The natural beauty of Oregon and the Pacific Northwest have turned the area into a prime travel destination, made only more appealing by the quirkiness of the city of Portland. Whether you're looking for outdoor excursions in the lush rainforest or more urban adventures at attractions that "Keep Portland Weird," as the city's motto proclaims, you won't be lacking for options. Plus, the temperate climate means Portland is comfortable to visit year-round, never getting unbearably hot or frigidly cold (although it does rain—a lot).
Sip on Craft Beer
Portland has a reputation for having one of the original craft beer scenes in the U.S., and even though artisanal beer is now common in many cities throughout the country, Portland continues to be one of the best. With over 80 breweries in the Portland metropolitan area, your only problem will be narrowing down which ones you want to visit. Many of them are concentrated around the central Pearl District, such as Von Ebert Brewing, so that's a good neighborhood to start, but don't stop there. There are scores of great taprooms just on the other side of the Willamette River that are well-worth visiting, including Hair of the Dog and Cascade Brewing Barrel House.
Escape to an Urban Jungle
Portland is perhaps the only big city in the United States where you can walk from downtown and end up in a rainforest. The Pacific Northwest is home to the world's largest temperate rainforest and the best place to explore around Portland is in the expansive Forest Park. It's one of the biggest parks in a U.S. city and contains over 70 miles of hiking trails, so once you enter, you completely forget about the city around you.
Once inside the park, keep your eyes peeled for old-growth trees, scenic views of the Willamette River, flying squirrels, the occasional bobcat, and all types of birds from woodpeckers to pygmy owls. Rain and flooding can often make trails impassable, so read up on any trail closures before you begin your trek.
Bring Your Kids (or Inner Child) to the OMSI
The Oregon Museum of Science and Industry, or OMSI, has noble roots dating back to 1896 when it first opened as a "City Hall Museum" and was later run out of the home of a local businessman. As attendance continued to grow, the facilities needed to grow, as well. A new building was erected by a group of volunteers in Washington Park and today OMSI receives over 1 million visitors each year, making it one of the most popular attractions in Portland.
The museum is huge and features hands-on activities by the dozens, a planetarium, a real nuclear submarine, a theater with a massive screen, and special exhibits that make regular appearances. It’s a hit with kids, but even adults who enjoy some scientific fun will get a kick out of OMSI.
Get Your Art Fix at the Portland Art Museum
The Portland Art Museum may be one of the oldest art museums in the country, but the everchanging collection is so refreshingly current and pertinent to present-day culture that it never feels behind the times. While you can see works from some of the most celebrated European artists, such as Van Gogh, Monet, and Cézanne, the museum holds true to the ideals of its home city. The collections often have a focus on groups that have been historically underrepresented in the art world, with a particular emphasis on Indigenous groups from the Portland area and around the Pacific Northwest. The museum provides a conversation guide to spark dialogue and help parents guide curious children on difficult topics.
The Portland Art Museum is located in the heart of downtown and guests who are aged 17 or younger can enter for free.
Shop in Nob Hill
Nob Hill is a cute and low-key shopping district located along Northwest 23rd Avenue. It’s not far from downtown, but the easiest way to get there is by catching the MAX train.
Where downtown is busy, Nob Hill is quieter and more relaxed. Shops are mostly local with a few chains mixed in, and restaurants are pleasantly varied and tasty. Don’t miss some ice cream at Salt & Straw or a pastry at Ken’s Artisan Bakery. You’ll also find spas and salons along the way if you want to make a day of your time in this district. Washington Park is also not far away and the entrance is walkable from Nob Hill.
Eat Voodoo Doughnuts
Voodoo Doughnut is a legendary Portland stop, famous for its unique doughnut favors, including raspberry-filled voodoo dolls, peach fritters, doughnuts topped with things like Fruit Loops and Captain Crunch, and bacon maple bars.
Of course, this is Portland, and right across the street from Voodoo, a giant mural proclaims “Keep Portland Weird,” so Voodoo has to do its best to help out. To that order, you’ll also find a revolving selection of specialty doughnuts like the rainbow-colored Gay Bar and the Kesey doughnut that's decorated to look like a colorful LSD trip.
Visit Powell’s Books
Powell’s is the world’s largest indie bookstore and has four different locations in Portland, including the massive flagship store Powell's City of Books near the Pioneer Courthouse Square.
Stepping inside the original location of this independent bookseller, you won't doubt why it's known as the biggest of its kind. It even has a map of topics and locations to help customers not get lost, but it’s more fun to give yourself time to wander. Browse the books and gift items while you sip on a coffee from the cafe near the entrance.
People Watch at Pioneer Courthouse Square
They call it Portland’s living room for a reason. Pioneer Courthouse Square is located in the heart of downtown Portland, and it’s the perfect place to kick back for a while to watch passersby going about their days. You can get a coffee and light snack while you leisurely enjoy the afternoon, or you can even catch an event if you're there at the right time.
Events that take place here include everything from farmers' markets to live music to various festivals and holiday celebrations. Popular events include Valentine's Day crafting workshops, the annual Easterseals Oregon Bloomfest, and a whole lineup of Christmas holiday festivities.
Wander Washington Park
Portland has no shortage of parks, but if you only visit one, visit Washington Park—a spectacular 410-acre urban green space filled not only with miles and miles of trails but also with some of the city’s best attractions.
You can enter the park at NW 24th Place and Burnside Street but expect a bit of climb if you’re on foot as the elevation ranges from about 200 feet to 800 feet above sea level within the park. You’ll find 15 miles of trails through the park overall, including some that connect this park to Forest Park.
Inside, you’ll also find the Rose Test Garden, which is the oldest, continuously operating rose garden in the country, and Hoyt Arboretum—both great spots for photographers. The Oregon Zoo and Portland Japanese Garden are also both within the park, and both are worth a visit.
