Before I visited Portland, I had no idea what to expect. I’d heard the slogan, ‘Keep Portland weird,’ but wasn’t quite sure what that meant. I quickly learned, Portland is one big playground. There are so many talented creatives working together to push boundaries and bring new, exciting things into the world. A never-ending stream of awesome cafes, great restaurants, live music, quirky boutiques, unique fashion and a focus on perfecting simple crafts. If you’re planning a trip and want to really experience Portland, you’re going to love McMenamins Crystal Hotel. More than just a place to stay, it offers the chance to truly experience Portland and all its wonderful weirdness. Here’s my full review of the incredible McMenamins Crystal Hotel.
Where is this place?
You’ll find McMenamins Crystal Hotel sitting rather elegantly and proudly on the edge of the Pearl District. Of all the places I stayed in Portland, the Crystal was my favourite in terms of location and unique experience. It was a refreshing, fun change from big chain hotels where each room seems to be the same and offered an authentic, community feel. In terms of sightseeing, you’ll find it easy to get around on foot or by bicycle. I ventured up to the Northwest District, explored the Pearl District and Downtown from here. I caught an Uber up to Arlington Heights, home to the Japanese Garden, Washington Park and Zoo, then walked back to the Crystal easily and safely. In terms of location, the Crystal was also my favourite!
How the heck do I get my sweet buns there?
I found myself in Portland as part of a press trip with Mitsubishi and stayed for a few extra days to explore the city for myself. I flew from Brisbane to San Francisco (via Sydney) with Qantas then caught a flight from San Francisco to Portland with Alaska Airlines. It should take around 20-25 minutes to drive from Portland Airport to the Pearl District, where the hotel is located. If ya fancy, you might like to arrange a town car to pick you up ($150-$200). If ya regular shmegular, Uber is a great option ($23-$30). If ya broke, you can catch a tram to Skidmore Fountain Station then walk the rest of the way($4).
What are the rooms like?
I can safely say I haven’t stayed anywhere quite like the Crystal, it was awesome! The century-old, flatiron building has a fantastic historic feel to it, with each room individually decorated to reflect a song or performance at the neighbouring Crystal Ballroom over the past 100 years. The rooms here are small, offering only a bed, table and two chairs, basin and mirror. When I first opened the door to the room I was a bit taken aback by the size of it, but then I realised, this building has stood here for a century.
Rather than gutting the glorious hotel and replacing it with identical rooms, they’ve kept it as-is and, in doing so, retained a truly unique, old-world, historic experience you just can’t get anywhere else. The bathrooms are shared, which can put some people off, but I found them to always be beautifully clean and I never had to wait to use them or even ran into another person using them at the same time (there are 9 rooms with private bathrooms if you prefer). The hotel also provides free wi-fi, which is really good quality, so if you are the type who likes to watch TV to relax (me) be sure to BYO laptop or tablet. There’s no tv or mini bar but I didn’t find that a problem, I watched Netflix on my laptop of an evening.
It’s hard to properly describe the vibe of the hotel, so I’m really hoping, together with the images, you’re getting a good feel for it. It’s just so quirky cool, an amazing combination of history and rock and roll. You feel like you’re right in the thick of things, getting a true Portland experience. It’s one of those unique hotels you’ll never forget.
But, what is there to do?
Like I said, the location is fantastic. There’s so much going on in the surrounding areas. I was travelling solo so visited the bar tucked down in the basement where I listened to live music, sipping on local craft beers (it was awesome!) I’d definitely recommend you check out the gig guide at McMenamins Crystal Ballroom, a short walk up the street. It’s an iconic venue and if you’re lucky enough to catch one of your favourite bands or artists perform, it would be a very special experience. You’ll also find the iconic Powell’s City of Books a short walk away.
I loved exploring the surrounding area on foot, wandering the grid of streets, popping into cool stores and boutiques that caught my eye. I also used the hotel as a base to visit Arlington Heights and the Japanese garden, Washington Park and the Zoo. It was perfect for exploring the Northwest and Pearl Districts and Downtown as well, home to some great galleries and museums. Basically, it’s just a top location, offering loads of great activities and sights to see. Check out my full guide to 26 Awesome things you absolutely must do in Portland.
Talk me through the food situation…
You won’t go hungry in Portland, trust me! There is so much great food on offer and loads of awesome spots to eat near the Crstyal. First things first, I had never had the chance to eat at Whole Foods before and there’s one right across the street from the hotel, so it’s the perfect spot to grab a quick bite, snacks or drinks. You’ll also love on-site restaurant, Zeus Cafe, with dishes ranging from chilaquiles to chicken & waffles, and fresh bakery items and espresso. Meet up for lunch and enjoy the wood-fired pizza fresh from the custom oven, or a specialty salad or grass-fed burger on a pretzel bun. There are plenty of gorgeous nearby spots for breakfast, brunch, lunch, dinner and dessert, you can even walk down to Voodoo Donuts to get your donut fix! Rather than re-list them all, check out my essential guide to 27 of the best places to eat in Portland.
If you’re looking for a unique hotel experience that really immerses you in Portland’s culture, the Crystal is perfect. I would recommend McMenamins Crystal Hotel to couples, probably anyone from 18 through to 50 would love it. The hotel is in a fantastic location, I loved the entire Pearl District and all the great cafes, restaurants and shops in the surrounding area. I also loved how easy it was to get around and see, do and eat everything I wanted. I would just say, noise from the surrounding streets can float up into the rooms but the hotel provides earplugs (again, bear in mind it’s a century old so wasn’t built when double-glazing was a thing). Personally, I didn’t find the noise to be bothersome, it was kind of nice knowing the world was still out there, especially as I was travelling solo. If you’re visiting Portland for the first time, you can’t go past the Crystal, it’s the ideal base and a really fun place to stay!
Phoebe Lee is a travel writer and award-winning blogger with a love for storytelling. Phoebe creates practical, fun and engaging written content designed to inspire and energise travel-lovers and dreamers. Follow her and Matt’s adventures at home and around the world, right here on Little Grey Box and through Instagram, Facebook, and YouTube.