Portland, Seattle Offers Funky, Hip Time for Tourists
Make a cool escape to the Pacific Northwest's Portland and Seattle, two cities that invite travelers to chill along the water be it lake, ocean, or river or explore the great outdoors in the wide open forests, hang out at a local coffee shop, or groove to the new sounds.
Portland, Oregon and Seattle, Washington both have reputations for being creatively "weird" in a way that residents have embraced and tout, but at the same time the cities are emerging as cultural centers, displaying a sophisticated edge without the attitude.
To be blunt, these cities offer urban and outdoor adventures at travelers' fingertips without the stress.
Songstress k.d. lang was so charmed by Portland that she claimed the City of Roses as her home earlier this year.
Lang is already settling in and supporting local causes. In October, she will perform at a benefit for Share Our Strength's No Kid Hungry campaign produced by openly lesbian executive chef Sarah Schafer of Irving St. Kitchen.
Schafer, who serves up her dishes with love and passion, anticipates 120 people will attend the exclusive fundraiser to enjoy the delicacies she produces from the kitchen along with samplings of some of Portland and Washington's best wines.
Portland's queer community is fully integrated into the city; there is no gayborhood to speak of, but no matter what neighborhood LGBT travelers explore there are gay businesses that are thriving. Being LGBT is so accepted that raising the familiar rainbow flag rarely happens in the city.
June through the beginning of August is the queerest time in Portland. Everyone is out and proud celebrating Pride from the traditional to individual groups (BearTown, Latino Pride, and Leather Pride) to the newly launched Queer Music Festival - now in its second year. Still looking to get in on the rainbowtainment? Head on up to Portland for Leather Pride on August 3-12 or enjoy the fall season at the Lesbian and Gay Film Festival or the Imperial Sovereign Rose Court's Coronation Ball in October. In April, Portlanders paint the town red with the wildly popular annual Red Dress Party, and in May they get real with QDoc, the Queer Documentary Film Festival.
LGBT travelers can easily take an international weekend side trip from Seattle or Portland to Vancouver, Canada for Vancouver Pride (http://www.vancouverpride.ca) on August 5. Just don't leave your passport at home.
No need to drive or fly. Amtrak Cascades is a beautiful and easy ride from Portland to Seattle all the way up to Vancouver.
Portland is known for its roses and famed Rose Festival, a three-week event from Memorial Day weekend through mid-June, but the Rose City hosts a plethora of festivals from spring through the end of fall, such as the Oregon Brewers Festival, Art in the Pearl, Musicfest NW, Feast Portland: Food and Drink Festival, Wordstock, Portland Cocktail Week, and Portland Jazz Festival to name a few.
I rolled into Portland on the Tri Met from the Portland Airport, a very easy and inexpensive ride, to the funky cool and very gay-friendly Jupiter Hotel. The hotel is located just across the Burnside Bridge, minutes away from downtown Portland and Chinatown, where Darcelle XV Showplace has given Vegas-style drag performances for 45 years.
The Jupiter Hotel offers a Keep Portland Queer package that is an introduction to LGBT sights, as well as discounts and other complimentary gifts in a welcome basket. The hotel also donates 10 percent of the proceeds of guests' hotel stay (who request the package when making a reservation) to the Q Center, Portland's LGBT community center.
The hotel's partnership with Portland's LGBT community is just one example of a team effort between Travel Portland, the Portland Area Business Association, and the Q Center to welcome LGBT travelers to the region. During Portland Pride in June, PABA and Q Center launched a new website http://www.queernw.com to complement Travel Portland's queer travel page and other marketing materials available at the visitor's center in Pioneer Square and the Q Center in the Mississippi Avenue neighborhood, said Barbara McCullough-Jones, executive director of the Q Center and Jill Nelson, president of the PABA.
To get other deals to dine around Portland or see the city's popular sights log on to Travel Portland's website (www.travelportland.com) to get one of five passes that can save up to 30 percent off into the city's biggest attractions from museums to the zoo. Check out Portland Perks to grab up to $600 worth of savings at hotels, restaurants, stores, and more.
