What to do in Portland OR?
I get asked “what to do in Portland Oregon” all the time and I find it really hard to answer because everyone has different taste. Also, there’s so much to do that it’s a long conversation especially when it comes to food. In Portland that there’s something for everyone. I hope you can find several things to do from this list. It may only take you a weekend or you might want to stay a week. If you want to know more about Portland Oregon in general I’ve got a post about that too. Also about what makes Portland so weird.
This might be the top thing on the list for everyone’s “what to do in Portland Oregon”. Go to Powell’s. This is probably one of the most well known landmarks in Portland Oregon. It’s the world’s largest independently owned bookstore that offers six floors of new and used books. People come from miles around just to wander the book aisles and maybe buy a book or two. There’s also frequent events with authors. It’s easy to get those new releases signed or maybe an author photo. Pro tip: if you go to an author event have your book ahead of time or grab one early before the event. Book copies usually sell out fast.
Portland food carts:
The low cost way to start in the food industry has been food carts. Portland was so devoted to the food scene that we had whole city blocks dedicated to food carts. Now those lots are being developed into hotels as Portland is rapidly growing. It’s sad to see the food carts getting pushed further out of downtown and the city but you can still find them. The food is usually really good and a great way to get a “to-go” meal over any fast food restaurant you can find, however you do have to get out of your car to get the food. And you might have trouble deciding what to get as there are so many carts in some of the “pods” as we like to call them. Ask a local where there favorite pod or cart is and they’ll likely have a few choices for you.
My favorite cart pods are on the eastside now. There are two really close together off SE Hawthorne. One is at Hawthorne and 12th on the NE corner and the other is at Hawthorne and 11th on the SW corner. The one on 11th is very new! If you eat at either of these pods I would highly recommend a stroll through Ladd’s addition. It looks like an X on maps and there are four rose gardens you can tour.
We have a great art museum in town but it’s more than that. We invest in our art. In Multnomah county we have an arts tax. We love to have murals and sculptures all around town. It’s not hard to find something colorful or fun when walking around town. If you’re visiting on the first Thursday of the month you can also find an evening of open galleries in the Pearl. On the last Thursday of the month, spring through fall you can find more alternative artists on Alberta Street.
Ever since Stumptown and Starbucks the PNW has become the coffee capitol it seems. We’ve got local chains on almost every corner. I love that it’s more about small business than the big name brands even though we do have Starbucks but it did start in Seattle so it qualifies as local. Some other brands you might want to try include Heart, Case Study and Oblique.
From voodoo dolls to donut holes and donuts with booze syringes we’ve got it all. There’s so much to choose from you might want to do a donut tour! Maybe make it a coffee and donut tour. The most frequented donut place is Voodoo Doughnut in downtown Portland Oregon. Pro tip: if you don’t want to wait in line you can pop over to the east side and still get a Voodoo donut without the long line. Some people say that they don’t mind the line as it’s part of the Portland Experience.
The second most popular donut place or maybe equally as popular for other reasons is Blue Star Donuts.
Some say that Portland Oregon is the beer capital of the world but there might be others not far behind or maybe at the same level. Some days it’s hard to know what’s real or made up in the online world. Regardless, Portland is known for its craft beer. We have over 60 breweries making everything from IPA to porters to sours. There’s so much beer and it’s always rotating so it’s hard to try it all even for a local.
Do a beer tour in a bus or on a peddle “car”. You can also plan your visit around one of the many beer festivals.
If you don’t like beer a lot of the breweries also have a cider or two on tap. They may also have a full bar.
There’s a few urban wineries and some just outside the city. Pretty much everywhere you go in Oregon there will be a winery or vineyard to see. Probably the most famous area for wine is the Willamette Valley and the most well known wine that comes out of Oregon is Pinot Noir. If you’re a wine lover there’s plenty of it to taste at local watering holes or the wineries themselves. If you’d rather leave the driving to someone else there’s a wine tour you can take.
If beer or wine is not your thing then we have craft spirits as well. You might have heard of Aviation Gin? That might be the most famous spirit that has come out of Portland Oregon and has celebrity backing. If gin isn’t your thing there’s every kind of spirit you can think of and then some. One of my favorites that is out of production was a camomille liquor.
With those craft spirits there’s some mean cocktails that get made. “Mean” meaning delicious to the last drop! I would say that every bar in town stocks some kind of spirits if not local spirits. The bartenders are really good at making classic cocktails or more creative ones. There’s even locally made bitters to mix with the local spirits.
My favorite local distillery is New Deal. It’s part of Distillery Row where you can do a walking tour of local distilleries. There’s a passport you can get that includes the tasting fees. Plus, you’ll get a book to commemorate the tour.
I know we’ve already talked about food carts on our list of “what to do in Portland” but food in general is another topic. We love our food, what can I say. It’s one of the top things to do especially in winter.
Portland Oregon doesn’t just experiment with beverages but food too. There’s so many restaurants to try. We have award winning chefs and restaurants where you can wait up to an hour (or two) to get a table. Since Portland is a pretty casual city you don’t usually need to wear anything fancy to go out but that also means there’s not many places that take reservations. You’ll be hard pressed to find places that take reservations but if they do they are usually the higher end places.
Another note about food is that we are one of the best cities I have ever been in for diets or allergies. Almost every restaurant in town will accommodate an allergy or a dietary restriction. You don’t need to go to a strictly vegetarian or vegan restaurant to get that kind of food, although you can if you want to. We have a lot of those to choose from.
Portland Saturday Market:
The Portland Saturday Market is 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 the quintessential Portland Oregon experience. The summer is really the best time to go but it operates March through Christmas Eve. Even if you aren’t in the market to buy anything for yourself or someone else it’s still a really fun experience to just walk around. Contrary to the name it is open both Saturday and Sunday.
