30 Best Things to Do in Portland, Oregon
‘Green, green and green’ is an apt descriptor for Portland, which totes an almost unfair abundance of parks, vibrant flower gardens, rivers and nearby mountains. Yet its humble charms aren’t purely attributed to its natural beauty; Portland’s coffee and culinary scene draws in keen food fighters that bounce between craft breweries and food carts. Let yourself be drawn into the pace – Portland is all about indie spirit, off-beat nuggets and meandering feet.
Kick off with Washington Park
This 410-acre park is the perfect starting point for your Portland adventures as it balances natural spaces with modern facilities and a range of to-visit sites. Its 15 miles of forest trails also act as linchpin to worth-while attractions such as Pittock Mansion, Council Crest and Forest Park. Expect to find a zoo, children’s museum, an arboretum and Japanese Gardens within the Washington Park collective, although this list hardly touches the surface of what it encompasses. If sightseeing isn’t your goal, there are plenty of picnic areas, wild forest and well-manned lawns for a relaxed afternoon itinerary, as well as tennis courts and playgrounds for the more active.
Questions answered at Oregon Museum of Science and Industry
Originally a small planetarium project in a business man’s house, the Oregon Museum of Science and Industry was formally established in 1958 after its growing collection and popularity pushed the Oregon City Council to act. Containing a discovery lab for active young ones, a space science hall that brings space to earth and various earth-themed labs, the museum draws in crowds of all ages. Hands-on exhibits will also take you aboard the submarine USS Blueback, while the Empirical Hall supplements with film screenings and a Motion Simulator. The museum combines interactive displays and in-depth information drops to ensure visitors learn through fun.
Admire the Lan Su Chinese Garden
A visual symbol of Portland and Suzhou’s friendship, the Lan Su Chinese Garden takes after the Ming Dynasty designs to build a serene urban oasis. The walled garden cuts out a space that seems wholly removed from the United States, transporting you into a contemplative and culturally appreciative mindset. Like its translated name, the “Garden of Awakening Orchids”, you will see various flowers at bloom with floating lotus pads on the ponds. Trail the property under canopied pagodas with curved roofs, connected by a series of water-crossing wooden bridges. If you are here to seek peace, you are guaranteed to get it.
Embrace the spiritual at The Grotto
The magical atmosphere of The Grotto will have you reaching for the sky and digging into earth; it is a beautiful green space built around a Catholic Shrine dedicated to Mary. Explore the reaches of this 62 acre property and find the Lady’s Grotto at its heart, a cave carved into the rocky cliff base. There, you will come across Michelangelo’s Pieta in marbled replica, only one of the masterpieces found in this park. Embark on your choice of walks and if you are fortunate, you will be blessed with panoramic views of Columbia River Valley.
Visit the Oregon Historical Museum
No city visit is complete without a historical dive via its museums. The Oregon Historical Museum established in 1898 will walk you through a thought-provoking presentation of the city’s founding and development. Featuring interactive displays, dated documents, surprising artifacts and historical accounts, you can learn a lot about Oregon’s place in shaping America’s history. It is also home to the Portland Penny that gave the city its name.
Get rowdy at any of Portland’s Farmer Market
Immerse yourself into the lively ambiance of Portland’s farmer markets and meet the friendly locals that supply region-grown produce and artisan goods. Grab a quick bite of whatever scintillates your nose, whether it be quiche, tamales or freshly baked goods, even as your browse the wares for something quirky to bring home. Keep in mind that some markets are seasonal, so do your research for special pop-ups. If you tend towards crafts, drop by the Portland Saturday Market.
Drop by Pioneer Courthouse Square a.k.a Portland’s Living Room
Where better to entertain guests than a prime, central location with a lively ambiance and plenty of seats? ‘Living Room’ is an apt descriptor for Pioneer Courthouse Square, thanks to its varied entertainments. Do a quick scan of its various fun features such as the outdoor chess table (where you can challenge strangers to a match) or waterfall-like fountain. Then take a seat at the stairs whose semi-circle arrangement shapes the area into what looks like an amphitheater. You can enjoy live performances from theses sun-warmed seats – which actually have names carved into them. They are the names of locals who contributed donations to the construction fund.
