This past summer, my friends Carl and Kelly were visiting from Nashville. Wanting them to have a good time (and to show off this cool town) I offered to give them a few suggestions of Portland stuff to check out. I meant for it to be a “short list" but it actually turned into something pretty big. So I'm compiling it here to use as a reference when friends visit. I’m guessing it’ll change over time.
Below is a selection of categories and some stuff to do that I’d stand behind. Much of it is the usual stuff you’d find in any “stuff to do in Portland” article, but as a longtime resident, I hope there may be some lesser known surprises as well. If you're planning an upcoming trip to Bridgetown I hope you have fun!
Here's a cool time lapse video of this beautiful city!
Stuff to See and Do
Consuming over a city block, Powell’s is famously one of the world's largest independent booksellers. If you like bookstores, give yourself a good chunk of time to get lost in here. It can be a lot of fun!
The Oregon Museum of Science and Innovation. There’s always something interesting going on here with rotating exhibits. The old Navy submarine (from Hunt for Red October) stays docked outside the museum in the Willamette River and you can take a guided tour of it.
Cycle the Springwater Corridor or part of the 40-mile Loop. If you’re serious about renting a bike, you may want to check out Spinlister - sort of an Airbnb for bikes. I can’t vouch for them, but it seems like a cool idea.
Walking around town
This city has a lot of different neighborhoods, most of which have their own personality and feel with interesting places to eat, window shop, or people watch. Some of the best areas for this are: The Alberta Arts District (NE Alberta between 10th and 30th), SE Hawthorne Blvd, SE Division (a twinge of gross gentrification, but still a nice area), The Pearl District (downtown, old warehouse district, now filled with overpriced lofts, galleries, restaurants, etc), NW 23rd Ave (known by the locals as “trendy third”…don’t let that scare you, it’s a fun street to walk around), N Mississippi.
You’ll likely see some of these around town. It’s basically a local chain of interesting brewpubs, movie theaters, hotels, and music venues, often converted from interesting old historic sites. It was started by a couple brothers and each place has its own story, and is adorned in a sort of funky artwork that helps reinforce its story. When I was new to Oregon, these places symbolized the creative energy of the area.
If you had to choose just one of their locations to check out, I’d recommend the Kennedy School. It’s an old elementary school in a Northeast neighborhood that closed (as a school) in the 70’s and was condemned before the McMenamins brothers revived it. Now, you can watch a movie in the old multipurpose room, host an event in the old gymnasium, rent an old classroom to sleep in (with built-in chalkboards still there!), have a drink in the old principal’s office (or one of several other bars on the property), or grab lunch in the former cafeteria which is now a cool restaurant with a courtyard/firepit. I love that place.
This is my favorite way to see films! Portland has a lot of these, many of which are independently run in older theater venues that have been updated and retrofitted while still preserving their old aesthetic. The list in the link is solid, my favorites being Laurelhurst, Hollywood (right across from Tapspace!), and the Bagdad. Bonus points if you go to Living Room Theaters and use the restroom where you might have an unexpected experience while looking in the mirror while washing your hands...
(Actually on both Saturday and Sunday). Lots of crafts vendors setup shop each weekend beneath the Burnside Bridge. Fun way to hang out downtown, see some cool stuff and people watch.
This is a really big/fun Farmer’s Market downtown that happens every Saturday morning.
This is kind of cheesy and touristy, but also kind of fun and interesting if you don’t put too much weight on detailed accuracy. Basically, there are an underground series of tunnels beneath the city that were allegedly used to “Shanghai/kidnap” people and transport them to boats along the river where they’d serve as slaves. Take the historical accuracy of this with a handful of salt, but it’s still pretty interesting.
Nature and stuff...
(in Washington Park, west of downtown) This is an awesome place to visit, especially on a clear day where you can get a good view of Mt. Hood while checking out tons of experimental rose breeds. One of the reasons Portland is known as the “rose city."
It’s the tallest waterfall in Oregon, and only about 20-30 minutes east of Portland. It’s ultra touristy, but also pretty magnificent. There’s a paved path that’ll take you to the top of the falls. I wouldn’t call it a true “hike” in that it’s paved for the entire 1-mile, 700 ft. ascent, and you’ll likely encounter several tourists, baby strollers, and tantrum kids along the way. But given that you’re visiting from out of town and didn’t pack boots and gear, this is a great way to get the blood pumping as it’s a decently steep grade. Worth doing.