Portland Night market:
Aside from the Portland Saturday Market we periodically have a Portland Night Market on the east side. Select weekends during the year will have a bunch of vendors and fun all inside an old warehouse type building. It’s a great place for events too. It seems like there’s always something to look forward to in the space not just the whiskey bar in the back up top.
What does it mean to be outdoorsy? Most people that live in portland or visit portland want to get outside into nature. Portland makes it really easy to be a hiker. We even have some really great hikes inside the city; Rocky Butte, Forest Park, Powell Butte, Council Crest and Mt Tabor. In the summer you can also find the locals on the water whether that be in a sailboat, kayak, dragon boat, canoe or standing on a SUP or windsurfing. If you love hiking I might suggest you pick this book up before you come.
We’ve got the most strip clubs per capita in the United States. There’s a lot of variety too! One of the best steaks you can get in all of Portland is at Acropolis Strip Club and it’s cheap too. If steak isn’t your thing you could also try out the vegan strip club that’s right next door. Irony, I know! There’s actually two vegan strip clubs in town. We love to cater to all dietary needs even in our strip clubs.
Concerts and shows:
If you love music or performances we’ve got you covered on that front too. There’s Crystal Ballroom, Revolution Hall, Mississippi Studios, Doug Fir Lounge, Wonder Ballroom, Moda Center, Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall, Keller Auditorium, Jimmy Mak’s, Roseland Theatre, Newmark Theatre and Portland Opera. All of these have a wide variety of things happening all year long.
Waterfront Blues Festival, The Portland Rose Festival, Pickathon, Feast Portland, World Naked Bike Ride, Musicfest NW, The Big Float, the Highland Games, and the PDX Adult Soapbox Derby to name a few. There are also countless beer, wine, cider, spirit and food festivals year round. Any month you come there is bound to be at least four festivals, with even more happening in the warm summer months. In the summer there are not only festivals but many free events you can just wander into and not have to purchase an advance ticket.
Shop for local goods:
Made in Oregon, Madhere PDX, Crafty Wonderland, Bridge and Burn, Boys Fort stores all offer locally made products whether that be food, clothing or art. These are things you can only find in Portland to take home for yourself or gifts. Coffee and chocolate also make great gifts. Not that I’m biased or anything. We also have Jacobson’s Salt which is popular as a souvenir.
We might be big on adult beverages in Portland but why not also have some fun like when you were a kid. Portland has plenty of places to play games from pool to ping pong, bowling and board games. If you are a game lover you must check out one or all of these places: Pips and Bounce, Ground Kontrol, Punch Bowl Social, Grand Central, QuarterWorld Arcade, McMenamins and Guardian Games.
They say laughter is the best medicine so why not have an evening of laughter when you are visiting the Rose City? Check out the schedule at Brody Theatre, Curious Comedy Theatre or Helium Comedy Club.
Unless you are going to walk or bike around the waterfront the best views of the cities many bridges might be the river. There are some sightseeing tours or you could do brunch, lunch or dinner on the Portland Spirit. It would be a great date night.
Not only do we love our music but there’s also a few places that are known for dancing even when there’s not a live band. If dancing is your thing visit one or all of these venues: The Goodfoot Pub, Holocene, Crystal Ballroom and Lola’s Room. For the younger crowd or the young at heart you could also try Dixie’s, Barrel Room or Jones Bar.
The Oregon Zoo:
Just two miles west of the city center with its own Max stop you’ll find The Oregon Zoo, formerly called the Portland Zoo. There’s 64 acres of landscaped park to enjoy along with the many animals. It’s the oldest zoo west of the Mississippi too. If you’re visiting in December it’s a hot spot in town with an event called Zoo Lights. I know that zoos don’t have the best reputation but The Oregon Zoo leads the way in animal welfare and conservation. If there’s any zoo you should visit outside of the wilds of Africa consider this one. If Aquariums are more your thing you’d have to take a day trip to Newport Oregon. The former home of Keiko the whale.
Portland Japanese Garden:
Up on the hill overlooking the city is the Portland Japanese Garden. You’ll be transported to a quiet oasis once you step into the garden. You’ll rarely even hear any city noises. There’s a stream, waterfall and tea house to distract your senses and rejuvenate the mind.
Lan Su Chinese Garden:
One city block in Chinatown, you’ll find the Lan Su Chinese Garden. It may be small but it’s a good place to get lost for an hour or two especially if you just want to sit beside the pond or drink some tea.
International Rose Test Garden:
In Washington Park not far from the Japanese Garden you can find the International Rose Test Garden. From summer into fall you’ll find so many colorful and wonderful smelling roses. It’s a great place for a picnic or a photo session.
You might come into town just to see the Trailblazers or you could try for last minute tickets when you’re in town.
The Timbers have quite a name even outside of Portland but you might also want to check out the Thorns, Portland’s ladies soccer team.
Portland is part of the Cascadia region and has a lot in common with our neighbors to the north. Sometimes we feel like we are more aligned with things that are happening in British Columbia then we are about things that are happening in the eastern United States. So, if you love hockey you can check out the Portland Winterhawks in the winter months.
What you might have noticed most about this list of “things to do in Portland Oregon” is that we love to eat and drink. I mean it is pretty grey out for nine months of the year. We may be outdoorsy but we also like to stay hydrated. Or should I say we like to say we love to warm up with our beverages.
Are you ready to book your trip to Portland Oregon yet? Please be mindful that there is also a Portland Maine when booking your plane tickets. You wouldn’t believe it but I have heard of some folks arriving in the wrong Portland. Eek! Fly safe.
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