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‘Never go back down those country roads’ might be the advice of some plaintive troubadour or a stressed-out Sat Nav, but when it’s Northern California how could I resist? My previous trip to the Napa Valley and Sonoma had been a wine-soaked idyll from sumptuous bases in Relais & Chateaux properties, but the simpler pleasures on the side seduced me too.

Hence a planned two week road trip between San Francisco and Seattle had to include some blissed-out backwoodsmanship and watching ocean sunsets with chilled IPAs. 

Here are 10 places along the route where we ditched the hire car and went native…

Ram’s Gate Winery

OK, so a vineyard had to be our gateway. Ram’s Gate is possibly the closest winery to San Francisco, so perfect for a wine tasting lunch. It’s set on a hill off State Route 121 heading for Sonoma among its own 28 acres of vines, but since its inception in 2011 its terroir-driven selling point has been its handling of small-lot Pinot Noir and Chardonnay grapes from across Sonoma and Carneros. 

The very definition of a Californian boutique winery, it is architecturally stunning. Inside it’s vintage chic, almost clublike; from the outside it lives up to its claim to be a modern interpretation of the weathered farmsteads of old Carneros, while below the vine-clad hill the wildlife habitat, Tolay Creek, signals the sustainable ethos.

Ram’s Gate is open Thursday-Monday , 11am-4pm, for tasting appointments. We went the whole hog and had the $160 a head Five Course Wine and Food Pairings, featuring  the likes of saffron poached lobster and pasta, smoked bavette, raspberry shortcake with brown sugar chantilly. Out on the terrace, naturally with some lovely wines.

Jordan Vineyard & Winery

Another winery, can’t resist, but the vineyard tour here is something special. You can spot the French influence on this chateau-stykled family winery, which opened back in 1971 and is single-minded about producing just two wines – a Cabernet Sauvignon Bordeaux blend and a Chardonnay. Tasting both in a luxury hilltop gazebo overlooking the  entire 1,200 estate with some seriously gourmet small plates was the culmination of a tour that took in a look at their own organic veg garden and apiary, natural habitat, a tasting of their own estate olive oil and real insights into vineyard practice. You can understand why it has won a clutch of awards. The three hour tour costs $150 plus tax; available May-October only, weather permitting. More affordable is theWinery Tour & Library Tasting, which features wine tasting with food pairings for $75 plus tax. 


My, how this town has gentrified, gussied itself up big time, especially around the central lawned Plaza. When I first visited a quarter of a century ago there was hardly a bespoke tasting room in town. Hell, this was Sonoma, not Napa; you had to go out into the country and find the winemakers. Now a raft of grape-driven opportunities rub shoulders with designer shops and small batch coffee haunts. Still it’s undeniably attractive and some favourite spots remain – the Hotel Les Mars, where we stayed last time, and the homely Oakville deli/cafe on the Plaza, but the raucous Bear Republic brewpub just off the main drag has bitten the dust. Fear not they are still brewing elsewhere that quintessential West Coast IPA, Racer 5. After a couple we started noticing more the hardware stores and simpler liquor stores of an older Healdsburg; the apple orchards and ranches that dot the Sonoma hinterland – a world away from the polished wine palaces and their millionaire owners in Napa.

The Bohemian Highway

Definitely a world away from Napa. This was the country road we needed to get back on and it didn’t disappoint. Our destination was a log cabin lodging with ocean views at Jenner at the mouth of the kayak-thronged Russian River. Direct way from Healdsburg is the 116 up the valley, but we mooched further south towards Sebastopol to join the Bohemian Highway

Rarely has a road so lived up to its name. Orchards, redwood groves, vineyards and grazing land are the heavenly backdrop to laid-back small settlements. Occidental and Monte Rio are folksy cute, but Freestone, official population 50, is my favourite. Mainly because it’s home to the Wildflour Bakery and Freestone Artisan Cheese store, an essential stop on the California Cheese Trail.

Wildflour boasts a wood-fired brick oven, lit each afternoon with a wheelbarrow of eucalyptus kindling. Scones and all kinds of delights are produced, but it is the Organic Sourdough that rules supreme. Thick of crust and yet airy-light inside (even the rye variety), this is the best bread you’ll find anywhere.