Forest Park in Tualatin Mountains
Adventure through one of United States’ largest urban forest reserves located in the Tualatin Mountains; Forest Park encompasses 5,000 acres of green filtered land and over 70 miles of exploratory trails. These varied walks are suitable for every level and interest, overlooking the Willamette River to provide dynamic scenery. Forest Park is also well suited for bird watchers as it is a natural aviary. For intrepid explorers who like traipsing over ruins, hunt down the crumbling Witch’s Castle and tread through its moss-covered doorways. Story has it that a family of 11 had lived here back in 1850, only for the father to shoot a helping hand who fell in love with one of the daughters. Nothing too spooky, but certainly dramatic!
Explore the Mississippi neighborhood
“A revitalized neighborhood made for hipsters,” one might say when asked to describe the Mississippi neighborhood. “It’s all about that quirky Portland charm.” What was once grungy has now sprung into five blocks of concentrated youth culture, serving up eco-friendly establishments, trendy and eccentric bars, kitschy shops and many indie stores. Shop for prints, decorative objects and coffee-roasting equipment one after another, or spin down 4035 North Mississippi Avenue for vintage architecture. Perhaps you’d like to grab a bite at the food trucks on the west side, before hunkering down towards the north end to see the John Palmer House.
Join a tour of Pittock Mansion
Publisher and paper magnate Henry Pittock once inhabited a beautiful estate west of Portland, its 43 acres of land inclusive of an unusually designed mansion. Sitting at an elevation of 1,000 feet above sea level, the house is poised for bird watching and upon opening to public in 1965, played host to many visitors with naturalist leanings. The property is marked by its geometric design and brick roofing, where triangular capped windows are hemmed in by conical room extensions. Thanks to its grand setting, the mansion has been featured in various film productions.
Smell the flowers at International Rose Test Garden
You might never get the rich aroma of roses out of your clothes, but it is worth it. Get perfumed at the International Rose Test Garden, which first emerged as a seedling idea to preserve European Rose species during World War I. Centuries later, Portland reaps in blossoms that see April and October through a shower of 7,000 rose bushes. A much loved spot for romantics and marriage proposals, it is a free attraction that lures in visitors throughout summer.
Family day at The Children’s Museum
Travelling with kids can get exhausting when they have so much energy locked up, but luckily, Portland steps in with the fun and educational Children’s Museum. Pretend to live like an adult in the model spaces where they are taught daily skills – your children can play in a garage, or plan a meal from start to finish with a quick visit to the grocery store and hands-on bistro. There’s also a Building Bridgetown for them to learn about construction, and a contrasting Outdoor Adventure that will take them back to nature. Enjoy the host of permanent and temporary exhibits!
More beautiful gardens at Hoyt Arboretum
There is no end to natural beauty in Portland and Hoyt Arboretum is another park to be added to the must-see list. A sanctuary for you and its 10,000 trees, you can expect the ultimate pocket of serenity. Presenting over a thousand species of plantation, it is an assortment of scents and colors throughout the seasons. Enjoy a host of trails that tally to 12 miles long, all of which lead up to the visitor center at its center. You can sign up for tours of the park or mile about the picnic area; alternatively, you can also spread a blanket in the meadow and bask in fresh grass.
Join a guided bike tour
Since Portland enjoys many natural wonders, why not rent a bike and breeze through its various hot spots? Independent travelers can cash in $12.50 with Portland’s bike share program for a day’s rental, whereas those who prefer local guidance can sign up for a bike tour. We do recommend guided tours as you get directed towards non-touristy areas, hidden nooks and fun anecdotes from locals. You also have more choice of bicycles and the option of gear rental, such as helmets, lights, locks and even maps.
