An eclectic mix of the best things to do in Portland.
Portland is a city in Oregon at the convergence of two major waterways in the Pacific Northwest, and its structure as a “port” city has allowed it to flourish into the metropolis it is known as today. Portland walks the line of being both unassuming and yet curiously unknown, to the point that visitors aren’t sure what to expect of the city whose tagline is “Keep Portland Weird.”
While Portland is famous for nature, kombucha, and its craft beer scene, there’s a lot more than meets the eye in this small-big city. There are tons of activities and attractions in and around the city, but these are the best things to do in Portland.
WHEN IS THE BEST TIME TO VISIT PORTLAND?When you’re looking to visit Portland, know that there are essentially two climates: rain or no rain. If you don’t mind the rain, great, because that accounts for about eight months out of the year. Winter feels especially long and gloomy but can set the mood for a cozier vacation. Visiting in the summer in late June through September means you’ll be able to experience more of the best things to do in Portland without having wet socks the entire trip.
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Get Lost in Powell's Books, the World's Largest Independent Bookstore
One of the best things to do in Portland also happens to be one of the most popular, but thankfully, there’s plenty of room for everyone. Powell’s Books, located in downtown Portland, is the largest independent new and used bookstore in the world, spanning about 1.6 acres of retail floor space. Powell’s is arranged by color-coded floors, so while it is easy to get lost in the miles of aisles, they make it easy to find your way back again.
Powell’s also houses a cafe and hosts regular author events for bookworms wanting a bit of human interaction. However, if you prefer bookstores that are a little more lowkey, as many local hipsters do, swing by Third Eye Books for a more intimate setting.
INSIDER TIPIf you have a car, Powell’s validates parking in the parking garage under the bookstore.
Stroll Along the Tom McCall Waterfront Park
Portland’s waterfront park officially named the Tom McCall Waterfront Park, is smack dab in the center of Portland. Running along the west side of the Multnomah River, the river that splits Portland in half down the middle, Tom McCall Waterfront is the gathering place for Portland festivals and local events. If you’re visiting in the summer, you’ll experience the city’s biggest festival, the Portland Rose Festival, as well as other annual favorites like Waterfront Blues Fest, Portland Pride Festival, BrewFest, and Fleet Week.
Spring is another great season for events at the waterfront, especially when the one hundred pink Japanese cherry trees are in bloom or during the Cinco de Mayo Fiesta, planned in coordination with Portland’s sister city Guadalajara, Mexico.
Outside of festivals, the waterfront is still a great area to explore, as you can walk or ride rental bikes along the water, snap a picture of the iconic Portland Stag Sign, or even cross off another Guinness travel feat by visiting Mill Ends Park, the world’s smallest park.
Cozy Up With a Cup of Coffee
In a place that rains as much as Portland, you best believe there are some bomb cafes to go with it. Whether you’re escaping the rain, fueling up for the rest of your day, or just tucking in for a good ol’ fashioned people-watching session, grabbing coffee (or tea) is one of the best things to do in Portland. While there are amazing cafes on every corner of the city, each neighborhood has a few heavy hitters.
In the glamorous Pearl district, La Perlita holds the crown of the local favorite meeting spot. Chinatown is home to Deadstock, a fun sneaker-themed coffee shop. In artsy Alberta, Holy Beanz Coffee has both innovative recipes and spoken word nights. In the Northeast Fremont area, Bison Coffeehouse has a cozy welcoming atmosphere, and some of the best sweet chai in the city. New to the Southeast is Portland Cà Phê, which has already made its lasting mark on the city. With so many great options, your caffeine will be covered no matter what corner of Portland you’re in.
Dine at One of Portland’s Many Food Carts
In a city with such a thriving culinary scene, Portland is almost synonymous with food carts. Food cart pods are the perfect pit stop for food in between activities. Food carts in Portland also hold the same cultural significance in the city as restaurants, so don’t be shocked when you see food cart lines around the corner. Even one of Portland’s few seafood boil joints, Drip’N Crab, is a well-established food cart.
For a quick lunch, Baon Kainan, Tokyo Sando, and Kim Jong Grillin all make boxes and sandwiches that are easy to eat on the go and also hold up well throughout the day for late-night snacking at your hotel later.
Meanwhile, if you’re looking for something heartier, Matta and Selena’s Custom Kitchen will keep you full throughout the day and then some. Keep a small bottle of hand sanitizer on you in case you unexpectedly come across a food cart that makes your mouth drool on the wafting scents alone.