At the cheese store affineur Omar Muller sells locally pressed olive oil, almonds and walnuts and a range of dairy-related artefacts, but the glory is the cheese. Try the local Bleeting Heart sheep’s or more widely available cheeses from the Cowgirl Creamery. A bottle of Pinot Noir from the nearby Joseph Phelps completes the picnic.

River’s End Restaurant & In, Jenner 

A tea-time sea fret shrouded the extended estuary of the Russian River. It grew thicker as we checked into the River’s End Inn and settled into our cabin. What chance a glimpse of their legendary sunset from our wooden porch? There were going to be few other distractions. With no cellphone or internet accessibility, no telly, we could have been back in the days when it was built as a wayside inn for loggers and fishermen.

Maybe they would have tucked into a large helping of elk, as I did; the difference surely the finesse with which mine was treated by chef Martin Recoder and it wouldn’t have been imported from New Zealand! Food miles concerns apart – and no problems with the King Salmon starter – this was an extraordinarily fine meal, the best of our whole road trip, even the sophistication of the service belying the rusticity of the Inn. And the wine? It had to be a Littorai Pinot Noir – perfection from legendary winemaker Ted Lemon. We’d visited his biodynamic vineyard above Sebastopol, where the cooling clouds roll in off the Pacific (main image). As if to cue, the clouds here suddenly cleared like ‘curtains up’ to reveal a glorious sunset finale.

Gualala and Point Arena

It’s a switchback car ride north on Highway 1, the Pacific on port side smashing into coves hundreds of feet below. There a few choice stop-offs to catch your breath and get closer to the ocean, notably Salt Point State Park, which has a winding, wooded path down to a sheltered cove. Twenty-five minutes further on and worth a longer visit is Gualala Point, at the mouth of the river of that name. We wandered through the dunes onto a driftwood-littered sand spit and then clambered up the headland, which promised whale watching but didn’t deliver on the day. A further 25 minutes north you hit Point Arena, centred on the lighthouse of that name but pulling in 1,600 acres of National Monument Land, a vast coastal preservation reserve. Fascinating to explore, we’re told, but we had to settle for a sea view, craft beer and San Francisco-style chowder (in a hollowed out sourdough bap) at the Pier Chowder House and Tap Room down by the pier in the historic district.

Albion River Inn

Star brew we tasted at the Pier was a G&T Sour Beer from Anderson Valley Brewery, a craft pioneer 30 years ago and still going strong. On our last visit to Anderson Valley we explored its cool climate vineyards, but this time were happy to go down the hop route – check out Visit Mendocino’s 9 Hop Stops at ABV’s beautifully-situated taproom, enjoying another approachable sour, the Briney Melon variety. We had to resist completism; we were en route for our next lodging, the Albion River Inn – like River’s End on a bluff at the river mouth. The clifftop views were equally spectacular but the style of lodging quite different. More romantic than rustic, with spa baths and panoramic decking.

Similarly high standards in the kitchen serving superb seafood to an 80 cover restaurant, set apart from the 22 room/suite complex and built out of wood salvaged from a 1919 shipwreck.


The Albion River Inn was our base to visit Mendocino, a 10 minute drive north up Highway 1, along which you can sense the locations of one of California’s most gripping and gritty literary fictions, Gabriel Tallent’s My Absolute Darling (4th Estate, £12.99). It wonderfully evokes the stunning coastal landscape (though might deter you from going camping!). Mendocino itself was as laid-back as ever. Old hippies and floral New Agers meet clapboard and cliffs. The Cannabis Medical Resource Center is along the road from Virgil’s Vittles – DIY Dog Biscuits. With a year-round population of not much more than a 1,000 there’s little in the way of bar culture but the Cafe Beaujolais offers fine West Coast bistro food. To get an appetite, go for a walk on the town’s great glory, the wave-lashed headland with its maze of easy trails. A pity the vertiginous path down to the beach has been cordoned off. Hardcore hikers can tackle the 130 mile Mendocino County Coastal Trail, which takes in beautiful State Parks.

