One of my favourite cities in the United States, here’s a guide to the best things to do in Portland, Oregon.
I’d say you’re worth falling in love with twice
– Charles Sheehan-Miles
I was fortunate to fall in love with Portland, Oregon twice when I lived in Vancouver. The city was too easy to love. I loved the friendliness of the locals, the fantastic food and drink scene, and the tax-free shopping. I loved that it was fun and didn’t seem to take itself too seriously, considering the Keep Portland Weird sign emblazoned on the side of a building downtown. Since Portland has been on my mind recently, I thought I would compile my list of the best things to do in the city, in the hopes that you enjoy it as much as me.
WHERE TO EAT IN PORTLAND
1. VOODOO DOUGHNUT
I’m starting off with my favourite place, Voodoo Doughnut. I first visited Portland and Voodoo over Easter, so my friends and I had to wait about 15 minutes to feast on a box of Voodoo Dozen, which is 13 doughnuts the cashier chooses for you. Our selection included maple bacon, Froot Loops, chilli, M&Ms, bubblegum and even a vegan chocolate concoction. Part of the fun was just biting into each doughnut to discover the flavour.
On my second visit it was snowing in November so we walked straight into the store. This time I stuck with the Oreo (definite favourite) and a chocolate doughnut with crushed peanuts, which was a delectable combination. While we were in Voodoo two guys decided to take part in a challenge where they had to finish a massive doughnut in a minute to get merch/free doughnuts. I’m unsure about the exact prize because no one won. Visit Voodoo when in town and try a cheap and wacky doughnut for yourself. They are open 24/7 — that’s Portland for you.
My friend and I discovered MuuMuus in the Alphabet District because we wanted a happy hour close to our hostel. The interior was dark, but the fairy lights and candles gave the space an intimate feeling. We found the drinks to be well priced and the happy hour meals to be a good size for the under $10 price tag. Our server was friendly, and the addition of a Heath Ledger portrait on the wall made this Australian nostalgic.
3. WHAT’S THE SCOOP?
My friends and I accidentally stumbled upon What’s the Scoop? Ice Cream because I may or may not have gotten us lost. But for once I am glad I placed us on the wrong bus because the ice-cream was delicious and the add-ons were intriguing — I loved the toasted marshmallow. When we walked in Frozen happened to be playing on a projector for the one other customer in the store.
4. FOOD TRUCKS
I thought Vancouver had a lot of food trucks, but my Canadian home had nothing on Portland, which has more than 600 food carts. CNN has even declared Portland, Oregon the home of the world’s best street food. Look at this map to view the Portland food cart pods, where there are several trucks gathered in each area. There seemed to be a lot of Asian and Middle Eastern cuisine options downtown, so I had to try a tasty kebab.
5. PIZZA SCHMIZZA
Yes, Pizza Schmizza is their name and Italian food is their game. I actually visited two different locations during my two visits, but each offered excellent and cheap daily deals on pizzas and sandwiches. The chicken parmigiano sandwich — breaded chicken topped with thick and sweet tomato sauce and provolone cheese — is very filling but delicious. Pizza Schmizza is also a sports bar and has well-priced drinks on the menu.
6. OLYMPIC PROVISIONS
Famous for their cured meats, Olympic Provisions have been endorsed by the one and only, Oprah Winfrey, so you know their meats are going to be one of the best things you have ever tasted. Their two restaurants specialise in Mediterranean small plates and entrees, including carefully selected meat boards, braised short ribs and steak tartare.
WHERE TO DRINK IN PORTLAND
It isn’t called Beervana for nothing! Portland has 58 breweries, which is more than any other city in the world. Two different breweries I sampled were Cascade Brewing Barrel House with its sour beer, and a saison at Rock Bottom Brewery. Obviously I could have spent my whole weekend drinking my way around the city, but I had to fit in doughnut time.
THINGS TO DO IN PORTLAND
8. POWELL’S BOOKS
No doubt, if I lived in Portland I would visit Powell’s at least once a week. Actually, it is one of the reasons I would move to Portland. It is the world’s biggest new and used bookstore with every book genre covered. There is also a cafe, frequent book signings and a great gift section for unique presents (Portland-related and not).
9. MCMENAMIN THEATRE/PUB
I only discovered McMenamin’s during my second visit, but they seem to be quite the Portland entrepreneurs. A theatre/pub is essentially where you can eat dinner, drink alcohol and watch the latest movie. Tickets are $4 for adults — ridiculously cheap — and they even have weekly specials. I visited the Mission Theatre and saw This is Where I Leave You not long after it was released (great movie, too). The seats were super comfortable, the screen large and there is a bench in front of the seats to rest your glasses and food. It was such a different but enjoyable way to spend a Friday night. Perfect date night for locals and visitors alike!
