Tango Diva : Travel Stories for Women, by Women

by Karla Erovick

My earliest memories of Portland were as a little girl going to the big city to go Christmas shopping with my Dad and sister. We often rode the train from our home in Salem.

At that time, Portland was an industrial city with shipyards and manufacturing plants along the river. It always struck me as an industrial gray color. It was so exciting to take a taxi from the train station to the local grand old department store, Meier and Frank. The store was decked out with Christmas decorations throughout the store with surprises on every floor all the way up to the toy department on one of the upper floors. After riding the train and looking at all of the toys, we would have lunch and meet Mom for the return trip home.

I haven’t spent much time in Portland in the two decades since I left. So I am delighted to find that
Portland has become an attractive, vibrant city. Portland, a historic town, was a hub for pioneers traveling to the great northwest via the Oregon Trail. Its location near the mouth of the Willamette River and Columbia River is still a transportation hub.

The shipyards and factories have receded leaving beautiful waterfront views with parks and public access. There are seven bridges, some historic crossing the Willamette River and connecting Portland to the rest of the world. The people are friendly and helpful. The city is clean. And you can walk almost everywhere. It is an urban paradise.

The downtown core is peppered with shopping, hotels, restaurants, cafes and bars. You can’t walk far without happening upon a park or other green space which is not surprising for the state which passed the nation’s first recycling program in the 1970’s.

Portland is also focused on promoting green or sustainable building practices for its public buildings. The city has found the perfect balance of keeping the historic industrial buildings while transforming them into modern lofts, offices and retail space.

Portland offers a wide diversity of experiences. For city lovers: shopping, spas, modern architecture blended with historic brick buildings, quirky bars and gourmet restaurants—what more could a girl want? And if you like the outdoors: kayaking, biking, hiking, skiing (year round on Mt. Hood’s glacier) and running are favorite past times for locals and visitors alike.

I decided to stay in the Nob Hill neighborhood in NW Portland. The NW commercial district is approximately 10 blocks square and is interspersed with quaint apartment buildings and condominiums. My hotel of choice was the trendy Inn at Northrup Station off NW 21st Street and Northrup.

It could not be easier to arrive at my destination using the airport light rail system (MAX) to downtown and switching to the Oregon Streetcar to my hotel. I enjoyed great views of Portland as the train crossed over the Willamette River and wound its way downtown through the modern buildings and renovated historic structures. From the airport to the hotel it was less than an hour and much nicer than renting a car and dealing with the one-way streets and confusing bridges and freeways.

My hotel was another lovely surprise—a quirky modern decorated hotel with spacious, all-suites rooms. Mine had a balcony from which to watch the people strolling below. I had my choice of two televisions and luxurious bedding and pillows. The color scheme was whimsical and the kitchenette was a welcomed addition so that I could stock my refrigerator with snacks and my favorite adult beverages.

Fortunately an organic market and Trader Joe’s were within a few block’s walk. The Northrup Station Hotel serves a continental breakfast in the mornings, and the roof deck is a perfect setting for morning coffee and relaxing before sunset.

When I have traveled to Portland for business, I stayed downtown, close to the business district and coincidentally the shopping district. As an adult I still enjoy visiting the historic Meier & Frank, now a Macy’s store, and Nordstrom both located near Pioneer Courthouse Square. Scattered throughout the downtown core are national retailers, high-end designers and colorful boutiques.

It felt great to stretch my legs and enjoy the sunshine while window shopping. For hotels close by, the Hotel Vintage Plaza is one of my favorites with in-room yoga, small gym and in-house spa treatments. Just ask the concierge to book a treatment for easy pampering delivered to your room. The Paramount and Benson Hotels are both historic properties located two blocks from the shopping area.

Shopping in Nob Hill

I decided to explore the shops in Nob Hill, my new neighborhood, and was surprised and delighted to find the boutiques in Nob Hill (NW 21st & 23rd Streets) mostly locally owned. Starbucks has several outposts in the neighborhood, but most of the stores are one-of-a-kind selling clothes (including consignment, vintage and thrift stores), accessories, home furnishings, music and food. I found a 3 Monkeys store where I could buy the perfect hat, jewelry and trendy clothes for H&M prices. Several shoe stores caught my eye with chic footwear.