Avenue of The Giants

I for one can’t get enough of giant redwood trees. Not content with detouring off the Anderson Valley Road to wander in wonder around Hendy Woods State Park (the greatest coastal redwood concentration is in the 80 acre Big Hendy grove) we fixed our GPS on the unique Avenue of the Giants 130 miles to the north up off the inland Route 101. This is a self-guided auto tour through great sleeping forests, 32 miles in length, but you can just access a section if time is short; I’d recommend the Boiling Grove stretch as best to appreciate examples of the Sequoia sempervivens, average age 400-600 years old, the largest living things on earth. Awesome, dudes, as they say in those parts.

Safari West

I’ve left the most luminous spot till last. Its recent backstory demands pride of place. We stayed, safari glamping style in a tree at this wildlife preserve/conservation centre, nicknamed the ‘Sonoma Serengeti’, a month before the Tubbs Fire, deadliest of the Wine Country conflagrations, ravaged the area. In its path Safari West and its 400 acres, home to giraffes, rhinos, zebras, cheetahs and countless other exotic creatures in the hills above Santa Rosa. On our personal sunset safari, drinking local craft beer on a hilltop surrounded by antelope we’d asked our guide Alex if they had evacuation plans in the event of fire, which he confirmed. Just small talk then after a memorable, eye-opening jeep tour.

Safari West survived the fire thanks to the bravery of owner Peter Lang, who founded the reserve 40 years ago. He and his team saw their own homes go up in flames in the distance, but stayed to fight off the main blaze with fire hoses and a vintage fire engine. All the animals were saved and the park reopened. It is a fascinating place to visit. Check glamping availability and rates here and safari tour rates here.

• To plan your trip of a lifetime go to Visit USA and Visit California. For full tourist information about Sonoma go to Sonoma County and for Mendocino Visit Mendocino County.

I finally caught up with Roadrunner: A Film About Anthony Bourdain. It came out in America last summer and now you can hire it here on Amazon Prime. One review of Morgan Neville’s documentary said of the revered chef/writer/traveller: “He lived his life unabashedly”. Spot on. Essentially shy and lonely, Bourdain navigated heroin addiction, dispiriting decades as a jobbing chef, instant fame after the publication of his 2000 memoir Kitchen Confidential and the increasingly restless circling of the globe that came with his reinvention as an intrepid TV food explorer. It all ended with his suicide at the age of 61 in an Alsace hotel in 2018, from which the film draws harrowing conclusions.

I came late to his exhaustive series No Reservations and Parts Unknown, but during the claustrophobic lockdowns they became for me an obsessive beacon, putting into perspective my own wan travel and food excursions. They were always about far more than glossy travelogue and exotic cuisines. Take Season 4, Episode 8, where for once he went no further than Massachusetts. In it he relates the opiate shitstorm engulfing Middle America today to the substance abuse that first gripped him on Seventies Cape Cod.

As detailed in Kitchen Confidential, it all began for Bourdain – as a reluctant dishwasher – in Provincetown at the tip of the Cape. Before the decidedly heterosexual writer’s time there it had long been a refuge for every maverick under the Atlantic seaboard sun and contender for Gay Capital of America. That vibe has survived the desperate ravages of the AIDs era and the recent party-pooping of two pandemic years, which has shut or shrunk all of its extravagant celebrations. We just caught the tail-end of the last annual ‘Bear Week’ proper… 

After nine days of pink high jinks and endless bouts of cocktails and comedy the pool parties are winding down. Still there’s a raucous rendition of Mamma Mia from the super troupers in fishnets at the Crown and Anchor, while the Commercial Street main drag pulls in gays and straights alike with its trademark high season madness. 

Many of these visitors have driven up from Boston via the U6 W, 120 miles of creeping nose-to-tail, exaust-fest. We sensibly have taken the 90 minute fast ferry from Boston to Provincetown with IPAs on the poop deck and Minke whales across the starboard bow. $92 the round trip but definitely worth it.

What to expect on docking? If you’re not one of that gay crowd here to celebrate the hirsuteness of being a ‘Bear’? Certainly you’ll find a whole, different world from Boston’s combination of gleaming high rises and the brownstone historic haunts of leafy Beacon Hill.

First encounter is with a colourful replica galleon at MacMillan Pier. Then look across at the neighbouring Cabral’s Pier, where an old fish-packing displays an outdoor art installation of five large portraits of local Portuguese-American women. The Portuguese influence dates back to the mid-19th century when increasing numbers of fishermen from that seafaring nation settled where the shoals were, their families following.

