Nicole Browning, our concierge at Hotel Monaco in Portland, OR, is a Pacific Northwest native, born and raised just across the Columbia River in Vancouver, WA. She offers our LiS readers a few of her insider Portland travel tips — to get more you’re just going to have to see her in person. Fun Fact: Nicole was recently spotlighted as a bona fide Journeymaker by our friends at American Express Travel, who are recognizing people who go above and beyond to create extraordinary travel experiences.
I love talking about Portland and the Northwest, sharing my own experiences with others. I grew up enjoying all types of outdoor activities in the area, including hiking in the Columbia River Gorge, camping, crabbing, razor clamming at the beach with my family, picking berries and chanterelle mushrooms, and enjoying everything that has to do with the water. And of course I add sipping on a glass of wine in the Willamette Valley Wine Country as outdoor rec.
My favorite alfresco pastime, though, is fishing. And Portland has two main rivers that run through it (the Willamette and the Columbia), boasting salmon runs twice a year that always draw a crowd. You can travel to Bonneville Dam and watch the salmon cross through the fish ladders or you can actually try your hand at catching some.
I’ve been fishing with my dad my whole life and when I caught my first salmon in my early 20s, I was hooked (pun intended). While you’re in Portland, take a guided fishing tour on the Columbia River with Columbia River Fishing Guides. Owner Christian Witt knows the Columbia River like the back of his hand — he even guarantees you’ll catch a fish on one of his outings. If fishing isn’t your thing, take a sailing tour on Portland’s waterways with Scovare Expeditions to admire the beautiful views.
The city is also known for our “Keep Portland Weird” culture. Some places enjoy making a full-blown business of it. You should definitely check out Rimsky-Korsakoffee House — it’s essentially a small, semihaunted dessert-and-coffeehouse in the Buckman neighborhood. Enjoy a cup of joe and one of their ample dessert selections — my personal favorite is the Raspberry Fool, one of their most popular menu items. You might even feel ghostly spirits afoot: Maybe your table will move and the piano will start playing melancholy classical music … without a player. There’s also an underwater bathroom, because why not? It’s off the beaten path and quite literally a favorite local haunt.
The Portland beer scene is huge and craft breweries are all over the city. The best way to get the lowdown and learn the history of Portland’s craft brewers, from hops to yeast, is through a brewery tour. Brewvana has a list of different tours (either walking or on their minibus) that hit all different parts of Portland and come complete with pretzel necklaces (you know you want one). If you want to take the tour to the next level, pedal down the streets of Portland with your squad via BrewCycle. BrewGroupPDX offers a big, barlike bus that’s pedal powered. They also started the BrewBarge, which is a souped-up paddleboat you and your friends can take on the Willamette, catching breathtaking views along the waterfront and underneath our bridges … all while drinking beer.
Of course, you need something to go along with all that beer, and Portland packs every type of cuisine within its 145 square miles. Recommending and trying new restaurants is an important part of what I enjoy about my job, and one of my favorites is a small spot called Café Broder. You’ll find an array of unique Scandinavian fare including lefse (soft Norwegian flatbread), Swedish meatballs, pytt i panna (a hash of meats and potatoes — comfort food at its best), and uunipuuro (baked rice pudding). Another can’t-miss dish are their aebleskivers, little pancake balls served with traditional Danish fillings of lemon curd and lingonberry jam. It’s a perfect place for brunch and dinner.
— Nicole Browning