56 Hours in Portland: Coffee, Beer and Botany in the City of Roses

Photos by Ryan Benoit

We’re very much into the whole “buy experiences rather than things” thing. So when Ryan suggested we celebrate my birthday by going to Portland, I said, “Put a bird on it!” and by “bird” I mean me, and by “it” I mean the City of Roses.

This was our very first trip to the gorgeous green city that is Portland, Oregon. We explored it two weekends ago, over three sunny (!), fast-paced days of garden visits, soccer shouts, coffee shop hopping and bellying up to brewpubs. At the end of it, we were absolutely smitten with PDX.

Stay tuned for more in-depth stories of our favorite stops, like the famed International Rose Test Garden. But today we’re excited to show you our journal from our whirlwind 56 hours in Portland…

"A Dialogue" Designed by Scott I Edwards Architecture

Day One: Saturday.

After a somewhat painful 6:30 AM departure time from SAN, we land in PDX’s emerald embrace a little after 9 AM. First impression: Everyone there is so friendly. At the Enterprise rental car place, we hook up the car’s Bluetooth to iTunes, and play Monuments by Ume, an Austin-based band that we’ve been listening to obsessively.

9:30 AM: But first, coffee. We get coffee (pour-over for Ryan, cappuccino for me) at café/flower shop/interior design store Christopher David per the recommendation of Eater’s list of its top Portland coffee shops. While caffeinating inside the shop’s stylish serenity, we hop on the flossy toast bandwagon, eating slices topped with avocado, tomato and balsamic vinegar while watching a bocce game underway at Jamison Square Park through the window.

Christopher David Coffee at Jamison Square in Portland, Oregon.

Christopher David design store and cafe is a creative environment for sipping. Beans are roasted at local roaster Water Avenue Coffee Company.

Christopher David Coffee at Jamison Square in Portland, Oregon.

The barista uses a Chemex brewer (pour-over method) to brew Ryan’s coffee.

Christopher David Coffee at Jamison Square in Portland, Oregon.

The Christopher David design firm refers to the cafe as an “experience design center.” The large community table plays host to regular art, garden and coffee-making workshops.

Lithops or living stone.

We are slightly obsessed with this lithops arrangement. The succulent is camouflaged with stones!

Christopher David Coffee at Jamison Square in Portland, Oregon.

Christopher David
Pearl District

901 NW Tenth Ave.
Portland, OR 97209

10:15 AM: A mid-city garden tour. After coffee we head to Lan Su Chinese Garden, a collaboration between Portland and its sister city Suzhou, in China’s Jiangsu province. Watch this space for the full story about this Ming Dynasty-style garden that joins plants like lotuses, waterlilies, osmanthus, magnolias and rhododendrons with 16-century-inspired architecture and tea culture.

Lan Su Chinese Garden in Portland, Oregon.

Lotuses galore.

Lan Su Chinese Garden in Portland, Oregon.

Nelumbo nucifera, or sacred lotus. Here it’s past bloom, its seed pods drying in the sun.

Lan Su Chinese Garden in Portland, Oregon.

Lan Su Chinese Garden
Downtown
239 NW Everett St.
Portland, OR 97209

503-228-8131

12:20 PM: A food cart lunch! After learning via Time magazine that Portland is famed for its food carts, we make a beeline to one of the city’s cart clusters, extending the entire block of SW 5th Avenue between Oak and Stark, where we had delicious curry and pad Thai at Khob Khun.

Food carts in Portland, Oregon.

Parking lots are repurposed into food cart clusters taking up entire city blocks in multiple locations throughout the city. This location is along SW 5th Avenue between Oak Street and Stark Street in Southwest Portland.

Food carts in Portland, Oregon.

The carts serve the midday, workweek lunch rush, and also to the late-night weekend scene.

Food carts in Portland, Oregon.

We visit Khob Khun for Thai food.

Food carts in Portland, Oregon.

Memorable green curry (warning: “mild” is still spicy!) and pad Thai.

Food carts in Portland, Oregon.

