Literary City Guide | Portland, OR

I wanted to go to Portland because it’s a really good book town.
— Patti Smith, singer-songwriter and author of Just Kids

Tour Guide: Eden Bainter

Headshot by Arthur Smid

Headshot by Arthur Smid

After six hectic years on the East coast for school and work, Eden moved to Portland, a close-but-not-to-close distance from her hometown of Walla Walla, Washington. Her day job with a national health organization supports her other non-paying passions: writing, photography, hiking, cooking in and eating out. Her not-so-secret hope is to have urban backyard goats someday. (Photos by Eden Bainter)


Relationship to Portland: I wanted to write and be part of a vibrant creative community in a relaxed and happy place. Of course, I had no idea what this would actually look like when I left my high-pressure job in Washington, DC. It was a leap of faith, but I’ve never doubted for a minute this is where I wanted to be.

Writer you'd like to invite to dinner: Elizabeth Bishop (same initials, see?)

Chef you'd like to prepare the meal: My friend Heather, who started the Special Snowflake Supper Club 

Writing soundtrack: Anything mellow and acoustic – Joni Mitchell, Laura (Gibson or Veirs), The Fruit Bats

Pen or Pencil: Pen, preferably something less inky (as a lefty, I smear everything). 

Coffee or Tea: Coffee for motivation, green tea for absolution.

Paperback or Hardback: Paperbacks – doesn’t weigh down my bike bag as much. 

Good Reads


Powell’s City of Books. What’s there to say about Powells? The mother ship for book lovers, and the West Coast’s answer to New York City’s The Strand. Bring a list, and with an entire city block and three floors, plan to stay awhile. Used books rest next to new ones, so there’s a chance you’ll come in with plans to get the mass run paperback, and leave with a first edition. Regularly has free readings by authors on tour, so check the website to see who’s in town when you’re visiting. 

Mother Foucault’s. One of those increasingly hard-to-find book shops that have a finely curated selection of art, philosophy and humanities tomes, and a well-informed bookseller who likes to chat.

Reading Frenzy. A self-proclaimed “small press emporium” Reading Frenzy showcases an impressive collection of independent media and art. They recently located to a shiny new space in the Mississippi neighborhood; be sure to drop by on your way to ¿Por Que No?.



Central Library. Just over a hundred years old, the Central Library (main branch of the wonderful and sprawling Multnomah County Library system) is a handsome three story building on the National Register of Historic Places in downtown Portland and is home to the Beverly Cleary Children’s Library. If you’re a resident of Oregon, but not Portland, the Oregon Library Passport Program allows you to check out books from over 100 libraries around the state – just like a local.

IPRC Zine Library. Zines are ephemeral in nature and were it not for some dedicated cataloging efforts, many would be lost forever. Luckily the IPRC (see below) actively seeks to persevere zine history, and currently has over 6,000 on hand. The library is open to the public, stop by and explore.

Crumpacker Family Library, Portland Art Museum. The Region’s most comprehensive visual art resource, with over 35,000 items, is open to the public and includes a comfortable reading room. 


Late Night Library. You don’t have to live in Portland to reap the benefits of our literary scene and emerging writers. Late Night Library uses podcasts, videos, online reviews and visiting writer series and live events in Portland in an effort to sustain book culture and support talented writers early in their careers. 

Mortified and Backfence PDX. Along with traditional literary reading series around town, there are several hosted storytelling events that can be, er, more fun than a traditional reading. Aimed at fans of This American Life (but with a twist) Mortified celebrates all those awkward childhood moments that continue to haunt us as adults. Backfence PDX casts a wider net for the entertainment of their audience, with themed evenings like “recipe for disaster” and “losing my religion.”

Loggernaut Reading Series. This series happens a handful of times a year with talented local and happens-to-be-in-town writers. Usually held in a bar or coffee shop, its intimate atmosphere has an uncanny way of making you feel as if you’ve dropped into Portland’s literary inner circle, if only for a few hours. 

Portland Arts and Lecture Series. Every year, this lecture series brings the literary rock stars to town, hosting a half dozen writers and intellectual icons like Salman Rushdie, Ann Patchett and Julia Alvarez at the elegant Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall. 


Independent Publishing Resource Center (IPRC). If you’re interested in publishing your own work, this nonprofit has the information and tools to help make your own artwork, writing, zines, books, websites, comics or graphic novels a reality. 

Oregon Cinema. A creative collaboration between local author Jon Raymond and filmmaker Kelly Reichhart has resulted in several nationally acclaimed films with uniquely Oregon flair – including Old Joy, Wendy and Lucy, and Meek’s Cutoff – based on Raymond’s writings. 

Wordstock Festival. The largest celebration of books in the Pacific Northwest happens annually, and gathers around 250 published writers (and nearly 15,000 readers) in Portland for a week of literary events, readings, and panel discussions.

Tin House Summer Workshop. Ambitious writers flock to Portland’s Reed College campus to participate in a weeklong series of intensive writers workshops and learn from some of their favorite writers (this year’s line up includes Joy Williams, Dorothy Allison and Anthony Doerr). Not ready for a workshop? Sit in on one of the evening readings in the outdoor amphitheater for $5.

