For Thanksgiving week, we took a little trip up North to visit family in Portland and Tacoma. We specifically booked out a few days early in the week to chill out in Portland and do some exploring, to help us see “what everyone is talking about” in regards to the city. It was a good little visit and we were able to meet up with lots of friends and people in the design community. Running such an LA focused website, I couldn’t help but compare and contrast Portland against Los Angeles. Both cities are wonderful and, for a first time visit, there was a lot we can take from them. Portland is pretty great.
Portland has become known as the West coast Brooklyn, the place where creators who want to earnestly create can go to get a’making. The city is a small sprawl near the Oregon/Washington border that has engrained itself in our collective conscious because of a little project helmed by Fred Armisen. Admittedly, we’ve toyed with the idea of moving up to Portland because of its rich design community and bubbling creativity. (That said, Los Angeles still has us completely entranced: no need to fret.) Like we did with New York City, let’s digest Portland–and please note that this is coming from a person who is totally LA biased and basing this on first impressions/a first visit to Portland.
Things We Will Miss About Portland
• THE WEATHER. Our trip covered in rain and clouds with occasional sunniness poking through the veil. How wonderful! We got to cozy up in rain gear and explore and step into a totally different climate. It wasn’t that cold but it certainly was wet: it was like San Francisco on steroids. We also heard from several people that four months out of the year for Summer are absolutely heavenly.
• The Food. Like Seattle, food is something that is cared for greatly. Everything was fresh, everything was local, and every type of culinary point of view was represented. Nothing was that expensive either!
• The Expanse Of The City. We spent the majority of our time in Southwest Portland. From what we could tell, there were tons of other “Portlands” based on the cardinal directions that we didn’t even get close to approaching. Like Los Angeles, the city is so big–but manageable–that you could get all the space you wanted at an affordable cost.
• “Very Portland Things.” Unlike Brooklyn or even some local Angelenos, makers in Portland are completely infatuated with their craft. Whether they make canoes for a living or are soapmakers, these craftsmen and craftswomen put 1000% of their effort into it and are not doing it with any amount of irony: this is their craft and they will live and die by it. This earnestness is incredible.
• The Design Community. Aside from pockets of New York, Portland is where it’s at for the design community. We got to take a tour of Wieden+Kennedy: we ain’t got nothing on that shit. Nor does any other city in the US.
• The Landscape. Mountains! Pine trees! Rolling hills! Bodies of water! It’s an outdoors person’s wonderland!
• Interiors. One thing we noticed is that all of the interior spaces–from restaurants to offices–are made with such care. Perhaps because rent is cheaper or because you spend much of the year indoors, there is a great attention to making the places you inhabit look great and feel great to spend a lot of time in.
• Bicycle Culture. Surprising given the rain, bicycles run the city. There are strict (and huge!) fines given to cars and lots of efforts to push everything off of the road–except for bikes. We can and should study Portland to see how we can improve Los Angeles…
• Coffee. I don’t even drink coffee but there is something so refreshing about a warm cup to drink when you are soaking wet.
• Everyone Knows Everyone. Here’s the thing: the city is so small and the creative community is so intertwined that everyone knows everyone. Every time we noted who we were planning to meet with, we were regaled with stories of how this person knew that person and how great they are. It is a very tight knit city of very happy, supportive, creative people.
Things We Will Not Miss About Portland
• THE WEATHER. Ugh. One day of rain? Great! Two days? OK. Three days–with hail? UGH. STOP.
• Closing Times. This was something a little off and likely because we were there on a Sunday, Monday, Tuesday: everything closed up shop early-ish. From convenience stores to bars, there seems to be an earlier energy to the city. Perhaps because the sun sets at 3PM? Maybe. (Also: all bars have to serve food. We can’t tell if this is a good or bad thing.)
• Wet Feet.
• The Idea Of Walking A Dog. Every time I saw a soaked dog trying to pee in the rain, I wanted to cry because: 1.) The idea of drying a dog every time you live the house is an annoying concept; 2.) The idea of standing out in the rain for a fickle puppy to do his or her thing is a horrible idea; 3.) Not a single dog was in a rain coat; 4.) Thinking about my dogs and how much they hate rain and how much fur they have made me stressed out. On the flip side, every office we visited allowed dogs at work!
• Rain Gear. It’s fun to don rain gear a few times a quarter. All the time? NO THX.
• Retail. Aside from gems like Beam & Anchor, we had a tough time finding places we were super stoked on. A lot of the stores had a similar vibe and were selling a lot of the same merchandise. We’re sure there is great retail–we just didn’t get to see it this trip!
• How Surprisingly Homogeneous It Is. We heard this from a few locals but the city is surprisingly…white. We stayed in “Chinatown” and there was no sign of anyone from China save for an archway that said “Chinatown.” The one time we saw diversity was at a lunch at Luc Lac, a place that gathered quite a diverse crowd.
• Neighborhoods? Similar to the above remark, there didn’t seem to be a feeling of pockets or cultural identity to an area. In our experience, everything was just “Portland.” There was no gayborhood or “Chinatown” or Little [Insert Country]: it’s all Portland.
• Everyone Knows Everyone. If I lived in a city where everyone knew me, I’d never leave the house. I like people not knowing me and maintaining a sense of anonymity in social situations. The idea of a tight community provides a lot of warm and fuzzies but it also seems inescapable in the sense that you are constantly confronted by it.
Things We Missed About Los Angeles
• THE WEATHER. Comparing November fortysomething and raining to November seventysomething and sunny hurt. A lot.
• Art Institutions. We visited the Portland Art Museum and that place has to be one of the most circuitous, tiny art places we’ve ever visited. Granted, Portland is a small city but this museum was kind of a mess. Say what we will about LACMA and MOCA and The Getty and more–but we have so many options! Thank you for that, Los Angeles.
• The Bustle. One thing we noticed wandering around the city is that no one was ever “out.” Maybe it was due to rain or due to Thanksgiving but the sidewalks were constantly empty and no one was driving. Where was the city bustle? Does it not exist or was it an off week?
• Escapism. We heard this from a few locals and were faced with it ourselves: there is no way to escape an environment you don’t like, AKA rain is inescapable. We are very thankful in Los Angeles to have the option of beaches and forests and mountains and deserts all within an hour or so.
• Clothes Shopping. Not that I was really looking to “go shopping” on our trip but we did look in a few stores and clothes were either too expensive Winter gear or really OK whatever. Again: we were without a guide and without a car and without the familiarities afforded to a person who is a local. Thus, we missed casual clothes shopping that we get in Los Angeles.
• Cardinal Directions. We were totally screwed up by directions. The area is so hard to get a grasp of but, after a few days, we think we figured it out…?
• Our Size. Sure, people complain that LA is a sprawl and that you need a car. Sure. That’s why we like it. Like being able to escape environments, you are always in a position to find something new.