Khob Khun
Southwest Portland
SW 5th Ave. and SW Stark St.
Portland, OR 97204
503-702-5844

2 PM: Check-in. Did we mention that we had no idea where we would be staying when we landed? Thank goodness for Hotel Tonight! We book two nights at the Hotel Rose downtown near the waterfront. The central location means most of our stops are between six and fourteen minutes away.

2:50 PM: We join the Timbers Army. We catch the second half of a Portland Timbers soccer match against the Vancouver Whitecaps. Seated in the Timbers Army section we feel like a couple of befuddled squares at first, but soon we get with the rowdy program, learning the NSFW chants and watching the Timbers shut out Vancouver 3-0. This is a pivotal match for the team’s late-season run in an effort to secure the fifth and final playoff spot in the Western Conference. Timbers games are no joke, and it felt a bit like being at a European football match. (Or in Braveheart.) We’re into it!

Portland Timbers MLS game verses Vancouver Whitecaps

Portland Timbers MLS game verses Vancouver Whitecaps

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Portland Timbers striker Fanendo Adi (green jersey) rolls one past Vancouver ‘keeper David Ousted. Timbers up 2-0.

Portland Timbers MLS game verses Vancouver Whitecaps

After the goal, the Timbers mascot, iconic lumberman “Timber Joey,” fires up a chainsaw and proceeds to cut a slab of wood off a large log before the Timbers Army.

Portland Timbers MLS game verses Vancouver Whitecaps

Fans then pass the hot slab of wood up through the crowd.

Portland Timbers
Providence Park
1844 SW Morrison St, Portland, OR 97205
503-553-5400

4:15 PM: Plant-walking through Portland. Riding the energetic wave leaving the stadium, we head back toward the waterfront, grabbing delicious juices (“Farmer’s Favorite” for me, “Winning! (at Life)” for Ryan) at Kure. Then we pick up a bottle of one of Oregon’s famed pinot noirs.

Street plants in Portland.

Variegated Red Twig Dogwood (Cornus alba 'Elegantissima')

Variegated red twig dogwood (Cornus alba ‘Elegantissima’).

Street plants in Portland.

Street plants in Portland.

Tuberous Begonias in street planters.

Tuberous begonias overflow from street planters this time of year.

Tuberous Begonias in street planters.

9:05 PM: A farm-fresh feast with old friends. We meet up with our friends Sarah Conrique and Graham I. Haynes of The Vegan Stoner (blog and book) at the Farm Café for drinks and dinner. It’s housed in, well, a converted farmhouse and offers cocktails like the divine RCTID (stands for “Rose City ‘Til I Die,” a song/motto of the Timbers Army), a bracing gin/honey/lemon/sparkling wine elixir with a Clear Creek Eau de Vie of Douglas Fir float.

Farm Cafe in Portland Oregon.

The Farm Cafe
Industrial District
10 SE 7th Ave, Portland, OR 97214
503-736-3276

Day Two: Sunday.

9:14 AM: More coffee! We grab coffee downtown at Courier Coffee Roasters, a no-frills space that plays excellent vinyl and serves a great espresso made from a peaberry coffee from Othaya Farmers Cooperative in Nyeri, Kenya. Ryan went with a drip coffee from Gedeo Yirgacheffe in Ethiopia. The coffee is roasted offsite, and steaming cuppas are also delivered by bicycle.

Courier Coffee in Portland, Oregon.

Courier Coffee in Portland, Oregon.

Courier Coffee Roasters
Downtown
923 SW Oak St., Portland, OR 97205
503-545-6444

9:35 AM: Book me. What better way to kick off Banned Books Week than a visit to the famed Powell’s City of Books? The world’s largest used and new independent bookstore, the landmark is an entire city block of over a million things to read. There are author quotes written on chalkboards at the ends of the shelves, and the Charles Dickens section alone extends into outer space.

Powell's Books in the Pearl District.

Powell's Books in the Pearl District.

Powell's Books in the Pearl District.

Powell's Books in the Pearl District.

