August 13, 2008

Mindful City: Portland, Oregon (Organic Food, Hiking, Yoga, Local Music and Film, Indie Business)

Portland is an easy place to be. It’s a city where (on the rare clear day) you can see not one but three volcanoes rising victoriously. A town of eco-minded, funky activists who enjoy outdoors sports and generally sticking it to the Man. Split up into four main districts, the Willamette River separates the trendy metropolitan West Side from the funky, artsy East Side. Little neighborhoods are hidden in every part of the city, each with its own unique Portlandian feel.

Move: There are endless ways to get about town via streetcar (free within city limits), buses that run on biodiesel, or bicycle (3.5 percent of us commute by bike, which though frighteningly low, makes Portland the city with the highest percentage of daily bike commuters in the U.S.). The Trimet System is comprised of three beautifully coexisting forms of public transportation—the Max commuter lightrail runs from the suburbs through downtown and to the airport, the street car runs within city limits and the public bus system completes the trio. It’s easy to plot your trip on trimet.org: just enter a starting point and your destination, and you’re good to go.

City Bikes offers rentals on an hourly or daily rate. Take a ride along the river on the East Bank Esplanade or ride into one of the many quaint neighborhoods. Yoga Pearl offers excellent classes in Ashtanga, Vinyasa and Hatha Yoga. Don’t be surprised if you hear a few quotes by familiar friends such as Pema Chödron.

Eat: Many Portland restaurants favor local produce and meats (even Burgerville, our local fast-food joint, features local, free-range and natural [no antibiotics] meats). If you’re spending time on the West Side—a part of the city that has undergone immense urban renewal and also goes by “the Pearl District”— go to the Blossoming Lotus Café. Good for lunch, snacks or dinner, they offer delicious vegan fare (be ready to wait as seating is limited). For a quick lunch, grab a burrito or tasty salad at Laughing Planet. With three locations on the East and West Sides, they pride themselves on sustainable business practices including local, organic ingredients and minimal waste. For dinner, my favorite is Noble Rot. The menu changes seasonally according to what is available and their food is divine. Anyone who works there will be able to give you tips on some delectable local wine. If the wait is too long at Noble Rot, go around the corner to Navarre on N.E. 28th Avenue and you’ll have an equally amazing experience of local, organic cuisine. Choose the “we feed you” option and let the chef decide your menu for the evening. The ingredients are fresh and the ambiance is genuine and intimate. HOTLIPS Pizza piles seasonal veggies onto every slice and offers vegan options. They deliver via bikes and little electric cars that buzz around their Pearl District location.

See: You can’t miss Powell’s City of Books and yes, it’s worth it. The world’s largest independent used and new bookstore stretches an entire city block and is five storeys high. For a night of live music, head over to Jimmy Mak’s for some Portland jazz. Prefer a low-key evening? Go to the Laurelhurst Theatre and catch an indie flick (or the occasional blockbuster) for three dollars while enjoying a glass of local wine or a microbrew. There are plenty of good restaurants along 28th Avenue adjacent to the theatre. If you’re artsy, go north toward the Alberta Arts District and attend their Last Thursday Art Walk. You’ll see everything from up-and-coming professionals to young students selling their work on the streets. There’s always music, dramatic performances and surprises of all kinds. Perpendicular to N. Alberta Street is the hip N. Mississippi Avenue. Check out musical events at Mississippi Studios or grab a slice of veggie pizza at the Mississippi Pizza Pub while listening to local musicians in the Atlantis Lounge.

Be: The Portland Classical Chinese Garden is a wonderful place for an afternoon rest. Within the intricate twists and turns of the garden paths is The Tower of Cosmic Reflections, a traditional teahouse offering a variety of organic teas in a (very) unique setting. The U.S.A.’s largest city park, Forest Park, has endless trails. The Portland Japanese Garden’s immaculate grounds are meditative in every season (bring a sketchpad and camera, and you just might spend the whole day there). Parallel to the Japanese Gardens is The International Rose Test Garden—bring a blanket and picnic among the blossoms. At sunset, head up West Burnside to Pittock Mansion for a breathtaking view of the city and Mt. Hood.

Go: Want to look inside a volcano? Visit Mt. Saint Helensbut remember to bring a windbreaker and wear layers. In the winter, head up Highway 26 to Mt. Hood and go snowshoeing around Trillium Lake. If you’re lucky enough to have a clear day, there are views of Mt. Hood that will fill you with an all-pervading awe. Or go along Highway 84 to the Columbia River Gorge—on any of the amazing trails you’ll encounter views of the Columbian accompanied by the thunderous sounds of cascading waterfalls; it is a remarkable experience. If you’re feeling decadent, venture west on 99W to Yamhill County and visit some of Oregon’s well-loved wineries. Amity Vineyards has some of the most popular organic choices, and the Bergstrom Winery’s biodynamic methods put a little love in every barrel. Sauvie Island is a 30-minute bike ride from downtown (and includes a nude beach popular with locals).

Summer’s most definitely the best time to visit; the rain is less frequent allowing for more opportunity to experience the plethora of outdoor activites. We hope to see you soon!

Sarah Root, a “Dharma Brat,” lives in Portland, Oregon, and spends most of her days running a non-profit art gallery. Her spare time is spent playing outside, doing yoga and having fun with friendly local folks.

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