Portland, Oregon – once famously rainy and overlooked, this Pacific Northwest destination is now still rainy, and ever more popular despite it. Portland offers a dynamic combination of activities. There is that rugged, outdoor-oriented lifestyle with lots of hiking, running and mountain biking – within the city as well as throughout the nearby mountains and gorges. As it turns out, this is the perfect complement to the other thing Portland is known for – its very refined, sophisticated culinary scene – truly gourmet, but utterly free of pretension. Does this mean you can go to an elegant restaurant in hiking gear? Not quite, but close – Portland has its own brand of style, that blends its two identities. So let’s check some of the best places to visit in Portland Oregon and know about awesome things to do in Portland, Oregon which suits all interests and ages. So this blog post would be a perfect answer to your query on What to do in Portland, Oregon.
What’s more, the interest in nature and the interest in cuisine reflect a conscientious lifestyle – this is a city that is concerned with the environment, sustainability, ethically sourced ingredients, and general social consciousness. What this translates to for the visitor is a sense of serenity and positive energy. Portland is a serious feel-good destination.
DAY TRIPS OR SIDE TRIPS FROM PORTLAND, OREGON
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Between all the hiking and the dining and the single-estate coffees, there’s great shopping, museuming, garden visits, and other cultural diversions. Here are some of the best ways to enjoy the city and know about best places to visit in Portland, Oregon.
Where to stay in Portland – Hotels in Portland – Best Places To Visit In Portland Oregon
The Inn at Northrup Station, in a great district in NW Portland, is a fun choice – a classic mid-century “motel” redone in juicy pop colors. Comfortable, convenient, and a delicious breakfast.
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The hotel DeLuxe means it – albeit in a charmingly tongue-in-cheek way. The old-school dark cocktail lounge is a delicious throwback to the Mad Men era. It’s very central, perfect for exploring, and a little bit of a splurge. The Society Hotel, in a classic late 19th century Portland building, is an experience-focused boutique hotel, great for the sociable traveler with a taste for something different. It’s near the Chinese Garden – convenient, but the neighborhood does have a little bit of an edge, especially after nightfall. On the plus side, it’s not too far from the legendary Voodoo donuts.
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Outdoor Culture – Portland’s Public Gardens (and a Zoo)
Portland boasts not one but several public gardens that serve as cultural and educational destinations as well as providing some peaceful and contemplative recreation. Here are some favorites:
The Hoyt Arboretum
In the hills of Northwest Portland, this wonderful resource has 12 miles of hiking trails traversing nearly 200 acres. The trees – a stunningly diverse array of 2,300 species – represent six continents. The Hoyt Arboretum is free, open every day of the year, and includes 2 miles of paved trail, so the experience is accessible to all. Maps, routes, and information are available at the visitors’ center.
The International Rose Test Garden
Anthophiles and others will be fascinated by the great diversity of roses that bloom in this classic Portland attraction. Starting around WWI, hybridists sent rose varieties from around the world to this garden for testing. The tradition continues, like ten to twenty of the most interesting new varieties of roses are integrated into the garden each year. Over 10,000 rose bushes bloom, from May through October, representing over 600 species. The view of Mt. Hood from here is also splendid.
Portland Japanese Garden
A cultural institution of enduring meaning and a symbol of peace, the Portland Japanese Garden is the beautiful result of growing ties between Portland and Japan in the aftermath of WWII. The garden was conceived as a means of exposing the American public to the cultural and aesthetic values of the Japanese people while celebrating their connection through the Pacific rim. The garden today embodies 8 different garden styles for an overview of Japanese garden aesthetics and philosophies. It includes ponds, streams, traditional structures, bridges and fences, a rock gardens, and other natural interventions. The Portland Japanese garden is widely acclaimed to be one of the most authentic Japanese gardens outside of Japan.
Lan Su Chinese Garden
In a spot both unlikely – the concrete heart of downtown Portland, and yet very apt – this is the traditional “Chinatown” of old Portland, complete with its ornate gate – is this oasis of beauty. As the Japanese garden is praised for its authenticity, the Lan Su Chinese Garden is similarly praised. This petite wonder, covering one large city block within its lovely walls, is also a symbol of friendship. Portland’s sister city Souzhou is in the Jiangsu province, an area known for its excellent Ming Dynasty gardens. Artisans from Suzhou created this traditional garden for the residents of Portland to enjoy. A lovely tea house adjoins the gardens.
Over 200 species and subspecies inhabit this beautiful 64-acre zoo. The Portland Zoo is the oldest zoo west of the Mississippi River. But it has definitely kept up with the times, dedicated to issues of sustainability and preservation, public education, and engagement – all with an aim of making a better world for our fellow creatures.