Powell’s City of Books
Downtown
1005 W Burnside St., Portland, OR 97209
503-228-4651

10:15 AM: Scrambling for breakfast. We have a classic homestyle breakfast at Byways Café, nestled among its wall of antique plates and shelf of vintage hat boxes. We eat veggie- and cheese-filled scrambles and soak one of the diner’s delicious homemade biscuits in butter and honey and don’t leave a crumb behind.

Byways Cafe breakfast.

Byways Cafe breakfast.

Byways Cafe
Downtown, Pearl District
1212 NW Glisan St, Portland, OR 97209
503-221-0011

10:45 AM: More plant-walking, back to the rental car…

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Coleus assortment.

A coleus assortment with some black mondo grass and geraniums tucked in.

11:55 AM: We visit a breathtaking Japanese garden. We get lost inside the elevated, enchanting Portland Japanese Garden, filled with graceful sculptures, black pines, feisty koi and feathery maples already starting to change color. (It was hard choosing just a few images for this journal — so stay tuned for the full photo tour!)

Japanese Garden in Portland Oregon.

Japanese Garden in Portland Oregon.

Portland Japanese Garden
Southwest Portland
611 SW Kingston Ave, Portland, OR 97205
503-223-1321

2:15 PM: A rose city within Rose City. Of course we’d be remiss to visit Rose City and not sniff some actual roses. Luckily we find masses of them — still in bloom in late September! — at the famous International Rose Test Garden. Don’t let the serious-sounding name sway you — this place is pure play for visitors. Established as a testing space for new rose varieties, the garden is a Shangri-La of roses in every color, size, fragrance and habit you can imagine. Leathery-leaved ‘Shreveport’ Grandiflora detonates shapely flowers in hot coral. The ‘Lagerfeld’ blossoms are tall and icy, a silvery shade of lavender. Romantic climbers dangle overhead. It is like walking into an actual ocean of roses. Full story to come.

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International Rose Test Garden in Portland, Oregon.

International Rose Test Garden
Southwest Portland
400 SW Kingston Ave, Portland, OR 97205
503-823-3636

3:45 PM: A coffee shop that transforms into an after-hours bar. Onto the Alphabet District, where Ryan gets coffee and I have an espresso at Sterling Coffee Roasters, whose iconography is almost as fabulous as its drinks. The café shares a space with M Bar, which takes over afterhours.

M Bar Coffee in the Alphabet District of Portland, Oregon.

M Bar Coffee in the Alphabet District of Portland, Oregon.

White tablecloths and white roses are a nice touch.

Sterling Coffee Roasters/M Bar
Alphabet District
417 NW 21st Ave., Portland, OR 97209
503-248-2133

4:30 PM: More carts! For a late lunch/early dinner, we check out another cart, Small Pharaoh’s, which serves some good gyros.

Return to the food carts. Gyro at Small Pharoah's

My gyro! Ryan tucks into a lamb sandwich.

Small Pharoah’s
Southwest Portland
Corner of SW 5th Ave. and SW Stark St.
Portland, OR 97205
917-500-9181 

6:30 PM: Feeling sudsy, we decide tonight to explore some brewpubs. We also want to meet up with friends: Tyrone Spencer of menswear blog I.CON and Emma Alpaugh of Portland’s own Timber Press, who recommends our first stop Ex Novo, a 10-barrel non-profit brewery that supports some excellent causes for social justice.  It also has on tap a delicious farmhouse saison and a refreshing guest cider.

Ex Novo Brewing Company in Portland, Oregon.

Ex Novo Brewing Company in Portland, Oregon.

Ex Novo Brewing Company
North Portland
2326 N Flint Ave., Portland, OR 97227
503-894-8251

9 PM: Hello and goodnight, Breakside Brewery! “The Horticults” and Tyrone end the night here over passionfruit sour. A beer that tastes like our spirit fruit? Yes, please — and it is even better than we could have imagined. So good, in fact, that we close the place down.

Breakside Brewery

The scene at Breakside Brewery.

