There are many fantastic and culture-soaked things to do in Portland. It is an eclectic artsy city with a cool vibe, surrounded by jaw-dropping nature.
Before we dive into the fun, let’s get oriented first.
This jewel of the Pacific Northwest was carved out of dense forest, hence the nickname, Stumptown. The city is broken up into quadrants that make it easy to navigate. They are NE, SE, NW, SW.
The topography and the vibe of Portland are more European than American, as the Willamette river cuts straight through the city and separates it from east and west. Just as Burnside Avenue divides the layout between north and south.
You’ll notice street names that you recognize from the hit show The Simpsons, like “Flanders”. That’s because the creator of the show is from Portland, and he used the street names here for character names.
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Table of Contents
The Portland Vibe
Portland Oregon is a city where eccentricity meets a ‘do it yourself’ attitude and melds with the latest hip trends in art and design, where the weird and the wacky sidle up against spectacular nature.
It’s the place with the world’s only vegan strip club. And where the scent of cannabis lingers in the air.
Goats and chickens in people’s yards are not an uncommon sight. And the same goes for pop up food carts. So much so that now entire lots have been devoted to this niche culinary service.
What Portland is Known For
You can eat some of the best food of your life in Portland. So, foodie explorations are an instant payoff. For a city of it’s size, Portland packs a whopping punch of restaurants, coffee shops, bars, and eateries of all types and nearly every cuisine imaginable.
It’s a town where coffee is king, and independent roasters abound.
It’s a live music city, with plenty of shows year round, and genres run across the spectrum or old styles and cutting edge.
And a movie house culture that boasts the best preserved old theaters in the nation, neon signs and marquees out of the past still haunt this gem of a town.
Book lovers will feel at home in The Rose City, as Powell’s is hands down the best book store in the country. To cozy up with a coffee and a book amidst the misty Oregon backdrop of lush green hills.
Bikes and boards, you’ll see plenty of both. Being at the forefront of the green movement, Portland’s streets are ever constantly accommodating cyclists with more and better bike lanes. Making it easy and enjoyable to stumble upon its many green spaces and small parks while exploring the city on either bike or foot.
When’s the last time you stepped out of the airport in an American city and walked a few meters to a train that zips you into the city center? The MAX is the Portland commuter rail network that services the outlying areas and crosses through the heart of the city.
Things To Do In Portland Oregon
Okay! Now that you know where you are and how to get around, here are some of the most incredible things to do in Portland Oregon!
Lounge At a Coffee Shop
First things first, Portland is coffee.
There’s no better city on Earth to start the day for bean lovers. And since you’re visiting and you didn’t come here to work, — even the people that came here to work, didn’t come here to work — blend in and relax with a cup of joe.
It’s one of the best things to do in Portland, guaranteed!
Pick a coffee shop; just turn your head and you’ll see one. Here are some of the best.
Courier Coffee is just south of Burnside on SW Oak.
It’s a short stroll from downtown, if you’re staying in the area. This tiny spot with white walls and superb beans also has tasty treats like cookies and cakes. Grab a seat and listen to vinyl tunes that spin daily.
Extracto Coffee Roasters
Across town on NE Killingsworth, Extracto Coffee Roasters is a place with plenty of room inside and a streetside patio.
As the name says, they roast in house. Free refills are offered if you choose from one of their daily pots.
Of course, with Portland being coffee Mecca, there are also world renown classics like Stumptown, now a mega-giant in the coffee industry with locations across the nation.
Visit them at one of their two downtown locations at SW 3rd Ave and at SW Harvey Milk Street.
There’s an endless supply of coffee houses in Portland (so many that the subject deserves its own article), and the locals all have their favorites, so just explore — you won’t be disappointed.
Just a note: The eateries in Portland will almost always accommodate your dietary restrictions, whether vegan or gluten-free, you’ll have no problem finding something that fits your culinary needs.
Duck Into An Old Movie Theater in Portland
I know what you’re thinking: I didn’t travel to a city to go watch a movie indoors.
