Inside the airport
Your mom/uncle/bestie/sperm-donor dad you’ve never met/long-distance Tinder date is coming all this way to see you, so you don’t want to risk making them wait. Pro: Well, you’re right there. You can soak up the vibe at Beaches (see p. 55) until their flight lands. Con: Pricy parking, and the temporary exits at either end of the terminal where travelers emerge might be the most boring parts of the entire airport.
The Cascade Station location of the Seattle-founded chain is about seven minutes from baggage claim. Pro: The person you’re picking up can just hop the MAX Red Line two stops and meet you there while you finish your Monster Milkshake. Con: Good luck getting “Red Robin, yummm” out of your head.
This friendly golf-course lounge eight minutes from the airport offers a killer rotating tap list, five kinds of mac and cheese, a pork belly BLT, and darts. Pro: Can watch the action on the driving range or even take a few swings—check out the $12 special with a lunch entrée and a bucket of balls. Con: It can close early on slow days, or it might be taken over by a private-party rental.
The Swedish furniture and meatball emporium is nine minutes from the terminal. Pro: You needed a new bedside table anyway. Con: Spotty phone service, long, surreal walk through all the staged rooms and mini-apartments back to the car.
Cracker Box Tavern
A feast for the eyes, this knickknack-packed, cash-only dive bar is just 10 minutes away. Pro: Nautical theme, clear-plastic-panel construction, Christmas-light patio, and cheap Modelo cans make it feel like a tropical beach cantina. Con: The “beach” is just a big parking lot next to a used-car dealership and a mini-mart.
Just 11 minutes away, the Catholic sanctuary offers free woodsy walks beneath towering firs and, for an $8 day pass, elevator access to upper-level gardens, with stunning views and a Meditation Chapel. Pro: From a comfy armchair in the sun-warmed Meditation Chapel, you can see the plane land and know just when to leave. Con: The labyrinth walk can quickly start to feel like being trapped in an endless cattle-maze TSA line.
The test station on NE 33rd Avenue, open Tuesday to Saturday for auto emissions checks, is a 13-minute drive from the terminal. Pro: Might as well get that license plate tag renewal out of the way. Con: Long lines near the end of the month due to all the procrastinators.
Managed by Metro, this sandy beach on NE Marine Drive near Salty’s seafood grill and the Sextant bar is a stone’s throw from the north runway but can be a 17-minute drive from the terminal. Pro: Taking a quick dip in the Columbia. Con: The beach’s $5 parking fee costs more than an hour in the airport short-term garage.
Or don’t wait at all!
Of course, your sustainability-minded visitor might not want a special car trip just to pick them up. Instead, they can take the MAX Red Line, which runs from the airport to downtown between roughly 5 a.m. and 1 a.m; wait in the taxi line on Island 2 outside of baggage claim; or, in a new program launched last spring, request an Uber or Lyft right before they’re ready to walk outside and get a special PIN or code to show the next driver in line along Island 2, instead of creepily peering into every passing car. For a real adventure, TriMet even runs a “Night Bus” up 82nd to the airport between 2 and 4 a.m.