But the first significant ‘invasion’ came in November 1620 as the Pilgrim Fathers on the Mayflower made their first landfall in the New World, prior to docking more famously at Plymouth down the coast. An understated park plaque marks the exact spot, but on High Pole Hill above Provincetown there’s a much larger tribute, the 252ft high Pilgrim Monument, hewn from solid granite. You can’t miss it. 

What would those hard-praying Puritan have made of the fishing town’s most recent claim to fame? It was back in the Sixties that Provincetown first saw the influx of a substantial (and increasingly affluent) gay community that colours its vibe to this day. The summer population is over 60,000 taking advantage of its abundant, clap-boarded boutique lodgings; in winter it shrinks to just 3,000 and reverts to feeling like the end of the Earth.

 Not quite like that in July. Still Commercial Street, however exuberantly awash with leather, drag, and Speedos, avoids the vulgar mayhem of, say, Beale Street in Memphis or Bourbon Street in New Orleans. That’s thanks to its strong feel of community both across Bear Week and the Carnival in  August and Family Week, the world’s largest gathering of families in the LGBTQ+ community (all going ahead in 2022, fingers crossed. Check here).

Let’s admit it, there’s only so much al fresco Mamma Mia you can take. With time to spare before lunch we take a shuttle out to Herring Cove Beach and the tranquil outer reaches of the Cape Cod National Seashore – a 40 mile stretch of park preserving 44,000 acres of forest, marsh, bog, and ponds, lighthouses, windmills and shacks… from Chatham in the mid-Cape to the scorpion tail spit that slides into the Atlantic above Provincetown. Back in 1961 it was created by President John Kennedy, no stranger to this neck of Massachusetts.

We walk back through the dunes to take further refuge in The Canteen, a fabulously laidback seafood snack and craft beer haven, recommended by a Boston acquaintance. Clam chowder, shrimp bahn-mi and the obligatory lobster rolls wolfed in a ramshackle garden terrace overlooking the ocean. What’s not to swoon over?

Its owner Rob Anderson recommends a raft of other Provincetown diversions… Tim’s Used Books, army-navy-surplus emporium Marine Specialties, the nautical-rock star outfitter Map, pleasure-and-safe sex shop Full Kit Gear, and the bohemian marine utopia Loveland, the Albert Merola Gallery, the quirky and eclectic John Derian shop, Four Eleven Gallery, hippy-dippy Shop Therapy, and Julie Heller Gallery.

This hedonistic party town also pays its dues to to its rich cultural heritage, most notably at the lovely Provincetown Art Association and Museum. It has been around over 100 years. In its early years Eugene O’Neill frequented its bar, along with many other mavericks (check out the Old Colony Tap). He premiered the play that won him the first of his four Pulitzers, Anna Christie, in 1916 at Provincetown Players’ East End theatre, converted from a Lewis Wharf fish shack. Arguably this was the wellspring of modern American drama.

At 577 Commercial Street you’ll find a round blue plaque that reads, “Eugene O’Neill 1888-1953 Dramatist Lived Here.” When the town got too hot for him he also dwelt for a time in a lifesaving station deep in the dunes.

Cut to 35 years later and another great dramatist, the young Tennessee Williams, spent four summer seasons in the town, falling in love and having his heart broken. He stayed at Captain Jack’s Wharf in the West End, where he wrote The Glass Menagerie on a borrowed typewriter. Amazingly at a theatre on that wharf he debuted A Street Car Named Desire with Marlon Brando as Stanley Kowalski before the play appeared on Broadway

Alas, both these theatres are long gone, but Captain Jack’s Wharf remains, a colourful magnet, where you can rent out condominium cabins, and the town is again hosting its annual Provincetown Tennessee Williams Theater Festival this September (22-25) across various venues.

Truth is that all the resident literary heroes who found congenial refuge in the town are now ghosts – the most recent Norman Mailer, who died in 2007 after spending 45 of his last 60 summers and writing most of his books there in his large brick seafront house. He once called it “the last democratic town in America – everybody is absolutely equal here”. 