Stroll Tom McCall Waterfront Park
Any day of the week, a stroll along the pathways of Tom McCall Waterfront Park is lovely. The park is long and skinny and follows along with the Willamette River. Views of Portland’s bridges greet you as you stand along the walkways and few sights are more signature to Portland than this.
The park is also home to a number of events, chief of which is the Saturday Market. From March through December on both Saturdays and Sundays, the market fills the park with food vendors, artists, crafters, and live music.
Portland (and Oregon in general) has tax-free shopping! Whether you’re buying a sweater or a big-screen TV, there’s just something special about tax missing from the final purchase.
Downtown Portland and its surrounding areas are all great for shoppers. Wander through galleries and shops on Northwest 23rd Street, through Pioneer Place mall in downtown, or go for the gold at the very large Lloyd Center just northeast of downtown.
Eat Your Heart Out
Portland is an amazing city for food. While not always known for highbrow cuisines like New York City or Los Angeles, Portland is known for fresh, local foods in just about every style and custom you could imagine.
Breakfast and brunch are popular meals here so don’t miss an early morning meal at Mother’s Bistro or Besaw’s. For lunch or dinner, sure, you could go fancy, but one of the highlights of the local food scene is Portland’s food trucks. You’ll find them in groups here and there called pods, but the biggest pod takes up an entire block between Southwest 9th and 10th streets between Alder and Washington streets.
Take the Portland Aerial Tram
Part public transport and part attraction, the Portland Aerial Tram travels between the South Waterfront and the Oregon Health & Science University in Marquam Hill. Also known as the OHSU Tram, it climbs an impressive 500 feet during its journey and takes about four minutes to complete a one-way trip.
At the top, you’ll find views of downtown, Mount Hood, and Mount St. Helens on clear days. You can also take the time to explore the OHSU campus and travel back down whenever you want to continue exploring the rest of the city.
Trams depart about every six minutes throughout the day and typically operate from 5:30 a.m. to 9:30 p.m. on weekdays and from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Saturdays as well as on Sundays during the summer. However, the aerial tram is closed on most major holidays including New Year's Day, Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, Presidents Day, Memorial Day, Independence Day, Labor Day, Veterans Day, Thanksgiving Day, and Christmas.
Visit the Pittock Mansion
The Pittock Mansion is a French Renaissance-style château in the Hillside area of Portland that now serves as a historic house museum. Visitors to the mansion can learn about its construction in 1914 and the first family that owned it: famed publisher of The Oregonian newspaper Henry Pittock and his wife, Georgiana Burton Pittock.
The Pittock Mansion Society, a non-profit organization established to preserve historic buildings in Portland, maintains the museum and house. Money from tours and guest admission helps this important organization to continue operations.
Escape to the Lan Su Chinese Garden
If you'd like to take in a bit of foreign culture while visiting, you can stop by the Lan Su Chinese Garden in Portland's historic Chinatown. This tranquil, urban botanical garden features a variety of plants native to China housed in Chinese architecture including an authentic tea shop. The Lan Su Chinese Garden also hosts a variety of events throughout the year, most of which are free to attend.
Meditate in The Grotto
Also known as The National Sanctuary of Our Sorrowful Mother, The Grotto is a cliffside Catholic sanctuary near Rocky Butte Park in Maywood Park. The Grotto is known for its Pieta replica, which is nestled into a cozy grotto, as well as the serene botanical gardens found in the sanctuary. Daily masses also take place at the sanctuary, and The Grotto is open most days of the year from 9 a.m. to 5:30 p.m.
Go to the Amusement Park
Located a little under four miles south of Portland, Oaks Amusement Park is one of the oldest continually operating amusement parks in the country. Built in 1905, this spot is full of nostalgic attractions including theme park rides, a wooden skating rink, mini-golf, and go-karts. Buy a day pass for the family and enjoy the rides, games, and attractions for discounted prices during special events.
Hike Mt. Tabor Park
While there are volcanoes all around Portland, Eastern Portland is home to its own extinct volcano: Mt. Tabor. This large park features 360-degree views of the city and the chance to climb to the top of the volcano itself without even leaving Portland city limits. There are several different trail routes you can take to the summit, but it's not a strenuous hike and is popular with families, with most loops only about 2 miles long. Stop by the Mt. Tabor Visitor's Center for more information about the trails, recreation, and history of the park.
Relive History at Fort Vancouver
Although technically across the river in Vancouver, Washington, Fort Vancouver is a popular destination for tourists who want to relive a bit of history while visiting Portland. Featuring blacksmithing and weapon-making demonstrations, exhibits about 19th-century life, and lantern-lit tours of the historic fort, this National Historic Site provides a great opportunity to learn about early life in the city.
Go Underground in the Shanghai Tunnels
Portland's history isn't all grand mansions and beautiful buildings—it also has a gritty underbelly centered around the Shanghai trade that took place in the city from 1850 through 1941. Tunnels were built under the city by maritime traders to smuggle in slaves and keep prisoners in unjust conditions, and you can get a look at this sordid history on a guided tour.
During the tour, a knowledgeable historian will guide you through several segments of the underground that were once hidden from the public. You'll see holding cells, a deadfall trapdoor, the remnants of a tunnel you can still walk through, and several artifacts left behind by prisoners and slavers alike.
Get Retro at Ground Kontrol
If you're a fan of gaming, beers, and music, head to the classic arcade bar known as Ground Kontrol, which features a variety of retro arcade games like pinball alongside modern-day favorites like Rockband. Until 4:30 p.m. daily, all ages are welcome in the venue, but afterward, it's 21 and over only. Ground Kontrol also regularly hosts music performances at night, so it's truly a great spot to go with friends any night of the week.