The youthful spirit of Portland draws people from all over the world for its scenic beauty, great outdoors environment, excellent microbreweries, and as well as a reputation for colorful characters and a progressive liberal culture.
Things To Do In Portland Oregon
The city is divided into quadrants like Southwest, North, etc. But it’s easy to move around it by referring to the neighborhoods.
Portland has many unique and interesting neighborhoods to explore. One of the most exciting aspects of visiting Portland is a constant possibility of discovery.
Here are just a few notable neighborhoods:
Downtown Portland is the heart of the city, centered around Pioneer Square and home to modern commercial towers, new condominiums, and converted lofts, along with several museums and urban parks of interest to tourists, including Tom McCall Waterfront Park along the river.
To the immediate south of Downtown is the campus of Portland State University and South Waterfront, an urban revitalization area at the southern end of the streetcar line with newly built glass residential towers.
Just to the north of Downtown is Old Town, which is where Portland was first settled and which has some historic buildings and is a nightlife center, but also contains a fair amount of social services for homeless and mentally ill.
The neighborhood also holds the remnants of Chinatown which, despite a lovely archway entry at Burnside and 4th Avenue and some Chinese-inspired street decorations, is rather desolate and may prove a disappointment for visitors expecting the bustle of San Francisco’s or New York City’s Chinatown.
Just to the northwest of Downtown is the Pearl District, a very hip and trendy neighborhood on the streetcar line which was not long ago derelict warehouses and empty industrial space. The economic success of the Pearl has made it a frequently cited urban planning model, and it is an excellent place to hang out and people watch, eat in fine restaurants, and visit the famous Powell’s Bookstore.
Perhaps the best spot to people watch is Jamison Square, a city park at the heart of the Pearl that includes a popular fountain which fills a pool during the summer months that’s popular with little kids. For a slightly more quiet retreat, Tanner Springs Park is just a couple of blocks north and built to resemble a piece of reclaimed wetland, with tall grasses and a nice pond. On the First Thursday of every month, all art galleries in the Pearl district open their doors for casual viewing, and many serve wine and cheese.
To the north of the Pearl, at the northern end of the streetcar line is the Northwest District, also known as Nob Hill and also on the trendy side and with a variety of retail shops, bars, and restaurants along with plenty of lovely Victorians and tree-lined streets. West of this is the West Hills, where the well-to-do of Portland have traditionally lived.
Because of the geography, the streets in the West Hills are a bit of a maze, but they still make for an interesting trek; you’ll find lavish mansions, ornate public staircases, and good views of Downtown.
Hawthorne Blvd, which runs east-west across the river from Downtown, has a broad selection of shops including a menagerie of vintage goods at the House of Vintage and the ornate Bagdad Theater Pub, and is a center of the counter-culture/bohemian community which is dissipating to make way for a variety of upscale businesses. The nearby Belmont Street is also worth a visit if you are in the neighborhood, with a similar – if smaller – array of shops and attractions.
Located along Broadway and Sandy Blvd northeast of downtown, Hollywood is a commercial district for the nearby neighborhoods and home to the Hollywood Theater, a historic non-profit theater with an ornate facade showing a variety of independent, second run, and classic films as well as original programming and interactive events. There is also a popular Saturday farmers market in the neighborhood during the warm months.
To the north of downtown between MLK Blvd and 30th Avenue, Alberta Street has much the same feel as Hawthorne Blvd; a counter-culture/bohemian community that’s becoming popular with yuppies.
The Neighborhood between Alberta Street and Broadway is known as Irvington and contains many historic Craftsman homes.
Oregon Historical Society
Lots of artifacts and exhibits on the history of the state. $11 adults, $9 students/seniors, $5 youth, free for ages 5 and under.
Oregon Museum of Science and Industry
OMSI, short for “Oregon Museum of Science and Industry” is great for kids, with hundreds of hands-on activities with a particular emphasis on technology and earth sciences; you can spend a full rainy day here and not get bored.
