Between a stay in Oregon and Washington State, you don’t have to choose. Portland and Seattle are less than 300 kilometres away from each other – in other words, the door next door for the Americans. French tourists are still not very popular destinations, but they are combined by train or car in this magnificent region of the northwestern United States.
Portland, the alternative optimist
The uniform in Portland? The beard, the checkered woodcutter’s shirt and walking shoes more used to tarmac than to dirt trails. As for the girls, they decline vintage with art and dress with tattoos until they cover every inch of skin. Ice cone, moped or quotation from James Joyce in a sophisticated typography… The drawings are multiple on the bodies transformed into an art gallery – with more or less grace. There are also nearly twelve tattoo parlours for every 100,000 inhabitants. Strangely enough, there are almost as many strip clubs: one would be found less than ten minutes away wherever you are – vegetarian club included! They belong to the heritage of the late nineteenth century, when the city lived from the port and the returns of gold diggers, without faith or law. With this component turned, Portland embraced the ecological cause by surrounding itself with a green belt, a kind of natural border that limits the size of the city. Since then, public transport and bicycles have had the advantage over cars and bio locavore is displayed at almost every table. Made in Portland is a must for the inhabitants – at the very least, made in Oregon.
“Keep Portland weird”
“Keep Portland strange” is the unofficial slogan of the city. A liberal and alternative portrait, hippie and hopper, of Portland is drawn in the sketches of the Portlandia series (to be seen on Youtube). We quickly understand why: at Moberi, we pedal on a bike to produce the electricity for the blender that will make a good smoothie. At the Noble Rot restaurant, the roof terrace features a vegetable garden that feeds the menu. Portland is so unique that Maak Lab has reproduced the different smells in its soaps. At the Starbucks chain café, residents prefer small addresses like Cup & Bar. Its founder, Charlie Wicker, was still working in IT yesterday. An addict to caffeine but especially to the taste of coffee, he has made it his profession, roasting fair trade beans from the Café Femenino cooperative. How many of them in Portland have changed careers in an attempt to slow the pace? A lot! The stories are repeated like a unanimous chorus. Another local feature is the more than 500 food carts (stationary food trucks) and their street food that sweeps the whole world, from Caucasian Georgia to Thailand and Hawaii. Sometimes only one dish is offered. And it works!
Cradle of small businesses
Portland launches fashions and embraces them at the same time. Editor Georgia Frances King knows something about it. Australian from Melbourne, she first stopped in New York before arriving in Portland to manage Kinfolk one of the most trendy magazines in slow lifestyle. “People don’t move to Portland for work because it’s not an industrial city. They also do not settle for time either because, if the summers are fabulous, we do not see blue skies for five months. People come here for a way of life: a balance between work and private life. The inhabitants are focused on health and nature. They move here because it is still cheap to live here – even if that 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. “There is a wave of optimism in Portland, giving everyone a chance. It may have strengthened a little more since 2015 when marijuana became available over the counter in stores (and no longer only on medical prescription)….
Seattle, the avant-garde industrial company
Boeing, Microsoft, Amazon, Starbucks… These four names alone could sum up the city. This budding new Silicon Valley 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, gold diggers, lumberjacks and fishermen who shaped Seattle in the late 19th century. But the city has kept its avant-garde spirit. Isn’t Edward Murray one of the few mayors in the United States who is gay and married? Seattle immediately imposed its open-mindedness, which seemed to please: nearly 10,000 new inhabitants arrived every year since the 1990s. It is a great place to live, with nature at the gates of the city, dominated in the distance by the 4,300 metres of Mount Rainier. “You can go boating or stand up paddle in the morning and go to the mountains in the afternoon,” enthuses young Judy. Everything is there, in the quality of life and in the modes and movements, from grunge to coffee and a new style of hotel. It was here, in 1999, that the first Ace Hotel opened its rooms as if they were a friend’s apartment – since then it has spread its addresses from New York to Panama and London.