But you’re in Portland, and when in… Portland, there are few better there are few better things to do than soak up local culture by catching a flick at one of their old movie houses.
Here are the best.
These are more than just theaters, they are living national treasures. Some of these places opened as Vaudeville theaters in the 1920s.
The Avalon Theater on SE Belmont opened its doors in 1912.
Most of them serve beer and popcorn. Pick any one of these pearls of cinema and you won’t regret it.
Peruse Through The Best Book Store In America – Powell’s City of Books
The full name is: Powell’s City Of Books, and it’s a fitting title.
Even the sign is iconic, a massive red, white and black billboard that connects at two street corners.
Powell’s carries new and used books, and they also buy books from sellers. There are gifts too, and it’s a nice place to pick up something to bring back for friends or family.
What do you say about a bookstore that has sections devoted to categories like anarchism, and Noam Chomsky.
They pretty much have everything that you could want in a bookstore, with multiple levels spanning every subject. And they also have a spacious top notch coffee room… this is Portland after all.
There’s a smaller shop on the east side, but the most devout book lovers should worship at the original temple at Burnside and NW 10th.
Chow Down At a Food Cart – Portland’s Best Food Carts
I don’t know if Portland invented the modern version of the food cart, but they’ve certainly claimed the title of champions in this culinary domain. So visiting one is a must for your things to do in Portland list.
There are so many food carts in Portland that entire lots have been overtaken by them, and these tasty venues are called pods, and they can be found scattered around the city.
The cuisine at these pods runs the gamut of the foodie scene; bbq, Thai, burgers, comfort food, vegan and everything and anything between, including churros with ice cream.
East Side’s Best Food Trucks in Portland
The biggies are on the east side, like most cool stuff in Portland.
West Side’s Best Food Trucks in Portland
On the west side there are a cluster of carts downtown on 5th Ave and 3rd Ave, and another up in NW called Nob Hill Food Carts.
Cruise Portland’s Vaunted Thrift Stores
Another category that The Rose City simply dominates in, sublime vintage and second hand shops. It’s another Portland must do that deserves its own write up.
East Side’s Best Thrift Stores in Portland
Artifact on SE Division is a classic with loads of cool apparel and even vintage furnishings for home decor.
Knock Back Some Craft Brews
Oregon is one of the best agricultural states in America, and their hop farms are known for producing the best hops in the country. So grabbing a craft brew is one of the best things you can do while visiting Portland.
Breakside Brewery has achieved much acclaim over the years with their beer made from quality hops. With beer sold in most western states, along with Canada and Japan, this place has a solid reputation. With three locations in Portland, it’s easy to sample their tasty brews.
Cascade is another big time brewery that’s earned its status as a more than stellar beer-maker. The focus here is on variety, especially the lambic style beers that can range from tart to sweet to sour. This is the place to get a colorful flight and sample the best of what this classic Portland brewery has to offer.
On Alberta Street you’ll find Great Notion, a small brewery that dabbles in new and interesting flavors. Go here for styles of beers that you’ve probably never had before, along with classic IPAs with a twist and other delicious beers.
And for something less of a brewery but still very much beer-focused, stop by Prost!. A legendary Portland spot that serves authentic German beers. This indoor outdoor bar also dishes out sausage and pretzels to add to your beer-soaked experience.
Jump Into The Arts
Portland is home to some of the best art and design in America, and you’d be amiss if you didn’t dip into the scene.
The Portland Art Museum
The Portland Art Museum is the largest museum in Oregon. It’s located downtown on The Park Blocks, and it’s well worth a visit.
Drawings, paintings, prints, photography, there’s really something for everyone, and the collections spans the ages. There’s a nice collection of Native American art, particularly focused on the Pacific Coast.
The Center For Native American Art
The Center For Native American Art is also located inside the Museum, and it contains some of the best art work of Native American artists, both of the past and contemporary.
Oregon Museum of Science and Industry
OMSI, the Oregon Museum of Science and Industry is a special place. A full day is needed to take in all that this museum has to offer, there’s plenty to learn and it’s a great place for all ages.