Moored in the river just outside is the USS Blueback, an old navy submarine which is open for tours (separate ticket required). There’s also a planetarium and an IMAX theater which requires separate admission, but you can view the IMAX projector in operation without paying for the movie ticket.
A stunning Victorian mansion in the hills of west Portland, dating back nearly a century now and preserved just as it looked then. The mansion also contains beautiful artworks and furniture collected by the original owners. Children under 6 FREE.
Portland Aerial Tram
An aerial tram which connects the South Waterfront neighborhood to the Oregon Health Sciences University campus on a hill to the west. The tram is sleek and offers an excellent view of Downtown and the surrounding area, with splendid views of the mountains on a clear day. The joint-venture project is part of Portland’s public transit system. Children under 6 FREE.
Portland Art Museum
Has several outstanding collections and is regularly updated by moving exhibits. It is an expansive museum where one could easily spend an entire afternoon. The Whitsell Auditorium in the basement of the museum is where the Northwest Film Center hosts film screenings.
Looming over the west entrance of the Portland Building is the second-largest hammered-copper statue in the U.S. (after the Statue of Liberty); a classical sculpture of a woman bearing a trident, crouching over the entryway and reaching down to welcome visitors. For its sheer size, it’s surprisingly easy to miss – keep your eyes peeled for Michael Graves’ historic postmodern building painted in red, blue, and tan.
Sapporo Friendship Bell
This gift from Portland’s sister city Sapporo, Japan is encircled by red and yellow roses.
Oregon Maritime Center and Museum
Located on the Portland, a steam sternwheeler tug boat moored in the river, the museum contains numerous ship models, maritime artifacts and memorabilia, while tours are offered of the ship itself.
Portland Rose Festival
This wonderful festival, held in early June, is Portland’s largest event. The Portland waterfront is turned into a carnival for a couple of weeks, starting with Fleet Week as military ships moor alongside Waterfront Park and culminating with a bunch of festivities on the second weekend, including the centerpiece of the festival, the Grand Floral Parade held on the last Saturday. Other events include flower shows, other parades, fireworks, and dragon boat races.
Portland’s Major League Soccer team, the Timbers, play at Providence Park (formerly PGE Park and JELD-WEN Field) and are known for their strong local support. Games against the Seattle Sounders are especially heated, though fan conflict is almost always verbal. Getting tickets can be tricky, as the stadium is rather small with only 20,000 seats.
A 21-mile multi-use trail extending from SE Portland to the town of Boring, Oregon. It is designed to accommodate hikers, bikers, wheelchairs, and horses.
Portland World Naked Bike Ride
Portland’s annual World Naked Bike Ride, held in early June, has many goals: to increase visibility of cyclists; to promote confidence in the beauty and individuality of the human body; to affirm nudity as a legal form of protest; to emphasize the bicycles’s place as a catalyst for change in the future of sustainability, community, and transportation. Free.
One of the goals of the naked bike ride is to highlight the vulnerability of cyclists everywhere and decries society’s dependence on pollution-based transport.
Points Of Interest
If you intend on staying longer in the Pacific Northwest, Portland is fairly centrally located in the region, making it a good home base for nice extended trips to Seattle, Vancouver B.C., Eugene, and many state and national parks, most of which are within a day’s drive.
Located just 50 mi (80 km) from the Cascade Range and 90 mi (145 km) from the Pacific Ocean, Portland is the perfect home base for day trips to:
- Mount Hood
- Mount St. Helens
- Columbia River Gorge
- The northern part of the Oregon Coast
- Wineries in the Willamette Valley
Located 25 miles east of Portland on Interstate 84, the Multnomah waterfall is 620 ft (189 m) high and features a paved trail to the top for those willing to make the trek. The view is worth it. For a scenic drive, travel east 15 miles on Interstate 84 to exit 18, take the Historic Columbia River Highway 9 mi (15 km) to the turnoff for Larch Mountain, go 14 mi (23 km) up East Larch Mountain Road to parking lot, short walk to Sherrard Point for viewpoint, drive back to the highway, then continue about a mile to Crown Point, then 9 miles to Multnomah Falls. There are a number of smaller falls along the way, which freeze in the winter. To get back to Interstate 84 continue east to the next freeway entrance.