Wander Through Portland’s Many Gardens
If you want gardens, Portland can give you gardens. There are many green spaces throughout the city, but three designated gardens stand out based on their intention and design. The International Rose Test Garden, featuring more than 10,000 individual rose bushes, steals the show May through October when the roses are in full bloom. Although the primary purpose of the Garden is to serve as a testing ground for new rose varieties, for residents and visitors alike it’s a beautiful backdrop for photos and picnics.
The Portland Japanese Garden was named “the most beautiful and authentic Japanese garden in the world outside of Japan” by the former Ambassador of Japan to the United States. High praise, but well earned. The Garden encompasses 12 acres spanning eight themed garden styles, along with a Japanese Tea House.
Likewise, the Lan Su Chinese Garden is a well-curated cultural experience structured around a beautiful pond. Although smaller than the other two gardens, the Lan Su Chinese Garden is one of the best things to do in Portland when it is raining because 70% of the garden is covered by its traditional walkways and pavilions. It is also the most easily accessible by wheelchair.
INSIDER TIPIf you would like to plan your own cute picnic at one of the gardens, but don’t want to spend extra time at a grocery store or preparing a spread, Charcuterie Me is a service that can deliver a fresh charcuterie platter to your hotel or lodging with zero hassle. Orders need to be placed at least 48 hours in advance.
Shop the Local Boutiques (Tax-Free!)
By far, shopping is one of the best things to do in Portland but is often overlooked by first-time visitors. Oregon does not have a sales tax, so compared to other states in the USA, products are cheaper than at home. For all of your favorite big-name stores, head to Pioneer Place, conveniently located downtown nearby multiple parking garages. However, if you’re more into shopping local small businesses, there are three neighborhoods that you will want to bring your wallet to.
The first is Nob Hill, or the Alphabet District, known for its Craftsman and Victorian-style homes and storefronts, where you’ll find a lot of handmade jewelry and curated goods like at Betsy & Iya. Hawthorne Blvd is home to more vintage shops and thrift stores, so you can usually find unique pieces for a bargain. There are also many boutiques that focus on eco-conscious products, such as Coral Story Beauty which stocks organic makeup and green beauty products.
Lastly, Division Street is where you want to go if you want to browse cute home decor at EcoVibe, then pop down into one of the many restaurants along the street. You might be leaving Portland with an extra suitcase or two.
Take a Hike in Forest Park
The city is surrounded by greenery, so it only makes sense that getting into the outdoors is one of the best things to do in Portland. Forest Park is a whopping 5,200 acres, bigger than New York City’s Central Park, and has 80 miles of trails suitable for all skill levels with free parking and access via public transit.
Located about 45 minutes outside of Portland are the iconic Multnomah Falls, Oregon’s tallest waterfall and most visited attraction. Visitors during the busier summer months will have to purchase an advance ticket in order to see Multnomah Falls up close and personal. If you won’t have a car on your visit, the falls are serviced by two shuttles, Sasquatch Shuttle and the Columbia Gorge Express.
INSIDER TIPNew to outdoor activities? Don’t be intimidated, the outdoors are for everyone. However, if you would like a little extra guidance, you can join a group-led outdoor experience with Wild Diversity or People of Color Outdoors (POCO). They are both non-profit organizations that offer inclusive group hiking, kayaking, camping, swimming, and even backpacking.
Portlandia Fitness Pastimes
If you want to move your body, but aren’t necessarily looking to venture out into the woods, Portland’s still got ya covered. It may come as a surprise, but Portland has the most strip clubs per capita in the country. Yes, even more than Atlanta. That means Portland also has amazing pole studios, and as a visitor, you can unleash your inner dancer by taking a class at one of the best pole studios in the city, Ecdysiast. Focused on fostering a comfortable and supportive learning environment, Ecdysiast offers inclusive extreme-beginner to advanced level classes in pole, flexibility, and dance.
In a different, yet still somewhat similar direction, Portland is also known for being home to the Original Goat Yoga, which is exactly what it sounds like. Original Goat Yoga was founded as a fun way to incorporate yoga in a lighthearted and beginner-friendly way, while also supporting rural and farming communities. During class, you go through the expected motions of a yoga class, but with cute hypoallergenic goats distracting you and making everyone laugh.
Get Artsy in Alberta and Mississippi Neighborhoods
If you’ve ever wanted to experience the Portland that is portrayed in the eerily accurate show Portlandia, you don’t have to look too far. The neighborhoods of Alberta and Mississippi are ripe with record shops, murals, and intimate live music venues. Try your hand at making crafts at DIY Bar or sewing classes at Modern Domestic. What’s more ironic than going out to make something yourself?
