Every few years, Portland succumbs to snow. We give in rather quickly: Almost as soon as the flakes begin to fly, the city comes to a grinding halt. It's like a snow globe come to life. While the sky is a furious swirl of white specks, everything below is stuck in a state of paralysis.
The most recent storms, in December 2016 and January 2017, hit within weeks of each other and left the streets in an icy glaze. The season quickly became defined by doomsday gridlock: Caught by surprise, drivers all seemingly took to the roads at the same time only to get stuck, and stories of 12-hour commutes and routes blocked by abandoned vehicles are now legend. When simply trying to make it home becomes a twisted version of hell frozen over, the instinct kicks in just to stay put until the thaw sets in.
It's understandable. But this is actually one of the best opportunities to get outside and experience a city transformed, particularly downtown. The sidewalks aren't clogged with office workers or tourists—you'll often have whole blocks to yourself—while a number of stalwart bars, restaurants and hotels keep their lights on, so you'll never be without a place to defrost. TriMet typically runs MAX lines on schedule in the snow, with occasional delays. And the silence is sublime.
To help you make the most out of your adult snow day in Portland, we've provided you with a full, sunup-to-sundown itinerary. While most of the businesses listed have toughed out storms in the past, it's always smart to call ahead. Alternatively, you could just embrace the uncertainty and discover new gems on your own. After all, that was always part of the fun of a snow day as a kid—no schedule, no responsibilities, and the liberty to do whatever you want.
1. Get buzzed two ways.
Best known as the brewery formerly named Pints, Ascendant serves up a different kind of buzz before noon. Like a growing number of taprooms across the country, the business sought to make use of its space in the morning, when most people aren't ready to order a beer. From 7 to 11 am Monday through Friday, the cozy exposed-brick pub operates as a cafe with Portland Coffee Roasters coffee and pastries from Marsee Baking. If you're so inclined, hang out until the taps start flowing to chase your latte with a Baltic porter. Why not? It's a snow day! Ascendant Coffee Company, 412 NW 5th Ave., 503-564-2739, ascendantbeer.com.
2. Take a self-guided yarn bomb tour.
Like New Orleans' ubiquitous strands of beads, Portland's signature decoration is the knitted koozie. During the year, all across town, you can find the trunks of trees, street signs and fire hydrants covered in what appear to be colorful handmade doilies. But it's around the holidays when the city's yarn bombers really put their needles to work. Nearly two dozen of the bronze animal statues around Pioneer Courthouse Square get outfitted in Christmas-themed apparel. You might spot otters in matching sweaters, a bear wrapped in a red-and-green scarf and cummerbund, and a baby deer donning a stocking cap. Even the umbrella man usually ends up sporting a garish cardigan. Wear yours and take the quintessential Portland selfie with him. Pioneer Courthouse Square, 701 SW 6th Ave.
3. Stroll the South Park Blocks.
Only two natural phenomena enhance the beauty of the South Park Blocks: fall temperatures that trigger the fiery pigment change in the leaves and, of course, snow. One of the city's first green spaces, established in 1869, the promenade already features the prettiest trees in town, even when they've shed their foliage—tangles of elm, oak and maple branches twist skyward, each one covered with a layer of white as if it had been piped on by a giant cake decorator. Walk the 12-block stretch through Portland State University, whose recent multimillion-dollar renovations have transformed most of the multistory concrete boxes into gleaming façades of glass and steel worthy of their place next to early 20th century classics like the red brick Shattuck Hall and the Corinthian-columned Lincoln Hall. Since classes will probably be canceled, you'll roll through the campus with little company. Not even the barking street preacher can hang in this kind of weather.
4. Warm your core in a former mayor's house.
By now, you're due for a pit stop indoors, so head to the northern edge of PSU's campus, where you'll find one of Portland's oldest wooden structures. Now known as Raven & Rose, a British Isles-inspired restaurant, the English Stick-style building with carved curlicue window gables make it look like a life-size dollhouse. It originally belonged to William S. Ladd, a successful entrepreneur and philanthropist who twice served as Portland's mayor. Though Ladd never actually lived here, this is the only remaining establishment from his estate, which is where the horses and buggies were kept. Head to the old hayloft, the Rookery Bar, and take the chill off with a hot winter sangria or the Cold Shoulder, which is dominated by sunny grapefruit. Raven & Rose, 1331 SW Broadway, 503-222-7673, ravenandrosepdx.com.
5. Hunker down for an hour or three in one of Portland's oldest bars.
The red glow of the neon Mobil Pegasus signs behind the bar at Kelly's Olympian should begin to warm you up after traipsing through the frozen streets. A couple years ago, it was one of the few area bars completely undeterred by the winter wallop, fulfilling anyone's need for a beer from one of its two dozen taps or Jell-O shots served in a syringe. Open since 1902 and billed as "Portland's third-oldest continuously operated bar and restaurant," Kelly's has a gritty patina that's as comfortable to sink into as a broken-in leather riding jacket that surely hangs in the closet of the owner of the old motorcycles dangling from the ceiling. It has easily the most entertaining décor of any bar downtown. Vintage gas pumps and signage say "garage dive," while the grafitti on the restroom stalls tell you straight up "you're 100 percent that bitch." Kelly's is the perfect place to hunker down out of the elements for a few hours. Kelly's Olympian, 426 SW Washington St., 503-228-3669, kellysolympian.com.
6. Cosplay as a tourist and cozy up to a fancy hotel fireplace.
The Benson Hotel may not be as posh as the famed New York Plaza, but if you set foot in the lobby, you can easily imagine Manhattan's upper crust feeling right at home among the black-veined Circassian walnut walls and Austrian crystal chandeliers. Snow or not, the property keeps its marble fireplace burning for overnight guests or those simply dropping by. Settle into one of the multi-patterned chairs around the hearth and pretend you're Big Apple high society. During December, you can admire another architectural wonder: the elaborately designed Gingerbread Masterpiece that usually weighs more than 100 pounds and takes hundreds of hours to build. The Benson Hotel, 309 SW Broadway, 503-228-2000, bensonhotel.com.
7. Gaze out at the frozen city from a semi-hidden rooftop.
Few perches are better to survey the snow-coated landscape from than Society's rooftop deck. It's a bit of a secret—unless you're led there by someone in the know, it's easy to miss the discreet sign in the lobby encouraging customers to inquire about the open-air patio. While a toasty fireplace between two buttery leather sofas beckons on the ground floor, take your drink from the corner bar for a ride up the elevator. Not only do you get views ranging from the grove of skyscrapers in Southwest to the Rose Quarter across the river, heat lamps and a cabinet stocked with blankets make it easy to wait out the storm high above the city. The Society Hotel, 203 NW 3rd Ave., 503-445-0444, thesocietyhotel.com.
Hooded snow jacket
Loaded Hop Fastpass