I just finished living in Portland for about six weeks. Now I’m in Seattle. I’m experimenting with living in different West Coast cities for a few weeks at a time — maybe I’ll choose one of them as a place to live in the future.
I visited Portland once for a about a week a few years ago (attending a conference for work), and I really liked it. Now that I’ve had a few more weeks to explore, these are my impressions.
- Beautiful, lush, green trees and plants everywhere
- Good public transportation
- Easy biking
- Lots of coffee shops with free Wi-Fi
- Health conscious choices everywhere (vegan, gluten-free, local, organic)
- Friendly people
- The “Portlandia” culture
Lush and green everywhere
It rains a lot here, as everyone knows, so that means that everything grows! There are so many trees, parks, flowers, and more, and I just happened to be here when all the spring blossoms were out. There are a lot of parks and it’s very pleasant to bike around the tree-filled neighborhoods.
Good public transportation
I’m living car-free, so I rely on good public transportation. I’m was staying the east side (Southeast for 2 weeks and Northeast for 4 weeks), so I’ve been using the buses from time to time. I found that they came often and got me downtown quickly. I use an app on my iPhone that shows me when the next bus is coming.
The app is called Smart Ride and it works in several different cities, including Portland. I like how it works, and since it contains so many different cities, I don’t have to get used to a different local transportation app in each place where I’m living. I’ve used it in Boston, San Francisco, Los Angeles, and now Portland.
I also rode the streetcar and trolley (when I was downtown) and found that very easy, too. One thing I really like is that in downtown, many of the stops have live arrival times posted on electronic signs. I’ve never seen that in Boston!
I used to ride my bike to work almost every day when I lived in Boston (except during rain and snow). I enjoyed it and that’s one thing I’ve really been missing during my location-flexible adventures. So as soon as I got to Portland I looked into bike rentals.
Local bike shops charge about $150/week to rent a bike, so instead I looked on Spinlister, a site where local people rent out their bikes. I got very lucky and found a super-nice person who rented me his bike for the whole six weeks for about $150! He even delivered it to me, gave me a helmet and lock, and the bike came with a bucket strapped to the luggage rack to carry things in.
My Airbnb hosts at both places I stayed were kind enough to let me store the bike indoors, so it didn’t have to be locked outside, getting wet on all those rainy days.
I didn’t ride it during the rainy days, but there were many nice days when I used it a lot. It was especially nice to have for extending my range compared to walking, because my ankle was still stiff from the ankle-break last November. Walking was painful at the beginning of the six weeks, though now it’s a little bit better.
Portland is fairly flat in most areas, especially where I was staying (near 28th and Burnside), so it was very easy to bike around. Also, I’ve never seen so many bike racks! In Boston I used to lock my bike to street signs often, since there weren’t enough racks. And sometimes every street sign for blocks would have bikes attached. I’ve never done that here because there are loads of bike racks everywhere.
I’ve been a Zipcar member for a few years now, but I haven’t been using it much recently since it’s kind of expensive and you have to bring the car back to the same place you picked it up from. Often for a short trip where a car is needed, a taxi would end up being cheaper. For longer trips (a few days in Vermont), a traditional rental car is cheaper.
I first heard about Car2Go when I was in San Diego back in early March. I saw all these little SmartCars parked everywhere and then I happened to walk by the Car2Go office, so I stopped in for more information. When I learned that it was available in several cities (with one membership), including San Diego, Portland, and Seattle, I decided to join. There is a one-time fee of $35 (unlike the yearly membership fee for Zipcar).
The really cool thing about Car2Go is that you can do one-way trips and leave the car at any legal street parking spot within city limits! That makes it incredibly useful for short trips. Not having to bring it back makes it easy to do trips involving more than one kind of transport – some combination of walking, biking, car, and bus. It’s great!
I’ve used it a few times in Portland and found it extremely convenient. When a friend from Boston came to visit, we used it to drive around and explore neighborhoods on rainy day. It really makes not owning a car very easy.
So many coffee shops with free Wi-Fi
In Boston, many coffee shops charge for Wi-Fi. Only a few have it for free, and they usually limit access to an hour or so. It’s not that way in Portland (or in LA and San Diego). Every coffee shop that I’ve been in (and that’s a lot!), and also most restaurants, seem to have completely free Wi-Fi. It’s great!
I enjoy working with my laptop in different coffee shops at different times of day, for a change of pace, and to get out of the house. Portland has SO MANY great coffee shops, with lots of seating, outlets, good food, and good Wi-Fi. I don’t drink coffee (only tea), so I can’t comment on the coffee quality, but Portland is known for having great coffee.
One day, while I was working in Bare Bones Cafe, I got into a conversation with the person next to me. He runs a site that reviews coffee shops for people who use them to get work done on laptops. It’s called “Workfrom” and it covers only Portland for now, but has plans to cover other cities, such as Seattle, San Francisco, Los Angeles, Austin, and New York. I think this is a great idea! His site is very useful and you can browse the coffee shops by various qualities, such as fast Wi-Fi, plenty of seating, food available, and low background noise.