If your summer trip happens to coincide with the last Thursday of the month, Alberta hosts an artist street fair, aptly named Last Thursday, where the neighborhood closes street traffic on Alberta Street to fill with over 150 vendors and musicians.
Drink Your Way Through Portland's Craft Beer Scene
Portland is the city of craft brews, so if you drink beers, ciders, and/or wine, you owe yourself at least a taste of what Portland has to offer. The big-ticket items in Portland are the breweries, and you honestly couldn’t go wrong with any of them–it will just depend on the vibe you’re looking for. Culmination Brewing is a local favorite because of its unconventional and modern approach to microbrews.
If you like to pair your pints with food, head to Assembly Brewing where they serve up the best beers and Detroit-style pizza…west of Detroit honestly. Cider drinkers, or even fans of sweeter flavors, will love Shimai Toshi Brewing and their focus on fruit beers, and the best part is that you can take them to go. You can find their beers at restaurants, grocery stores, and bars around the city, but if you’re vegetarian or vegan, Thunderbird is the best place to go.
Celebrate Portland’s Black History
Although Portland is the whitest major city in America, that doesn’t mean it doesn’t have Black history. Albina is Portland’s historically Black neighborhood, now nicknamed the Soul District. Take the self-guided walking audio tour, Albina Soul Walk, and hear how Black musicians in particular helped hold the neighborhood together. You can find the audio tour on the mobile app “ECHOES Interactive Sound Walks,” which is free to download. The tour is about one mile and takes approximately one hour to complete.
Alberta Street also put up Black History Markers to learn more about the Black changemakers in the city, and their contributions to Portland’s history. When you need a break for food, grab a table at one of the many delicious Black-owned restaurants in Portland.
If your vacation overlaps with the last weekend in June, you can even check out the Good in the Hood Multicultural Festival, which features live music, food, and parades to celebrate the preservation and flourishing of Portland’s Black culture.
Take a Day Trip to Sauvie Island
Sauvie Island is like the cherry on top of Portland’s sundae and is only 20 minutes outside of the city. As one of the largest river islands in the country, there are more than a handful of activities to keep visitors entertained on Sauvie Island, though the majority of them are reserved for the warmer months.
The most popular thing to do on Sauvie Island is fruit and flower picking, which spans from spring to early fall. There are seven U-Pick farms on Sauvie Island, as well as pumpkin patches and plant nurseries. While they’re all great, Topaz Farm has a particularly beautiful sunflower patch in the first few weeks of August.
The second most popular activity on Sauvie Island is to have a beach day. While the water of the Columbia River may be a bit chilly, the shore has surprisingly soft sand. Walton Beach is the most comfortable overall, with shallow waters and long stretches of sand, but if you really want to let your hair down, Collins Beach is clothing optional.
Treat Yourself to Portland's Donuts
Start at the notorious Voodoo Doughnut, mostly because it’s the most famous. The line will probably be long, but it moves fast. Blue Star Donuts and Pip’s Original put their own spin on classic recipes. For plant-based and meat-eaters alike, Doe Donuts serves up vegan donuts with mind-blowing flavor and unparalleled creative genius.
For fans of mochi donuts, Mikiko Mochi Donuts is both gluten and dairy-free, and have unique flavor combinations like ube, li hing, and yuzu that you won’t find at any other stop. While NOLA Doughnuts brings its flavors from the Big Easy, they are cemented as a cornerstone in Portland’s donut culture. And if you happen to stop by Donut Queen—yes, they’re open and yes, they will blow your mind.
The Best Views of the City
Although there may not be many skyscrapers in Portland, you can still find amazing viewpoints all around the city. On a clear day, you may even be lucky enough to spot the two nearest mountains: Mt. Hood to the east, and Mt. Saint Helens to the north. The first vantage point is also completely free, and it is Council Crest Park, one of the highest points in Portland. Once the sun sets, you can watch the dazzling lights of the city glow through the forest leaves.
Pittock Mansion is another great spot to take in the city views and is also free if you only stay in the outdoor gardens. However, touring the interior of the mansion will give you a more complete view of the lives of Portland’s early elite. For a less grand approach, you can hop on the Portland Aerial Tram, operated by Oregon Health & Science University (OSHU), and take the short ride from the waterfront to the hospital and university’s patio that overlooks the city.
Hands down, the tastiest way to take in the sights is to book a table at Portland City Grill, located at the top of the city’s second-tallest building. If you don’t manage to book a reservation, you can always grab an open seat at the restaurant’s lounge area, which still has panoramic windows.