Go wild at Oregon Zoo
Maybe you have been to your fair share of zoos, but we promise that Oregon Zoo is a city highlight. Its story started with a generous donation of animals by a private collector in 1888. It has now grown far beyond the initial scope, home to almost two thousand animals across more than two hundred species. Oregon Zoo isn’t just a place to entertain either; its breeding programs help ensure the survival of endangered and threatened species. One such conservation effort and popular zoo animal are the African Elephants.
See history at The Portland Art Museum
The Portland Art Museum itself is a historical monument, founded in 1892 to be the seventh oldest museum in America. Its permanent collection amounts to some 42,000 pieces of historic art, including indigenous works contributed by its people as well as artefacts such as English silver. Alongside the permanent exhibits are rotating galleries that explore more contemporary topics. Those who prefer looking at dynamic and innovative art works will also enjoy the adjacent Jubitz Center for Modern and Contemporary Art.
Snap a quick photo at The Benson Hotel
The majestic aura of Benson Hotel is best felt as a guest (you have to live it to really know it), but casual passerby should spare a minute for a photo with this historic hotel. Within walking distance to Adler Street and Pioneer Square, this European-style building was opened in 1913 to feature slick marble flooring, Austrian crystal chandeliers and furnished in walnut wood to deliver an elegant but not overly opulent atmosphere. Visitors wanting to splash out can enjoy fine dining and glimpses of its classic décor, whereas those choosing to admire the hotel’s exterior will find its white-brick scheme and green roof tiles a lovely postcard shot.
Hunt down a food truck pod
There is no shortage of food trucks in Portland, and conveniently, some of our favorites group together into pods for easy sampling. You can hold street tacos in one hand and some European specialty in another and still be raring for more! If you are emerging from Powell’s Bookstore, Alder Food Truck Pod is your closest call (but keep in mind that they are only open for lunch). Alternatively, late night wanderers may munch about Cartopia, a utopia of greasy favorites like pizza and sweet crepes. For a more international spread, Cartlandia features over 30 carts.
Take deep breaths at the Portland Japanese Garden
As you hustle about the city, a brief respite sounds like the best insert into any itinerary. Make a short stop at the Portland Japanese Garden for a five and a half acre rest point. Split into distinct areas, you can choose the space that best delivers tranquility and harmony. The Entry Garden greets you with a thick expanse of green, where the nature-mired walking path will take you through to the Pavilion Gallery, Flat Garden, Sand and Stone Garden and Natural Garden. The Strolling Pond Garden is a blend of the latter two, positing beautiful compositions of rock and bonsai within the pond. There’s also a Tea Garden and specialty house Tsubo-Niwa for more cultural immersion.
Explore the depths of Sauvie Island
Detour northwest of Portland to reach the expansive Sauvie Island, stretching over 26,000 acres along Columbia River. Comprised of various wildlands such as the Forest Park, Ridgefield National Wildlife Refuge, Vancouver Lake and Wildwood Trail, it is the consummate outdoor space for nature-lovers. Spend an entire day doing your activity of choice, whether it is hiking, observing wildlife, kayaking or picnicking.
Fall into new worlds with Powell’s City of Books
Can’t keep your head out of books? Like the smell of old paperbacks and woodsy texture? Book lovers will definitely put Powell’s City of Books at the top of their list. As city estate rental prices drive indie stores out of business and e-literature becomes the norm, the beautiful portals of independent bookstores are slowly becoming minority. Fortunately for Portland visitors, the world’s largest independent bookstore is rooted here. Scour through almost a million books, second-hand and new releases lining the shelves. You can spend hours browsing titles in this bookstore’s nine rooms.
History at The Oregon Jewish Museum and Center for Holocaust Education
Learn more about Oregon’s Jewish community at the Oregon Jewish Museum and Center for Holocaust Education. While it details the Jewish Holocaust, much focus is also put on the documentation of the local community. You will find a visual presentation of art works, archived materials, artifacts and other preservation efforts that explore Judaism in Oregon.
