For years, my former boss at South Florida Gay News would rave about Portland, Oregon. He loved the free-spirited nature of the community as well as the abundance of outdoor activities available outside the city. After years of seeing Norm and other friends post breathtaking photos on social media, I thought it was time to give Portland a try.
When I first arrived, I got the feeling that I was in a smaller version of Seattle, but as I spent time in Portland, I quickly discovered that it had a life of its own. I did however speak to some locals and they told me the city has been going through a bit of an identity crisis as of late as they try to compete with Seattle’s economic boom, mostly driven by Amazon and other tech firms. But, why try to be Seattle? Just be Portland.
The entire downtown area is pretty much walkable, with many of the city’s main attractions located within a few miles of each other. What was obvious from the start were the abundance of rainbow flags scattered throughout the city. I think it’s safe to say that Portland may have the highest concentration of rainbow flags per capita than any city I have visited thus far.
My first stop in Portland was The Oregon Jewish Museum and Center for Holocaust Education. Being of Jewish decent, I found it fascinating that this particular attraction would be located in Portland. I wasn’t aware of the city’s extensive Jewish community. The museum explores the legacy of the Jewish experience in Oregon and teaches the universal lessons of the Holocaust. The museum features rotating exhibitions that showcase Jewish contributions to world culture, issues of Jewish identity, and the forces of prejudice. They also offer an extensive program of films, lectures, and concerts throughout the year, which cover a wide range of topics relating to Jewish art, culture, and heritage.
Not too far away is Lan Su Chinese Garden, one of Portland’s greatest treasures and a very interesting site to visit. The garden came about as a result of a collaboration between the cities of Portland and Suzhou, China. Lan Su was built by Chinese artisans from Suzhou and is one the most authentic Chinese gardens outside of China. Once inside the garden’s walls, you’ll feel as if you’ve traveled through time. The garden’s name can be loosely interpreted as Garden of Awakening Orchids. If you have time, visit the Teahouse to enjoy a cup of Chinese oolong paired with an assortment of steamed dumplings or noodles.
Portland has no shortage of gay bars and clubs, but as I was told by a local member of the community, it is surprising there aren’t even more options given the high LGBT population in the region. The main establishments in the area include: Scandal’s, Crush, Local Lounge, Silverado, Eagle, CC Slaughter’s and Stag. I’d research each before you visit so you can determine which venue you’ll enjoy the most.
I decided to stay at the Hampton Inn & Suites, located in the Pearl District neighborhood, mostly for its location, but also for the complimentary breakfast and Wi-Fi. The rooms were nicely furnished but the standouts of the hotel are definitely the rooftop patio with panoramic views of the city and Mt. Hood, a fully-equipped fitness center, and indoor pool. The fairly new property is also located within steps of wonderful restaurants, boutiques and art galleries, so I would highly recommend it especially if you have never been to Portland. The Pearl District was formerly a neglected corridor of abandoned warehouses and railways, but in recent years, it has been revitalized and quite trendy.
About a mile walk from the hotel is the Portland Art Museum. Founded in 1892, the museum is one of the oldest art museums in the country and the oldest in the Pacific Northwest. The museum boasts a collection of over 42,000 objects reflecting the history of art from ancient times to today. I loved the galleries featuring Asian and Native American art. If you have a chance, try to find works from Modern Masters including Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, Pierre Auguste Renoir, and Edgar Degas as well as contemporary pop artist Roy Lichtenstein.
During my stay in the city, the museum presented The Shape of Speed: Streamlined Automobiles and Motorcycles, 1930–1942, a special exhibition which featured rare streamlined automobiles and motorcycles. The concept of streamlining began in the 1930s and extending until the beginning of the World War II. Automotive designers were encouraged by the confluence of aircraft design with the sleek shapes of fast railroad locomotives.
Everybody knows I have a fascination with wine and the outdoors, so why not combine the two? That’s exactly what Evergreen Escapes did with their Columbia Gorge Waterfalls and Wine Tour. The six-hour guided tour will take you outside the city on a scenic drive with multiple stops along the way at some of the area’s most beautiful waterfalls and hidden gems. We began out tour after lunch at the Columbia Gorge National Scenic Area. Surrounded by towering basalt cliffs and other fascinating rock formations, this area really showcases Portland’s natural beauty. There are Instagram moments around every corner. We were able to hike all the way to the base of the falls, and being that it was a weekday tour, the crowds were very minimal.
After visiting 3 of the area’s parks, the tour continues with some wonderful Columbia River Gorge wine tasting. We stopped at two vineyards and sampled nearly a dozen wines along the way. Cathedral Ridge and Wy’East Vineyards both had a unique ambiance and variation of wines. My personal favorite however was the 2015 Dampier Pinot Noir at Cathedral Ridge.
Portland offers a wonderful variety of activities ranging from art and culture to nightlife and adventure, truly something for everyone. I was also told of a gay beach located about 45-minutes outside the city along the Pacific coast. Unfortunately, I didn’t have time to visit on this particular trip, but there’s always a next time.
Enjoy the Journey!
Joey Amato is the publisher of Pride Journeys, a website dedicated to LGBT travel. Joey has spent over a decade in LGBT media and public relations and currently resides in Nashville, Tennessee. He can be reached at [email protected]