Getting around Portland is amazingly easy whether it is by bike - Portland is the most bike-friendly city in America with bike bars and cafes and boulevards that are car free - to public transportation, or even by car if you must. All I had to do was text a code to get up to the minute information about my next bus, streetcar, or Max train (by the way the Max takes riders directly to the Oregon Zoo among other sites). The city, which is divided by the Willamette River, is crossed by a total of 12 different bridges stitching up the city connecting the east and west sides of town.
The one thing that I continued to hear from Portlanders is that the region offers everything anyone can want from an urban center all within an hour. In a single day one can start by enjoying morning surf at the beach, a mountain hike or year-round skiing or snowboarding on Mount Hood, and tour wine country in the Willamette Valley, returning to Portland for dinner at a James Beard Award-winning restaurant.
That is one of the reasons why out bisexual tour guide Kieron Weidner, 32, of EverGreen Escapes decided to settle in Portland. Throughout the day we popped into the Q Center and checked out local LGBT businesses starting on Mississippi Avenue with its artisan shops. We stopped at Jazzkat's Coffee Bar, owned by Whitney Baskins, a 44-year-old lesbian who moved to Portland from San Jose 15 years ago, that is located in the up and coming Hollywood District.
Baskins, the mother of a teenage son, has become a staple in the neighborhood since opening the shop nearly three years ago. Her coffee is roasted by lesbian-owned Blue Kangaroo Coffee Roasters and local artists exhibit their work on the cafe's walls, she said.
Around the corner from Jazzkat's is Ritual Arts, an eco-friendly tattoo and piercing studio owned by queer transgender couple Jesse Enz and Shane "Seven" Wolfe, who are in their 30s. The couple has enjoyed a great deal of success since they opened their body art studio a year ago, due to the support of the community, Wolfe said.
He echoed what other LGBT Portlanders said they liked about the city, its diversity and open attitude toward people.
"I love Portland because of the diversity and the ability to be open and happy, because there are not a lot of places that you go where people smile at you when you walk down the street," said Wolfe, a piercing artist.
We ended with wine tasting with Laurie Lewis, co-owner of the uber cool lesbian-owned winery Hip Chicks Do Wine in the Industrial district. Lewis is also the mastermind behind Portland's PDX Urban Wineries, a collaboration of wineries that present wine tours around the city.
Portland spans 145 square miles and is home to nearly 2.1 million people in the metropolitan area, according to the U.S. Census. The urban growth hasn't hampered Portland's natural beauty. The city boasts that 37,000 acres of green space that includes 288 parks and 166 miles of trails. It is also home to the oldest international rose testing garden in the U.S., according to Travel Portland. Portland got its roses from Georgiana Pittock, wife of pioneer publisher Henry Pittock. The city's rose identity was cemented during World War I when European rose growers found Portland to be the perfect place to keep their prize blooms safe from bombs, I learned on a tour of Portland courtesy of Evergreen Escapes.
Portland is an emerging gastronomic paradise, serving up the freshest ingredients from the land and the sea, making innovative concoctions that surprise diners' taste buds.
Some of the eateries included the quaint Por Que No taqueria, where I grabbed a quick bite for just over $10, and more sophisticated establishments, such as Irving St. Kitchen (sister restaurant to San Francisco's Town Hall, Salt House, and Anchor and Hope restaurants), Southpark Seafood Restaurant, and Mint/820. Even doughnuts have been made into a delicacy in Portland at Voodoo Doughnut (which my friend and I slipped in before the line quickly grew out the door). I only scratched the surface of Portland's food scene, but I couldn't go wrong with any choice I made.
While local foodies are proud of the award-winning chefs that call Portland home, residents boast of cheap eats at any one of its food carts, especially at Potato Champion located at the most popular food truck location, Cartopia, in Southeast Portland on Hawthorne Boulevard at 12th Avenue, locals told the Bay Area Reporter.
Next to food carts, happy hour is the most happening thing in town. As soon as the clock hits noon anyone of Portland's 32 breweries and plethora of bars and restaurants begin to fill up with locals enjoying handcrafted to imported beverages while socializing.
