When visiting a new city I like to take at least one tour while I’m there as you can learn about different things to see and do while on tours that you wouldn’t normally think about. Prior to visiting Portland Oregon this fall, I took a look at the tours that were offered and came across the Underground Donut Tour. Who doesn’t love donuts and in my mind when I thought of Portland, Voodoo Donuts was the first thing that came to my mind, so it sounded like the perfect tour for me!
Underground Donut Tour started over 6 years ago by a donut lover in Chicago. They have tours in Chicago, New York City, Boston, Philadelphia, Nashville, Seattle and Portland. Each tour lasts approximately 2 hours long and visits 4 donut shops where you get to sample multiple different types of donuts at each location. On the Portland tour we sampled 15 different donuts, so you definitely will not finish the tour hungry, in fact you might leave with some take home samples you were too full to eat while on the tour, great for a snack later or breakfast the next morning.
Here is my experience on the tour and all the great things you can see in Portland along the way.
Donut Stop One – Sesame Donuts: Located at 1503 SW Park Avenue in downtown Portland, Sesame Donuts. was our meeting spot and first donut shop of the tour. This downtown location is one of a dozen Sesame Donut locations in the metro Portland area. The small local chain is family owned and started when the family moved to Portland from Los Angeles and bought a Dunkin Donuts shop outside of Portland in Raleigh Hills in 1987. Twelve year later, the former Dunkin Donuts became the independent Sesame Donuts. You might ask where the name came from, well it’s from their specialty donut, you guessed it, a sesame donut!
As someone who loves sesame bagels, I was quite intrigued to try the sesame Donut and it did not disappoint, it was different yet delicious, if I lived in the Portland area, I’m pretty sure this would be my go to donut! In addition to the sesame donut, we tried four other types of donuts at Sesame Donuts: apple cider, devil’s glaze, raspberry cream cheese and rose infused. All of them were delicious, although I definitely prefer my apple cider donuts warm and purchased at a farm, that’s just the New England girl in me.
The rose infused donut was pretty different and a must try in Portland which is known as the Rose City! Portland’s cool and damp climate is perfect for roses, so there is an abundance of roses growing in the area. This led to the Episcopal Church referring to Portland as the “City of Roses” when they held a convention there in 1888. The name seemed to stick and there are many activities revolving around roses in Portland including the Portland Rose Festival which kicks off summer at the end of May thru mid-June. Another popular attraction is the International Rose Test Garden where they experiment and grow different types of roses. This is definitely an interesting and beautiful place to visit in Portland.
Sesame Donuts is located near the Portland State University (PSU) campus on SW Park Avenue. There is a beautiful park along SW Park Avenue that is a great spot to walk all year long but especially in the fall. Also nearby is the Portland Art Museum which is definitely worth a visit.
Donut Stop Two – Coco Donuts: The longest walk of the tour was between stops one and two, a great way to work off the 5 samples we had at stop one and work up an appetite for the rest of the tour! When I was on the tour, it was pouring rain, so just a heads up, the tour does run rain or shine, come prepared with rain gear and definitely good shoes to keep your feet dry. One of the great things about the tour is that not only were donut samples included, but if you wanted a coffee, soda, juice or water, they will pay for that as well. A hot coffee was just what I wanted with my donuts on a rainy day.
Coco Donuts is another small local donut chain in the Portland area. On the tour we visited the Uptown location. Coco Donuts has been in business for over 11 years selling their 30 year old family recipe donuts. In 2013, they started roasting their own coffee and to this day, they are the only donut shop in Oregon that makes their own coffee and donuts.
We tried 4 different donuts at Coco Donuts: pumpkin spice, glazed old fashioned, strawberry mochi and lavender. They were all delicious, I was the most surprised with the lavender donut. I’m not much of a lavender fan, but the lavender flavor of this donut was not overpowering at all.
The Uptown neighborhood of Portland features Providence Park which is home to the Major League Soccer team Portland Timbers. There are also many good restaurants and breweries in the area, including Migration Brewing’s new rooftop tap house which features beautiful views of the city and nearby mountains.
