Travel Leisure

5 Reasons Why Portland, Oregon Surprised Us As Black Travelers

Let’s have a moment of truth. When my boyfriend and I picked Portland as our vacation, we didn’t know what to expect. We knew going in that Portland would be beautiful. Very few places in the U.S. can rival Oregon’s natural beauty. We love the outdoors, so we packed our activities and excursions with nature at the forefront.

The choice to go to Portland was happenstance. We’re in a long-distance relationship, allowing us to be more creative in the two times we meet monthly. We wanted to spend Thanksgiving together and were adamant about picking a place with a direct flight since we planned to travel during the busiest time of year: the Wednesday before the holiday.

Mexico City was our first choice, but we realized we would lose a day because the only direct flight back to his home in Texas departed at 2 am on Sunday. That left us with one choice that fit our budgets and flight needs: Portland.

While I knew we would get our nature fix in, my expectations were low with everything else. Some online reviews and even those we met nicknamed PDX – the abbreviation for Portland and its airport code – a “Sleepy Millennial City.” As someone who identifies as a proud millennial, I was confused about the term. After some digging, I found that defining a millennial city varies. But by most accounts, it means we’re the generation that prefers convenience, we love our bikes and bike shares, we’re in heaven when we find a good café or brunch spot, and we lose our minds when we come across a vintage shop.  

Portland combines what millennials like and more, and we were thoroughly surprised on our impromptu vacation to the Pacific Northwest. Here’s what else surprised us about Portland as Black people traveling from predominantly Black cities.

The Food Scene Is Epic In Portland

Hat Yai Portland, Oregon
Photo credit: Parker Diakite

Choosing our favorite meal would be challenging because every last meal packed some serious flavor. Our Thanksgiving dinner meal at Portland City Grill remains a top choice. Not only was the food good, but it gave us the city’s best views. It sits on the building’s 30th floor, giving you a stunning view of Portland’s skyline view.

One of the most unique meals was found at Hai Yai – a recommendation from a local. It’s a Southern Thai fried chicken restaurant that’s typically jam-packed for most of the day. We got lucky because we went on Black Friday. The flavors were beyond anything I expected, and my partner’s only regret was not having a bigger stomach for more. If you go, get there early and ask for extra roti.

Later on, I found that Portland is ranked as a top food destination in the U.S. It’s no surprise that seafood dishes are a top choice for visitors and locals alike, given the city’s proximity to water. However, Portland is also known for its pizza and doughnuts. We suspect millennials play a significant role in such achievements.

Our Best Dates Were In Nature

Multnomah Falls in Oregon
Multnomah Falls | Photo credit: Parker Diakite

We booked a hike and biking tour with Around Portland Tours through Airbnb experiences. It was a great excursion as newbies to the city. They took us about 45 minutes out of the city to hike and bike through waterfalls. Unfortunately,  there was too much ice on some of the biking trails, so we hiked the entire time instead. Following the hike, we rented a car to drive through Portland and some surrounding cities. It was stunning both times, and we found that exploring the city’s stunning landscape was the trip’s highlight.  

Breweries and Speakeasies Are An Adventure

Voysey Speakeasy entrance in Portland, Oregon
Voysey Speakeasy entrance in Portland, Oregon | Photo credit: Travel Noire

My partner and I are not beer drinkers but appreciate Portland’s local brewery scene. Portland has more than two dozen breweries, each with its unique style – a tidbit we learned from our tour guides. Portland beers are known for using native ingredients such as Willamette Valley hops since they grow in the second-largest hop-growing area in the U.S., which happens to be in Oregon.

For us, we prefer speakeasies. Portland has an exciting speakeasy culture. There are more than a dozen speakeasies and hidden bars, but we ventured to only two after our hiking adventure. After all, we are two sleepy millennials.

Bible Club was our first stop because it was one of the few we could enter. The speakeasy doesn’t take reservations and is first come, first served. Once inside, we got a fun Prohibition vibe with its décor.

Next on our list was Voysey Speakeasy – a hidden bar under Loyal Legion. It’s best to secure a reservation in advance. The speakeasy doesn’t have food, but they allow food from the upstairs bar. Voysey had a more intimate feel with its dark lighting and close seating. I remember the drinks being potent here.  

There’s More Fashion Culture Than Flannels

A friend told me to ensure I packed enough flannels because that’s all Portland is known for. Portland is known for its comfortable and casual style, but it deserves more credit, primarily since Nike is headquartered less than 30 minutes away in Beaverton.

In Portland’s Nob Hill neighborhood, many local shops and boutiques have hidden gems of fashion pieces I haven’t found in my home, Chicago. Downtown also is filled with chain clothing stores, a mall, and Nordstrom.

And Yes, There’s Black Culture

While Portland’s Black population is on the small side, hovering around 6%, they have significantly impacted the city. From coffee shops, breweries, food trucks, wine tastings, and restaurants, people can spend a whole day supporting Black-owned businesses in Portland. While we didn’t see many on our adventures, there was the universal head nod of acknowledgment when we crossed paths.

Overall, we loved Portland and look forward to returning to bike outside when the weather is warmer. Black travelers will feel safe in Rose City.  

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