You don’t have to choose between a trip to Oregon or Washington. Portland and Seattle are less than 200 miles from each other – so much like the next door for Americans. Destinations still not very popular with French tourists, they are combined by train or by car in this beautiful region of the northwestern United States.
Portland, the alternative optimist
The uniform in Portland? The beard, the checkered shirt of a lumberjack and the walking shoes more accustomed to the tarmac than to the dirt paths. As for the girls, they artfully recreate vintage and dress in tattoos to cover every inch of skin. Ice cream cone, moped or James Joyce’s quotation in a sought-after typography… The drawings are multiple on the bodies transformed into an art gallery – with more or less grace. There would be nearly twelve tattoo parlours for every 100,000 inhabitants. Strangely enough, there are almost as many strip clubs: you can find one less than ten minutes away wherever you are – vegetarian club included! They belong to the legacy of the end of the 19th century, when the city lived off the port and the returns of gold diggers, without faith or law. With this shutter turned, Portland embraced the ecological cause by surrounding itself with a green belt, a sort of natural boundary limiting the size of the city. Since then, public transport and cycling have the advantage over the car and the bio locavore is on display at almost every table. Made in Portland is a must for the locals – if anything, made in Oregon.
“Keep Portland weird.”
“Keep Portland strange” is the town’s unofficial slogan. A liberal and alternative, hippie and hispterist portrait of Portland is portrayed in the sketches of the Portlandia series (to be seen on Youtube). It’s easy to see why: at Moberi, you pedal a bike to produce the electricity for the blender that will make a good smoothie. At the Noble Rot restaurant, the rooftop terrace features a vegetable garden that feeds the menu. Portland is so singular that Maak Lab has reproduced the different smells in its soaps. At the Starbucks coffee shop, the locals prefer small addresses like Cup & Bar. Its founder, Charlie Wicker, was still working in computers yesterday. Addicted to caffeine but above all to the taste of coffee, he has made it his profession, roasting fair trade beans from the Café Femenino cooperative. How many people in Portland have changed careers in an effort to slow down? A lot! The stories repeat themselves like a unanimous chorus. Another local peculiarity are the more than 500 food carts (the immobile food trucks) and their street food that sweeps the world, from Caucasian Georgia to Thailand via Hawaii. Sometimes only one dish is offered. And it works!
Cradle of small business
Portland’s launching fashions and embracing them at the same time. Editor Georgia Frances King knows all about it. Australian from Melbourne, she first made a stop in New York before arriving in Portland to manage Kinfolk, one of the trendiest slow lifestyle magazines. “People don’t move to Portland for work because it’s not an industrial city. They also don’t settle for the weather because, while the summers are fabulous, you don’t see blue skies for five months. People come here for a way of life: a balance between work and private life. Residents are inclined towards health and nature. They are moving here because it is still cheap to live here – although this is changing with the newcomers. People spend less time thinking about their rent and more about themselves and the stone they bring to the community. “A wind of optimism is blowing over Portland, giving everyone a chance. It may have gotten a little stronger since 2015 when marijuana became available over the counter in stores (and no longer only on prescription) .
Seattle, the forward-thinking industrialist
Boeing, Microsoft, Amazon, Starbucks… Those four names alone could sum up the city. This new Silicon Valley is burgeoning and includes the other giants Google and Facebook and a myriad of start-ups. A 2.0 generation, focused on high tech, takeaway coffees and UberEATS meals, replaces the pioneers, the gold diggers, lumberjacks and fishermen who shaped Seattle in the late 19th century. But the city has retained its avant-garde spirit. Isn’t Edward Murray one of the few mayors in the United States who is gay and married? Seattle imposes from the outset its open-mindedness which seems to please: nearly 10,000 new inhabitants have been arriving every year since the 1990s. It’s a great place to live, with nature at the gateway to the city, dominated in the distance by the 4,300 metres of Mount Rainier. “We can go boating or stand up paddle in the morning and go to the mountains in the afternoon,” enthuses young Judy. It’s all there, in the quality of life and in the fashions and movements, from grunge to coffee to a new style of hotel. It was here, in 1999, that the first Ace Hotel opened its rooms like those in a friend’s apartment – since then, the brand has spread its addresses from New York to Panama through London.
