10 Things You Must Do in Portland

Panoramic aerial image of the Marquam bridge in downtown Portland at sunrise

Portland is a must-see city in the Pacific Northwest. Best known for doughnuts, beer & weirdness, this city is a great springboard to an Oregon road trip.

Portland is located in Northern Oregon, a couple of hours drive from the Pacific Ocean. It has a large international airport offering many nonstop flights from other US destinations. While flying is a good option, many travelers opt to road trip to Oregon. If you do fly in, you may consider renting a car especially if you plan to explore outside the city.

Most tourists visit Portland during the summer months, particularly June through August. At this time, you’re guaranteed to see roses blooming.

Visiting in September or May might save you a few bucks on hotels, and you’ll risk a bit more rainy and cool weather.

It is not advised to visit December through February due to excessive rainfall in the area around this time. 

While there are seemingly endless fun activities to do in Portland, we’ve picked out the top 10 experiences that you shouldn’t miss. You can experience mostly everything on this list if you have a day or two (or three!).

1. Visit the International Rose Test Garden

Portland’s Washington Park is home to a stunning rose garden. The International Rose Test Garden features over 10,000 individual rose bushes of more than 600 different varieties. Each year, existing bushes are replaced with some of the best new rose varieties on the market

Quite literally a test garden, as roses are evaluated here for their bloom formation, fragrance, color, and resistance to disease. In the United States, this is the oldest continuously growing rose garden open to the public.

Roses have been sent from all over the world to Portland’s Rose Garden since before World War I. Also, it’s where Portland’s nickname ‘City of Roses,’ comes from. 

While in the area, be sure to pay a visit to the Japanese Garden. It’s only a short walk away from the Rose Garden. The Portland Japanese Garden is a tranquil oasis overlooking the city.

It spans 12 acres and contains 8 distinct design styles with unique landscape features. The garden boasts that when visited by Nobuo Matsunaga, who was at one time Japanese ambassador to the United States, he proclaimed it to be the most authentic of its kind outside of Japan. 

2. Drink Craft Beer

Portland has another nickname, besides the ‘City of Roses,’ we call it ‘Beervana.’ This is because Portland is home to more breweries than any other city in the world. In fact, there are nearly 70 breweries across the city and frequent tastings, festivals, and events. 

Since there are so many breweries in Portland, you may find it hard to decide where to spend your time. Some of the top picks include Wayfinder Beer, Cascade Brewing Barrel House, and Little Beast Brewing Beer Garden.

Cascade Brewing is an iconic establishment. They’re known for pioneering the Northwest-style sour beer movement. Cascade Brewing has been around for over 20 years but didn’t start making sour beers until 2006.

You must stop here for a taste since Cascade’s creations are still considered the gold standard for barrel-aged Northwest Sour Ales.

3. Shop for Vintage Clothes

Fashion is cyclical, and everything old always comes back in style. True fashion lovers know the value of vintage finds. When thrifting, you can often find higher-quality, low-cost statement pieces that you won’t find anywhere else. There’s no city better known for vintage thrifting than Portland!

There are nearly 50 vintage shops in Portland – that’s almost as many as there are breweries! Plus, you’ll also find countless antique shops with mid-century and victorian treasures –if you’ve got the space to bring them home with you that is. 

House of Vintage is one of the most well-known names in Portland’s thrifting scene. It’s located in Portland’s Hawthorne district. This massive 13,000 square feet shop collects from 60 merchants, and they have pieces from the 1940s onward. You’ll discover unique clothes, accessories, and jewelry. 

Another recommended spot to stop is In Real Life. This is one of Portland’s newcomers. In Real Life pride themselves on being gender-inclusive. They carry sizes from XS to XL. If you don’t have time to visit here, you can also shop online or from their Instagram page.

Magpie is another spot you can consider. Magpie has a cool collection of 90s Tees and seemingly endless psychedelic prints. It’s known for carrying children’s clothes which is relatively uncommon. 

4. Take a Hike

Visit Oregon in the spring, summer, or autumn and you must hike! There are plenty of epic places to hike near Portland, and even more opportunities if you decide to leave the city behind.

Recommended read: Best hiking tips for beginners

One of the most lovely places to hike in Portland is Council Crest Park. You can get there in less than 10 minutes driving from downtown Portland. Council Crest Park is home to the highest point in Portland. At the top of Council Crest, you’ll discover some of the most gorgeous views.

On a clear day, you can spot five mountains in the distance including Mt Hood, Mt St Helens, Mt Adams, Mt Jefferson, and even Mt Rainier. You can also look out onto the surrounding cityscape, appreciate an ample vantage over Portland. 

Consider the Marquam Trail at Council Crest. It’s a 5.8 mile long, moderate trek. The starting point for this hike is at the Marquam Trailhead. You’ll meander through secluded forests as you gain elevation along the hike. Spot Douglass-firs and big-leaf Maples among others. 

Another excellent hiking spot in Portland is Mt Tabor Park.

Although, if hiking is your nirvana, consider a few days out in Bend, Oregon. Bend is 3 hours out from Portland. It’s the gateway to Crater Lake National Park, the Painted Hills, Newberry Volcano National Monument, and much more! 

5. Have an Oregon Wine Experience

While you are in Portland, you’ve got to taste Oregon wines. Oregon wines are available at most restaurants around the city. There are over 700 wineries in the state of Oregon, and they’re growing more than 70 varieties. 

The origins of Oregon’s wine history can be found in the early pilgrims that traveled along the Oregon trail and planted vines. Oregon’s cooler climate makes it the perfect place to grow Pinot Noir. So, be sure to try a glass of Oregon wine with your dinner. The Portland Wine Bar and Tasting Room are recommended. 

