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Portland bewitches travelers, rain or shine

  • Story Highlights
  • Coffee shops and breakfast cafes beckon visitors with flavors of Portland
  • On rainy days, Powell's City of Books is a welcome refuge
  • In nice weather, Portland's parks make lovely picnic spots
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By Helyn Trickey
Special to CNN
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PORTLAND, Oregon (CNN) -- In the winter, the residents of this Pacific Northwest city hunker down for the gray rain that drills the city sidewalks for days on end. Locals drink loads of strong coffee, read books and take up knitting with zeal reserved in other parts of the nation for church going or clubbing.

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Natural beauty is just one of Portland, Oregon's assets.

But when the sun comes out to stay -- locals say it comes around the Fourth of July and stays till around Halloween -- Portland blossoms and easily assumes its sweet-scented moniker, the City of Roses.

Both sunny and rainy Portland are well worth checking out.

Probably the best asset this city has to offer travelers -- no matter how gloomy the forecast -- is its extensive and reliable transit system. Buses, trains and streetcars effortlessly move people from the airport to city center and beyond, and travelers can plan trips ahead of time and get real-time transit arrival times at trimet.org.

If your plan is to stay downtown, try parking your bags at the super-hip Ace Hotel (1022 SW Stark Street). Taking up an entire city block, each of its 79 rooms is uniquely decorated by hand by a different artist. Room prices range from $95 a night for a comfortable multi-bed room to $250 a night for a sumptuous 500 square foot room with a claw foot tub.

Portlanders love to hoof it to their favorite coffee shops and breakfast cafes, so if you want to blend in pass up the bus in good weather in favor of a pair of solid walking shoes.

When you do, stroll over to one of the city's five Stumptown Coffee Roasters locations.

There is even one at the Ace Hotel, but Portland hipsters boot up their laptops at the downtown location where the art and local flavor mix well with the excellent brew (128 SW 3rd Ave.).

It's true that coffee lovers can find a satisfying Americano on almost any block in this city, but Stumptown's commitment to finding the best beans in the world, along with the company's devotion to sustainability and "green" growing practices makes it especially popular with Portlanders.

With coffee in hand, you can walk another block or two to Voodoo Doughnut (22 SW 3rd Ave.). The sign is so small you'll miss it if you're not paying attention, but the smell of dough rising will no doubt lead you in the right direction.

The service can be surly, but the unusual doughnuts priced from 85 cents to $4.95 will leave you salivating for more. The Bacon Maple Bar ($2.50), which has two slices of bacon lopped over the top of an oblong, maple icing-covered doughnut, is divine. Or try a Tangfantastic doughnut ($1.00) which tastes just like the famous orange beverage for which it's named.

And if you should meet your one true love on your morning trek for doughnuts, Voodoo offers legitimate wedding services at the counter. You and your betrothed will run up a tab ($175), but the service includes doughnuts and coffee for ten of your closest friends.

For a stick-to-your-ribs breakfast, make sure to drop by Mother's Bistro & Bar (212 SW Stark Street). This local favorite stacks its menu with feel-good foods your mother cooked for you, or at least you wish she had.

Try the Wild Salmon Hash ($10.95), a hearty plate stacked with leeks, potatoes and two eggs in any style. Mike's Special Scramble serves up a plate full of prosciutto, roasted garlic, fresh tomatoes, provolone cheese and garden fresh basil ($8.95). Brunch at Mother's is almost a Portland rite of passage, so be prepared for a modest wait on the weekends. (mothersbistro.com)

Looking for something good to read? Powell's City of Books (1005 W. Burnside Street) is just the place to find it. Famous for its size -- the warehouse-like building stretches for an entire city block -- this location is just one of five Powell's stores in the city.

When Portland skies begin to look moody and gray, duck into this multi-level bookstore to peruse the shelves of new and used books. Powell's allows patrons to grab a book of interest and thumb through it over a cup of coffee in the store's spacious café. No buying required. Powell's is also renowned for drawing famous authors to its stacks for intimate readings.

When the sun goes down, get your groove thing on at the very retro Doug Fir Lounge (830 E. Burnside Street). Part rugged lodge, part Brady Bunch set piece, this hip lounge and adjoining hotel attracts the young and funky. Specialty drinks -- like the tart Blackberry Cosmo ($7) and the Cowboy Coffee ($10) (a melding of Stumptown coffee, Kahlua, Tuaca, Frangelico and a splash of cream poured hot or over ice) -- are served along with breakfast, lunch and dinner from 7 a.m. to last call.

The Doug Fir is the place to check out Portland's quirky local music scene and see local bands like The Dimes or Southerly. Tickets to shows are affordable, mostly ranging from $6 to $20, and proper attire is anything from platform boots and minis to jeans and plaid shirts.

If you want to immerse yourself in the hippie scene that Portland has to offer, take transit to the Hawthorne district in the southeast quadrant of the city.

Rain or shine, this place is busy with browsers scoping out the eclectic shops. And if you really want to blend in to the local scene, leave the umbrella at the hotel and brave any downpours with just a hoody or a baseball cap.

Grab some brunch at the Cup & Saucer diner (3566 SE Hawthorne Blvd) where eggs and tofu are given equal billing on the menu. Try the Spinach and Havarti Cheese Omelet ($7.50) served with vegan potatoes and choice of scone, English muffin or toast. Or try the decadent Mary Ann Sandwich, a vamped up grilled cheese with fried eggs and a choice of bacon, ham, or garden sausage ($7.25).

On sunny days, plan for a picnic in one of the many beautiful parks that dot the city. Flocks of ducks make their summer home in the pond at Laurelhurst Park (Stark and SE 39th). The rolling, grassy hills and tree-shaded areas are perfect for spreading a blanket, and relaxing with a good book accompanied, of course, by the scrumptious nibbles.

Speaking of which, just blocks away from Laurelhurst Park is Pastaworks (3735 SE Hawthorne), the perfect venue to obtain all the makings of a delicious outdoor feast. This European-style market features deli items like homemade meat calzones ($5.79), assorted roasted vegetables ($8.95 per pound), and a hearty selection of pates, including pork pate with duck liver and orange zest ($19.99 per pound). On Saturdays from 2 p.m. to 4 p.m. they host a free wine tasting from their generous selection of mostly Italian bottles.

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Gray afternoons in Portland are well-suited to catch a flick in a dark, comfy theater. Garishly painted in bright neon yellow and red, The Mediterranean-styled Bagdad Theater & Pub (3702 SE Hawthorne Blvd.) serves up cheap cinema ($3 per person) along with handcrafted microbrew and pizza.

No matter what the weather forecast -- sun-drenched or soaking -- Portland has plenty of fun to offer visitors willing to snoop out this city's more eclectic and inviting destinations. E-mail to a friend E-mail to a friend

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