Thanks to a booming culinary scene, especially its food trucks, and its pop-culture cachet as the setting for the "Portlandia" TV show, Portland, Ore., has basked in the national spotlight in recent years.
But during my recent visit I wasn't as interested in recent developments as much as what drew residents out west in the first place: abundant green space, fresh air and another green plant that's so entwined with Portland's past that it's now part of the city's future.
Take the first stop on my itinerary, Forest Park. The 5,122-acre park is Portland's signature open space, packed with running trails, bike lanes and even equestrian trails. Although it's only a three-mile jaunt from the city center, urban sounds faded into the background as my Uber driver made his way up the winding road into northwest Portland. Near Forest Park lies the Hoyt Arboretum, where a cluster of redwood trees along the aptly named Redwood Trail serves as a serene sanctuary from the hustle and bustle of downtown.
A heat wave struck during my visit, bringing sunny skies and temperatures in the mid-80s, drawing locals to the Willamette River to enjoy watersports or sunbathe.
The Willamette River is popular for kayaking.
While staring at both sides of the river bank, I noticed bike lanes as far as the eye could see. In certain neighborhoods, groups of bikers are permitted to ride side by side, taking up the width of a lane in the same manner as a car. All the favorable cycling laws sparked the seamless business idea of bike tours around the city and greater region.
Pedal Bike Tours has a stronghold on two-wheeled tours of the city, diversifying its offerings to include trips for foodies (Food Carts Tour), oenophiles (Wine Country tour in the Willamette River Valley) and exercise junkies (Columbia River Gorge Hike and Bike Tour). Always wanting the true local experience, I opted to explore a different side of Portland's green lifestyle.
Introduced in fall 2015 to commemorate the summer legalization of recreational marijuana, the Portland Pot Tour tracks the history of cannabis in Oregon, stopping at local dispensaries and head shops. The 11-mile ride crossed the Willamette into the east side, pausing to enjoy the view of the peaceful river. There we learned about Oregon's hemp industry in the 1800s, the outlaw of the product in the 1930s and local politician Vera Katz's role in decriminalizing the plant in the 1970s. We then visited two dispensaries (consumption is not allowed on the tour).
Our midway point was an ode to the munchies at Salt & Straw for ice cream flavors such as the quirky savory pear and blue cheese or the slightly more traditional sea salt with caramel ribbons. We wrapped up the tour and burned off the calories stopping by a glassware boutique, specializing in ornate and pricey pipes and bongs for the cannabis connoisseur. It was the perfect way to marry two of Portland's favorite pastimes.
The Portland Pot Tour is $69 per person; see http://pedalbiketours.com/oregon-tours.