Twenty reasons to visit Portland

1 Close to nature

One of my criteria for loving a city is how easily I can get out of it. In Portland, hiking trails start 10 minutes from downtown via light rail. A little further, Forest Park has more than 100 kilometres of walking tracks. Less than an hour away is Willamette Valley for wine tasting, or the Clackamas River for rafting and tubing. In two hours, you can be skiing (year-round) at Mount Hood, or swimming at Cannon Beach on the wild Oregon coast. A favourite weekend activity among locals is to drive 40 minutes to Multnomah Falls and go for a walk with views of Columbia River Gorge. travelportland.com.

2 Distillery hopping

It's perfectly acceptable to drink straight rum at 10am in Portland, as long as you're sampling the handcrafted spirits at one of its new micro-distilleries. In the past two or three years, independent producers (usually a couple of drinking buddies) have set up on the east side, making their own liquor. Buy a Distillery Row Passport for $US20 ($19) to receive tastings of the entire range at five venues within walking distance of each other. Don't miss House Spirits, which makes the world-renowned Aviation Gin, and New Deal's flavoured vodkas. Also included are a winery and a cider bar, a short bus ride away. distilleryrowtours.com.

3 Craft brew capital

Portland has 51 breweries and more brew-pubs per capita than anywhere in the US. Combined with daily happy hours and beer festivals held almost every week in summer, this good-time town lives up to its "Beervana" nickname. Bailey's Taproom and Apex have real-time monitors displaying the level of each keg. Sidebar, on North Williams Avenue, showcases barrel-aged beers, and Cascade Brewing, on Belmont Street, specialises in sours. For a fun setting, McMenamins has converted a primary school into a pub, which also houses a music hall, a $US3 cinema and a cigar lounge in the old detention room.

4 The weird and wonderful

There's no denying many residents have eccentric tendencies. Apart from a prevalence of tattoos and creative fashion, Portland has the coin-operated 24 Hour Church of Elvis, (pictured below) and the World Naked Bike Ride. At the Peculiarium, visitors can try an ice-cream sundae sprinkled with insects. Be careful not to trip over Mills End Park, on the median strip of South-West Naito Parkway. Measuring 61 centimetres across, this patch of greenery is listed by Guinness World Records as the smallest park in the world.

5 Fifty Shades of Grey

In the best-selling erotic novel, the steamy scenes take place in Portland's Heathman Hotel - in the bar, elevators and dining room. The hotel, which is mentioned 19 times in the three-book series, has a range of themed packages that cost up to $US2750. A low-budget option is its Fifty Shades of Gin cocktail. portland.heathmanhotel.com.

6 Stripparoke

Proving further that this is one saucy city, Portland is also known as "Pornland" due to its large number of fantasy stores and strip clubs. However, these are no ordinary establishments. One of the clubs serves only vegan food and the dancers are not allowed to wear (or remove) animal-based clothing. On Sunday nights, Devils Point incorporates karaoke. At this female-friendly "stripparoke", you sing while the girls dance. Often dressed in costumes matching your song choice, the talented strippers are very good-humoured. And yes, they do get naked. devilspoint.net.

7 Food carts

People may tell you to go to Voodoo Doughnut, but skip the sugar and grab some street food instead. Portland invented the concept of food carts before it became cool, so there are entire blocks lined with vans selling everything from cheeseburger dumplings to apple-pie crepes. Hot spots include Built to Grill and Nong's Khao Man Gai. Make a day of it and have breakfast at Brunch Box, a healthy lunch at The Whole Bowl and dinner at Fonzi's Bakabana Cabana.

8 Powell's City of Books

Powell's, on West Burnside, is the largest used and new bookstore in the world. Customers are provided with a map, and it can get so busy that the queue to use the bathroom is 15 minutes long. In a bookshop. Nine colour-coded rooms, divided into 3500 sections, are stocked with more than a million volumes, including out-of-print titles. The Espresso Book Machine, in the purple room, enables authors to self-publish their work at the push of a button. Browse, buy, sell your old books or have a coffee. powells.com.

9 Finding Portlandia

Fans of Portlandia need no other reason to visit Portland than to seek out the locations of this comedy sketch show. The cafe where Peter and Nancy inquire about the history and emotional status of the chicken on the menu is the Gilt Club. The lesbian-run bookshop is In Other Words. "Whose Dog Is This?" was filmed at Firehouse, and The Deuce is actually the Ace Hotel. Go for a walk along Eastbank Esplanade where the cast sang The Dream of the '90s, describing this magical land where young people go to retire.