Each entry has multiple photos, and lots of information about the hours, food, nearby places, and more. Here’s an entry for one of my favorite places, Crema Coffee and Bakery.
Health-conscious food choices everywhere
I’m vegetarian and prefer to eat gluten-free, and I love that it’s so easy to eat this way in Portland! Just about every single coffee shop or restaurant I’ve been to has vegan and gluten-free options – there are so many choices!
The only problem with this is that I was tempted to eat more sugary treats (cookies, brownies, etc.), just because they were vegan and gluten-free. Back when I didn’t eat anything made with flour and sugar at all, it was much easier to keep the extra weight off. It’s hard to resist so many yummy treats everywhere, including gluten-free pizza. So it’s both a blessing and a curse, as they say. I enjoyed it, but now I need to cut back!
Luckily, there were many other healthy choices for food. My favorite place to eat was Harlow — a completely gluten-free vegan restaurant (with the addition of eggs for those who want them). I had lunch or dinner there several times, and they have great Wi-Fi, lots of seating, and you order at the counter and sit where you like. I loved their super-greens lemonade, various kinds of bowls with kale, veggies, beans, and yummy sauces, and actually I loved everything there. On cool rainy days I had their warm matcha green tea made with coconut milk — I fell in love with this drink — so tasty and comforting on a rainy day. It’s healthy, too!
Another good option for eating at home was the little rice cooker I bought on Amazon. It was only $15, and it has a steamer basket for the top layer, so you can easily make rice and steamed veggies. If you don’t want rice, you can put water in the rice bowl and just use the steamer. Some of my favorite cheap, healthy meals involve different combinations of rice or potatoes or yams, beans or nuts, steamed veggies, and a little bit of toasted seasame oil and pink salt.
People in Portland seem to be especially friendly. Everyone I met who worked in stores and coffee shops, was conversational and super-friendly. I also met some friends of friends, and someone I formerly knew only virtually, and had a great time hanging out with them! My good friend David, who lives in San Francisco, has a sister who lives in Portland and I had only met her once before, when we were all visiting New York. She was fun to hang out with and spent time showing me around different neighborhoods. The other person was a fellow librarian who I only knew only virtually from Twitter (she was often retweeting me). I contacted her to see if she wanted to meet in person, and she spent a whole Sunday showing me around other parts of Portland, using public transportation. It was really fun!
Since I’m staying in Airbnb short-term rentals, sometimes I meet the hosts and have fun with them. The host of the first place I stayed, Anesa, invited me out for tea and conversation one day — she was fun and interesting! The host of the second place where I stayed, Dan, was also really fun to chat with about his world travels. He was living downstairs, so we had conversations a few times. Both of these hosts made me feel welcome in Portland and were part of what makes it so fun to stay in Airbnb locations.
To top that, the person who rented me his bike on Spinlister (see above), invited me on a day-long bike ride to Oregon City with another friend of his. Tim and his friend Gregory were really fun to talk with and ride with. We found that we had a lot in common and discussed everything from politics, to travel, to biking, and more.
So I had a lot of fun with people in Portland!
People say that the comedy TV show, “Portlandia,” even though it’s a satire, is very true to life! I had only seen a couple of episodes on Netflix, and wasn’t that into it, but since I was in Portland, I decided to watch a couple of episodes. When my friend from Boston was visiting, we Googled “best Portlandia episodes” and found a couple of funny ones to watch, after our day of exploring. It was fun to watch right after going to the famous Voodoo Donut and visiting food trucks.
We also found out that there is a Simpsons episode that makes fun of Portland hipster culture. That was the most funny of all! It’s the episode called, “The Day the Earth Stood Cool.” Check out some clips in this article: “On the Simpsons, Hipsters Take Over Springfield With Artisanal Donuts, Farmers Markets, and Food Carts.”
I really don’t mind the so-called hipster culture. Probably because I’m too old to worry about being cool. Many of the hipster culture things (like birds on everything), are things that I’ve seen in hipster neighborhoods everywhere, including Boston, Cambridge, and Somerville.
So will I live here someday?
Well, actually, I don’t think so. In spite of all the cool things about it, I’m looking forward to being in a bigger city (like Seattle or Vancouver). I tend to like big cities (I liked Mexico City better than Oaxaca, for example). And I really enjoyed my time in LA back in February.
Portland is a bit smaller, and it’s very nice, and many people I met described it as “easy” or “manageable.” But somehow, it doesn’t strike a chord with me — maybe if I lived downtown or in the Pearl District, I would get that urban feel, but that could be expensive. I don’t know why, but the nice “close-in” residential neighborhoods felt almost too suburban for me. They were actually very nice, with interesting houses, close together, lots of trees, and easy walking and biking. I can see that they would be great for families with kids, and people with cars. But that’s not me. So right now I’m exploring Seattle and I plan to stay here from May through at least September. I’m looking forward to it!