- Mill Ends Park – the “smallest park in the world”, a title backed up by the Guinness Book of Records, Mill Ends was created satirically for the purpose of being “a leprechaun colony and racetrack for snails.” It consists of nothing more than a single small tree in the crosswalk on the north side of the intersection. Free.
- Crystal Springs Rhododendron Garden – a display and test garden was initiated in 1950 that includes more than 2,500 rhododendrons, azaleas, and companion plants. Beginning in early spring and continuing into summer, the gardens provide a magnificent display of color, giving visitors the opportunity to view many varieties rarely seen in the Pacific Northwest. During the fall, many companion trees add dramatic coloring. Spring-fed Crystal Springs Lake surrounds much of the garden, attracting many species of birds and waterfowl.
- Forest Park – located on the hills northwest of Downtown, Forest Park is one of the nation’s largest urban parks at 5,000 acres. There are many great hiking and biking trails to be found winding through this natural forest setting. Free.
- The Grotto Gardens – called as the National Sanctuary of our Sorrowful Mother, it’s a tranquil and spiritual sanctuary which hosts reflection ponds, secluded gardens, and shrines on the top of a basalt cliff. The best time to visit is during the holiday season when the grotto is illuminated with lights. The Grotto also makes for a very romantic destination for a special night out. Lower level free.
- Lan Su Chinese Garden – a beautiful urban retreat in the heart of Chinatown with a pond, a teahouse, pavilions, and lots of gardens.
- Laurelhurst Park – a beautiful park designed by a horticultural expert from the same team that designed New York City’s Central Park. This park has a great atmosphere in good weather, with lots of locals and visitors enjoying the duck pond, the bike paths, and the off-leash dog area. Free.
- Mount Tabor Park – at the eastern end of the Hawthorne District, Mt Tabor is a forested park situated atop an extinct volcanic butte with great views of the city. The park contains a couple of reservoirs and lots of winding trails, and is also the home of the popular PDX Soapbox Derby event (see below under Do). Free.
- Pioneer Courthouse Square – the central courtyard of downtown Portland, a big gathering spot that’s popular with tourists and locals alike. Notable features of the park are a cascading waterfall fountain, chess boards, and the Weather Machine, a machine that predicts the weather every day at noon. Many other sculptures and art elements surround the square, including Kvinneakt, the bronze statue of a nude woman that’s otherwise known as the “Expose Yourself to Art” statue after a popular poster featuring a flasher (former Mayor Bud Clark) facing this work. An annual Christmas tree lighting ceremony takes place here the Friday evening after Thanksgiving to ring in the holiday day season and get everyone attending into the holiday cheer. Free.
- Tom McCall Waterfront Park – a wide expanse of green lawns along the downtown Portland waterfront is a scenic slice of park land, with views over the Willamette River and of the skyline. At one point, this narrow stretch of land was a four-lane freeway, but growing environmental awareness led to the city replacing the freeway with this park. Along the waterfront there are a number of fountains, memorials, and gardens, including the Salmon Street Springs, a large fountain at the Salmon Street entrance that’s popular with kids during the summer; the Battleship Oregon Memorial, the old mast of the USS Oregon battleship between Oak and Pine Streets; and the Japanese American Memorial Garden at the north end of the park has monuments telling the story of people of Japanese descent in the US, including the WWII internment camps. The park is also home to many festivals throughout the year, including a Cinco de Mayo celebration, the Waterfront Blues Fest, and the carnival-like Rose Festival. Free
- International Rose Test Gardens – the largest rose test garden in U.S., perched on a hill overlooking Downtown Portland, with thousands of roses planted in every possible way: rows, bushes and vines. Best to come between May and July, when it gets fragrant as everything’s in bloom. Volunteer gardeners offer free guided tours at 1PM during the summer months. Free.
- Oregon Zoo – a good-sized zoo with Pacific Northwest animals, a primate house, and an Africa area, as well as a large Asian Elephant exhibit and breeding area, which is noteworthy.