The Portland Wine Bar and Tasting Room are located downtown. It offers the ambiance and experience of a tasting room, wine store, and wine bar. This small-batch winery features locally grown grapes and signature wines. 

If you are a serious wine lover, consider taking a day trip to nearby Willamette Valley. You can drive to the Willamette Valley from Portland in under an hour. The Willamette Valley is Oregon’s largest grape-growing region. There are 19 grape-growing regions across the star.

The most popular wineries to visit are White, Penner-Ash, and Domaine Serene. Domaine Serene Winery occupies a lavish estate.

This winery uses sustainable farming practices – vineyards are dry-farmed and LIVE certified. Their signature grapes are Pinot Noir and Chardonnay. 

Read next: Best destinations for wine lovers

6. Visit Powell’s City of Books

Powell’s City of Books is worth visiting. This is the largest new and used bookstore in the world! The bookstore occupies an entire city block. Within its doors are reported to be a million books! At Powell’s City of Books, you can find rare and out-of-print texts. 

Powell’s Books is a chain in Portland, but the most iconic location is in downtown’s Pearl District. CNN called it, ‘one of the coolest bookstores in the world.’ USA Today considers it one of the ‘top ten bookstores in the USA.’ It’s one of the most unique places to visit in Portland. 

7. Soak in the views around the Pittock Mansion

The Pittock Mansion is one of Portland’s top-rated tourist attractions. It was built in 1914 for Henry Pittock and his wife Georgina. At the time it was built, it was utterly lavish. It featured unique modern amenities like a walk-in refrigerator, an intercom system, and an elevator.

Henry Pittock arrived by the Oregon Trail, and he built up a successful newspaper business. Although, it was Georgina who helped to make Portland the ‘City of Roses.’ Georgina Pittock helped to start the Portland Rose Society. She also hosted the first Portland Rose Show.

While the property’s museum is enchanting, the views from outside the property as just as exceptional. The architecture of the house is a French Renaissance-style mansion. Inside, you can explore 23 rooms filled with priceless art and furniture. 

8. Eat at a Food Truck

Portland’s culinary scene is dominated by food truck fever. It’s considered one of the best cities in America to experience street food. Unlike in many other cities, Portland’s food carts aren’t known for being mobile. In fact, they set up camp in so-called ‘pods.’ 

There are a few places around the city you can find an assortment of pods. Recommended spots include the Hawthorne Asylum and Cartopia. You can find something to satisfy every vegan or carnivore. From Egyptian cuisine to South African, and everything in between.

Enjoy your food with craft brews or cider. 

Related read: The best countries for food around the world

9. Visit a Waterfall

Oregon is overflowing with waterfalls. There are quite literally hundreds of them all across the state! Some of them are as tall as skyscrapers, and many of them can be visited year-round. You can discover countless incredible waterfalls if you’re willing to venture a bit outside of the city.

The most popular waterfall destination is the Columbia River Gorge. Its 80 miles offer scenic natural beauty at every turn. Including cliffs, canyons, grottos, and waterfalls. Along the Columbia River Gorge is where you’ll discover the ever-popular Multnomah Falls. You can get there in 30 minutes driving from Portland.

Multnomah Falls is a popular tourist spot for good reason. There are plenty of rugged trails and the tallest waterfall in the state of Oregon. Multnomah’s waters fall over 600 feet, and you can appreciate the views from down below or from the bridge halfway up. According to the Forest Service, Multnomah Falls is the most visited recreation area in the Pacific Northwest

Also, be sure to check out the Multnomah Falls Lodge – it’s 100-year old and has a unique history.

If you are looking for something off the beaten path, you’ll find that just as easily along the Columbia River Gorge. All in all, some 90 cascades are located in the region. Other recommended waterfalls include Latourell Falls, Bridal Veil Falls, and Fairy Falls. 

10. Eat Voodoo Doughnuts 

There’s nothing more American than doughnuts! The earliest rendition of our modern favorite sweet treat was made by Dutch settlers in early New York. From then on, the country was obsessed! 

Voodoo Doughnuts put Portland on America’s epic doughnut map. Voodoo Doughnuts has multiple locations across the city, open 24/7 to satisfy your sweet tooth. 

The Voodoo Doughnuts in Portland’s downtown neighborhood is the best place to go. You’ll have a hard time choosing with menu items like ‘Old Dirty Bastard,’ ‘Voodoo Doll,’ or ‘Maple Blazer Blunt.’ 

When you’re visiting VooDoo’s downtown location, be sure to check out the Keep Portland Weird Mural and the Portland Oregon sign. This quirky iridescent neon sign of a white stag is displayed on the White Stag Building. Both of these are quick stops and instagrammable finds on your journey through Portland. 

As an alternative, consider visiting Blue Star Doughnuts. You’ll enjoy delicious delights like ‘Buttermilk Old Fashioned,’ ‘Mexican Hot Chocolate,’ or ‘‘Passion Fruit Cake.’ Blue Star also has several locations across the city to choose from. 

Recommended read: Great healthy snacks you can prepare anywhere!

Valentina has always been obsessed with researching, organizing, and planning her vacations.

That’s why she can recommend you everything from what to do to the best place to stay in Portland. She knows that many people don’t have the time and energy to do this, but they still want to get the most out of their travels. Valentina’s Destinations allows her to help other busy professionals maximize their experiences. Valentina is originally from Serbia in the Balkans, but she grew up in Chicago.

She loves hunting down local restaurants, unique experiences, and hidden gems that she posts regularly on Instagram and Facebook.