Perched on the western fringes of the United States, Portland is one of Oregon’s largest cities to explore. With oodles of parks, easy access to some epic Oregon hikes and mountains of foodie spots, it’s the kind of city that’s perfect for a trip away! The only hard thing will be in deciding how to prioritise which of the best things to do in Portland first!
So, to help you along your way, I wanted to share some of our favourite places in and within easy reach of Portland. You see, the city is hugged by some incredible natural spots, I’ve had to include a few that I really think you can’t miss. In my opinion, this is what makes the city so great, there’s so much to do inside the city and just outside!
Take a look, below, at the best things to do in Portland when you visit. Have an amazing time in Oregon.
1.) Washington Park
With miles and miles of trails and routes, Washington Park is something of a sanctuary if you’re wanting a little time away from the city streets. Plus, it’s totally gorgeous and easily one of the best things to do in Portland if you’re near Pittock Mansion.
Dating back to the 1800s, Portland’s Washington Park has a shed load of spots you can’t miss. You’ve got to see the International Rose Test Garden; it’s got something like 10,000 rose bushes inside (though, I doubt you’ll see them all). Ha!
Plus, , you’ve also got the gorgeous Japanese Garden to visit. It’s a totally tranquil space where you can really feel being at peace and in harmony with nature (even if that does sound a little cheesy).
Sprawled over 12 acres of land, it was built with the idea of giving Portland a serene escape, whilst also embracing the cultural ties between Japan and wider Oregon.
Inside the Japanese Garden, you’ll get to stroll through the Pond, flat, and Tea Garden that is adorned with a quaint ceremonial teahouse, too. Plus, there’s a heap of different events, such as mindfulness tours, lecture series, and cultural demonstrations that happen seasonally, too.
Oh, and don’t forget about the Hoyt Arboretum, and Portland Children’s Museum to see whilst also catching some redwoods. For these, follow the Redwood Observation Deck trails that are relatively near the Barbara Walker Crossing. They’re huge!
2.) Columbia River Gorge
Known as the biggest National Scenic Area in all of Oregon, the Columbia River Gorge is one of the best things to do in Portland if you fancy an escape from the city. It’s a must-visit for hikers, especially as Oregon has some of the best trails in the country to follow.
Stretching a huge expanse of land, you’ll get to explore Multnomah Falls that is mind-blowingly beautiful. Recognized as Oregon’s tallest waterfall, and is located here (about a 30-min drive from Portland).
Not only that, you’ll get to follow a variety of trails, such as the Wahkenna Falls Loop and Dry Creek Falls. A hundred-year-old observatory can also be visited in the Columbia River Gorge, providing amazing views of the entire landscape.
If it’s the views you’re after, head over to Vista House and just off Highway 30.
3.) Portland Art Museum
Regarded as the country’s seventh oldest museum and the longest standing art museum in the Pacific Northwest, the Portland Art Museum is a wonderful place to explore for art lovers and history buffs. Founded way back in 1892, it is home to more than 42,000 pieces, ranging from Native American collections and English silver to contemporary and modern art.
It’s totally stunning and the perfect place to explore on a rainy day.
While most of the displays in the Portland Art Museum are permanent exhibits, there are also rotating galleries on a spotlight regularly, so be sure to check out the museum’s schedule ahead of time. Outside is a sculpture park where you can admire a variety of statues and meticulous carvings by different sculptors.
Afterwards, take a stroll over to Jakes Famous Crawfish for a tasty lunch. Their shellfish and Dungeness crab are just so good!
4.) Pittock Mansion
Dating back to times gone by, the Pittock Mansion was the former residence of Henry Pittock. He was the founder of The Oregonian, the oldest continuously operating newspaper in Oregon and the West Coast. Today, visiting is one of the best things to do in Portland, especially if you’re interested in the history of the city.
Sitting on 46-acre land at an elevation of 1,000 feet above the city, the Pittock Mansion offers panoramic views of Portland.
Once inside, you can check out period features such as the indirect lighting, intercoms, and a centralized vacuum system, which are all pretty impressive considering the era it was built.
5.) Lan Su Chinese Garden
Not too far from the Japanese American Museum of Oregon, Lan Su Chinese Garden is well worth visiting whilst exploring wider Portland.