Shopping and Dining – the Pearl District and Downtown Portland
Most every US city now has a former industrial neighborhood that has been gentrified and now hosts the best shopping, dining, and elegant living. But Portland has done it with unusual success. The Pearl District, just northwest of downtown and easily accessible, has the beautiful industrial architecture of the early 20th century and has preserved its character, with tables at the most elegant cafes and restaurants set up on former loading docks. Boutiques and larger stores enjoy the soaring industrial spaces.
A note on shopping- visitors to the US often are surprised by the fact that the State Tax is not included in the price that you see on the price tag. This is often nearly 10% – like in California, for instance. Portland has no state sales tax – the price you see is the price you pay. If you plan on shopping in the US, do it in Oregon.
Shopping in Portland
This wonderful store features the hyper-local – things made by artisans and creators right here in Portland. Since this is a very creative community, that means a great selection – uniquely fabulous, housewares, accessories, food products, personal care, outdoor gear (of course), jewelry, and so on – from slingshots to earrings to artisan chocolate bars. Gorgeous stuff, and lots of fun.
Many independent boutiques and chic chains offer individual style and a fun shopping experience. Among them are Anthropologie, Garnish Apparel, House of Lolo, and Madewell.
You’ll have noticed by now that Portland must be the capital of fabulous athletic shoes of every kind. This is Nike’s hometown, so you might want to stop by their flagship store (it includes a mini-museum of their designs over the years). The Keen store, in the Pearl District, is excellent for hiking shoes and is also a fun place just to visit a beautifully restored industrial space. Dr. Martens US headquarters is also here – right across from Powells.
Portland excels in athletic wear, too. Local, eco-friendly Nau specializes in chic sustainability. REI has a huge store here, too. If you’re feeling chilly, pick some cozy Merino wool apparel at the outpost of New Zealand’s Icebreaker.
Dining in Portland, Oregon
Oven and Shaker are where you come for some serious gourmet pizzas and craft cocktails. For something sunny, try the Mediterranean Exploration Company. If you want a burger and fries, they do it right at Little Big Burger, and fresh-cut fries graced with truffle oil.
There is a great dining scene in other Portland neighborhoods too. In SW (that’s south of Burnside). Lechon has a pleasing vibe, and it is Argentian/Latin American identity manages to please its vegetarian and vegan friends. The Russian and Eastern European-focused Kacha, in SE (south of Burnside, and the other side of the river), has a huge buzz and great ratings.
Culture and Education
Portland Art Museum
The collections of the Portland Art Museum are strong on Native American Art, Asian Art, and Art of the Northwest, as well as contemporary art. You’ll also see works by familiar international artists from other eras such as Diego Rivera, Paul Cezanne, and Vincent van Gogh. This is a lovely museum setting for a contemplative and enjoyable visit.
Take in a Performance
Portland has several stages and a full program of events. If your tastes run to classic and contemporary classic, check the program of the Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall or the Oregon Ballet Theater. Other stages of note include Revolution Hall – in the brick building of a former High School – hosting current touring bands and genres of the moment. For theater, the Gerding Theater is getting a great buzz – both for the stunning space, in the renovated Armory building, as well as for the productions of the company Portland Center Stage,
OMSI – The Oregon Museum of Science and Industry
You don’t have to be visiting with a child to fall back in love with science at OMSI. Interactive exhibitions include a chemistry lab, an earth lab, a physics lab, a living lab, and a paleontology lab. At the planetarium, you can explore much, much further through guided exploration of the mysteries of the cosmos. There are also concerts, art events, and general boundary-defying fun for the curious and creative. OMSI after dark specializes in events for the 21+ crowd for a great date night.
Getting Around in Portland
Portland has an excellent tram system, which gives it a nice European feel while also making it extremely easy to navigate. The tram even gets you easily to and from the PDX airport. The downtown is fairly compact, and getting around on foot is a pleasure. If Portland is one stop on a Pacific Northwest jaunt, then you might want to take the Amtrak to Seattle – Portland has a nice old-fashioned train station.
I hope, you loved reading a complete guide on the Portland tour and this blog post would help you to plan a Portland visit during the upcoming holidays or weekends. Do let me know how your Portland trip was and did you enjoyed reading about the best places to visit in Portland, Oregon.
Guest Post by – Amber Charmei, originally from Manhattan, has been based in Greece since 2000. She writes on Mediterranean culture and cuisine – in print and on the web – and shares stories about her favorite destinations at Provocolate.
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I don’t mind the rain after living in Vancouver, so I love the look of Portland! The Japanese and Chinese gardens both look so beautiful and calming. Plus all that food sounds incredible – I could spend months eating my way around that city! <3
Fab post as always.