10 Cheap transport

The city's free zone came to a screeching halt in September but getting around is still affordable. A one-day pass costs $US5 for adults and $US2 for seniors ($US3.30 for kids), allowing unlimited travel on the buses, streetcar and MAX light rail, even to and from the airport. trimet.org.

11 The 4T Trail

For an overview from all angles, the 4T (trail, tram, trolley and train) starts with a walk through a forest to the city's highest point, Council Crest, then descends by cable car, known as the Portland Aerial Tram. Exiting at the South Waterfront, you then jump on the streetcar (trolley) and ride downtown, where you catch the MAX back to your hotel. A great half-day out. 4t-trail.org.

12 Tax-free shopping

Oregon is one of five US states with no sales tax, so you can save on items that are already cheaper than in Australia. Downtown has all the big names such as Macy's and Nordstrom. The Pearl District and Nob Hill are best for boutiques and gifts. Portland Saturday Market is good for art, jewellery and live music. Vintage-clothing enthusiasts will love the many second-hand outlets in unusual settings, such as former school buses and 1960s caravans.

13 Urban wineries

Oregon is famous for its pinot noir, and the state's wine country is within an hour's drive of the capital, but even this convenience is superseded by the wineries in Portland's neighbourhoods. At these tiny sites, they crush the grapes, make the wine and label the bottles. Hip Chicks Do Wine is run by a couple of women in a warehouse in the backstreets of the industrial south-east. Tastings are offered to the public daily (for a small fee). At weekends, an association of eight "urban wineries" also holds events, tours and tastings. pdxurbanwineries.com.

14 Washington Park

On more than 160 hectares, this wonderful park comprises Oregon Zoo, the exquisite Japanese Garden, museums, an amphitheatre, archery range, tennis courts, soccer fields and picnic areas. It's also home to the nation's oldest public rose test garden, which offers a great outlook over the city and the Cascade Range mountains. washingtonparkpdx.org.

15 Restaurants with bars

Portland's diverse food scene is exceptional, with a focus on fresh local produce. The coolest venues combine dining with a cocktail bar in a striking space. Oven and Shaker is a partnership between an award-winning chef, bartender and restaurateur, serving ridiculously good wood-fired pizzas and ingredient-driven cocktails. Irving Street Kitchen does a tasty brunch, including a nine-hour slow-cooked pork belly that comes with waffles, fried egg and smoked maple syrup. The sublime meals and atmosphere, however, are best in the evenings. ovenandshaker.com and irvingstreetkitchen.com.

16 Portland City Grill

In my five months of living in this city, the most memorable dinner experience was at Portland City Grill. Every course, every staff member, the view and the ambience were faultless. I can still taste the kung pao calamari (it goes through 300 kilograms a week) and the 100 per cent Dungeness crab cakes. This landmark, on the 30th floor of the pink US Bancorp building, is a must. Happy hours (4-7pm, 9pm-close, all day Sunday) are crazy value, with dishes priced from $US4 and cocktails for $US5. portlandcitygrill.com.

17 Rooftop views

To look down at the Willamette River, the ice-capped Mount Hood and Mount St Helens, get up on a roof. The best open-air vantage points are Departure, a lounge and Asian restaurant on top of the Nines hotel, and Noble Rot wine bar. Portland City Grill has the best view behind glass. departureportland.com and noblerotpdx.com.

18 Bike the bridges

Consistently ranked as the US's top city for cyclists, Portland is riddled with bike lanes and streets designated bike-friendly. Bicycles are allowed on the MAX and even the local buses have bike racks. A bike valet service is offered at the foot of the Aerial Tram. Hire a bike and criss-cross the Broadway, Steel, Burnside and Hawthorne bridges over the Willamette River. bikeportland.org.

19 Lan Su Chinese Garden

Escape to this quiet corner of Chinatown and head for the tea house in the Tower of Cosmic Reflections. Choose from the extensive collection of Chinese teas, try some mung bean moon cake and enjoy live traditional music at lunchtime. Tours, talks and art exhibitions are also held in these beautiful gardens. lansugarden.org.

20 Hotel deLuxe

The only hotel on the MAX line, deLuxe is ideally positioned. Walking distance to the city centre and the hip Pearl District, this boutique property pays tribute to the golden era of Hollywood, with decor devoted to films of the 1930s to '50s. Be sure to have breakfast in the elegant Gracie's and finish your day in the dark and mysterious Driftwood Room bar (happy hours are 2pm-6.30pm and 9.30pm-midnight). hoteldeluxeportland.com.

The story Twenty reasons to visit Portland first appeared on The Sydney Morning Herald.

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