Donut Stop Three – Nola Doughnuts: What do you get when a landscape architect, nurse and entrepreneur come together? Well in my opinion you get the best donut shop in the city of Portland, Nola Doughnuts. In a story of making lemons out of lemonade, in 2012 after some deaths in the family, former siblings from New Orleans were reunited in Portland and decided to open a donut shop that would remind them of their childhood in New Orleans. They currently have two shops open, one in the famous Pearl District of Portland and one about 20 minutes south of the city in Lake Oswego, Oregon.
They offer classic brioche doughnuts, mini beignets (can’t have a New Orleans donut shop without beignets!) and signature la’ssants. We had three samples at this stop: lemon poppyseed donut, beignets with peach and cinnamon, and a glazed cream filled la’ssant. Their beignets are made to order and the peach and cinnamon combination was more delicious than it sounds. But the star of the show at this shop was the la’saant. A la’ssant is square doughnut and is similar to a cronut, the dough is handcrafted over three days, which is what makes it so worth it. It’s definitely something you can’t get anywhere else and worth the visit.
The Pearl District is one of the most up and coming neighborhoods of Portland. Located downtown it features many abandoned warehouses that have been transformed into restaurants, bars and shops. It’s a great neighborhood to spend some time in. Make sure to check out Deschutes Brewery and Public House. It’s a great place for lunch or dinner and to try some beer from this Central Oregon brewery.
One of the top things to visit in the Pearl District is Powell’s City of Books. It’s the largest independent new and used bookstore in the world. With so many bookstores, both independent and chain, closing or struggling to survive in the age of reading on kindles and ipads, it’s great to see a successful bookstore still in business. Powell’s City of Books includes over 68,000 square feet and the building occupies an entire city block. There are 3,500 sections located in the store making it a great place to spend an hour or two on a rainy day.
Donut Stop Four – Voodoo Doughnut: The final stop on the tour was the most well known of donut shops in Portland, Voodoo Doughnut. The shop was opened in 2003 in the Old Town neighborhood of Portland by two friends. They sell both classic and unconventional doughnuts. The doughnuts come in some of the most interesting flavors and our sold in the famous pink box. It’s didn’t take long for Voodoo Doughnuts to become famous, they have been featured on many TV shows such as Good Morning America, The Today Show and even The Amazing Race. They have grown from that one shop in Old Town to nine locations in five states. More times than not, lines are out the door and around the block and people have even shown their love for Voodoo Doughnuts by getting married in the shop.
The great thing about the Donut Tour, was being able to skip the line! We tried three different doughnuts at Voodoo: Old Dirty Bastard (chocolate frosted doughnut topped with oreos and peanut butter), Oh Captain My Captain (vanilla frosted doughnut topped with Cap’n Crunch cereal) and Bacon Maple Bar (maple frosted bar topped with bacon). As you can see, the donuts aren’t your typical flavors and they have some fun names as well.
Located in Old Town are some of the popular instagram locations in Portland. Directly across the street is the “Keep Portland Weird” sign and just a few blocks away is the Portland White Stag Sign. Definitely worth the photo op after enjoying your donuts.
I highly recommend taking the tour on a Saturday morning if possible, just a few blocks from the final stop on the tour, Voodoo Doughnut, is the location of the Portland Saturday Market. Located in Tom McCall Waterfront Park, this arts and crafts market is the largest continuously operated outdoor market in the United States. It opens in the spring and is held every Saturday til mid December. Even on a very rainy day, which isn’t uncommon in Portland, there were quite a few people at the market. I loved strolling thru and seeing what the local vendors were selling.
If the weather is nice, I definitely recommend taking a walk along the waterfront. It’s definitely a beautiful area, especially in the fall.
If you are visiting Portland Oregon, I highly recommend the Underground Donut Tour. It’s a great way to try some donuts and also get a good overview of the different neighborhoods of the city. And the tour guides were very knowledgeable about donuts and the city of Portland and also made the tour a lot of fun.
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