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One of my favourite cities in the United States, here’s a guide to the most fun things to do in Portland, Oregon.
It’s about time I shared all of my favourite things to do in Portland, Oregon. I fell hard for the Pacific Northwest city when I lived in Vancouver. In fact, I ended up visiting it three times! 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 it was time to compile my list of the best things to do in Portland, in the hope that you enjoy it as much as me.
Where to stay in 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. The only negative was that you can only drink outside. So if you’re looking for a party hostel, 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.
Where to eat & drink 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.
Here are all of my top dessert recommendations for Portland. You’re welcome.
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.
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.
Fun things to do in Portland, Oregon
8. Wander around Powell’s Books
No doubt, if I lived in Portland I would visit Powell’s at least once a week. Actually, it’s one of the reasons I would move to Portland. It’s the world’s biggest new and used bookstore with every book genre covered. There’s also a cafe, frequent book signings and a great gift section for unique presents (Portland-related and not).
9. Visit McMenamins Theatre and Pub
I only discovered McMenamins 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’s definitely one of the most fun things to do in Portland, Oregon on a Friday night. Perfect date night for locals and visitors alike!
10. Do a half-day trip to 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.
11. Stroll through the Portland Saturday Market on the weekend
One of the best things to do in Portland on the weekend is check out the Portland Saturday Market. It operates every Saturday (and Sunday) from March until Christmas Eve at Waterfront Park in the city’s Old Town/Chinatown neighbourhood. It’s an open-air marketplace brimming with local arts and crafts, including stalls selling handmade jewellery, paintings and clothing. There’s 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.
Here’s my Portland love letter
13. Shop til you drop
I am only mentioning shopping here because HELLO, Portland is tax-free! In downtown Portland 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. Hop aboard the 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. Visit 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’s even a train that will take you around to each of the attractions. But if you’re 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. Hop on a bike
Not only is Portland the beer capital, it’s 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 bike accessible.
18. Visit 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 say hello to you.
For more things to do in Portland, visit this post.
19. Head out of downtown Portland
Although it would be easy to spend most of your trip around downtown Portland, one of the best things to do in Portland is head out of the city centre. In the NW District (walking distance from the hostel) you’ll find NW 23rd Avenue, which is home to Salt & Straw, Blue Star Donuts and many cute boutiques. On the other side of the river you’ll find SE Hawthorne Boulevard, which is another great street for wandering and eating.
20. Spot 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.
I love 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 more than once, as I was able to experience even more Portland awesomeness.