Anthony Bourdain was, of course, only passing through, but his Provincetown rite of passage (with pan scrubbers) yielded extraordinary fruit…

Anthony Bourdain in Provincetown

Bourdain spoke at length about his time in Provincetown during that 2014 Massachusetts episode of his CNN show, Parts Unknown.

“It was here, all the way out at the tip of Cape Cod, Provincetown, Massachusetts, where the pilgrims first landed,” Bourdain said. “And it was where I first landed. 1972, washed into a town with a headful of orange sunshine and a few friends. Provincetown, a wonderland of tolerance, longtime tradition of accepting artists, writers, the badly behaved, the gay, the different. It was paradise.

“The joy that can only come with an absolute certainty that you’re invincible, that none of the choices that you make will have any repercussions or any effect on your later life,…Because we didn’t think about those things. I don’t even know what I thought I was going to be. At that point, I certainly didn’t think I was going to be a cook. I don’t know what I thought I was going to be. I was just, you know, hanging out in a beautiful place.

“The Flagship, it’s where my cooking career started. Where I started washing dishes, where I started to have pretensions of culinary grandeur. It would seem like a good gig for anybody. Who else got to live like that during that time?”

The Flagship, aka the Dreadnaught, is long shut and converted into apartments, but one of Bourdain’s few remaining locals remains. It’s my regret I never got to Atlantic House Bar in Masonic Place (above). Dating back to 1798 and in the same family hands for more than 75 years, it is ‘America’s oldest operating gay bar’, according to Bourdain. In the episode current owner April Cabral tells how her dad invited Billie Holiday, Ella Fitzgerald, and Nina Simone to perform at the bar. Tennessee Williams was also a frequent guest, once frolicking in the nude there. So Provincetown.

For full tourism information on Provincetown visit https://ptowntourism.com; for Massachusetts try http://www.massholiday.co.uk and for specific tips on how to enjoy Cape Cod go to https://www.capecodchamber.org.

Was there ever a hotel as ace as the Ace? In my first visit to Portland, Oregon I revelled in its grungy quirks (even the vintage shower that didn’t work). With master mixologist Jeffrey Morgenthaler and definitive Stumptown Coffee on the premises and the legendary Powell’s City of Books two blocks away who could ask for a better base in this playful, radical city George Bush dubbed ‘Little Beirut’?

Ace Hotel – could a Portland rival oust it from my affections?

I swore this would always be my Portland lodging of choice. And the vow stuck – until six months later, stopping off on a San Francisco-Seattle road trip, I discovered Jupiter. Not via any space shuttle, simply by crossing the Burnside Bridge into a post-industrial quarter that’s on the up from a long way down. In this process the Jupiter Hotel and its in-house  live music venue, the Doug Fir Lounge, have been a major catalyst, along with Portland’s top restaurant Le Pigeon next door and Burnside Brewing Co across the road. Good things come in clusters.

The Jupiter was out of this world, especially the Doug Fir Lounge

We had been asked when booking the Jupiter, a converted motel, whether we preferred a room on the Bar Side or the Chill Side; the former giving you an up-close share of party central until dawn, the latter offering a chance of some shut-eye. We chose Chill, taking advantage of an extremely comfortable bed in a compact but murally soothing environment.

Host to many top acts, the Doug Fir Lounge has regularly been named one of America’s premium gig venues – and there’s strong competition in Portland itself from the likes of Mississippi Studios and the Crystal Ballroom. Indeed the Jupiter’s leaflets claim 12 music venues within a mile radius (along with five distilleries within two miles and award-winning breweries four blocks) We just loved the timber-clad Doug Fir’s happy hour bar vibe, the raucous stand-up getting the party under way and then the fire pit bonhomie of the joint.

Le Pigeon – I’d cooked the recipes, would the real thing live up?

The beer was better, though, at Burnside Brewing and we couldn’t resist taking in Le Pigeon, 30 seconds round the corner. I’ve been cooking from restless pioneer Gabe Rucker’s cookbook for several years and the bistro didn’t disappoint with dishes such as caraway crusted sweetbreads; foie gras thom kha; and truffled chicken, shrimp and grits, corn succotash, prawn-tarragon aioli. Top end prices, especially for wine, belie the casualness of the setting and make it a special occasion place.

