Upon arriving in Portland, we were immediately informed that most people visit the city for three reasons: to eat/drink, enjoy the outdoors, and evaluate the location’s livability before moving there. While we aren’t really looking to settle down anywhere in the US right now, we definitely thought we would give the first two a go.
When it comes to food, Portland has a pretty sweet way of doing things. Essentially it’s a food cart craze, in which abandoned parking lots have become hubs of innovative edibles. These food cart villages give rising culinary hopefuls a chance to showcase their ideas without having to open up a fixed establishment. Restaurants also have the opportunity to test drive their creative cuisines before going full-scale, and parking lot owners gain the rental fee from the carts themselves. Foodies, or just cheap travelers like ourselves, get to try awesome, independent and innovative food at an affordable price.
We first headed to Cartopia, where the food options range from wood-fired pizza to lemon and sugar crepes to Canadian-style fries covered in gravy and cheese curds. We especially enjoyed our Whiffie, a fried pie filled with chocolate and peanut butter. These food carts can be found all over the city, with one of the largest ones operating in the downtown business area during lunch hours. Here you’ll find one of the most famous carts of all, Nong’s Khao Man Gai. As the name suggests, this Thai restaurant only makes Khao Man Gai, a chicken and rice dish. Nong’s stays open until they run out—which normally isn’t very long.
Of course, if you’re not too hungry, Portland is also known for its microbrews and coffee, easily found all over the city.
When it comes to the great outdoors, Portland has a few options. There’s the 4 T Trail Loop Hike, an afternoon’s worth of trail hiking that also brings you on the tram, train, and trolley. This is a great option for exploring a little more of the city itself. There is also the Forest Park, which includes 70 miles of hiking trails. We opted for Washington Park, where we partook in a hike that lead us through the Rose Gardens, Vietnam Memorial, Japanese Gardens, Rosy the Elephant, and statue commemorating Lewis and Clark’s western expedition. This was all well and good, and the hiking trails were gorgeous, but a little hard to appreciate on a growling stomach. The hike probably would have been much more enjoyable had we eaten before our 3 hour escapade.
We heard throughout our trip that Portland is the West Coast’s version of Asheville. We can see the similar vibes, especially because both cities are very proud of their microbrewery presence. But Portland also gets compared a lot to another city just a few hours away.
We can see this comparison too…maybe. We were only in both cities for a few days, so perhaps to really understand the similarities between Portland vs Seattle we just needed a little bit more time. But from our short experience, this is what we noticed.
While Seattle doesn’t boast the same food cart rage as Portland, it is the founding city of Starbucks. (This isn’t that surprising; with the continuously rainy weather you need an extra cup or two to make up for the lack of sunshine.) There is always a long line outside of the first Starbucks (in Pike Place Market) but live street music makes up for the wait. Of course, you can find more than just Starbucks in the Pike Place Market. This shopping area, which is one of the oldest and continuously operating markets in the US, boasts fishmongers, fruit stalls, antique stores and restaurants.We stayed busy here for a few hours, hording the free samples and browsing the numerous stands while trying to maneuver the crowded streets full of tourists and cruise ship patrons. Keep your eyes open for flying fish, when fish merchants throw their prime cuts across their stalls to the delight of adults and children alike.
When it comes to outdoor activities, specifically hiking, most of the good spots are outside of Seattle. Although we really wanted to check out Mt. Olympic, we just didn’t have the time. But Seattle itself does have plenty of places to go for a stroll and explore, whether it’s downtown near the market, along the waterway or in the Olympic Statue Park.
What Seattle really has that Portland lacks is a tourist attraction. The Space Needle!! We walked within a block of it to snap that must-have tourist picture, but the real views came when our CouchSurfing host chauffeured us to Kerry Park to get a beautiful view of the city, and Space Needle, from afar. Despite the drizzling rain, the sight was gorgeous and well worth the quick trip to the top of the hill.
So when it comes down to Portland vs Seattle, which did we prefer? It was a tough call, but ultimately we preferred Portland. We’re in love with street food, so we just couldn’t get enough of Cartopia. But to really decide, we would have to go back and spend a little more time in both places. Sounds like a good excuse to get back to the West Coast to us!