If nothing else, heading to Multnomah Falls gets you out to the Columbia River Gorge which is not to be missed. It’s where I do 80% of my hiking. The Columbia River is the border between Oregon and Washington and once you get out into the gorge area, it’s impossible not to be in awe of all the natural beauty around here. If you make it to the falls, drive back to Portland via the Historic Highway. It’ll bring you up to Crown Point (a scenic, high lookout over the gorge), and past several other waterfalls and over a number of old arched concrete bridges from about 100 years ago.
I love to hike, and there are endless options for great trails in the Portland area. Since you're visiting from out of town, I'll spare you the geeky exhaustive list. If you’re really interested in doing some hiking, let me know and I can put together a more intense list of options. Or check out Oregon Hiker's Field Guide - a great resource for hikes in the surrounding area. Here are a couple hiking ideas.
- Angel’s Rest - Also in the gorge, but quite close to Portland (about 20 min. outside of down), but far enough away to not feel like you’re around the city. Not too long (about 5 miles round-trip), and only moderately difficult without being a walk in the park. It's pretty popular, so expect some crowds, especially if the weather's nice. Figure about 3 hours to do it.
- Forest Park - Right behind downtown Portland and stretching several miles, Forest Park one of the country’s largest urban forests. There’s lots of great walking trails through here (the Wildwood Trail is a popular one), as well as the Oregon Zoo, Hoyt Arboretum, and the Audibon Society. Just walking around these trails getting lost is a pretty satisfying way to spend some time - and you’re not likely to get truly lost...
There’s a small admission, but it’s a beautiful place. I don't think they're open year-round, so be sure to check on their hours before going.
Food and Drink
Portland is serious about its food. It’d be impossible to give you the perfect listing of where to go for all your tasty bites so instead, here’s a listing of some of my favorites in somewhat arbitrary categories.
Fancypants Fine Dining
- Castagna (creative tasting menu if you want to be ultra-foodie)
- Beast (2 seatings per night)
- Paley’s Place (long-standing James Beard winner)
- Le Pigeon (all the rage for several years now, though I wasn't a fan of the pigeon)
- Ava Gene’s (Italian, restaurant of the year recently - very good)
Kinda fancypants, but more reasonable
- Laurelhurst Market (awesome steaks)
- Portland City Grill (high up in the “big pink” building gives you an awesome view of the city and Mt. Hood - go for happy hour in the bar, avoid the restaurant part which is overrated)
- Andina (Peruvian food in the Pearl district - great food/energy here!)
- Chameleon (sources ingredients from the chef’s local farm, these guys fly under the radar on the foodie scene, but they’re very good.)
Awesome food that won’t completely kill your pocketbook
- Pok Pok (northern Thai - the hype is real. Be sure to get the fish sauce wings. Try the drinking vinegars, the grapefruit is my favorite)
- Bollywood Theater (tasty/casual Indian)
- Toro Bravo (tapas - one of my favorite restaurants in town)
- Pambiche (Cuban, plus great desserts)
- Bamboo Sushi
- Podnah’s Pit (My favorite BBQ)
- Bunk Sandwiches
- Boke Bowl (ramen)
- Le Bistro Montage (mac n’ cheese, good late-night spot under the Morrison bridge)
- Apizza Scholls (NY style thin crust)
- Nicholas (Lebanese, great tabouli)
- Taco Pedaler
There are food cart pods all around town giving you a huge variety of cool options. My favorite pods are the ones on SE Division (around 28th), NE Alberta, and SE Hawthorne (around 12th). Downtown has several large cart pods as well, though I spend less time in that area. They tend to change tenants fairly often, so you don’t often see the same collection of carts on every visit.
- Killer Burger (my favorite)
- Slow Bar
- Little Big Burger
- Tabor Tavern
- Probably a lot of others I’m forgetting. Lot’s of good burgers around here.