10. COLUMBIA RIVER GORGE
My friends and I did a half-day morning tour to Multnomah Falls and Columbia River Gorge. I had heard Oregon had some beautiful scenery so this was the perfect way to see it without our own vehicle. We not only visited the number one attraction, Multnomah Falls, but Horsetail Falls and Latourell Falls too. It was great to spend time photographing each sight on the tour, as I was blown away by the lush greenery and the power of each fall. We also stopped at the Crown Point Vista House, which gives you views to Portland and across the Columbia River to Washington State.
If you have more time, I would recommend a day trip to Mount Hood or the Oregon Coast. I’d love to see more of the coastline when I eventually return to Portland.
11. PORTLAND SATURDAY MARKET
The Portland Saturday Market operates every Saturday (and Sunday) from March until Christmas Eve at Waterfront Park in the city’s Old Town/Chinatown neighbourhood. It is an open-air marketplace brimming with local arts and crafts, including stalls selling handmade jewellery, paintings and clothing. There is also many food options to try and musical performances to entertain visitors. The market consists of 251 spaces, so ensure you leave yourself enough time to meander and see all of the goods.
12. WALK ALONG THE RIVER
Although it wasn’t the sunniest of days on our waterfront walk, I could imagine myself walking along the Willamette River regularly. The area constitutes Tom McCall Waterfront Park and along with the esplanade walking track, the park includes the Salmon Street Springs, the Central Lawn and the Bowl. At its southern end there is RiverPlace with its marina, cafes and boutiques too.
I am only mentioning shopping here because HELLO, Portland is tax-free! Downtown you will find the major department stores and Pioneer Place shopping centre. Across the river there is Lloyd Centre Mall, the biggest mall in Oregon that includes an indoor ice skating rink. 30 minutes outside the city there are two different premium outlet centres too: Woodburn and Columbia Gorge.
14. AERIAL TRAM
Portland’s Aerial Tram takes people from the city’s Southern Waterfront to Marquam Hill in just four minutes. So if you want a good view of Portland and its many bridges, this will be the best spot.
15. WASHINGTON PARK
Washington Park houses the Oregon Zoo, Portland Children’s Museum, Japanese Garden, World Forestry Centre Discovery Museum, Hoyt Arboretum, Vietnam Veterans and Holocaust Memorial, and International Rose Test Garden. There is even a train that will take you around to each of the attractions. But if you are after a more relaxing time in the park, there are also plenty of walking trails to enjoy.
16. CHEER FOR PORTLAND
Portland has the Timbers (soccer), Trail Blazers (basketball) and Winterhawks (ice hockey). We actually happened to be in Portland while the Trail Blazers competed in a play-off game, so we did like the locals and went to a pub to watch the game.
17. BIKE IT
Not only is Portland the beer capital, it is also America’s self-proclaimed bicycle capital. There are plenty of bike lanes and bike-only areas, so if you have time during your visit rent a bike and explore both sides of Portland, as many of the bridges connecting the city’s two sides are bicycle accessible.
18. FOREST PARK
This park just a ten minute drive from downtown Portland is a favourite of visitors and residents looking to get back to nature. Forest Park boasts over 110 kilometres of walking and hiking trails, and happens to be the largest wooded urban park in the United States — yep, just another title for Portland to add to its overflowing resume. When visiting, just remember that Portland locals are the friendliest, so everyone will hello to you.
19. PORTLAND STREET ART
Remember when I said I got us lost? Yeah, well during that little detour we discovered some awesome murals that provided a very colourful backdrop for an impromptu photo shoot. You will find a Google map here of Portland’s street art locations.
WHERE TO STAY IN PORTLAND
20. HI NORTHWEST PORTLAND
I stayed at the HI Northwest Portland during my second visit and it had its positive and negative points. Positives: I got a double bunk bed, which was as luxurious as it sounds; our free breakfast consisted of bread and pastries from a local bakery; and its location was great as we could walk downtown, to the Alphabet District and from the Amtrak/Greyhound stations.
My one negative was they only allowed drinking outside, which is fine in summer but I visited when it was snowing, and although I like alcohol I don’t like it that much. This is just something to remember for people looking for a party hostel, as this isn’t the one for you in Portland.
Update: I stayed at this hostel again in 2017 and it has had a big renovation, so it’s even better. Highly recommend.
I HEART YOU, PORTLAND
As is evident from my (hopefully informative) ramblings, I loved Portland. It was just a city full of culture, life and fun. I was so glad I got to visit twice as I had the opportunity to experience even more Portland awesomeness the second time, which obviously made me dig the city even more.
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