Legendary street food from Mong’s Khao Man Gai

A more accessible and affordable bet for a Jupiter guest is three minutes’ walk away on S.E. Alkeny Street – a cafe outlet from street food champion Nong’s Khao Man Gai, whose original food cart is still serving its trademark poached chicken with rice downtown on the corner of SW 10th Avenue and SW Alder Street. Sunday Times restaurant critic Marina O’Loughlin is a big fan.

Street food ‘pods’ are scattered around a city devised on a grid system (hence NE, NW etc attached to some impossibly long streets to signify which district you are in). The corner of 28 South East Place and Division Street hosts the Tidbit Food Farm and Garden, a lovely place to refuel, global food carts circling the Scout Beer shack like covered wagons. 

Bibimbap, sushi, roasted pepper tri-tip, Fillipino pork stew – it’s a dazzling Asian road trip. Alternatively, there’s Texas brisket or candied bacon burgers, waffle sandwiches and wood-fired pizza. I grabbed a picnic table, a Fresh Hop Simcoe brewed by the hyperactive beardies at Breakside and slurped the best bone stock rich ramen I’ve ever eaten from a truck called Hapa. The name describes the fusion of Japanese cooking techniques and Hawaiian recipes. For a full of Portland’s food cart locations visit this link.

Extracto is in the forefront of the city’s vibrant coffee culture

Though Seattle would claim the honour, sometimes you feel Portland invented coffee, too, it’s home to so many acclaimed roasteries. Stumptown is the place to start. It took on the city’s nickname (from its logging past) and for nearly two decades this roastery has set the standard by which rivals are judged. These are many to pick from nowadays. Take Extracto , a decade-old chain of two with its roastery at the original N.E. Killingsworth Street cafe/shop. From the Eleven of Spades house-blend through rare single-origin roasts to the elevation of latte decoration to an art form it hits all the right coffee buttons.

The Simpsons doughnut homage at Voodoo

With all this coffee, well, you’ve got to have a doughnut. Jupiter does a ‘The Magic is in the Hole’ certificate for guests, providing a ‘Voodoo Dozen’, a pink box of 13 from the city’s most hyped provider. Voodoo even run to a Homer Simpson tribute doughnut (creator Matt Groening is a Portlander and several of the cartoon’s characters are named after its streets – Ned Flanders, Milhouse and the like). 

But Blue Star has the edge in the Portland Doughnut Wars

Locals insist  Blue Star is the hipster doughnut of choice. I understand why when I scoff one of their lauded creations – a riot of intense chocolate, cream and brioche. The wonder of it is captured fully in a local website’s Deconstructing Blue Star’s Valrhona Donut. I’d checked out their Mississippi Avenue outlet en route for a Brewvana craft beer walking tour. 

April is our guide to the city’s amazing beer varieties

This vibrant corner of town, once a no-go area now on the cusp of gentrification, has lots to offer – the aforementioned Mississippi Studios, a street food pod (naturally), a cannabis store and the amazing Paxton Gate offering stuffed animal collectibles – but its breweries are worth the trip alone. Our Brewvana Mississippin’ tour guide April took us around three, Ecliptic, Stormbreaker and Hopworks Bike Bar and what our small party tasted along the way, especially at the latter, revealed why Portland contends with Denver for the title of US Capital of Beer. The three hour tour costs $69 and you do get to eat the pretzel necklace that brands you as an ale geek.

Snack on this choc chip treat and get high

Of course, the intoxicant of choice is not always malt and hop-driven. ‘Keep Portland Weird’ says the parking lot sign opposite Voodoo Doughnuts. Personal consumption of cannabis is legal in Oregon; still I resisted the temptation in its largest city to get high on a brownie infused with the stuff. They even sell ready-rolled joints in specialist dispensaries such as Nectar.

Himalayan salt is the tangy new kid on the block at Mark Bitterman’s saline mecca

Oh and salt is more than a footnote if you visit Mark Bitterman’s two sodium chloride-centred delis called The Meadow. Conveniently, one of them is up on resurgent North Mississippi Avenue next door to a Blue Star cafe. It was here I bought kala namak (Himalayan black salt) and a couple of Bitterman’s books – one on salt naturally, the other on cocktail bitters.