Playing like Kurt Cobain
It is no coincidence that Ace Hotel is located just a stone’s throw from the famous Pike Place Market, the beating heart of the city. Every morning at 9 a.m., merchants gather around the Roll Call to receive their stand space allocation by lottery. The market offers handicrafts and farm products. Right across the street, the first Starbucks opened in 1971. He has made babies since then: nearly 23,000 in the world! The novelty? Starbucks Roastery & Tasting Room, a huge café where you can taste the premium beans roasted on site. Then, direction the Space Needle to embrace the city at 183 meters high. Built in the 1960s, this tower was to represent the image of the “future”. The future is next door in the EMP museum designed by Frank O. Gehry. The exterior is amazing, especially when you enter through the monorail that literally enters the building like in a science fiction movie. Inside, a nice tribute to Jimmi Hendrix and Kurt Cobain from Nirvana (born in Seattle), temporary exhibitions and the Sound Lab where you can play drums, electric guitar and more in a studio… and record yourself at the same time. In the city centre, the SAM, Seattle Art Museum is worth a visit for its temporary and permanent exhibitions of contemporary art.
Seattle is organized by neighborhood. In Fremont, for example, the alternative spirit dominates with some eccentricities like this gigantic statue of Lenin in the street or this fake rocket that dominates the rooftops. We’re going out on Capitol Hill in one of the many cafes. You do your calves on the streets going up and down and suddenly you come across an address between the co-working and the café. MiiR’s mission is to bring drinking water and bicycles to people who do not have them. As a result, this NGO has designed designer water bottles, bicycles and backpacks, part of the profits of which go into its projects. In its flagship, you can taste a beautiful variety of homemade beers in the middle of its objects. Seattle, like Portland, favors the local spirit. You can easily see it through its multitude of distilleries. With a guide from Local Craft Tours, we discover the different houses including Westland Distillery specializing in whiskey. The heartthrob goes to Letter Press Distilling and its vodka and limoncello made from honey and not sugar. Don’t worry, a bus takes spirit lovers from address to address offering sweets… and homemade cocktails to drink in jars of jam. The Seattle tour would be incomplete without a stop at one of the addresses of Chef Tom Douglas, Seattle’s master chef, whose farm, located 3 hours away, supplies 20% of the produce of all his restaurants. Better yet, one of his cooking classes at the Hot Stove Society reveals all the secrets of preparing kale, this cabbage that has become so fashionable that it even has its own special day!
Practical notebook in Seattle
Where to sleep?
Hotel Monaco Kimpton
A well-placed and cosy hotel that has just been restored. Double between $170 and $ 260 (approx. 153 € and 233 €) depending on the season, excluding breakfast and taxes.
The first Ace Hotel to open and which gave birth to the trendiest chain of hotels. Double room from $189 (approx. €170), excluding breakfast and taxes.
Where to eat and drink?
Adria Shimada started offering her ice cream in a food-truck before settling down in 2013. In front of her shop is a small vegetable garden where she grows lavender, mint and strawberries in summer. The other flavours are made with natural ingredients from small producers.
One of the few year-round restaurants on the shores of Lake Union. We come, among other things, for its oysters and Lili’s pastries (in photo) and for its zany decor.
The London Plane
A welcoming café-restaurant: a florist is at the entrance! Here everything is as good and fresh as lentil salads to be dropped and devoured at the counter.
Practical notebook in Portland
Where to sleep?
An old motel converted into a design hotel with 81 rooms. The reception also serves as an art gallery featuring local artists. Double from $159 (approx. 143 €), excluding breakfast and taxes.
Still the same cool designer hotel chain, a must in Portland and Seattle. Double room from $199 (approx. 179 €), excluding breakfast and taxes.
To book your hotel in Portland at the best price, click here.
Where to eat and drink?
Cup & Bar
The coffee is roasted on the premises and the chocolate transformed into a delicious chip. A nice place where you come by bike (you hang it on the wall!). And if it ever rains, we’ll come and deliver your coffee on our bikes.
Maurice is the name of Kristen D.’s rabbit. Murray. It’s especially a charming little canteen where the pastry shop is carving itself a nice piece of cake! It’s all good. Not to be missed.
If you want to camp in style, go for the local brand Poler. His backpacks are slick with military fabric bordered by an orange line.
What to see
Blue Sky Gallery
Since 1975, this photo gallery has exhibited emerging and established artists.
Museum of Contemporary Craft
Portland isn’t exactly museum town. But this one, although small, offers a beautiful programming between craftsmanship and design.
Adams and Dollman Gallery
A small space with beautiful exhibitions.