Their “After Dark” events combine science talks with beer and wine. Summer hours extend to 7pm.
The Pearl District Galleries
The Pearl District is a super walkable zone just north of downtown on the west side, it’s a somewhat posh (if such a thing exists in Portland) area that has been revitalized and is now filled with luxury apartments, high-rise condominiums, boutique shops, and plenty of art galleries.
As mentioned, it’s an easy place to stroll around, have lunch and pop in and out of galleries that house local, national, and even international works from talented artists. So, visiting is great thing to add to your things to do in Portland list.
Pay special attention to Blue Sky Gallery, a massive space with international acclaim that was founded in 1975, and puts its focus on the photographic arts. It’s a can’t miss for photography lovers.
The Alberta Arts District
The Alberta Arts District is located in NE, and it mainly consists of the galleries that line Alberta Street. With a funkier feel than the Pearl District, this street is great for seeing local talent.
One of the mainstays of art here is the Alberta Street Gallery, with its eclectic mix of artwork from many mediums, it also functions as an art cooperative.
Hit The Outdoors
By now you probably have a hankering for some nature. The good thing about Portland is that you’re never far from it. Green spaces abound in The Rose City, and there’s plenty of outdoor things to do in Portland.
As the largest urban park in the nation, Forest Park is its own living ecosystem in Northwest Portland.
When the city was carved out of the forest, the planners decided to leave a large swathe of the nature preserved and intact. And what they left behind was a beautiful indigenous forest, you literally don’t have to leave the city of Portland to go on an amazing hike with native wildlife.
Laurelhurst Park on the east side is a beautiful park with majestic trees and a duck pond. Located in the heart of the east side and surrounded by the charming old Laurelhurst neighborhood, it’s a great spot to relax in the afternoon.
Mount Tabor Park
Just a bit further east is Mount Tabor Park, a spectacular park area that rises above the city for incredible views. Mount Tabor itself is an extinct volcano, one of a few that dot the Portland landscape.
There’s a nice reservoir atop the park also. It’s a great place to hike on foot and explore, or cycle, and even for yoga groups.
For more hiking in Oregon check out our article on the best hikes in the state.
Relax And Take In The Beauty – Portland’s Best Gardens
Now that you’re properly relaxed, check out some of Portland’s most beautiful settings.
The International Rose Test Garden
The Rose Garden (The International Rose Test Garden) is another Portland must do that is perched up high above the city. It’s open daily and admission is free. Go when the roses are blooming, the layout is easy to stroll through. There’s also an amphitheater. And the views of the city from this special green space are incredible.
Portland Japanese Garden
For a touch of the exotic, head over to the Portland Japanese Garden. This is a peaceful and breathtaking place, and a must for any plant and nature lover’s things to do in Portland list.
There’s a range of stunning trees that all blend in to the naturally wet Portland scenery of green moss and slate stone. Japanese maples abound.
They have traditional Japanese stone gardens, and a carp pond. And there’s also a very nice bonsai collection.
Catch a Blazers Game
The NBA is the best basketball league on the planet and it draws talent from across the globe.
And there’s no better place to experience a top flight game than to take in the Portland Trail Blazers at the Moda Center.
The arena is on the east side of the river, but there’s an easy catwalk that you can cross over from Downtown or The Pearl District, and plenty of public transport links also.
The days of Clyde The Glide are long gone, but Damian Lillard and The Trail Blazers are still a marquee squad and the atmosphere in the arena is super lively — they don’t call it Rip City for nothing!
Shop Cool Brands and Local Portland Designers
Retail therapy in Portland? Youbetcha!
Here’s some of the best places to shop and treat yourself to a tasty treat in Portland.
Downtown you’ll find international brands like Muji, Zara, and others. And no trip to Portland would be complete without a stop at Pendleton, they’ve been in the woven wear and home decor business since 1863.
Nike’s Flagship Store
Nike, one of the biggest athletic shoe and apparel brands on the planet, was created in Oregon and still maintains its flagship store is in Portland.
