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In Praise of Portland

This unique, artistic city is a shopper's paradise in the beautiful Pacific Northwest.

Portland, Ore., is a city of contrasts.

In the shadow of snow-capped Mount Hood, its downtown civic center is stylish and urbane.

Bisected by the Willamette River and the 10 super structures that bridge it, the city limits also embrace miles of hiking trails and the largest forested urban park in the country.

As well-known as it is for its craft breweries -- there are 29, including six of the 25 largest in the country -- Portland is also a draw for wine connoisseurs and aficionados.

Restaurants, wine bars and European-style bistros shine with acclaimed selections from vineyards throughout the Columbia Gorge and nearby Yakima and Willamette Valleys.

Portland also hosts an exciting culinary scene that's literally all over the map. Here, you can find a wide range of authentic ethnic restaurants, trendy fusion venues reflecting the personalities of their chefs and patrons, as well as internationally praised fine dining.

There may be no greater contrasts, however, than Portland's assortment of small, accessible neighborhoods.

Each has its unique charm, from upscale modern chic to old European to just plain funky. And all these neighborhood galleries and one-of-a-kind retailers offer endless memorable shopping opportunities.

The Pearl District

Currently Portland's hot neighborhood, the Pearl District was a gritty industrial area just 10 years ago.

Now it boasts upscale residential and business lofts along with contemporary art galleries; chic boutiques featuring fine clothing, footwear and jewelry; stylish salons, spas and fitness providers; and more than 60 home furnishings shops.

The Pearl's most famous draw is

Powell's City of Books, which occupies an entire city block and is the world's largest independent bookseller.

Crowds also come from far and wide for "

First Thursday," a monthly art walk that encompasses dozens of galleries and takes place year-round.

Although most of the Pearl District's retailers are independent local operations, you'll recognize few of the larger stores, including

Sur La Table and Pendleton Home (210 N.W. Broadway). And since you're in the Pacific Northwest, there are lots of shops featuring activewear and sports gear, including

The North Face,


REI and

Title Nine.

When you're ready for a break, there's an amazing choice of restaurants, coffeehouses, bars and brewpubs where you can relax.

During the day, try the

Tea Zone for invigorating tonics that target the mind, body and spirit.

P.F. Chang's China Bistro is part of a national chain, but it's still a tasty choice. Later on, take in some live music (every night of the week) at

Jimmy Mak's Bar & Grill.

Northwest Nob Hill

The neighborhood known as Nob Hill, or Northwest 23rd Avenue, is just minutes from the Pearl.

Home to perhaps the city's liveliest street scene, it's a well-established destination for upscale shopping and elegant dining.

Some of Portland's most intricate Victorian architecture accommodates these outstanding boutiques and restaurants.

You'll find well-known anchor stores here including

Pottery Barn,

Williams Sonoma Home,

Restoration Hardware and

Urban Outfitters.

But the vast majority of local retailers offer unique items.

Compleat Bed & Breakfast features luxurious linens for bed and bath.

Rich's Cigar Store, a landmark destination for 112 years, offers premium cigars, pipes and outstanding tobaccos. The

Laura Russo Gallery exhibits work by both established and emerging Pacific Northwest artists.

There are lots of places in the area to stop to eat.

Kornblatt's (628 N.W. 23rd Ave.) features New York-style deli service and specialties.

Pastini Pastaria is a casual Italian bistro with a warm, urban atmosphere accented with cozy wood booths and art glass lights. It's a good bet that the people in line at

Papa Haydn aren't there for lunch or dinner but for the scrumptious desserts that are served all day long. The

St. Honore Boulangerie is where Francophiles can get their fix of authentic French snacks and pastries.

Northeast Alberta Street

I was particularly taken by Alberta Street between Northeast 12th and 33rd Avenues.

Instead of the ubiquitous banners that hang from the streetlights of most urban shopping areas, area artisans have fashioned distinctive metalwork pieces into permanent displays of art.

Sometimes referred to as the

Alberta Arts District, the scene includes a monthly Last Thursday art walk, as well as the

Alberta Co-op Grocery and lots of funky boutiques.

It's an ethnically diverse neighborhood with an accessible art scene that showcases sculpture, glassware and pottery that's very reasonably priced.

If you're not shopping for art,

Tumbleweed offers apparel and accessories, many by local designers. Mira (2913 N.E. Alberta St.) features vintage garb as well as contemporary designer fashions.

Two stellar picks for a meal are the Tin Shed Garden Cafe (1438 N.E. Alberta St.), where breakfast is served all day long, and Lagniappe (1934 N.E. Alberta St.), which provides authentic southern Creole cuisine in a relaxed setting.

Slightly off the beaten track but just two blocks from Northeast Alberta Street on Northeast 33rd Street, don't miss

McMenamins Kennedy School.

Formerly an elementary school and now on the National Register of Historic Places, it's been transformed into a sprawling complex complete with brewpub, beer garden, movie theater pub and bed and breakfast.

The artwork that hangs in the meandering hallways is reason enough for a visit, and depending on whether you're feeling naughty or nice, you can stop in at the Detention Bar or the Honors Bar.

North Mississippi Avenue

One of Portland's oldest neighborhoods is quickly becoming the city's most up-and-coming one.

Along a few short blocks between North Freemont Street and North Mason Street, residents are driving a revival that includes renovating buildings and residences and opening many of the hottest shops and eateries.

It's a great location for the

Rebuilding Center, one of the country's largest nonprofit organizations dedicated to recycling building materials.

Salty's Dog Shop boasts unique accessories and healthy necessities for dogs, including locally hand-tooled leather collars and premium dog foods.

Bridge City Comics offers comics and graphic novels, and Elysian Home and Garden (3636 N. Mississippi Ave.) features ornate pottery fountains and interior embellishments.

If it's fashion you're after, check out Memoir (909 N. Beech St.) for men's and women's items.

Pin Me Apparel features local designers in addition to well-known labels.

Duchess Clothier is a great stop if you're looking for vintage garments.

For liquid refreshment, stop at Amnesia Brewing (832 N. Beech St.) to sample artisanal ales and lagers made on the premises.

Laughing Planet Cafe (503-467-4146) serves fast food that's good for you -- and tastes good, too! Or try Gravy (3957 N. Mississippi Ave), which offers classic comfort foods with locally sourced ingredients for breakfast, lunch and dinner.

Enjoy the Good Life? Email us with what you'd like to see in future articles.

Barbara Koeth is an independent corporate communications writer and consultant who's always up for an adventure. A former resident of New York City, she now lives in the San Francisco Bay area. She has worked with many Fortune 100 companies, and has published articles in Crain's New York Business, BuySide and Modern Bride.