Legal Cannabis in Portland and How to Enjoy It
Spoiler alert: recreational cannabis is legal in Oregon for ages 21+. Especially if you are coming from a prohibition state, trying weed out for yourself can be one of the best things to do in Portland, and it is readily available from storefronts, infusion bars, to even “lifted” yoga classes at Make and Mary.
It can be a bit overwhelming at first with so many marijuana options, but the best dispensaries in Portland are the local establishments that reinvest in their communities, such as Green Muse, Tinc ‘n’ Juice, and Natural Wonders.
You can even get your favorite products delivered right to your hotel lobby with PotMates. If you’ve never dipped your toes into CBD or THC products, the dispensary staff is more than helpful to recommend products that make it easy to dip your toes into the experience. And as always, get baked responsibility.
Eat Your Way Around the World
When people hear Portland is a “foodie” city, they probably just think there are a couple of really good restaurants. No, Portland is actually a FOODIE city. It ranks among the top 15 cities in the US with the highest percentage of local restaurants and top 10 for most restaurants per capita, beating out much larger cities in both categories like Washington D.C, Los Angeles, and Chicago.
Dining out is one of the best things to do in Portland, and you can truly eat your way around the world because of the various great restaurants showcasing Portland’s culinary diversity. Let your taste buds travel through some of the least represented cuisines in America with Magna Kusina (Philippines), Kabba’s Kitchen (Senegal/Gambia), Two Brothers Cafe and Grill (Bosnia), Wajan (Indonesia), Merendero Estela (Honduras). And that’s just a small taste of what is in store for your stomach in Portland. Bring your stretchy pants.
Where to Drink Beer and Wine in the City
Beer isn’t the only alcohol Portland knows well. Bars are plentiful in Portland, and they fit every aesthetic from the food-focused pairings at Deadshot, to the sporty fun of Jackie’s, to even the cute and glamorous at Champagne Poetry. You can even have your pick of swanky speakeasies like Bible Club or a bar dedicated to women’s sports like The Sports Bra. The great thing about grabbing drinks in Portland is that no two bars are the same.
You can get a standard wine tasting anywhere, but Portland offers a unique experience at The Crick PDX, a hip hop-themed tasting room where the tasting is curated as a “playlist,” and each wine is a track. It creates an environment that sheds the sometimes stuffy image of wineries and makes the wine feel familiar yet innovative.
Visit the Farmer's Market
Everybody loves a down-to-earth farmer’s market once the weather warms up, even if you don’t end up buying anything, though you probably will. Visiting a farmer’s market is one of the best things to do in Portland as a solo traveler because they are great places to strike up conversations with Portland’s small business owners and other lively residents.
The most prominent market is the Portland Saturday Market near the downtown Chinatown/Waterfront area, which has been a city staple since 1974. However, if you’d prefer a smaller and less busy market, there are options all throughout Portland. The Come Thru Market is located in Southeast Portland, the My Peoples Market in Portland’s Central Eastside, and Slabtown Outdoor Market in the Northwest. Regardless of location, you’ll be leaving with something.
Catch a Show
Sometimes you just want to rest your feet, whether it’s from running around all day or simply to escape the rain, and that’s where Portland’s incredible theaters come into play. If you are into live performances, Aladdin Theater hosts globally acclaimed comedians and entertainers, while Roseland Theater is where you’ll find the bulk of musicians and bands that come through Portland. Portland Center Stage is where you want to go to experience the city’s plays and theater groups.
Or if you’re just looking to relax and watch the latest blockbuster, you can do that too, but in true Portland fashion—meaning there’s something unexpected about it. Studio One Theaters isn’t your standard living room theater, it’s a cool living room theater, with luxury furnishings, an expansive wine list, and restaurant-quality meals. Plus, each penthouse theater room is themed after a beautiful international city.
Portland's Vast (and Weird) Museums
Every city has the usual museums like a contemporary art museum, a science museum, and a natural history museum. But some of the more unique curated collections in Portland are…downright weird. This is the exact reason why checking out random museums is one of the best things to do in Portland. It’s only fitting.
If you’ve ever been curious about the history of vacuums, wonder no longer. Stark’s Vacuum Museum showcases more than 100 vacuums from the early days of its invention and also doubles as a vacuum store. Inspirational and practical. On the other hand, the Portland Puppet Museum might get you a little jumpier depending on how many times you’ve watched Annabelle, but it is a great place to learn more about puppetry with live puppet performances.
Perhaps the weirdest museum in Portland, Freakybuttrue, can’t be explained at all. It is a place that you visit with all six senses firing up as you make your way through the interactive installations that are equal parts silly and slightly gross. You’ll just have to check it out for yourself.