- Portland Children’s Museum – lots of interactive exhibits designed for kids. $10 general, $9 seniors/military, free for children under age one (parking $2/car; discount for public transit users).
- Portland Japanese Garden – a haven of tranquil beauty across the seasons, Portland Japanese Garden has been proclaimed as one of the most authentic Japanese gardens outside of Japan. $9.50 adults, $7.75 seniors/students, $6.75 youth, child 5 and under free.
- World Forestry Center Discovery Museum – built like a giant log cabin, this museum is devoted to the science and cultural impact of Pacific Northwest forests.
- Hoyt Arboretum – a large arboretum with paved trails of varying length and over 1,000 species of trees and plants in a natural setting. Free.
Washington Park is a classic urban park, sprawling over about 140 acres, with many trails that take you between the stands of trees, around the hills and through the canyons – a park so large it can be easy to get lost without a map.
It contains memorials for the Korean and Vietnam Wars, the Holocaust, and the Lewis and Clark expedition, and has beautiful vistas of Portland and Mount Hood. Free.
Music Scene in Portland
Portland has a pretty good music scene throughout town, with venues holding everything from huge national acts to small underground music groups.
Many local pubs and bars offer great local bands on weekends, and the city is developing a national notoriety as the nation’s “indie rock capital”, with many high (and low) profile independent rock music acts calling the city home.
Given its reputation for all that is hip, Portland maintains a fairly diverse range of live music options. Check out one of the two weekly alternative newspapers for comprehensive music listings; the Portland Mercury and the Willamette Week.
- Doug Fir Lounge – located at the Jupiter Hotel, Doug Fir Lounge is Portland’s slickest, upscale music venue featuring live shows almost every night of the week in the basement, a restaurant on street level and a bar in both. A decidedly hip variety of traveling and local music.
- Aladdin Theater – a great venue revamped from an old theater hall that offers shows almost nightly, featuring local favorites as well as Northwest and national acts. Food and alcohol available.
- Wonder Ballroom – a large ballroom with cash bar featuring many of Portland’s favorite music artists and national touring acts.
- Roseland Theater – a great place to go see a rock show or catch a hip hop concert. It is a good size venue but still gives you that crowded rock show feels. This venue is very fun to watch a show because the crowd always gets really into the music. It gets very crowded in some parts of the theater. This theater is standing room only. However, there are seats in the upstairs to view the show from there.
- Crystal Ballroom – often referred to as “The Crystal” is one of the nicest venues in town. The Crystal has a bar inside with upstairs balcony seating for 21+. The main floor is standing room only which makes the show much more intense. The floor gives under the weight of the crowd and can “bounce” if the crowd decides to jump in unison (to bring on an encore, for example).
- Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall – home to the Oregon Symphony, Portland Youth Philharmonic, and the Metropolitan Youth Symphony. Contains intricate Italian architecture in the hall. The concert hall seats 2,776 people and hosts lectures, symphonies, comedians and big-name musical acts.
- Jimmy Mak’s – Portland’s unofficial home for live Jazz music.
- Dante’s – home of the weird, bizarre, and devilish live music and shows.
- Rose Quarter – the Rose Quarter holds two major arenas, the Moda Center (Rose Garden) and The Memorial Coliseum, which host large, international level touring artists. The Moda Center is also home to the NBA’s Portland Trail Blazers. Ticket prices are usually higher for Rose Quarter events.
Foodies may find their nirvana in Portland. With its location in one of the most fertile agricultural areas in the nation, an abundance of fresh fruits, vegetables, meat and seafood raised not far from its boundaries, award-winning wines and beers, and a food culture that supports food artisans and emphasizes local, seasonal food served fresh, it’s no surprise that the culinary scene in Portland has received national attention in recent years.
Restaurants and food carts have popped up in large number throughout the city, making it quite easy to enjoy a good meal at a reasonable price.
Portland has an amazing selection of farmers markets. The PSU Saturday Market offers a wide range of cuisines made from healthy, local ingredients, and is great if you only have time for one.
