Portland, Seattle Offers Funky, Hip Time for Tourists
Make a cool escape to the Pacific Northwest’s Portland and Seattle, two cities that invite travelers to chill along the water be it lake, ocean, or river or explore the great outdoors in the wide open forests, hang out at a local coffee shop, or groove to the new sounds.
Portland, Oregon and Seattle, Washington both have reputations for being creatively "weird" in a way that residents have embraced and tout, but at the same time the cities are emerging as cultural centers, displaying a sophisticated edge without the attitude.
To be blunt, these cities offer urban and outdoor adventures at travelers’ fingertips without the stress.
Songstress k.d. lang was so charmed by Portland that she claimed the City of Roses as her home earlier this year.
Lang is already settling in and supporting local causes. In October, she will perform at a benefit for Share Our Strength’s No Kid Hungry campaign produced by openly lesbian executive chef Sarah Schafer of Irving St. Kitchen.
Schafer, who serves up her dishes with love and passion, anticipates 120 people will attend the exclusive fundraiser to enjoy the delicacies she produces from the kitchen along with samplings of some of Portland and Washington’s best wines.
Portland’s queer community is fully integrated into the city; there is no gayborhood to speak of, but no matter what neighborhood LGBT travelers explore there are gay businesses that are thriving. Being LGBT is so accepted that raising the familiar rainbow flag rarely happens in the city.
June through the beginning of August is the queerest time in Portland. Everyone is out and proud celebrating Pride from the traditional to individual groups (BearTown, Latino Pride, and Leather Pride) to the newly launched Queer Music Festival - now in its second year. Still looking to get in on the rainbowtainment? Head on up to Portland for Leather Pride on August 3-12 or enjoy the fall season at the Lesbian and Gay Film Festival or the Imperial Sovereign Rose Court’s Coronation Ball in October. In April, Portlanders paint the town red with the wildly popular annual Red Dress Party, and in May they get real with QDoc, the Queer Documentary Film Festival.
LGBT travelers can easily take an international weekend side trip from Seattle or Portland to Vancouver, Canada for Vancouver Pride (http://www.vancouverpride.ca) on August 5. Just don’t leave your passport at home.
No need to drive or fly. Amtrak Cascades is a beautiful and easy ride from Portland to Seattle all the way up to Vancouver.
Portland is known for its roses and famed Rose Festival, a three-week event from Memorial Day weekend through mid-June, but the Rose City hosts a plethora of festivals from spring through the end of fall, such as the Oregon Brewers Festival, Art in the Pearl, Musicfest NW, Feast Portland: Food and Drink Festival, Wordstock, Portland Cocktail Week, and Portland Jazz Festival to name a few.
I rolled into Portland on the Tri Met from the Portland Airport, a very easy and inexpensive ride, to the funky cool and very gay-friendly Jupiter Hotel. The hotel is located just across the Burnside Bridge, minutes away from downtown Portland and Chinatown, where Darcelle XV Showplace has given Vegas-style drag performances for 45 years.
The Jupiter Hotel offers a Keep Portland Queer package that is an introduction to LGBT sights, as well as discounts and other complimentary gifts in a welcome basket. The hotel also donates 10 percent of the proceeds of guests’ hotel stay (who request the package when making a reservation) to the Q Center, Portland’s LGBT community center.
The hotel’s partnership with Portland’s LGBT community is just one example of a team effort between Travel Portland, the Portland Area Business Association, and the Q Center to welcome LGBT travelers to the region. During Portland Pride in June, PABA and Q Center launched a new website http://www.queernw.com to complement Travel Portland’s queer travel page and other marketing materials available at the visitor’s center in Pioneer Square and the Q Center in the Mississippi Avenue neighborhood, said Barbara McCullough-Jones, executive director of the Q Center and Jill Nelson, president of the PABA.
To get other deals to dine around Portland or see the city’s popular sights log on to Travel Portland’s website (www.travelportland.com) to get one of five passes that can save up to 30 percent off into the city’s biggest attractions from museums to the zoo. Check out Portland Perks to grab up to $600 worth of savings at hotels, restaurants, stores, and more.
Getting around Portland is amazingly easy whether it is by bike - Portland is the most bike-friendly city in America with bike bars and cafes and boulevards that are car free - to public transportation, or even by car if you must. All I had to do was text a code to get up to the minute information about my next bus, streetcar, or Max train (by the way the Max takes riders directly to the Oregon Zoo among other sites). The city, which is divided by the Willamette River, is crossed by a total of 12 different bridges stitching up the city connecting the east and west sides of town.
