According to their flyers and website, Powell's City of Books (the main store of this very localised 'chain'), is the largest independent new and used bookshop in the world. I haven't attempted to verify this claim since my visit back in 2008, but have no problem with it, even if it is proven to be not strictly true. This place is amazing. Be warned - expect to spend at least a whole morning or afternoon here, unless you just popped in for a postcard.
Situated in the Pearl District of Portland, Oregon, Powell's City of Books pretty much takes up an entire city block between NW 10th and 11th Avenues and W Burnside and NW Crouch. This independent bookstore genuinely deserves the stereotypical superlatives that are all too frequently thrown about, with dozens of rooms, nine colour coded sections and many, many thousand books. Wandering in like an enthusiastic but underprepared polar explorer, I was disoriented by a bookish equivalent of snow blindness. Not only does it provoke mental disorientatition, you literally could find yourself lost here (or find yourself literally lost). Luckily there are folded store map leaflets as you go through the doors. I'm glad I picked one up - not only an indispensible navigation aid in this bibliophilic terra incognita, it also later helped me find World Cup Coffee & Tea for a much needed refreshment break. This in-store establishment of another local 'chain' proves the Pacific North West's reputation for good coffee is not just based on the louder, better-known cousins up the coast in Seattle. You will definitely need this caffeination opportunity if you start browsing without a specific find in mind. Even then, you risk being distracted, diverted and wandering through the nearest real-life manifestation of Terry Pratchett's Discworld L-space I have yet to experience. The store staff - not an Orangutan in site - were both knowledgeable and helpful without being obtrusive. I was looking for two specific books; I found these and more - then proceeded to spend the best part of a day wandering, browsing the shelves, reading and retreating to WCC&T for an excellent espresso when I started to flag. I finally left - a reluctant escapee from this unusual tourist trap - with my wallet much lighter and my daysack much heavier.
Alongside an unsurpassed local music scene, independent record stores, good food and wine, stunning nearby landscapes and forward thinking city government, I am convinced that Powell's is one of the reasons why Portland regularly makes the top five list of North America's most liveable cities. For anyone that loves books - and any thinking traveller to be fair - Powell's is a more-than-worthwhile diversion on a trip to the Pacific North West on those days when it might be raining (and it does) or if you have no particular plans. If you are after views of the United States you don't often find this side of the Atlantic, Powell's is required reading. And do try the coffee.
1005 W Burnside, Portland, OR 97209
Google map: bit.ly/9h9bm3
Portland Airport (PDX), or Portland Amtrak Station (the Cascades, the Pacific Coastal Starlight and the Empire Builder services all reach Portland through stunning vistas). Once in Portland the excellent public transport system will get you there if you aren't driving - Hop on the MAX (the city wide tram system) and take it to the Galleria/SW 10th Avenue stop. You can either walk north on 10th Avenue or take the streetcar to Burnside - the city block across Burnside and on your left will be Powell's.
A neighbourhood that's just a short streetcar ride from downtown Portland with beautiful old wooden houses, eclectic independent shops and lots of bars and restaurants. Spend the morning looking around and then visit McMenamin's Blue Moon Tavern (432 NW 21st Street) to enjoy some of their own-brand Ruby Ale.
NW 21st Street, NW 23rd Street
Take the Streetcar to N.W. 21ST & NORTHRUP
Another 'Old Town' favourite; Dan and Louis' is where to go when you want to try some local seafood in Portland.
Do not be fooled by the name - D&L's is a family-friendly restaurant with a diverse menu that features some of the freshest local ingredients. The clam chowder is classic and the Cioppino is a particular favourite, but if you are an oyster afficianado, you cannot miss out on the dozen varieties of oysters offered here.
The decor is classic Pacific Northwest fish house: every inch of wall space is covered with marine-related memorabilia, much of it collected over the restaurant's 100 year history.
For adults, there is a separate bar in back and make sure you ask about 'the hole' - a glass-covered look into almost bottomless pit - right below the bar.
208 SW Ankeny St, Portland, OR
The Portland Saturday Market is a gregarious mix of public fair, marketplace and food festival.
Located in the heart of 'old town' Portland, right on the downtown 'Max' lightrail, the market is a literal maze of hand-crafted and locally made wares, artwork, jewellery, clothing and more. Live music from diverse local bands and a food court that offers a taste of just about everywhere - American, Thai, Spanish, Greek - including local brews.
Street performers - mimes, living 'statues,' jugglers and magicians stroll the market, but they are not the only entertainment - just watching the diversity of the crowd is one of the major attractions of the market.
Located right off of Portland's Waterfront Park, visiting the Saturday Market is one of the best ways to see Portlanders in their natural element - and not worry about blending in.
Since driving and parking downtown is something of a nightmare, the best way to get around to and from the market will be on Portland's 'Max' lightrail train - it runs from Portland Airport through downtown and will only set you back about $5 for a day pass. The downtown area itself is part of Portland's 'fareless' square, so if you are only riding for a brief distance - its all free.
The market can be used as a jumping off point to explore more of downtown since it is central to the Waterfront and Chinatown - and just a short train ride to Pioneer Courthouse Square.
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