For a local and more residential shopping vibe, head up the hill to NW 23rd, a leafy street full of shops of all varieties.
From boutiques to eateries, you’ll find it all here on this green thoroughfare in the urban affluent Nob Hill section of town.
Tea Chai Te
Tea Chai Te is a must stop for tea lovers, drink in their funky zen setting or take leaves away, the selection is really nice.
Salt and Straw
You’ll notice a line outside of Salt and Straw, cue up for some of the best ice cream that you’ll ever have.
Betsy & Iya
For nice local spots check out Betsy & Iya, which is actually a block over on 24th, but it’s an easy walk to this boutique for cool jewelry and hip clothes.
Tender Loving Empire and and Pinky PDX
For a funkier feel and a more hipster edge, stroll along Mississippi Avenue on the east side and pop in and out of the trendy shops.
Sunlan Lighting is a quirky bulb store that Portland locals love.
More Spots for Treats
Bars and bites abound on this trendy east side street, which makes spending a day there convenient. ¿Por Qué No? Taqueria is a staple for Mexican food.
Jaunt Off To The Willamette Valley
Many people that visit Portland aren’t aware that they are a stone’s throw from one of the top wine producing regions in the nation. So, if you’re into the vino, add this to your things to do in Portland list.
The Willamette Valley produces remarkable white wines like Riesling, Chardonnay, and Sauvignon Blanc. But the valley boasts some of the best Pinot Noir in the world, and is home to international prize winners.
There are so many wine tours in the Willamette Valley but we suggest this one.
This is a part of the country that is paradise on Earth, and for wine lovers it’s an experience that you’ll never forget.
Explore Portland’s Diverse Restaurant Scene
Portland is foodie heaven. So, eating out is a must thing to do in Portland!
No matter your preference, from top class Michelin Star to awesome restaurants that anyone can afford, to food carts that’ll blow you away with flavor.
Nearly every cuisine is represented, and vegans will take comfort in knowing that there are plenty of options around.
Local Wines and Bites – Le Pigeon & Canard
If you can’t make it to the Willamette Valley, then try some of Oregon’s eateries that pair local wines with excellent bites.
Like Le Pigeon, an award winning upscale French restaurant that should be on anyone’s list that wants to splurge on the best dining experience that Portland has to offer.
It’s sister spot is Canard and it’s right next door. This is a more casual bistro, but both places pair Oregon wines with delicious food.
Sweedeedee is a North Portland brunchy Americana spot that will make you rethink breakfast and lunch food. A tip: Try the cakes.
For top notch comfort food head over to Expatriate.
The bar food is excellent, and their burger is one of the best that you’ll ever have. Well made, original cocktails are on hand.
For homey Italian head over to Nostrana on SE Morrison.
Grain & Gristle
Grain & Gristle in NE has something for everyone and their menu is always stellar.
For Thai check out Phuket Cafe.
Plant Based Papi
Plant Based Papi has taken the Vegan world by storm, and don’t let the v-word scare off the carnivores, this is an opportunity to try some of the world’s best vegan food, so dive in.
For more vegan dining options in Portland, check out this article!
Exceptional Black Owned Restaurants in Portland
For West African head over to Akadi.
And if you’re stuck inside and don’t want to get out, try the EatOkra app that allows you to select and support delivery options from black owned eateries.
Lastly, what says Portland more than a Thai-Texas BBQ joint that combines with cool cocktails?
Eem in North Portland has won numerous awards from local publications and it shouldn’t be missed for anyone craving a unique culinary experience.
Dance The Night Away
Get out on the floor and shake it, you’re in Portland, so let loose.
Holocene is the spot for top DJs, all-night raves and dance til ya drop sweaty fun. This place is a classic in the city’s club scene so be sure to put it on your list of things to do in Portland. Created out of a former warehouse, check their site for top acts and upcoming events.
For a historic music hall that has seen all of the greats of music pass through its doors, head over to Crystal Ballroom on W Burnside. Pop, rock, jazz, folk, and blues, it’s easy to see some of the best acts in the world at this beautiful venue.
