Portland Oregon, the city that got its name from a coin toss. Yes, you heard that right. It could have been Boston. The two folks were dueling over naming the city from where they came. You might also know the city by some of its nicknames as they are quite common from anyone that has been to the city or lives here.
Portland Oregon nicknames
Rose City or City of Roses: Portland Oregon is home to the International Rose Test Garden but there’s roses all over town planted by the city. Every summer there is a Rose Festival and that’s been happening since 1907.
Rip City: a term coined from an announcer at a Trailblazers game and it stuck.
Stumptown: as Portland was growing and expanding there were many trees that needed to be cut down. They cut a lot of trees down and left the stumps to be removed at a later date. At one point there seemed to be more stumps than trees so the nickname was born and continues to live on with the well known coffee brand that was later acquired by Starbucks.
Bridgetown or Bridge City: Portland has 11 bridge crossings over the Willamette River that divides East and West Portland. Each of these bridges has a different styling and every Portlander has their favorite bridge or two. Beware that most of these bridges are drawbridges and you never know when you’ll get stuck behind a vertical bridge. It can really back up traffic and make you late to an appointment.
PDX: It is the airport code but commonly used in place of saying Portland in writing or verbally.
What to do in Portland OR?
Here’s my top 5 things to do in Portland. If you want to hear about more things to do in Portland Oregon I’ve got another post devoted to just that topic.
Visit Powell’s Bookstore: This is one of the most well known landmarks in Portland Oregon. It’s the world’s largest independently owned bookstore that offers a full city block of books.
Eat at a food cart: Portland has been so devoted to the food cart scene that we had whole city blocks dedicated to food carts. (Slowly they are being taken over for apartments or parking lots.) The food is usually really good and maybe slightly cheaper than going to a traditional brick and mortar restaurant. Enjoy the treats!
Drink a local beverage: Pick your liquid poison, we have it all. We have local craft beer, cider, spirits, wine, coffee, tea and kombucha.
Go on a hike: In Portland we love the outdoors especially our waterfalls. You might have heard of Multnomah Falls but right next door you’ll find some other gems that are worth seeing when you’re out in the Columbia River Gorge. It’s just a short drive from the city. If you’d prefer to stay in the city my favorite hiking trails are in Forest Park.
Wander through Portland Saturday Market: March through Christmas eve you’ll find the largest continuously operated outdoor market in the United States. There are all kinds of arts and crafts vendors along with some street performers and food. It’s one of the best ways to see a glimpse of Portland culture.
Portland Oregon weather
What are the seasons like in Portland? We have pretty distinct seasons in Oregon but it’s much more mild than other states. We do have a cold winter and hot summer but the extreme days are few and far between. In the winter it does snow at least one big snowstorm and gets below freezing for a few days. If you’re lucky the days below freezing don’t coincide with the snow days because that leads to the city becoming completely non-functional. We are not set up for snow or ice as we don’t salt our roads. We also don’t have very many snow plows and they are slow to get around. Most streets can’t even fit a snow plow.
In the summer Portland Oregon does have a few days over 90 and some over 100 fahrenheit but usually less than 10 or 20 of those days. Most days between spring and fall stay pretty mild in the 60s and 70s. 80s in the summer can be quite nice as there’s no humidity so it’s a pretty dry heat. However, in the summer if there’s wildfires anywhere there will be a lot of smoke that can make the summer air unbearable to breathe.
When is best time to visit?
If you don’t mind the rain or the colder temperatures then winter is a great time to visit as there’s fewer tourists to compete with. There’s also some slopes to ski up on Mt Hood.
Wanting a little less rain and more chances of sunshine, then I would suggest fall or spring. To me, fall and spring are my favorite times to be in Portland but also to travel. I love the colors that nature has to offer in the shoulder seasons versus those bright blue or dreary gray skies.
The best Portland Oregon attractions in the spring are the tulip and iris fields. There’s the Wooden Shoe Tulip Festival and the Keizer Iris Festivals just south of the city. If you love flowers there’s also the Dahlia Festival, the lavender farms and the roses to see in summer. All of these attractions are not far from the city. They are easy to do all in one day or on several different days but you will need a car.