In it he name-checks another Portland legend, Jeffrey Morgenthaler, mixologist at Ace Hotel’s Clyde Common bistro and Pépé le Moko speakeasy. I couldn’t resist begging this  cocktail high priest for one of his celebrated barrel-aged Negronis.

Freaky fish in the brickwork – who said Portland was weird?

Post Negroni (or three) for further weirdness walk up to 901 Salmon Street and gaze up at a whole salmon swimming through the corner of a brick building. It’s an 11ft long bronze sculpture called Transcendence, high above a seafood restaurant.

I lived with this cat in my quirky Ace lodging

The city hosts some of the most inventive street art around. Some of it had rubbed off in my room at the Ace, adorned by a giant cat image guarding my personal vinyl deck. Retro touches extended to a Heath Robinson-like steel shower in my standalone tub that I gave up on and recycled fabrics and furnishings I found charming if hardly luxurious. Downstairs, though, oozes sociable cool. Check in and you may never leave. Unless Jupiter is in your orbit, dude.

For something different to enliven your stay in this most civilised of American cities in bewildering times check out these five fun options:

1 Small is beautiful at Leprechaun Park

Mill Ends Park – total area 452.16 sq in – holds the Guinness World Record for the world’s smallest park. Known as Leprechaun Park, it fills a circular concrete hole, once meant to be the base for a lamp-post on Naito Parkway. Back in the 1940s a local journalist, whose office overlooked it, decided to plant flowers there and it was officially recognised as a city park on St Patrick’s Day 1976. PS Don’t aim to spend a whole day there. 

2 Or if you fancy a more expansive green escape

The formal Japanese Garden has now added an extra 3.4 acres to its original 5.5, featuring ornamental cherry trees, ponds and tea house. The revamped Cultural Village has an authentic style medieval castle wall, which was built with traditional hand tools under the watchful eye of a 15th-generation Japanese master stone mason. It’s a place of tranquil contemplation all year round but must be spectacular in blossom season.

3 Portland’s Chinatown

Once dubbed ‘The Forbidden City of the West, it is now much diminished. The opium dens, brothels and kidnappings via the ‘Shanghai tunnels’ to the riverside are now gone, but the area retains a certain seediness. All the more surprising to stumble upon the gorgeous Su Lan Chinese Garden, which occupies a whole city block on NW Everett Street. Modelled after Ming Dynasty gardens and built by Chinese artisans from twin city Suzhou, it offers a microcosm of Chinese culture. Taste the tea, feel the harmony. A Portland must.

4 A good bookshop? 

Look no further than one of America’s largest, offering used and new – Powell’s City of Books. On West Burnside Street around the corner from the Ace and boasting a spectacular wine and cookery section, I couldn’t resists its allure. After three Powell’s trips my Delta baggage allowance was in serious danger.

5 Wine? Head south to the Willamette Valley

Portland has its own urban wine scene, but the real deal is less than an hour away. Willamette is famous worldwide not for being Portland’s river but for being focus of the Oregon wine industry. Roam the hills around Newberg, Dundee and McMinnville 30 miles or so south of Portland. You’ll receive a warm welcome at any number of folksy family wineries. To plan an itinerary visit this link. We went upmarket to Ponzi, one of the pioneering wineries created by ‘escapees’ priced out of California and seeking a fresh terroir for the Holy Grail grape, Pinot Noir. That was 45 years ago and nowadays the luxurious tasting room and terrace overlooking the Chehalem Hills vineyards feels not a million miles from Napa. Accordingly, a single flight featuring a selection of current vintages costs $20 with cheese and charcuterie plates from $12. Worth splashing out for wine and setting. The winery has recently been bought by Bollinger.

Fact file


Neil Sowerby stayed at The Jupiter Hotel, 800 East Burnside Street, Portland, OR 97214 and at the Ace Hotel, 1022 S.W. Stark Street, Portland, Oregon 97205.

The Covid pandemic has grounded most of the transatlantic air services, but as lockdown ends expect a resumption from the like of British Airways and Delta.

An essential guide to the area is Travel Portland. For further afield in the state go to Visit Oregon. To plan your American trip of a lifetime go to Visit USA.