The Aladdin Theater
The Aladdin Theater is another classic spot where you can see amazing musical talent, along with Mississippi Studios.
Doug Fir is a Portland staple that combines food and drinks with music. Catch a bite and a show at this east side institution of rock.
See Stunning Vistas
There are a few fantastic spots to hit up if getting a great view is on your list of things to do in Portland.
Just east of Portland along the Columbia river, you’ll find Vista House, a lookout that was built in the early 1900s. The views of the Columbia river gorge are absolutely spectacular. You’ll see the river valley and green mountains, and if you’re lucky you’ll see elk running over the green pastures in herds.
A gem of a spot inside of Portland just across the river on the east side in the Killingsworth area, is Skidmore Bluffs, a great place to go to watch the sunset in a peaceful setting that is tucked away from the urban hustle and bustle.
This is very much a local’s spot so don’t expect to see tourists.
Further out on the east side but still very much inside the city, Rocky Butte is another spot known mainly by locals. It’s a cool place to visit at night, and as a tiny mountain peak, it has awesome 360 views of The Rose City.
Hang At The Willamette River in Portland
Snaking through the city of Portland, The Willamette River offers easy and affordable outdoor activities. Spending the day on one of them is a fantastic option for things to do in Portland.
There are also Jet Boat excursions and other boat tours that move more lazily around the river.
Paddle-boarding and kayaking are also options for cruising the river for the more active and adventurous.
The river has a long esplanade on both banks of the river which makes it easy to stroll along or cycle. Check out Portland’s bridges that cross the river, they’re also easy to cross on bike or foot, and provide you with great views of both the river and the city.
Booze It Up At Cool Bars
Portland has always been a boozy town, and the styles and vibes range from dank dives to exquisite cocktail bars, and from the wacky and eclectic to the refined to the gruff beer-focused. Here’s some places that you should stop by when you’re ready to knock a few back.
For cocktails done right, head over to Wilder on NE 30th Ave. The menu is small because the emphasis is on quality. Traditional cocktails are whipped up with a twist, and they also have a few unique concoctions of their own creation.
Interurban is a hip cocktail spot on Mississippi where you can quench your thirst after a day of shopping.
Bible Club PDX
For a bit of Portland funkiness, try Bible Club PDX. The vibe is like your grandma opened a speakeasy, with dark wood and antique furniture kept tidy and neat.
Don’t let the name of this place fool you, the only thing biblical here are the cocktails in this rad setting.
Teardrop is a west side staple that has now extended its bar to include a patio, the cocktails are stellar and the setting is chill.
Vegan Friendly Bars
As mentioned before, just about anywhere you go in Portland will accommodate vegans and those with dietary restrictions.
Both have vegan menus, so grab some nibbles with your craft cocktails.
Get a Tattoo
Again, you’re in Portland, blend in and take something back with you that’s permanent. If you want to add getting a tattoo to your things to do in Portland list, here are some of the best options.
Tattoo 34 is a spot with great vibes and talented artists, it’s also Black Indigenous owned, and a proud family business on SE Hawthorne.
Atlas Tattoo Stud
For top level talent and a wide variety of styles all executed in superb fashion, head to a Portland titan of tattoos at Atlas Tattoo Studio on N Albina Avenue.
Scapegoat Tattoo is a vegan friendly tattoo spot located on SE Stark, with top quality artists that easily blend the old with the new for some unique designs.
Icon Tattoo Studio, New Rose Tattoo, and Martian Arts Tattoo Studio
Indulge In Some Greenery…
…and I’m not talking about the parks.
Since its legalization in 2015 in Oregon, the cannabis market has become a booming industry in Portland. From dispensaries to new and creative edibles, to creative cannabis workshops, the Mary Jane scene in The Rose City is thriving.