The gardens are stunning and totally tranquil; with Suzhou artisans and landscape artists recreating a version of a garden reminiscent of the Ming Dynasty. It’s a harmonious mix of nature, architecture, and design, which are all based on the Chinese tradition of combining nature and the modernities of life. It’s pretty cool.
You’ll also get to spot the Garden of Awakening Orchids, showcasing a variety of plants, some of which are rare and even endemic to China.
Oh, and don’t forget to grab a traditional Chinese tea at Garden Teahouse. Their white peony tea is so refreshing.
6.) Forest Park
Nestled in Tualatin Mountains’ eastern slope and flanking Portland’s west side, Forest Park stretches out for more than 5,000 acres and is home to over 80 miles of hiking trails. Now, I’m not saying you should walk the full 80-miles, but it’s certainly worth checking out a short trail whilst visiting Portland.
Known to be one of the largest urban forest reserves in the United States, the park is accessible and can be explored by people of all ages and skill levels. Though, it can be a bit chilly in the winter months, so wrap up warm.
One of the most popular is the Wildwood Trail, a 30-mile path that connects with other walking trails around the city. You can also try the Maple Trail Loop for a scenic walk that will guide you through some of the park’s tallest residents!
7.) Portland Saturday Market
Probably one of the best markets in all of Portland, the Saturday Market is a place you have to visit. In fact, it’s considered one of the biggest, and consistently running markets in the United States.
Typically running between March to December, it’s the kind of place that’s well worth a gander for any souvenier searcher or hungry tummy.
Operating since 1974, the Portland Saturday Market is home to a plethora of crafters and vendors; with everything from handmade clothing, jewellery, home decors, and arts and crafts. In fact, there are hundreds of stalls… you’ll be spoilt for choice.
8.) Voodoo Doughnuts
With a few locations in the city, gorging at Voodoo Doughnuts is a must-do if you’ve got something of a sweet tooth! Filled with freshly-made doughnuts and sweet treats, Voodoo Doughnuts are totally tasty and well worth grabbing whilst visiting the Lan Su Chinese Garden.
Their Strawberry Cannolo and Mango Tango are just too good to miss! Oh, and don’t forget about a Glazed Old Fashioned. I could eat a dozen of these alone!
9.) Powell’s City of Books
One of the largest bookstores in Portland, Powell’s City of Books at Burnside Street is a haven to bibliophiles, book worms, and literary buffs! Not that I’ve counted, but it’s said there are over a million books inside, featuring a giddy combination of new titles and used copies to peruse and purchase.
Aside from books, you can also find a cosy little coffee shop within Powell’s City of Books where you can lounge and have a cuppa while reading your newly bought books. Plus, throughout the year, this bookstore also hosts a gamut of book-related events, such as writing workshops, book club meetings, panel discussions, and author readings. It’s a pretty special place.
Afterwards, pop across the road to Sizzle Pie Downtown for one of the best pizza slices in all of Oregon. In fact, I’d go as far as saying that it’s one of the best things to do in Portland if you’re something of a pizza fiend. Their Ol’ Dirty pizza is so good. Oh, and their garlic knots are so yummy! Just don’t be rushing for a kiss after gorging on… they’re totally garlic-filled!
10.) Portland Food Trucks
You haven’t had the full Portland experience if you haven’t visited Portland’s food trucks and carts. Collected into grouped pods, these food trucks represent the bustling and colourful culinary culture of Portland and it really makes it so special.
Offering a milieu of gastronomic delight ranging from Texas-style barbecue and Guam’s shrimp fritters to Hainanese rice and Nyonya curry soup. Not that you’ll struggle to find them, but there are lots of options on Third Ave, Fifth Ave, Hawthorne Asylum, and Cartopia.
We’ve always loved Amelia’s Mexican Food! The tacos are just insanely good.
11.) Trillium Lake
Around 90-minutes from the centre of the city, Trillium Lake is one of the best things to do in Portland if you’re heading east towards Mt. Hood.
In fact, it’s one of the best viewpoints of the towering volcanic mountain (Mt Hood) and it’s such a stunning spot to visit. Once here, get yourself strolling on the Trillium Lake Loop Trail. If you’re visiting in the winter months, be sure to check out the ski runs around Timberline Lodge. Just be prepared for unexpected changes to the weather conditions. Things can change fast around here.
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