Sometimes things in life have a funny way of working out. Over the holidays last year I happened to come across a few articles about all the cool things to see & do in Portland, OR and the areas surrounding the city. Once I learned that they have some of the best beer, wine, & food in the country along with beautiful waterfalls, I knew it was a place that I needed to check out sooner rather than later. When I got the opportunity through work to spends 5 weeks in Portland earlier this year, I made sure I didn’t waste a minute of it! I have to admit that even with 3 full weekends in Portland, there are still a ton of things I want to see and do on my next trip. Below you’ll find what makes my Top 10 list of things to do & see in Portland!
Top 10 Things to See & Do in (and around) Portland, OR
- Check out the Craft Beer Scene – There is reason that Portland, OR is considered one of the best beer towns in the country. Not only do they have some delicious brews, they also have a ton of options so there is definitely something for everyone. I highly recommend going on a beer tour, whether you take a professionally guided one, like the Brewvana one I took, or you make up your own. If you don’t have time to try out more than one or two breweries yo u should definitely check out one of our favorite breweries.
- Take a Walking Tour – As you all know by now, I am a huge fan of walking tours. I think they provide a great way to get a quick overview of the city and what experts feel are the must see attractions. I was able to go on both a general walking tour and a food walking tour my first weekend and they were both awesome. The general tour helped me get the lay of the land and learn how the city was laid out (which prevented us getting lost later on) while teaching me about the history and major attractions of the city. The food tour taught me more about the culture of Portland along with letting me try a bunch of food and drinks from some of the best places in the city!
- Head to the Columbia River Gorge for Hiking & Waterfalls – I’m no expert on waterfalls, but I definitely think that the Columbia River Gorge has some of the prettiest waterfalls in the country. The Columbia River Gorge is less than an hour from downtown Portland and with multiple guided tours taking you to the major falls available each day it’s fairly easy to add them to your itinerary. I definitely recommend driving the Oregon Trial (yes the same one that the video game is based on) on either your way to or from the falls along with a stop at the Vista House for some great views of the river. It may be a bit slower but it’s amazing to drive through the lush green forest covered with moss. I managed to see Latourell Falls, Bridal Veil Falls, & Multnomah Falls and they were all gorgeous. While there isn’t a ton of hiking involved, you should be sure to pack a pair of sturdy sneakers or hiking boots to tackle the dirt/stone trails.
- Try out some Delicious Locally Sourced Food – In case you didn’t know, Portland has a bit of a unique climate. So while this means that it rains 70% of the year, it also means that the farmland in the surrounding area is some of the best in the country. Add in Portland’s hipster culture to the mix and you end up with restaurants that rival the best in NYC without the big price tag. From food trucks to brew pubs to ice cream shops (be sure to check out Salt & Straw!), we really didn’t have a bad meal the entire time we were there unless you count our unfortunate choice to eat at Jack in the Box. You can find some of our favorite lunch spots here, or check out our Yelp page for a full list of our favorites!
- Explore a few of Portland’s Neighborhoods – While Portland is broken down into 5 major sections: Southeast, Northeast, Southwest, Northwest, & North, there are a ton of smaller neighborhoods within each of those. Each neighborhood has it’s own feel and unique types of restaurants, bars, & shops. A few of my favorites were the Pearl District, Hawthorne, North Mississippi, & Alberta St. You might even want to try acting like a local and head to a trivia night, our favorite trivia bar was Alberta Street Pub!
- Try a Donut or Three – While Voodoo Doughnuts put Portland on the donut map, they aren’t the only game in town. Between the cities great water and some of the best pastry chefs in the country, you’ll be hard pressed to find more delicious donuts. You can find which places made it onto my favorites list here.
- Try a few Local Wines & Spirits – While you may think you’ll have to venture to Willamette Valley to visit wineries, you’d be surprised by the number of wineries actually based in the Portland city limits. A little less surprising is the number of distilleries in the city. Be sure to pick up a Portland Distillery Passport if you plan to check out a few. Unfortunately, I didn’t get a chance to visit any wineries or distilleries but it’s definitely at the top of my to do list for my next visit!
- Find Zen in the Japanese Garden – I’ve always been a big fan of visiting gardens when I travel, in fact my visits to the Versailles gardens (France) and Boboli gardens (Florence, Italy) are some of my most memorable travel days. I definitely knew I had to check out at least one of Portland’s famous gardens and I opted for the Japanese Gardens since they are considered the best example of Japanese gardens outside of Japan. They definitely did not disappoint. The garden is actually made up of 5 examples of Japanese gardens and each one was unique and beautiful in it’s own way. I definitely recommend taking a free tour so you can learn more about the hidden treasures of each garden and their history. It was amazing how peaceful the gardens were even though there were plenty of tourists visiting. While I’m glad I made the Japanese Garden my first stop, I’m looking forward to checking out the International Rose Test Garden and Lan Su Chinese Garden next time.
- Pick up a Book to Read while Sipping Coffee – No trip to Portland would be complete without a trip to Powell’s Books, the world’s largest independent bookstore. You could easily spend hours searching through a city block’s worth of shelves of new and used books . After you pick up a few books, it’s time to head over to the closest Stumptown Coffee for the coffee that changed me from a coffee hater to a coffee lover. While I haven’t had a bad drink yet, I highly recommend trying their cold brew, including the chocolate sweetened version on the rocks, cappuccinos, or their regular house coffee which is delicious all by itself. If you are a big coffee fan, you might even want to consider attending a tour or a tasting at their headquarters.
- Get out of Town – While there are definitely a ton of activities to do within the Portland city limits, it would be a shame to be so close and not experience some of the great things to do outside of the city. A few great options are heading up to Mount Hood for skiing, snow shoeing, or a tour of the Timberline Lodge, visiting Hood River for lunch (I recommend getting food & a beer at Full Sail Brewery) or kiteboarding, heading to the Willamette Valley for some wine tasting, or taking a road trip to the beach including lunch at Pelican Pub & Brewery (which is actually located on the beach)!
Did your favorite things to do, see, & eat in Portland make our list? If not be sure to let us know so we can check out on our next visit!