Make & Mary
Tillamook Station on N Tillamook hosts Make & Mary, a workshop series that combines cannabis consumption with crafting, in the manner of the popular wine-based drink and draw art gatherings, all while groovy tunes spill out from the speakers. They also offer a wood-burning class, a Stitching Stoned embroidery workshop, and a Lifted Yoga class.
Arcane Revelry is a pop-up cannabis dinner series created by a local Portland artist. Expect cannabis-infused mocktails, DJs, violinists, performance artists and dancers. They have an annual Passover seder, where kosher weed is served instead of wine.
Farma just might be the crème de la crème of weed dispensaries. This beautiful boutique has received praise from everyone from High Times to Forbes.
With service provided by people that are regularly competing for budtender of the year awards from Leafly and Willamette Week, this is a can’t miss shop for your top cannabis selections.
On NE 16h Avenue you’ll find Green Muse, a mom-and-pop spot that combines cannabis with hip-hop. Pick up an album from the golden era of hip-hop while stocking up on your buds.
If you don’t prefer to smoke then you can load up on these creative snacks, as the edible market is exploding with more and more new and innovative bites.
Grön is a cannabis chocolate and sweets maker that goes above and beyond what a delicious edible should be. For these tasty sweet treats, along with Cheese Crisp Crackers by Laurie and Mary Jane, check the following dispensaries; Chalice Farms, Oregon’s Finest, Oregrown, Serra, and Jayne.
That’s So Portland
Lastly, since you’re in Portland, you shouldn’t leave without visiting some places that dig into the soul of The Rose City.
These are a must when it comes to things to do in Portland!
Voodoo Doughnuts is a legend in the foodie world, and they now have locations across the country. But head to the original donut temple to get flavors like the ‘old dirty bastard’, a vegan variety, and also the ‘oh captain my captain’ with a cereal topping. Of course they have all the classics too.
For a true Portland experience go to Rimsky-Korsakoffee House.
This is a dark nighttime cafe with a haunted vibe and sweet dishes that will slice into your soul. If you’re lucky someone will be banging away on the piano keys in a slow dark tune that adds to the ghoulish atmosphere.
Head upstairs to the bathrooms for more creepy surprises.
No trip to The Rose City would be complete without lounging in the back yard at Pied Cow on Belmont.
This old school cafe that sits inside of an old house does cafe fare along with booze options. Sit out back at night to get a good feel of the vibe, with strung up lights and hookah smoke lingering in the air… ahhh, now you’re immersed in Portlandia.
For a variety of experiences delve into Kennedy School. In fact, you can stay here, because it also functions as a hotel. As a historic elementary school with its beautiful original building still intact, it’s a special place to visit in a special city.
With a movie theater, a music hall called ‘gymnasium’ because it’s in the old gym, a soak pool for you to relax in, and a beautiful bar called The Boiler Room, this place has so much to offer. There’s Wednesday night drag queen bingo… so yeah, they’ve got options.
Portland’s Funky Costume Shops
Portland has so many cool and funky costume shops that an easy online search will give you a plethora of options to choose from. You’ll get some great finds at these places, crossing every style of fashion and genres. And also these places are great for vintage garbs of all varieties.
Movie Madness on Belmont
Movie Madness on Belmont is far more than a video store, which it might be the best in the nation. It also functions as a museum for old Hollywood. Browse the aisles and check out the outfits and props from some of your favorite movies. This place is a treasure and a must stop for any film fanatics.
The Chapman Swift Watch
Lastly, if you’re in Portland in September, I highly recommend heading up to watch the swifts fly out in the evening.
Officially it is called The Chapman Swift Watch, because of the location at Chapman elementary. The world’s largest number of Vaux Swifts will fly out from their roost in a chimney as part of their migration.
It’s a one of a kind Portland event that happens at dusk around one hour before sunset. Take a blanket and make a picnic, or just bring a bottle of wine and grab a spot under a tree.
Things to Do in Portland Wrap-up
As you can see The Rose City takes a backseat to no other destination.
The things to do in Portland are nearly limitless! So, I hope I’ve given you enough cool options to get you started for your wacky adventures through Portland Oregon.