My primary objective on Monday was to visit the Portland Japanese Garden. Rain was in the forecast for Tuesday and I wanted to visit the garden in fairer weather. So, rather than while away an hour over breakfast, we stopped at Crema for a quick coffee and pastry.
We made a brief detour to a nearby record store before heading west to Washington Park. This time we entered the park from the northern side and walked on a lovely forest pathway to The International Rose Test Garden. Portland’s association with roses began when Georgiana Pittock founded the Portland Rose Society in 1889, but Portland didn’t earn the moniker “City of Roses” until 1905 when the city’s rose-lined streets welcomed visitors to the Lewis and Clark Centennial celebration. The idea for a test garden arose during World War I when Portland became a haven for the rose hybrids of Europe, keeping them safe from the destruction abroad. The current International Rose Test Garden was dedicated in 1924. Today the garden is 4.5 acres and contains 600 varieties of roses. Mild winters and a long growing season make Portland a perfect location to test new rose varieties. I can only imagine how gorgeous the garden must be in the summer. Even still, the sweet scent of roses filled the air as we walked through the garden.
Just a short walk away from the rose garden was the Portland Japanese Garden, our destination. The garden originated as part of a larger effort in late 1950s Oregon to provide cultural exchange and healing following World War II. Portland wanted to give its residents a space where they could experience Japan through one of its own mediums, garden architecture. The city hired a Japanese professor of agriculture to design the garden, and in 1967 it was opened to the public. The garden is comprised of five different styles, unlike most gardens in Japan, and this allows visitors a holistic Japanese garden experience.
The admission to the garden is definitely worth it – even if you would rather save it for beer, as we overheard. At $14.95/adult you can spend a decent amount of time slowly wandering the paths and participating in the Japanese art of “forest bathing.” We thoroughly enjoyed it. The gardens are beautiful and authentic, even the crowds were pretty accurate! (Hah.) Our favorite garden was The Flat Garden which was designed to illustrate the four seasons. I love the delicacy of the raked gravel. It always fascinates me. We also enjoyed The Strolling Pond Garden which must be gorgeous once the maples change color in the fall. Overall, the garden left us with a hankering to return to Japan. So much so, that we decided to get ramen for lunch. We walked back through the forested paths in northern Washington Park and down to the Alphabet District.
Lunch left us satisfied and incredibly (overwhelmingly) full. We decided to go to a nearby brewery in Slabtown to try and walk off some of the ramen. Breakside Brewing was an impressive space but their beer menu was saturated with IPAs. I have nothing against a good IPA, but I’d rather hang at brewery with more variety. We each had an IPA and decided to go check out another part of town instead.
Mississippi Avenue is a popular street with shops, restaurants, and bars north of downtown. We strolled down the street popping in and out of different stores. Eventually we decided to have a snack and drink at The Rambler before continuing our jaunt. On our way to the bus stop we noticed a brewery across the street and decided to try it out. StormBreaker Brewing was wonderful. The ambience was great and the beers were fantastic. There’s been a serious shortage of pumpkin beer in my life this year, so I was bound to love StormBreaker. Their Pumpkin Pedaler was delicious, plus they had a great dry-hopped red ale. What more can you ask for?
After StormBreaker we caught a bus and started back in the direction of our neighborhood. We had witnessed the obscene line outside of Voodoo Doughnut’s downtown location, and there was no way I was going to stand in a line that long for a donut. There was, however, another location closer to our Airbnb. We dropped in late enough that there were only two people in line – victory! Zach ordered the iconic Voodoo Doll and an Old Dirty Bastard which is smothered in chocolate frosting, Oreo crumbles, and peanut butter. I went for my standard favorites – glazed old fashioned and blueberry cake – because if you can’t do the originals well, you shouldn’t be a doughnut shop. All of the donuts were really great, and we can now say we’ve been to Voodoo Doughnut in Portland.
The next morning we awoke to sunny clear skies – maybe the forecast had been wrong? We wanted to have a leisurely breakfast at Screen Door, an incredibly popular spot nearby, and then tick off some final sights. Somehow we managed to beat the late-morning rush and were immediately seated at Screen Door where we enjoyed a lovely breakfast that hit the spot. Zach said his huevos rancheros was the best he’d had, EVER.
After breakfast we went back over to Slabtown to visit Freakybuttrue Peculiarium. It’s a truly strange place. Officially billed as a museum of oddities, it’s definitely filled with bizarre and hilarious artifacts. For $5/person you can wander through the small museum and take as many photos as you want. There are 4 main rooms and each typically has a couple of distinct displays along with various random objects. We had the entire place to ourselves which allowed us to scrutinize each room. Everything was pretty tongue-in-cheek. I particularly liked the rotary phone and the advertisement for a live chupacabra. Zach took part in the live burial simulation and posed with Krampus while I allowed an alien to perform an operation. We really enjoyed the Peculiarium and definitely could recommend it to anyone with a sense of humor. It’s probably not for everyone though.
Sadly, when we left the Peculiarium the promised rain had arrived. The rest of the day was grey with intermittent rain. I had reserved the Portland Art Museum for such weather so it worked out perfectly. We made a pit stop at Salt & Straw for ice cream before leaving the area. Salt & Straw is another popular Portland original. While we indulged in ramen the day before, we’d noticed quite the line at Salt & Straw. We lucked out, and there were only a few people ahead of us. We each tried a couple of samples before ultimately settling on sea salt with caramel ribbons (me) and a Halloween special, The Great Candycopia (Zach).
Founded in 1892, the Portland Art Museum is the oldest art museum in the Pacific Northwest. The museum is housed in two buildings which are connected by a basement level passageway. We spent several hours perusing the museum and were able to see a decent chunk, though we couldn’t finish the whole thing. We toured the entire Mark Building, a former Masonic temple purchased by the museum in the early 1990s, which contained contemporary and modern art collections. Whereas, we barely made it through the second floor in the main building. We were also able to view a couple current exhibitions: etchings by James McNeill Whistler and those he influenced and a collection of paintings from three generations of the Wyeth family. We also discovered a new favorite: Raqib Shaw. We saw three paintings from his series Paradise Lost, and they were absolutely stunning. I could hardly tear myself away. Even the Impressionists looked dull afterward.
We left the museum without much of an agenda. Earlier, the clerk at Salt & Straw had recommended a new food hall downtown, so we thought we could grab a snack before going back across the river. Pine Street Market reminded us of Mercado Roma in Mexico City. There are nine different vendors ranging from coffee and ice cream to tapas and ramen all in one open layout. We decided on happy hour at Pollo Bravo where we had a quarter rotisserie chicken, patatas bravas, and beer. It was excellent! I hope this concept catches on elsewhere.
From there we decided to hit a couple more breweries to round out our visit. First we travelled back across the river to Burnside Brewing. We’d passed the brewery on our way downtown each day and wanted to check it out. We each had exceptional beers. Zach raved about his ? but they were a little expensive, so we decided to try one more place. We ended up at Base Camp Brewing. The taproom was decorated in a campground (base camp) theme so the lights were lanterns, the tables were covered in maps, and the interior had a rustic, outdoorsy feel. We really liked the beers. Zach ordered a s’more stout and it arrived with a toasted marshmallow on the rim! There were two food trucks in front of the brewery so we were able to eat a great pizza too.
All in all, Portland was good to us! We thoroughly enjoyed four busy days and hope to make it back to Oregon soon.