious.

Following our happy hour break, we made our way back to Hotel Vintage Plaza and at 5pm made our way to the lobby again for the wine hour. This was a great opportunity to chat with other hotel guests, and also people-watch pedestrians on Broadway. Baskets of specialty breads and trays of hors d’oeuvres in the lobby and sitting area made for light fare to accompany the wine.

Le Pigeon Bistro in Portland

Le Pigeon Bistro in Portland

Tonight our dinner reservation was at Le Pigeon, on the east side of the Willamette River. Although the restaurant was only 1.5 miles from the hotel, we decided to drive instead of walk, as it would be quite late coming back. When we arrived at Le Pigeon (reservations recommended) we were seated at one of the communal tables, next to a party of three who were already on their second course. The advantage of this (apart from being able to interact with new people), was that we could see their food while we were looking at the menu. The atmosphere is very cozy and intimate, yet sharing tables adds a touch of adventure (cause you never know who you’ll end up sitting next to and what conversations they will be having).

For our meal we ordered (left to right) a starter to share – Tatsoi: egg, bagna cauda, cauliflower ($9). Our entrees of the Beef Duo of New York and Shortrib, with celery root and hedgehog mushrooms ($33), and Chicken with spatzle, truffles and turnips ($24) were delish. A very reasonably priced bottle of Washington Merlot accompanied our dining choices ($27). The piece de resistance was definitely the dessert. Honey Bacon Apricot Cornbread with Maple Ice Cream ($7). Fantastic!

After our delightful meal at Le Pigeon, we ventured across the street to the Doug Fir Lounge (at The Jupiter Hotel), to check out their live music before heading back to our hotel for the night.

Day 3
As luck would have it, the weather on our second morning was also mild and dry. So, after copious amounts of coffee and newspaper reading, we walked the 1.3 miles to the Oregon Museum of Science and Industry.

OMSI Portland

OMSI Portland

The one thing at this museum we really wanted to see was the visiting Gunther von Hagens’ Body Worlds & the Brain exhibit – fascinating! During our 5 hour visit to OMSI, aside from the regular museum exhibit halls, we also enjoyed a submarine tour of the USS Blueback (not recommended for the claustrophobic), Journey to the Stars movie in the Planetarium, Born to be Wild documentary (about orphan elephants in Africa and orangutans in Borneo) in the OMNIMAX Theater, and Swimming with Dolphins ride in the simulator. We very easily could have spent the entire day just at this museum.

Next, we walked back into downtown and to the Portland Art Museum, where we viewed some of the museum’s collections and a variety of exhibits that were on loan from private collections and other museums around the world. A couple of our favorite exhibits included the Native American art and the European art.

Oregon Historical Society - Oregon Trail Exhibit

Oregon Historical Society – Oregon Trail Exhibit

Across the street from the Portland Art Museum is the Oregon Historical Society and Oregon History Museum. Here we were able to view a plethora of exhibits relating to Oregon’s history, including, Oregon My Oregon, Oregon Art, Oregon Rocks – A History of Popular Music in Oregon, Treasures of the Vault, and a few other travelling exhibits.

After such a full day of museum hopping, we were definitely in need of happy hour, and made our way to Jake’s Famous Crawfish at the corner of 12th and Stark.

Jake’s happy hour (daily from 3-6 pm) is one of the best and always included on our agenda when in Portland. Although drinks are at regular prices, their happy hour food menu is hard to beat. While whetting our whistle with a pint of MacTarnahan’s Amber Ale ($5), we ordered a Tillimook Cheese Burger and fries ($3.95), and Blackened Chicken Quesadilla ($3.95). Many years ago, during our very first visit to Jake’s, we learned the hard way (why didn’t the waiter stop us ordering 5 items?) that happy hour portions are indeed regular sizes (not mini-portions). We then shared a mini-chocolate truffle dessert ($3.95), and while the flavours where excellent, it was super-mini in size and we immediately realized we should have ordered the berry cobbler ala mode (more than two spoonfuls).

Feeling complete by such a full day of new adventures, we made our way back to Hotel Vintage Plaza, arriving just in time to enjoy the wine hour before it ended. We were even able to take a glass of wine back to our suite.

Our final morning came too quickly and this time we picked up a couple of almond croissants from Pazzo Bakery at the hotel and took them, along with our armful of newspapers, back to our suite. The croissants were so yummy! It’s a good thing we didn’t try them until the last day – otherwise, they certainly would have become a morning ritual.

Our trip to Portland had been both relaxing and inspiring. Relaxing due to our leisurely pace and comfortable lodgings. Inspiring because of the vast array of arts and cultural experiences we had enjoyed. Of course, we had also quaffed plenty of local brews (and not been disappointed), and made the acquaintance with a delicious array of dining options that had satiated our appetites, and had now become new favorites. Thanks, Portland. We’ll be back… soon!

If you go:

View WJ Photos:
Hotel Vintage Plaza
Dining in Portland
Sightseeing in Portland

Tourism Info:
Travel Portland

Where to stay:
Hotel Vintage Plaza
– Downtown Portland, 4-star historic boutique hotel

Parking:
Hotel Vintage Plaza offers valet parking for $35/night. If you prefer to self-park, there are many options within a few blocks for indoor and outdoor parking. We parked in an indoor garage at the corner of Washington and 4th for $14/night.

Eats & Drinks:
Laurelwood Brew Pub
– Laurelwood Free Range Red – Free Range Red is a rich copper-colored ale with loads of fresh hop flavor. Medium in body, the caramel sweetness blends wonderfully with the smooth hop flavor creating a balanced, super drinkable beer. This beer is brewed with 100% Organically-grown malts.

MacTarnahan’s Brewing Company
– Portland’s Original Amber Ale

Kells Irish Restaurant & Pub
– Live Irish music nightly

Voodoo Donuts
– open 24 hours

Portland Street Food Vendors
– various locations. Good lunch deals if you’re on the go.

Le Pigeon
– Dinner daily from 5-9pm
The menu has some changes each week.

Jake’s Famous Crawfish:
Portland location

Doug Fir Lounge

Chinatown:
Things to see and do

Shopping:
Pioneer Place Mall

Museums:
Oregon Museum of Science and Industry

Gunther von Hagens’ Body Worlds & the Brain

Portland Art Museum

Oregon Historical Society & Oregon History Museum

 

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