Never fear as there are also fall Portland Oregon attractions as well. If you’ve seen a photo of a Japanese maple tree on the internet there’s a good chance it’s from the Portland Japanese Garden. It’s one of the best places to see fall color in the city. PDX is not “the” place to see fall colors but we do have some color. A good spot South of the city would be Silver Falls State Park. There are several yellow trees to be seen. There can also be great color found in the gorge or up on Mt Hood.
How to act like a local in Portland
One of the best ways that people know you are not local is how you dress and how you pronounce certain words. Before you visit or right when you get to town I would ask a local how you say the following words:
- Couch St.
- Willamette River
- Glisan St.
If you venture outside the city there might be some other words but honestly even the locals disagree about certain pronunciations like Latourell Falls.
Now, let’s talk about the dress. There’s no dress code but we do love our flannel and yoga clothes. There’s no dressing up here. It’s a rare job you have in Portland Oregon where you would have to wear a suit. Most people wear nice jeans and shirts. It’s a smart, casual kind of city. It’s also a very active city. Very outdoorsy so a lot of people wear their yoga or hiking clothes for almost everything that they do from brunch to dinner.
I think the state car has to be the Subaru because we love to get out in all weather and on forest service roads. And yes, we’ll be wearing our hiking, yoga gear or flannel. You might also find us sporting a lot of the clothes that are headquartered in Portland like Nike, Adidas, Icebreaker or Columbia (Sorrel, Prana, Mountain Hardware).
The locals say they don’t like umbrellas and they never use them. I, personally, own 5 or so umbrellas but I don’t often use them as I usually end up with just my raincoat. It seems like the weather is almost always “…with a chance of showers” so how many days a year would you realistically want to carry an umbrella? Don’t let the locals tell you that we hate umbrellas and that we never use them, it’s just not that common especially if we get east winds.
If you forget your umbrella and you want to buy one when you are here, might I recommend the local brand Shedrain. I’ve owned several of their umbrellas over the years and the only reason I stop using them is that they’ve gotten stolen. Boo!
If you’re visiting Portland for the first time I highly recommend you stay in downtown Portland. It’s the best place to experience the city. The MAX which is the cities light rail system is really convenient if you need to get anywhere outside downtown Portland. It’s easy to get from the airport into downtown as well. It might be the cheapest airport transfer you’ve ever paid at only $2.50 USD. It will take you about 45 minutes to take the ride into downtown Portland from PDX. If you’re in a hurry you can always try a taxi, Uber or Lyft. For me, a Lyft from the airport into town is about $25.
Ways to get around portland
As with any big city there is rush hour or should I say hours. It can be chaotic to get from one side of town to the other especially if you were coming in or going to the suburbs. Rush hour tends to run a little later in the mornings than other major cities but it still happens. Morning rush hour seems to be at it’s peak between 7:30 and 9:30. Evening rush hour starts around 2 and ends after 7.
Public Transit: Portland TriMet which includes the Max, bus, streetcar and tram. If you buy a pass on one you can use it on all. There’s also a handy app (trimet tickets). Be aware that it is much easier to get east to west (west to east) than it is to go north south (south north). There are far fewer main streets that go north south then east west.
Uber/Lyft: A common way to get around in many city and Portland is no exception. Lyft is usually my first choice over Uber.
Walking: I know when I go to a new city I think the best way to get to know it is by walking around. If you’d rather have a guided experience there’s a small fee but you’ll get to know the city better than you might on your own.
Bike town bikes or bike rental: Around town you’ll find bright orange stalls and bikes that you can rent for 30 minutes or the whole day. There are also bike shops where you can do a bike rental or even a bike tour.
Zipcar: A car sharing service that you might be familiar with in other American cities. To use the cars you must sign up for a membership.
Car2Go: Another car sharing service that operates in the United States, Europe and China. They have smart cars and full size Mercedes all around the city.
Getaround: As a peer to peer car sharing platform, you’ll be renting a car from a local. When they aren’t using it it’s up for grabs. No membership fee and insurance is included.
ReachNow: If you like BMW’s then ReachNow is a good car sharing service for you.
Car rental: We’ve got all the usual car rental places like Enterprise, Hertz, Avis and Dollar.