Play like Kurt Cobain
It is no coincidence that Ace Hotel is 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 crafts and farm products. Just across the street, the first Starbucks opened in 1971. He has since made small ones: nearly 23,000 in the world! What’s new? Starbucks Roastery & Tasting Room, a huge café where you can taste premium roasted beans on site. Then, direction 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 stunning, especially when accessed by the monorail that literally enters the building like a science fiction movie. Inside, a beautiful tribute to Jimmi Hendrix and Kurt Cobain of Nirvana (born in Seattle), temporary exhibitions and the Sound Lab where you can play drums, electric guitar and more in a studio… and record at the same time. In the city centre, the SAM museum, the Seattle Art Museum is worth a visit for its temporary and permanent exhibitions of contemporary art.
Seattle is organized by neighbourhood. In Fremont, for example, the alternative spirit dominates with some eccentricities such as this gigantic statue of Lenin in the street or this fake rocket that dominates the rooftops. We go out on Capitol Hill in one of the many cafés. You do your calves on the streets going up and down and suddenly you come across an address between co-working and coffee. MiiR’s mission is to bring clean 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 to its projects. In its flagship, you can taste a beautiful variety of homemade beers in the middle of its objects. Seattle, like Portland, favours the local spirit. It is easily seen through its multitude of distilleries. With a guide from Local Craft Tours, we discover the different houses including Westland Distillery specialized in whiskey. Letter Press Distilling’s favourite is its vodka and limoncello made from honey and not sugar. Don’t worry, a bus drives spirits lovers from address to address by offering sweets… and homemade cocktails to drink in jam jars. The Seattle tour would be incomplete without a stop at one of the addresses of Chef Tom Douglas, the master chef in Seattle, whose farm, located 3 hours away, provides 20% of the products 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!
Travel diary between Seattle and Portland
Practical notebook in Seattle
Here are the best hotels 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.
1101 4th Avenue. Tel: +1 (206) 621 1770.
The first Ace Hotel to open and which gave birth to the trendiest hotel chain. Double room from $189 (approx. 170 €), excluding breakfast and taxes.
2423 First Avenue. Tel: +1 (206) 448 4721.
Where to eat and drink?
Adria Shimada started offering her ice creams in a food-truck before landing in 2013. In front of her shop, a small vegetable garden where she grows lavender, mint and strawberries in summer. The other flavours are made from natural ingredients from small producers.
2034 NW 56th Street. Tel: +1 (206) 258 3066.
One of the few restaurants open all year round and located on the shores of Lake Union. We come, among other things, for its oysters and pastries of Lili and for its crazy decor.
2501N Northlake Way. Tel: +1 (206) 552 8215.
The London Plane
A welcoming café-restaurant: a florist is at the entrance! Everything here is good and fresh like lentil salads to fall and eat at the counter.
300 & 322 Occidental Ave. S. Tel: +1 (206) 624 1374.
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 showcasing local artists. Double from $159 (approx. 143 €), excluding breakfast and taxes.
800 E. Burnside St. Tel: +1 877 800 0004.
Still the same stylish and cool hotel chain, a must in Portland and Seattle. Double room from $199 (approx. €179), excluding breakfast and taxes.
1022 SW Stark St. Tel: +1 (503) 228 2277.
Where to eat and drink?
Cup & Bar
The coffee is roasted on site and the chocolate is transformed into a delicious bar. A nice place where you can come by bike (you hang it on the wall!). And if it rains, we come to deliver your coffee by bike.
118 NE MLK Blvd (Between Couch and Davis). Tel: +1 (503) 388 7701.
Blue Sky Gallery
Since 1975, this photo gallery has been exhibiting emerging and established artists.
122 NW 8th Avenue. Tel: +1 (503) 225 0210.
Museum of Contemporary Craft
Portland is not really the city of museums. But this one, although small, offers a beautiful program between craftsmanship and design.
724 Northwest Davis Street. Tel: +1 (503) 223 2654.
Adams and Dollman Gallery
A small space with beautiful exhibitions.
209 SW 9th Avenue. Tel: +1 (503) 724 0684.