Spring awakens at Tom McCall Waterfront Park
Time your visit well to see cherry blossoms flourish at Tom McCall Waterfront Park. Located along Willamette River, it connects activity-bound crowds and those who like to lounge. You can take it easy with a walk of The Esplanade and join other peace-seekers at the Central Lawn for a grassy break. If you’re lucky, you might catch a concert at The Bowl! Watch out for random joggers and skateboarders when meandering around the concrete plaza, or join them to burn off that excited energy.
Visit the Museum of Contemporary Craft
Contrary to the ‘museum’ labelling of this attraction, the Museum of Contemporary Craft does not just display notable pieces, but in fact aims to educate people on the various art mediums that gift us our decorative products. Founded in 1937, this two-floor building spans 4,500 square feet to showcase exhibitions exploring the timeline of crafts work. Rotating through international and national artists, the museum hopes to demonstrate how versatile glass, wood, metal and ceramic works can be. Visitors can also watch artists at work to learn more about the processes behind each item sold at its store.
Climb up Mount Tabor
Mount Tabor isn’t so much rolling hills and steep cliffs than paved walks and an accumulation of staircases, but its city views are undeniably stunning. Hit the walks early in the morning and breath deep among the trees, and settle at the peak for some prime skyline shots. It is also pretty at night when the city is lit up, although bring a light cardigan with you in case it gets chilly.
Catch a soccer game
Portland’s home team Portland Timbers might be a relative newcomer to Major League Soccer, but their rising stats and popularity has driven their fan count on the high. While you’re in town, pitch in some time for a game at Providence Park! Whether you are a diehard soccer fan or not, there is something special about watching a team revved up with the support of their local community. Join in the cheering for a night of revelry, high tension and community feels.
Drive through to Portland International Raceway
Adrenaline junkie or not, get fast and furious with a trip to Portland International Raceway. You can expect events all-year round, ranging from the usual auto races to motorcycle road races and drag racing. The 1.97 mile long track witnesses over 550 events a year! Don’t think that these events are all in good humor and thrill-seeking fun either – the Raceway also hosts various walking and physical events that raise money for charity work. Definitely give this Portland exclusive a whirl.
Stamp your brewery passport at Distillery Row
Distillery Row might not be a physical street of breweries side by side, but this collection of craft breweries are truly worth the time of liquor tasters. There’s even a passport for you to mark each stop! Enjoy a wide range of tasters, from sweeter fruit brandies to strong gin and whiskey, tea-based liquors and craft beers. Hopping between Distillery Row is a unique way of experiencing Portland’s spirited characteristic.
Flower viewing at Crystal Springs Rhododendron Garden
That’s right, waiting for you to visit is a stunning rhododendron garden situated along Crystal Springs Creek. Parks, arboretums and nature reserves may be painted a luxurious green sea, but what are they without colorful accents of flowers? This botanical garden brings you a vivid mix of flora and fauna, toting bloom-heavy rhododendrons and azaleas among other contenders. As you weave your way through the scented grounds, you can also enjoy the hush of waterfalls, fountains and lakes. Do check there opening times as it is seasonal.
Just outside the city: Columbia River Valley
Take a short drive outside Portland for a veritable valley teeming with forest trails, waterfalls and everything green. The theme of the day is waterfalls, with Multnomah Falls reigning as most popular choice in the area. For slightly less people traffic, hit up the looping Latourell Falls instead, or challenge the unusual Oneonta Gorge. It is a trek through water, the waist-high waters keeping you cool as you drive deep between rocky edifices to reach the quiet waterfall. Before you go though, make sure to check the conditions of the trails as many have been affected by forest fires.
Just outside the city: visit a winery
Round off your trip with a day of classy vineyard visits at Colombia River Gorge – pair your wine with splendid views. Some spotlight stealers are the Sunshine Mill, brimming with vintage charm and fruity reds; the award-winning Maryhill Winery serenades you with an amphitheater alongside syrahs and zinfandels; and the stately Gorge White House brings samples of over 25 regional wineries, with their own ciders and craft beers to complement. You will win a smooth finishing taste of Portland over soothing views of flatlands and sandstone.
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