Portland. Land of myth and barley. A brewing utopia so foundational to the Craft Beer Renaissance that its breweries and brewpubs are known even to those who have never been: Rogue, Deschutes, Cascade, Upright, Breakside and many, many others.
I try to make it down at least once a year, if not more, and strongly suggest that anyone seriously interested in craft beer do the same. If someone decides that brewing beer with cat fur is the next hot thing, that decision will be made in Portland.
So, let’s breakdown my most recent, most epic trip to date, item by item, with tips, tricks, and recommendations. Below you’ll see some product recommendations from me for non-brewery services. I have received absolutely zero promotional consideration for anything written here; I’m just sharing services that I’ve used with great success in PDX. For a change of pace, let’s start off by talking about everything BUT the beer, and focusing on things I actually like.
I’ve written about this before, but of the four main options for Vancouver to Portland conveyance, the train wins my vote most every time. Read the link for more details and options. About the only update is that all modes of transport are slightly more expensive now, and the train now has free WiFi, allowing you to work remotely on your way down instead of burning a vacation day.
Hotels in Portland are freaking pricy. AirBnB offers a bit of relief, but there are less options; plus, your booking might just up and cancel on you three weeks before your trip, as happened to me once.
When in PDX, I generally stay at the Hotel Vintage, downtown. It’s a nice enough hotel, and they have a complimentary wine hour every day from 5-6pm. However, given the quality of the wine I’d say they’re only taking a modest loss at the price of $0.00 per glass. Beyond that, there’s nothing too special about this place vs other similarly priced spots.
Avoid the Ace, which is overpriced and a fairly loud party hotel (unless that’s your thing), and avoid the Benson unless uniformed bellhops holding out their hands for tips is your thing.
Generally, I like to stay downtown around Broadway/Burnside as it’s central to most of my destinations, and makes Bailey’s Taproom my local. Most of the great breweries are east of the river, so if visiting those will be your focus, definitely consider AirBnB and a bike rental on the right bank.
Pro-tip: When browsing hotel and travel sites, by the way, do so in Incognito/Private mode on your browser. To create a sense of urgency, the sites will show a widget with something like “Only 2 seats left!” and, if you keep coming back to gawk at the same seats, that number will go down and the price will go up. Clear your cookies, or look at the site via Incognito, and the price/counter will often reset.
Most cellular providers offer a cheap-ish daily plan for the US, but nothing beats the deals you can get by unlocking your phone and buying a SIM just for travel. If you travel a lot, pick up an off-contract plan from one of the US providers. If you only dabble occasionally, check out US travel-focused providers.
Roam Mobility is your best bet for short term, travel-focused plans on unlocked phones. CDN$4 a day gets you unlimited phone, text and 400MB of daily data usage. You can even change your number to a PDX area code for free in about 15 minutes.
Car2Go is also available in Portland, and your card/smartphone app works just as it would up here. Rates are the same, just in USD, but the parking rules are slightly different. Importantly you CAN park at metered spots in PDX, and CANNOT park in residential permit spots.
Car2Go is fine for getting to the brewery, but for getting back to your hotel I recommend having someone else drive. When it comes to a vehicle you can safely nap in the back of, you have three Portland choices: transit, cabs, and Uber.
Transit isn’t so bad if you’re on one of the main street car lines, but the extended bus network will remind you that this isn’t Vancouver. Love or hate Translink, the bus frequency in Vancouver proper is pretty good. Less so in Portland. Fares are $2.50 for a 150 minute pass, or just $1 for a streetcar-only fare.
Cabs are friendly and cheap, but are not incredibly reliable outside the downtown core, even when you call them (and forget about flagging one down). I once stood outside Belmont Station for 90 minutes in February waiting for a cab that was “just around the corner” the entire time. When they do show up, though, the fare is typically about 2/3 what you’d expect from a similar Vancouver fare.
Why take a cab when you can Uber, though? Uber and Lyft are currently coming up on the end of a 120 day trial in Portland, but sentiment is that the trial will be made permanent. Stories of Uber drivers barely able to pay for gas aside, the ability to flag and track a ride from your iPhone makes my inner moral compass stop working. The ~33% discount off the already-chreap cab fares (and no-tipping policy) didn’t hurt either.
If you’re looking to sign up, get a friend to give you their referral code so you both benefit. If you don’t have any friends (and, let’s face it, you don’t) you can use mine (uberbarleymowat). I promise to promptly reinvest all transit-related savings from this into the local brewery scene.
Somehow, people in Portland can build a bike lane without all the rural folks losing their shit. Or, maybe they still do and we just don’t see it. In any event, there are bike lanes everywhere, and the city is basically prairie-flat compared to Vancouver.
Some AirBnBs come with complimentary bikes, as do some hotels (include the Vintage), but bringing your own is probably the best bet. If you’re not driving, you can always bring a bike onto the train for $5 in ready-to-ride condition, or box it up and check it as luggage for free.
That’s it for the non-eating/drinking parts. Come back next week for updates on all my favourite breweries/bars, and a couple new spots.