Culinary Diversions

Oregon has a long history of producing handcrafted beer, so it was not surprising to be surrounded by numerous brew pubs in the neighborhood. One such establishment, McMenamins, owns over seven pubs in Portland, including four in NW Portland.

I chose the Blue Moon Café for pub fare and a nice selection of micro-brewed beer. There are numerous other pubs in the neighborhood which offer a variety of beer on tap and food. The Nob Hill Bar & Grill offers 50 cent tacos on Monday nights! The Bridgeport Brewpub & Bakery is Oregon’s oldest microbrewery.

Restaurants don’t disappoint either. Whether you want quick snacks or gourmet food, you will find it here. Historic Rose’s features innovative comfort foods and the most beautiful cakes you will ever see; save room for dessert. Marrakech offers Moroccan cuisine and a belly dancing performance Wednesday through Sunday nights.

There are plenty of coffee houses in the neighborhood for a caffeine fix. But my favorite caffeine purveyor is Moonstruck Chocolate with delicious hot chocolate and handmade truffles, perfect for a shopping break.

Exploring Neighborhoods

Nearby is the Pearl District with trendy lofts and refurbished industrial buildings enjoying a renaissance. This area is brimming with restaurants, art galleries and shopping. First Thursdays have evening hours, open to the public, with many offering wine and appetizers.

The Hawthorne District is also a fun neighborhood with a hippie vibe. You will discover the coolest vintage clothes at Red Light Fashions, or catch a movie, a beer and some food at the historic Baghdad Theater, owned by McMennamins. This affords great people-watching and window shopping

Local Wines

Oregon has gained notoriety in the wine industry for its award winning Pinot Noirs over the past 20 years. The Willamette Valley wine region is the same latitude as the burgundy region of France and home to over 200 wineries. The drive outside of Portland winds through vineyards and agricultural lands with wineries scattered throughout the 60 mile wine region

On my trip to the airport, I contemplate my great weekend in Portland filled with unexpected surprises including great food, good shopping and lots of fun. I like the new Portland—I can’t wait to come back!

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About the Author

Karla Erovick is a regular Tango Diva contributor. Originally from Oregon’s capital city, she has lived and worked abroad. She enjoys traveling to destinations off the beaten path and experiencing local culture. She is the author of a dating book for women, “Love to Date—Date to Love: Unlocking the Secrets of Dating.”

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For More Information

Where To Stay

Vintage Plaza Hotel

Broadway at Washington, 2 blocks from MAX and downtown shopping

In-room yoga and in-room spa services!
Paramount Hotel

Also downtown Taylor at Broadway

Inn @ Northrup Station

Funky modern hotel in a great neighborhood

Kennedy School Bed & Breakfast

A hotel, restaurant, theater and pub

5736 NE 33rd Ave, 97211

Restaurants

Bluehour: in the Pearl District

Heathman at the Heathman Hotel

Pazzo at the Vintage Plaza

Veritable Quandary near the waterfront

El Gaucho for steaks

Jake’s Grill: famous for crawfish!

Marrakech

Voodoo Doughnut: the strangest, most delicious concoctions, located at SW 3rd

Pubs

McMennamins Blue Moon Bar and Grill

McMennamins Ram’s Head

Nob Hill Bar & Grill: 50-cent tacos on Monday nights

Doug Fir: a hip lounge adjacent to the Hip Jupiter Hotel

Langano Lounge: a nice DJ lounge in the Hawthorne with delicious Ethiopian snacks

Shopping

Music Millennium: one of the best record stores you will ever visit!

Listening station everywhere, helpful (and cute) staff and frequent live performances

801 NW 23rd Avenue

3 Monkeys: fun, hip boutique with affordable clothing. There’s also Three More Monkeys if you can’t get enough.

Blush Beauty Bar

Zelda’s Shoe Bar

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