On my first night in Portland, I met fellow gay travel writer and Portland resident Andrew Collins, editor of Out City , to grab dinner at Mint/820 to see if we could catch out lesbian mixologist and owner Lucy Brennan before we hit the gay nightlife. Brennan wasn't around, but we couldn't pass up the drink and food offerings on the menu. Unfortunately, Portland's lone lesbian bar the Egyptian Room, which became the Weird bar, closed last year leaving lesbians a bit thirsty. Some lesbian parties have popped up at local gay bars, which are thriving.
Collins and I opted for Crush, a gay-owned cocktail bar on my list, after touring some of the neighborhoods checking out the nightlife. The quiet bar is modern and charming, with friendly service and definitely has a feminine touch. There wasn't a large wine list to select from, but it did have Prosecco and because it's a cocktail bar it offered a list of concoctions.
The next evening I met up with one of my best friends, who moved to Portland several years ago, for a night out on the town. We were having such a good time enjoying each dish brought to us and catching up on the patio at Irving St. Kitchen that we didn't even notice the rain or how quickly time passed. Like its sister restaurants in San Francisco, Irving St. Kitchen has a modern, casual industrial atmosphere as well a sophisticated menu, signature cocktails, and an extensive wine list that attracts crowds.
After dinner we strolled through several bars checking out different scenes before ending up at the Doug Fir, the adjoining bar and lounge to the Jupiter Hotel, to listen to music and enjoy one last cocktail on my final night in Portland.
The Emerald and Rose cities have an array of indie publications to keep the LGBT community connected. There's a magazine for everyone. Feminists will enjoy the fact that Bay Area-born magazines Bitch and HipMama have called Portland home for at least a decade now and the City of Roses is home to three queer publications. Just Out , the city's longest running LGBT newspaper, shuttered its doors after 30 years at the end of 2011 but was resurrected in April by Jonathan Kipp, who revamped the newspaper into a glossy monthly magazine. PQ Monthly, a news magazine, launched in February to fill the brief void left after Just Out closed. LGBT travel magazine Out City covers the northwest, including Portland and Seattle and Vancouver and Victoria in Canada.
Seattle isn't to be outdone by Portland. It boasts two LGBT publications, the long-running Gay Seattle News and an online news site, http://www.TheSeattleLesbian.com, which started two years ago.
"I love Seattle. I came out to visit and I moved here," said Sarah Toce, a 29-year-old lesbian who is editor in chief of the Seattle Lesbian. Toce gets her best writing done at the city's cafes.
"I really enjoy going out writing with my laptop and drinking my cup of coffee. The coffee is really good here."
Once in Seattle, I headed downtown to the historic train station to meet up with my girlfriend. It was an easy three and a half hour scenic train ride on Amtrak Cascades.
Amtrak books up fast. The trick is to book early to get your assigned seat and pay the cheaper rate if you know you are definitely traveling.
Amtrak is the best way to travel between $28 up to $50 per seat and it beats sitting in five hours of traffic on a freeway for what should be a three-hour drive.
At the train station my girlfriend and I were whisked away to Washington's wine country by openly gay tour guide Dan Salvatora of Evergreen Escapes. Washington is the second largest wine producer in the U.S., nipping at the heels of California's famed Napa and Sonoma counties, Salvatora told us while we cruised across one of the city's floating bridges into the mountains in our Mercedes tour bus (a signature of the tour company). Portland is known for Pinot Noir, Washington boasts of 60 different varietals produced by 800 different wineries, but it's known mostly for Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah, and blends, he said.
After wine tasting we checked into the gay-friendly 9 Cranes Inn a block away from the Woodland Park Zoo in the artsy Phinney Neighborhood. Perched near the top of a hill, our romantic, luxurious room included a deck and spa tub that overlooked Seattle and a gourmet breakfast that got us started for the next day. For a more urban experience, we stayed at the fun, funky and swanky Hotel Max in the heart of downtown Seattle where we easily walked to Pike Place Market, to the monorail to check out the Space Needle and the EMP Museum, and up to Capitol Hill, the gayborhood.
