The Social-Distance-Friendly Travel Guide to Portland
Due to the pandemic, travel during COVID-19 has mostly come to a standstill. Vacations have had to be canceled or postponed. Dream vacations delayed. But just because we can’t travel to far-off locales right now doesn’t mean we can’t do some safe exploring in our own backyards. We’re all guilty of sometimes not knowing our own home cities as well as we could, and the current necessity to stay at home presents the perfect opportunity for a staycation. Stay in a local hotel that’s always caught your eye and then spend a few days visiting local attractions that you’ve never visited and trying out different restaurants. Not only does it support the local hospitality industry — which has suffered significantly during the pandemic — but a staycation lets you discover your city with fresh eyes and fall in love with it all over again.
For residents of Portland, Oregon, this Pacific Northwestern enclave of all things weird and wonderful is just ripe for rediscovering. From checking out that new outdoor art installation to browsing locally made wares at chic boutique stores, Portland’s offerings for urban adventure are never-ending. There’s always a new raved-about restaurant, another trendy single-origin roastery and café popping up just down the street, another craft brewery or experimental bar that your friends say you simply must try. And it’s easy enough to work off all those good eats by hitting the trails of city parks or wilderness spots like Mount Hood, the Columbia River Gorge, or the Oregon Coast.
So, even though we all have to follow local COVID-19 health and safety regulations, and many places from museums to restaurants remain closed for now, there are still ways to explore Portland and its scenic surroundings even during pandemic times. Here’s your guide on how to have a safe, socially distanced staycation in Portland, Oregon.
Where to Stay
Interested in staying in a different neighborhood than you live in to see what the vibe is like there? Fancy crashing at that new fancy hotel you heard was opening near Old Town Chinatown? Or how about checking out that historic outfit on the other side of the river? As a city that thrives on tourism, Portland has accommodations to suit all kinds of budgets and tastes. Here are some top picks for places to stay during your Rose City staycation.
Portland is arguably the epicenter of the tiny house movement, and from tiny house hotels to rental units, the city is crawling with these miniature homes. This light-filled Airbnb rental in the Russell neighborhood of Northeast Portland offers the perfect escape, with a white-washed wood interior and cute décor touches like a ceiling hammock that connects the upstairs bed and loft areas. It comes with its own bathroom and amenities including heating and Wi-Fi. The owner has also specified that special care is taken to thoroughly clean and disinfect The S’more after each guest.
Bringing its signature mid-century modern aesthetic to a hundred-year-old building in Old Town Chinatown, the U.K.-based Hoxton chain opened its first West Coast outpost here in the Rose City in 2018. With 119 plush rooms where you can relax with a good book from the famous Powell’s City of Books right up the street, co-working and communal spaces, two restaurants, and a secretive speakeasy bar, plus easy access to nearby attractions and restaurants in Chinatown, the Pearl, and downtown, The Hoxton Portland has everything you need for a staycation. And, even though it’s still relatively new to the area, it has immediately become part of the community, helping support those in need during this difficult year by offering special rates and even housing evacuees during the September wildfires.
McMenamins Kennedy School
If you’re looking for a taste of Portland’s notorious “weird” vibe, look no further than McMenamins. This PNW chain restores historic buildings and properties and gives them new life as delightful, quirky hotels, restaurants, and brewpubs; the brand also operates a craft brewery and winery. Their Kennedy School location in artsy Northeast Portland is housed in an old elementary school, so its King and Queen rooms have school and literature-themed interiors. There are also restaurants, bars, a heated soaking pool, and entertainment spaces for screening films or listening to music.
What to Eat
As with restaurants across the country, most PDX restaurants have pivoted to take-out or delivery services in lieu of dine-in. Many have also outfitted their patios or street fronts for increased outdoor dining. So there are still ways to experience Portland’s famous foodie scene. And to-go cocktails were recently legalized, so you can also enjoy a quality craft cocktail along with your meal.
To start off the day, head to Pip’s Donuts & Chai for something savory, or grab a to-go breakfast sando from Fried Egg I’m In Love. If you’re missing the classic brunch experience, Olympia Provisions offers a decadent weekend brunch at their SE Division Public House location. And if you don’t want to leave your hotel room, order in a Brunch Box from Lazy Susan, which features brunch staples with multicultural twists courtesy of rotating collabs with other local restaurants like Eem.
One great way to try a wide variety of cuisines in a socially distanced manner is to hit up Portland’s epic food trucks and food pods. Located outside, dining at a food pod is a safer option COVID-wise. On SE Hawthorne, Matt’s BBQ Tacos slings stuffed breakfast and BBQ tacos on house-made tortillas. At downtown’s Stretch The Noodle, traditional Chinese noodles are literally made and stretched right in front of you. Many food carts have creative fusion offerings, like newcomer Nacheaux with its Cajun-Mexican offerings. A diversity of Latin American cuisines can be found at Portland Mercado, and superb sushi is dished out at Yoshi’s Sushi. Really, any kind of food you want, you can find it at a Portland food cart.
While many places in Portland do offer delivery through apps like Caviar and Postmates, this is a hospitality-driven city and locals know the importance of supporting their local faves, especially during this difficult time. So instead of supporting a third-party app, whose fees gobble up much-needed profit from struggling restaurants, support a local delivery service like CCC PDX, a bike delivery service that partners with many popular restaurants. And above all, don’t forget to tip well!
What to Do
Lots of business and conventional attractions like museums are closed to the public due to COVID, but there’s still plenty to do in and around Portland, especially in the realm of outdoor adventure.
One unique way to experience Portland’s blend of wilderness and urban living is by kayaking along the Willamette River through the heart of the city. Alder Creek offers kayak, canoe, and SUP rentals at different locations around Portland. Washington Park and Forest Park offer miles of socially distanced paths, and Sauvie Island near the confluence of the Columbia and Willamette Rivers is a blissful haven for cycling, walking, and, in the right season, picking berries and wildflowers. You can also find abundant wildlife like migratory birds and natural scenery at nearby wildlife preserves like Smith and Bybee Wetlands and the Tualatin River National Wildlife Refuge.
Heading out of town, you can visit the newly reopened Eagle Creek Trail in the Columbia River Gorge, visiting a beautiful area of waterfalls and verdant forests that has been closed since 2017 due to a wildfire. To avoid the crowds at Mount Hood, instead, head to Tillamook State Forest to tackle great trails through old-growth forests. The Elk Mountain and Wilson River trails are especially scenic.
There are also ample virtual events you can try out. Many wineries in the Willamette and Tualatin Valleys offer virtual wine tastings, as well as in-town wine shops like Pairings Portland. Renowned teamaker Smith Teamaker offers online tea tastings and classes. And another good reason to follow the Instagrams of Portland’s top chefs (besides the drool-worthy food pictures); many offer IGTV or livestreamed cooking classes.