The downtown core is home to a small army of food carts; with less overhead than the traditional indoor restaurant, you can pick up a delicious meal on the cheap and choose from a variety of foods including Indian, Mexican, pastries, and hot dogs.
Be sure to see the above “Shopping Malls & Districts” article under the “Buy” section as there are a great number of restaurants next to the boutique stores located in these shopping districts and malls in a nice urban setting. Some of them are a locally owned unique type of restaurants while others are national or international chain restaurants (Subway, McDonald’s/McCafe, Chipotle, Starbucks, KFC, etc.) that may or may not be listed in the below.
If you’re looking for a free drink while walking around downtown, look no further than the iconic Benson Bubblers. These are ornate drinking fountains scattered throughout the downtown area, made of copper and in one-bowl and four-bowl variations.
Installed by Simon Benson in the 1910s, the fountains continuously run from 6 AM to 11 PM daily and offer a cool drink perfect for the summer months.
Although a handful of Portland’s key gay bars can be found in Downtown and Old Town, they are not restricted to any identifiable gay neighborhood. They are found in diverse locations throughout the city. This reflects the fact that the Portland LGBT community is highly integrated into the city overall, which makes Portland special among cities with a big LGBT community.
Portland is often referred to as “the microbrewery capital of the world”, and it’s a well-earned title. Take advantage of the Northwest’s famous microbrews — small breweries that serve their own (and others’) craft beers.
They are a world away from the generic beers that are America’s mainstay. Portland also has more traditional nightlife drinking establishments, mainly located downtown, in Old Town, and in the Pearl. You will find everything from dance clubs, gay bars, and an assortment of karaoke bars. Portland likes its alcohol.
- Bagdad Theater and Pub – the Bagdad is one of the great things about Portland: a 700-seat second-run movie theater serving a selection of regional craft brews you can drink while you watch.
- Bartini – a cocktail bar with an extensive and interesting drink list, it has an excellent atmosphere and good Happy Hour prices. As for food, they have a wide variety of fondues (including a scrumptious chocolate fondue) and other great dishes.
- Belmont Station – Belmont Station is both a store and bar/cafe. The store side hosts over 1000 bottled beers from around the world, and the cafe offers a solid lineup of sandwiches, soups, and light pub fare, as well as interesting beers on draft. The friendly and knowledgeable staff make this the place to go to explore Portland’s beer scene.
- Bailey’s Taproom – offers 20 constantly rotating taps, plus one beer engine, encompassing the entire range of beer styles with an emphasis on Oregon breweries. Located in downtown Portland, convenient to most hotels, mass transit, events, nightlife, restaurants and welcome to both microbrew fanatics and the uninitiated. One of the most eclectic selections of beer around and encourages enthusiasm for the unfamiliar.
- Clinton Street Theater Pub – shows a great assortment of esoteric films and the world’s longest running Rocky Horror Picture Show
- Dots Cafe – a funky night spot with great bar food
- EastBurn – cool building and great atmosphere. Hanging swing chairs, heated patio and downstairs bar with skee ball. The food is higher end, but not pricey and full bar with big wine list and great beers on tap make this spot a local favorite.
- Ground Kontrol Classic Arcade – Ground Kontrol Classic Arcade preserves and updates the classic arcade experience with 100 of the most popular video games and pinball tables in a multi-level space in downtown Portland. A full bar and food menu is available from 5PM-close nightly, along with recurring events such as twice-monthly Free Play Parties and Rock Band Tuesdays. All ages are admitted noon-5PM. At 5PM, the bar opens and adults 21+ are welcome.