Good Eats


Bipartisan Café. A fantastic neighborhood coffee shop in the up-and-coming Montevilla neighborhood that serves breakfast, lunch, and fabulous house-made pie.

Tao of Tea. If you are more of a tea lover (or just looking for something to calm you down instead of pep you up) Tao of Tea has an epic tea list, as well as light, tasty snacks and desserts at both their Belmont location and Tower of Cosmic Reflections (within The Lan Su Chinese Garden).

Stumptown Coffee Roasters. Stumptown is both an endearing nickname for Portland and (in a city of coffee lovers) our most well-known brew. Stop by for a cup at their original location (on SE Division), on Belmont, or in their shop off the trendy lobby of the Ace Hotel downtown. 

World Cup Coffee. For ambitious bibliophiles who find themselves at Powells with a giant stack of books, a budget and some hard choices to make, head over to their in-store coffee shop for a latte, a scone and the freedom to read (and some tough decisions). 


Dove Vivi. An unassumingly adorable cornmeal crust pizza shop on the north end of 28th Street’s “restaurant row”, wedged between a Quickie Mart and dry cleaners. Great slices, friendly staff and a killer kale salad. Stop by after a $4 movie at the independent Laurelhurst Theater down the street.

¿Por Que No? A casual, colorful local Mexican food restaurant with two locations. The line is always there, but moves quickly, and after you've ordered at the counter, sit down and enjoy your margarita and people watch under a wall of bright Mexican tchotchkies.

Bye and Bye. Bye and Bye and its sister bar, Sweet Hereafter, provide great drinks (you'll only need one mason jar of their signature drink at Bye and Bye to start feeling the love) and a menu of vegan-only food items that please the vegetarians and the carnivores alike. (vegan)

Blossoming Lotus. On a quiet side street in the Irvington neighborhood of NE Portland, Blossoming Lotus prepares stellar vegan dishes (kale and whole grains steal the show), as well as a bar area where they make fresh juice, smoothies and cocktails. A great brunch spot. (vegan)

Natural Selection. If you're visiting Portland from big cities like Boston or New York, your jaw will drop at the quality of food you regularly get for little more than a fast-food meal. It spoils you! Natural Selection offers an ever-changing, locally sourced vegetarian, handcrafted prix fix menu that will blow you away. A great "special meal" option (and if your group is more omnivore-centric, try DOC for a similarly ambitious (but meaty) prix fix set up - you won't be disappointed). (vegetarian)


Sprinklefingers. This is half of the story of two childhood best friends who wanted to work together. Find their adorable shop on Belmont, where one sells handmade artisan candies and the best cupcakes you’ll ever eat, and the other sells an eclectic assortment of vintage-inspired home wares, art and stationary. 

Alma Chocolates. Chocolatier Sarah Hart started selling her delectable no artificial flavors or preservatives artisan chocolates at the Portland Farmer’s Market, and now has a lovely little shop full of mouthwatering house made chocolates, small batch ice cream and chocolate-laced espresso drinks. 

Lauretta Jeans and Salt & Straw. Two sweet spots on SE Division street mean you don’t have to make up your mind where you’re going before you go: Lauretta Jean’s pie bakery offers homemade pie by the slice, as well as a popular brunch (think quiche, biscuits and cocktails) and soup and salad items. A block away sits Salt & Straw, small batch ice cream praised by everyone from Martha Stewart to the Wall Street Journal

“The most I can ever do is write things down. To remember them. The details. To honor them in some way.”
―Chuck Palahniuk, Fugitives and Refugees: A Walk in Portland, Oregon

“We kept walking, our shadows moving in shifting blobs over the ground. The sound of river rocks rattled under our feet. We turned along a bend in the stream and a curtain of poplar trees came into view, shivering in the distance, showing the white backsides of their leaves. I watched them for a while until an ancient, aching sorrow rose up in my chest. It was a familiar feeling. Something in the mute, unconscious trees resonated inside me, something so deep and fundamental it failed to remember its own source anymore. I watched the poplars flickering against the hard blue of the sky. What is sorrow? I thought. What is sorrow but old, worn out joy?”
―Jon Raymond, Livability: Stories

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Eden's 5 Favorites

1. Favorite view: Anytime you can catch a glimpse of Mt. Hood, Mt. Saint Helens or Mt. Adams from the city – it doesn’t get old. And locals will never fail to get excited and point out a mountain to each other – as if the mountain hasn’t been there, well, forever. Love it!

2. Favorite place to write: Up on Mt. Tabor, looking out over the open reservoirs and downtown.

3. Favorite museum: Museum of Contemporary Craft

4. Favorite coffee shop: Oui Presse, where you can get an espresso drink, a French-style breakfast, and a full assortment of hard-to-find newspapers, decor magazines and literary journals. 

5. Favorite thing about Portland: Portlanders are passionate and curious celebrators of life. It’s not unusual for someone to tell you about their day job, their night job, their gigs, their band name/small brew beer label, and then say: “but my true passion is vintage ukuleles”. It’s an ongoing episode of Portlandia, and everyone’s sincere.