The one thing that I continued to hear from Portlanders is that the region offers everything anyone can want from an urban center all within an hour. In a single day one can start by enjoying morning surf at the beach, a mountain hike or year-round skiing or snowboarding on Mount Hood, and tour wine country in the Willamette Valley, returning to Portland for dinner at a James Beard Award-winning restaurant.
That is one of the reasons why out bisexual tour guide Kieron Weidner, 32, of EverGreen Escapes decided to settle in Portland. Throughout the day we popped into the Q Center and checked out local LGBT businesses starting on Mississippi Avenue with its artisan shops. We stopped at Jazzkat’s Coffee Bar, owned by Whitney Baskins, a 44-year-old lesbian who moved to Portland from San Jose 15 years ago, that is located in the up and coming Hollywood District.
Baskins, the mother of a teenage son, has become a staple in the neighborhood since opening the shop nearly three years ago. Her coffee is roasted by lesbian-owned Blue Kangaroo Coffee Roasters and local artists exhibit their work on the cafe’s walls, she said.
Around the corner from Jazzkat’s is Ritual Arts, an eco-friendly tattoo and piercing studio owned by queer transgender couple Jesse Enz and Shane "Seven" Wolfe, who are in their 30s. The couple has enjoyed a great deal of success since they opened their body art studio a year ago, due to the support of the community, Wolfe said.
He echoed what other LGBT Portlanders said they liked about the city, its diversity and open attitude toward people.
"I love Portland because of the diversity and the ability to be open and happy, because there are not a lot of places that you go where people smile at you when you walk down the street," said Wolfe, a piercing artist.
We ended with wine tasting with Laurie Lewis, co-owner of the uber cool lesbian-owned winery Hip Chicks Do Wine in the Industrial district. Lewis is also the mastermind behind Portland’s PDX Urban Wineries, a collaboration of wineries that present wine tours around the city.
Portland spans 145 square miles and is home to nearly 2.1 million people in the metropolitan area, according to the U.S. Census. The urban growth hasn’t hampered Portland’s natural beauty. The city boasts that 37,000 acres of green space that includes 288 parks and 166 miles of trails. It is also home to the oldest international rose testing garden in the U.S., according to Travel Portland. Portland got its roses from Georgiana Pittock, wife of pioneer publisher Henry Pittock. The city’s rose identity was cemented during World War I when European rose growers found Portland to be the perfect place to keep their prize blooms safe from bombs, I learned on a tour of Portland courtesy of Evergreen Escapes.
Portland is an emerging gastronomic paradise, serving up the freshest ingredients from the land and the sea, making innovative concoctions that surprise diners’ taste buds.
Some of the eateries included the quaint Por Que No taqueria, where I grabbed a quick bite for just over $10, and more sophisticated establishments, such as Irving St. Kitchen (sister restaurant to San Francisco’s Town Hall, Salt House, and Anchor and Hope restaurants), Southpark Seafood Restaurant, and Mint/820. Even doughnuts have been made into a delicacy in Portland at Voodoo Doughnut (which my friend and I slipped in before the line quickly grew out the door). I only scratched the surface of Portland’s food scene, but I couldn’t go wrong with any choice I made.
While local foodies are proud of the award-winning chefs that call Portland home, residents boast of cheap eats at any one of its food carts, especially at Potato Champion located at the most popular food truck location, Cartopia, in Southeast Portland on Hawthorne Boulevard at 12th Avenue, locals told the Bay Area Reporter.
Next to food carts, happy hour is the most happening thing in town. As soon as the clock hits noon anyone of Portland’s 32 breweries and plethora of bars and restaurants begin to fill up with locals enjoying handcrafted to imported beverages while socializing.
On my first night in Portland, I met fellow gay travel writer and Portland resident Andrew Collins, editor of Out City , to grab dinner at Mint/820 to see if we could catch out lesbian mixologist and owner Lucy Brennan before we hit the gay nightlife. Brennan wasn’t around, but we couldn’t pass up the drink and food offerings on the menu. Unfortunately, Portland’s lone lesbian bar the Egyptian Room, which became the Weird bar, closed last year leaving lesbians a bit thirsty. Some lesbian parties have popped up at local gay bars, which are thriving.