- Hair of the Dog Brewing – a microbrewery that achieved a weird sort of notoriety for high-alcohol-content beers
- Hopworks Urban Brewery – one of the newest additions to the Portland brewpub scene. They emphasize sustainable practices business model. Hoppy beer with a distinct flavor
- Horse Brass Pub – another English-style pub that also serves a range of English-style food. An “old-world” atmosphere, reasonable prices, an huge beer list, free darts, and a friendly and knowledgeable staff make this a great place to relax with a pint and catch up with old friends
- Laurelwood Public House & Brewery – for the quintessential Portland brewpub experience. Enjoy beer crafted by award-winning Brewmaster Christian Ettinger along with excellent food in a family-friendly setting. The garlic fries are not to be missed, desserts are huge and appealing, and the Laurelwood Spinach Salad is the best salad in Portland. Very child-friendly, so be aware of unsupervised toddlers darting around between the tables. Entrees are creative and of high quality
- McMenamins – opening with its original location in 1983, The Barley Mill Pub, McMenamins now boasts over 50 locations in Oregon and Washington, which include the Bagdad Theater and Pub, Mission Theater and Pub at 1624 NW Glisan St, and the Kennedy School Theater at 5736 NE 33rd Ave. Not all locations have theaters
- Cinema 21 – a non-chain, non-McMenamins owned cinema brew pub showing more foreign, documentary and experimental film. $9 general admission, $8 students, $6 students
- Laurelhurst Theater – another cinema serving beer, wine and food. Children are allowed to shows before 5:30PM; after that it’s 21+ only. $4 general admission, $3 seniors, $2 children
- Rogue Distillery Public House – best burger and fries downtown, and more beers than you can handle
- Teardrop Lounge – one of the more upscale, inventive cocktail spots in PDX. The great drink concoctions have been written about in many national publications.
- Bula Kava House – Kava kava is a mildly sedating drink from the South Pacific. Definitely worth a try if you’re in Portland since the South Pacific is quite far away. Great place to relax and socialize in a semi-authentic atmosphere, all the while trying something entirely new and exotic.
If your beverage tastes veer more to the caffeinated variety: Like the rest of the Pacific Northwest, Portland also loves coffee.
- Ristretto Roasters – a great, hard-core coffee roaster where craft is more important than flash. This small coffee shop roasts its own coffee in a visible back room. Be sure to take some home as there are not many places that do such a good job with their roasting. Free Wi-Fi on site.
- Stumptown Coffee Roasters – one of the most celebrated and appreciated local coffee roasters in a city known for good coffee, Stumptown is credited for having beans that taste as fresh as a good home roast. Frequent customers include a quirky assortment of hipsters, yuppies, artists and the like.
- Pied Cow – a great coffee house in Portland
- Water Avenue Coffee Roasters – a loft style cafe and coffee roastery
- World Cup Coffee and Tea – a great locally owned company whose on-site coffee roasting has won awards. Serves organic, sustainable coffees in a great and comfortable atmosphere
Portland is one of the safest major cities in the United States by virtually any measure. Most people, including single female travellers, will not face any problems walking along the streets alone at night. Police are also noticeably absent from streets. But as the local police say, “low crime does not mean no crime” — beware of pickpockets in crowded areas and don’t forget your common sense entirely.
Portland’s cleanliness is achieved in part by strict rules against public nuisance activities that are often flouted in many other US cities. For example, jay-walking, littering, and drinking and eating on public transport are prohibited.
Begging is illegal in Portland, but you’ll occasionally see beggars on the streets. Most are homeless people — even the “bums” & “hobos”, who occasionally pester tourists for donations, are usually bogus.
Whilst jaywalking is illegal, it is still a common thing and occurs quite often around the city. Beware though that if a police officer catches you, you might get a warning or end up with a fine if you persist. Put simply: the roads are for vehicles and the footpaths are for people.
Recently, LGBT people have been the target of hate crimes, mostly around gay bars. A volunteer foot patrol, Q Patrol, keeps an eye on the gay hotspots on some summer weekends to deter potential attacks. The Portland Police Department is generally quite responsive to anti-LGBT crime, and even works closely with the LGBT community to ensure overall safety.
Multnomah County Library issues one-hour guest passes for Internet terminal use. There are several branch libraries scattered around the city of Portland.
Free wi-fi available to public while the libraries are open. Wi-fi shuts off ten minutes before the libraries close and stays off until the library opens again.
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December 4, 2016 2:42 pm