I love it when a destination exceeds expectations, especially when they are already exceedingly high.
I always try not to get my hopes up too much, but that proved to be not a problem at Powell's Books in Portland, Ore. What a soulful stroll: room after room, floor after floor, beautifully organized but with a rambling, ramshackle feel that fits like a great pair of shoes.
Powell's is the world's largest independent used and new bookstore, filling a city block and spread across four floors (1.6 acres, but who's counting).
It's certainly a place where even a non-bookish person could while away an hour or two; avid readers will want to "book" (sorry) the better part of a day. Indeed, Powell's is a perfect fit for a city that requires a lot of rainy-day endeavors.
Moseying through its countless rooms felt a lot like strolling around Venice: It's easy to feel like you're getting lost, but you're never really far from a touchstone, or at least a sign pointing to it. The rooms are color-coded, and it's no problem finding a staffer to help with directions.
There are boatloads of discounted books (the new and used volumes are intermingled), and a more than decent chance of finding that work that you loaned to someone years ago and wish you had gotten back.
If time allows, don't miss the third-floor Rare Book Room, where mahogany shelves lend an old-world air to a place that, even without that eminently tasteful space, feels like just about the most civilized spot on the planet.