Things to do in downtown Portland Oregon
I know we’ve already talked about what to do in Portland but there’s also another list I’d like to share. What to do in downtown Portland Oregon? Many of the best hotels are right in the city center. There’s a great mall called Pioneer Courthouse Square that also houses some bowling lanes and a movie theatre. Portland’s living room is a place of several activities, festivals, concerts, movies and protests. When there’s nothing happening it’s still a great place for people watching or eating a picnic.
Oregon is known for its many waterfalls but you don’t even have to leave downtown to see some falling water. There are many fountains in town even one that is modeled on the famous Columbia River Gorge, the Kellar Fountain (seen below). Beware that the fountains don’t operate in the winter as we have enough water coming down from the sky.
What else is in downtown Portland (or just up the hill) that we haven’t addressed? There the Portland Japanese Garden, Lan Su Chinese Gardens, Forest Park, the International Rose Test Garden, the World’s Smallest Park and so much more!
Where to stay in Portland Or?
There’s so many options for places to stay in the city that it might be hard to pick. It’s also hard to go wrong. To be honest I might pick based on price as the locations are all fantastic in downtown Portland. Some might be closer to things you want to see than others but the city is really walkable especially in the downtown area.
Best hotels in Portland Oregon
- The Nines
- The Paramount
- Kimpton Hotel Monaco or Hotel Vintage
- The Benson
- Embassy Suites
- Hotel deLuxe
- Ace Hotel
- The Heathman Hotel
Fun neighborhoods in Portland Oregon besides Downtown
If you don’t want to stay downtown or you just want to venture out and get more of a flavor for Portland as a whole city then you must check out these other neighborhoods. In these neighborhoods you’ll also find condo or house rentals. There’s even tiny house options! Or staying in an old school (one of my favorite places to stay) These are all great alternatives to a conventional hotel, especially if you like staying like a local, however you aren’t really in the heart of downtown. Check out booking.com for all your options. *
- N Mississippi/Williams
- Alberta Arts District
- Nob Hill / NW Portland 23rd and 21st St
- Buckman (Belmont St)
- St Johns
Keep Portland Weird
There’s a lot of things that make Portland weird like the bagpipe playing unicyclist or even the weather. There’s nude beaches even though you can be nude anywhere in Portland Oregon as long as you aren’t doing anything naughty. We have strange museums and sculptures plus old pony rings. There’s so much weirdness in the city you might not be able to see it all in one visit but you can try.
My list of what makes Portland weird.
Portland Oregon time
We run on Pacific time which is -7 or -8 hours behind GMT. We do observe daylight savings time as does most of the united states so beware that in March and November there is a time change by one hour and that time change does not line up with time changes in other countries. If you’re planning a trip I highly recommend putting the time in Portland Oregon in your world clock list on your phone. It can help you adjust before you go. Maybe you can start to adjust your time before you head out. I know that for me a three hour time change can be more disruptive to my sleep and meals than an eight hour time change.
Want to venture outside of Portland?
The Columbia River Gorge might be the most visited spot just outside of Portland. It’s about 20 miles and a 45 minute drive to the world famous Multnomah Falls. If you’re in the area you might as well drive the whole “old highway 30” or as the locals might refer to it as waterfall way. Just off the road with a short walk from your parking space you can enjoy Horsetail Falls, Latourell Falls, Shepperd’s Dell Falls, Wahkeena Falls and Bridal Veil Falls. Bridal Veil Falls is the only one not partially seen from the road or parking lot but you will drive over it.
There’s so much more to see in the rest of the state and just across the border.
While we only have one national park in the whole state of Oregon we have so much natural beauty that is free to access plus several county or state parks. To access these parks there might be a small fee, if anything. Some will require a forest pass or in the winter a snow pass to park.
If you want to tour even more beauty you can head just a couple miles north and see Washington state. It’s a lot like oregon but with many more national parks and a bigger metropolis. If you want to explore a lot of the beauty in Washington you’ll need a national parks pass or the discover pass.
Did you know that both Oregon and Washington are mostly desert? When most people think of the Pacific Northwest (PNW) they think of green forests or beaches not hot, dry deserts. So if you want that warm vacation we’ve got you covered from late spring into fall. Just go east from Portland or Seattle.
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