Transportation is easy to navigate and plentiful in Seattle, but the first lesson we learned was not to ask anyone - bell boys to bus drivers - for directions and make sure our smartphone was charged at all times. Unlike other cities where we have often found helpful locals on the streets, in Seattle they were more like the unhelpful magician behind the curtain in Oz. We were often left to figure out our own way until we found non-Seattleites who lived in the area to direct us the first few times we got lost and our smartphone ran out of juice.
Late at night when we weren't in the mood to take public transit or walk, cabs were plentiful. Travelers should be aware that when taking cabs they are responsible for bridge tolls and other zone rates. When we were ready to return to San Francisco we simply took the light rail a few blocks from Hotel Max for the 30-minute ride to the airport.
In spite of getting lost, we found our way to the Capital Grille and Capitol Hill and our other culinary and fun destinations. The downtown classic steakhouse belongs to a family of restaurants of the same name across the U.S. and impresses, rolling out a menu and wine list that any culinary savant would appreciate.
We also discovered celebrity chef Tom Douglas, who owns 12 acclaimed restaurants in Seattle, including Dahlia Lounge and Serious Pie. For brunch we checked out Seattle's Cafe Campagne at Pike Place Market and renowned vegan restaurant Cafe Flora, owned by former Berkeley native Nat Stratton-Clarke, a 30-year-old transgender man. The restaurant immediately struck a nostalgic chord with me, recalling the once beloved Patio Restaurant that formerly inhabited the heart of the Castro. Yet, Cafe Flora is solidly in a neighborhood that has a very Berkeley vibe.
"I love the people in Seattle. I think it is just a fantastic community and absolutely incredible," said Stratton-Clarke, who has called the area home since 2005. It was the right move - three years later he found himself owner of Cafe Flora.
Michael Hein and Tony Portugal, owners of the Yellow Leaf Cupcake Co., a gourmet cupcake shop, fell in love with Seattle and took the plunge leaving their high-powered health care careers in Los Angeles and turning their vacation destination into their home in 2008.
Following Portugal's dream to own a restaurant, the gay couple, who met at an Academy Awards event in 2007, settled on cupcakes. They opened the shop in the heart of downtown Seattle in 2010.
A great way to experience Seattle's culinary fare is to take the Savor Seattle gourmet tour. The walking tour winds through the heart of downtown Seattle and Pike Place Market through some of its best restaurants.
Seattle doesn't slow down for the rain day or night. The city is bustling with events from the arts to festivals to the great outdoors to a thriving nightlife scene. Seattle's distinct neighborhoods are really villages unto themselves offering something for everyone.
This year, Seattle's iconic symbol, the Space Needle, turned the big 5-0 and the city is celebrating throughout the year. Pier 57 welcomed a new attraction, a giant Ferris wheel that opened at the end of June and overlooks the water near the famed Pike Place Market.
Theater enthusiasts and fans of Seattle's gay sex columnist Dan Savage might want to catch his latest creation Miracle! , a comedy about Seattle's drag scene, running through August 25 at the Intiman Theatre (http://www.intiman.org/plays-events/festival/). Art lovers might want to check out Bumbershoot during Labor Day weekend or ArtsCrush throughout October.
LGBT filmgoers might want to catch the Seattle Lesbian and Gay Film Festival October 11-21. Music lovers can become rock stars at the EMP Museum, producing their own recording. The museum is currently exhibiting Nirvana: Taking Punk to the Masses, and a photo history of the Rolling Stones' 1972 tour The Rolling Stones 1972, Photographs by Jim Marshall. It will be exhibiting the history of the black leather jacket Worn to be Wild: The Black Leather Jacket starting October 20 and running through January 20.
At night we headed up to Capital Hill where we hung out at the Wildrose bar, one of Seattle's lesbian hot spots right around the corner from Purr, one of Seattle's gay bars that was so packed it was impossible to get in. One thing we noticed is that gay women are on par with the gay men with nightlife offerings in Seattle. It was quite refreshing.
In reality, Seattle has so much going on it is best to surf through any one of the local publications, like the Seattle Gay News or the Seattle Weekly , or create an event itinerary at the Visit Seattle website ( http://www.visitseattle.org/Visitors/Events). Also, save some money getting into Seattle's most popular attractions by picking up a CityPass at the visitor's center.
Full disclosure: Heather Cassell contributed to Just Out in the past.