Like most places, people love breakfast around here. They love it so much that they’ll often wait for hours outside the more reputable brunch spots for a table. If you can avoid the peak weekend times, here are some places to try that would otherwise have you waiting forever.
- Screen Door (southern gut bomb - get the pecan maple bacon…just do it)
- Broder (scandanavian awesomeness)
- Tin Shed (solid brunch in the Alberta Arts District)
- Mother’s (downtown…the type of place you might want to go with parents. Great food. Usually a bit crowded)
- Dot’s (this is a bar that serves great breakfasts. It hasn’t gotten overly trendy yet, but it’s one of my faves, actually. Great Chicken & Waffles. Warning: high hipster factor here, but there’s a cool dive/kitsch factor that’s real since the decorating hasn’t changed in decades)
- Sam’s Billiards (yes, it’s a pool hall, but the owners are great and they actually serve up a pretty damn great breakfast if you’re in the mood for something greasy. Tip: get onions in your hash browns)
- Pine State Biscuits (they have a cart at the downtown PSU farmers market on Saturdays, and a few other locations around town - awesome biscuit sandwiches)
- Gravy (In the Mississippi hood. I love their shredded hash brown potatoes, arranged in a sort of “nest”)
- Toast (quality neighborhoody place in the SE Woodstock area)
Voodoo Donut is all the rage if you’re visiting from out of town. They’re quintessential Portland “weird” with odd donuts topped with breakfast cereal, tang drink powder, the famous maple bar with bacon, or the more infamous ‘cock ’n balls’ - a cream-filled eclair positioned between a couple donut holes. They’ve caught on so much that every major city in America seems to have their own version of their crazy/voodoo donut shop, so this may not be all that interesting if you’re from one of those places.
Voodoo is worth a visit if you’re into the novelty, but you’ll find much better donuts (and less of a ridiculous line) at Blue Star. Or if you go to Pip’s (made to order), you may think you just died and went to donut heaven.
Salt & Straw is creative and super popular, and typically has a pretty big line out the door. It’s fun, and you can sample pretty much anything while you’re gawking at all the interesting flavors. Personally, I like Ruby Jewel better. I’m also not a huge ice cream guy, so I guess this entry ends here.
My Favorite Taprooms
- Loyal Legion (SE - comprised of ALL Oregon beers…99 taps!)
- Bailey’s Taproom (downtown)
- Apex (SE - cash only, FYI)
- Horse Brass (SE)
- Belmont Station (SE - also has a great bottle shop)
- Green Dragon (SE)
- The Growler Guys (SE)
- Beer (SE)
- Henry’s Tavern (downtown in the old location of the Henry Weinhard brewery)
- Produce Row Cafe (SE).
I didn’t realize till I started typing this that most of my favorite beer places are in Southeast. Heh...
Portland is a big beer town, but some of the best brewers are from other parts of the state like Eugene (Hop Valley, Ninkasi), and Bend (Worthy, GoodLife, Crux Fermentation Project, 10 Barrel, Boneyard, Deschutes).
If you want to visit a specific brewer’s location, I’d recommend the following smaller brewers:
The breweries below are either "big" craft brewers (aka: probably bought out by a large conglomerate) or brewers from other parts of the state that have tasting rooms/pubs within Portland. It can be fun to get taster flights at these types of places. Most of them have fairly mediocre food, but they’re passable since you’re really there for the beer, right?
- Deschutes (from Bend, solid choice and cool location)
- Rogue (from Newport, usually pouring a great variety)
- Bridgeport Brewing
- Widmer (though they’re owned by Anheuser Busch)
- 10 Barrel (from Bend…great beer, but unfortunately recently bought by Anheuser Busch)
There’s a great wine country less than an hour from Portland. Due to the climate here, the area is well known for its pinot noir production. If you decide to visit wine country, give yourself a full day so you don’t have to rush while driving through the rolling hills, and try to take in 3 or 4 wineries and do some tasting. Here’s a decent map that gives you a feel for the area.
You may know of Stumptown since they’re one of Portland’s most famous longtime roasters, bit they were recently bought by a large corporate entity, so I tend to skip over them now.
I know I've left out tons of great places. This post will probably evolve over time. Have any favorites of your own? Leave them in the comments below. Thanks!
Header photo by sama093