Breakside Brewery

The passionfruit sour is a dream in a pintglass.

Breakside Brewery
Northeast Portland
820 NE Dekum St., Portland, OR 97211
503-719-6475

Day Three: Monday.

9:20 AM: Roaster stop. As cavernous and high-ceilinged as it is, Coava in the Industrial District serves up a welcoming Chemex pour-over and cappuccino. Both are phenomenal.

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Coava Kone Stainless Steel Coffee Filter and Chemex Coffee Maker

Coava Coffee Roasters
Industrial District
1300 SE Grand Ave, Portland, OR 97214
503-894-8134

10:40 AM: First hike of fall. We can’t think of a better way of celebrating the autumn equinox than hiking to Wahclella Falls on a trail with stratospheric views of trees changing color — right before our eyes, practically — contrasted with thousands of eternally emerald, stubbornly terrestrial ferns. Fall is also the season you can spot salmon swimming upstream. Wahclella Falls is located 10 miles east of the ever-popular and mightly Multnomah Falls.  While quite a bit smaller than the Mulnomah Falls’ 500 foot drop, Wahclella offers a 1 mile nature hike along the Tanner Creek River before an intimate approach to the base of the two tier falls (49 and 79 feet).

A much larger post on this, comin’ your way!

56-Hours-In-Portland-Guide-ryanbenoitphoto-thehorticult-Wahclella Falls

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Waterfall coming up on your right. Larger photoessay to come.

Wahclella Falls
I-84E from Portland, exit 40, Bonneville, OR 97010

1:15 PM: Pre-flight beer flights. We don’t think it’s a coincidence that some of the best meals we’ve ever eaten were eaten after a hike. Belgian-influenced pFriem Family Brewers (another Emma recommendation!) in the nearby town of Hood River was like a beery beacon after we left Wahclella Falls both awestruck and hungry. Ryan’s Mt. Shadow Cheeseburger is absolutely cosmic, and my fabulous moules frites do not skimp on the saffron. The his-and-hers flights of beers we drink include the clean-but-spicy Strong Blonde and the Strong Dark, a complex figgy wallop that I can’t wait to write home about.

We also do a blind guess-which-beer-this-is contest. Would you guess who won that?

PFriem Family Brewers, Hood River Oregon

PFriem Family Brewers, Hood River Oregon

The sampler at PFriem Family Brewers, Hood River Oregon

Our pre-flight beer flights.

PFriem Family Brewers, Hood River Oregon

Our favorites: Belgian Strong Blonde and Belgian Strong Dark.

Pfriem Family Brewers
707 Portway Ave, Suite 101, Hood River, OR 97031
541-321-0490

4:10 PM: One for the road. Before we catch our evening flight home, we hoof it back to Portland to get one last coffee shop fix at Barista, where I have a macchiato and Ryan gets siphon coffee (reminding us of ours one back home!), and we buy some Fernet Branca-flavored chocolate to go.

Barista coffee in the Alphabet District.

Barista Coffee in the Alphabet District.

Barista serves coffee roasted from a variety of roasters around the Pacific Northwest. We were impressed that this coffee shop offered siphon brewing, which is the method we use back in our garden.

Barista coffee in the Alphabet District.

Barista
Pearl District
539 NW 13th Ave., Portland, OR 97209
503-274-1211

—TH

  • My old stomping grounds! Looks like you hit all the hot spots.
    Check out Multnomah Falls next time!

    • Seems like all the good ones come from PDX 😉 On this trip we were torn between the two; next trip we will most definitely be chasing Multnomah Falls, no matter what the song says.

  • Jessica Brain

    Awesome itinerary, when we visit the states i’ll be referencing this! Thanks from Australia 😀

    • Our pleasure, Jessica! Hope your spring is off to a lovely start in Australia.

  • Lucía Ferreira Litowtschenko

    What a busy fun schedule! I want to visit now! Loved the camouflage succulent with stones.

    • One of the best weekend trips ever! That lithops arrangement has given us all sorts of beige-on-beige ideas…