Portland is quite simply just a cool city to visit. While most parts of town offer plenty of things to see and do, few neighborhoods rival the Pearl District for its sheer variety of options. From breweries to art galleries, shops, and a block-long bookstore, the Pearl District is worth your time if you are in Portland. Here's why.
First things first: Powell’s is perhaps the most famous place in the Pearl District, and for good reason. Since 1971, this behemoth of a bookstore has served up everything literary shoppers could ever imagine. The store’s claim to fame is that it’s the largest independent new and used bookstore in the world—and it’s tough to doubt that claim as the store takes up an entire city block and carries about one million books on its shelves. Topics range from current bestsellers to kids books and out-of-print books. You can easily wander through the shelves here all day long. Should you tire of the books (as if that would actually happen!), you can stop by the in-store coffee shop for a break. You can also order online, but it’s way more enjoyable to browse in person.
The Pearl District is filled to the brim with indie shops and some pretty cool chain stores—many of which are unique and amazing places to outfit yourself for outdoorsy adventures or other active pursuits. Most importantly, shopping in Oregon is tax free, so if you’re from anywhere else, it feels like a steal! Gear up with Snow Peak, Portland Gear, Keen Footwear, or Fjallraven Flagship Store (there’s a Fjallraven outlet too). Shop for clothing and accessories at dfrntpigeon, Lizard Lounge, lululemon Athletica, Nau, Toms Portland, or Alchemy. Don’t be afraid to wander and window shop as there are dozens of shops on the blocks of the Pearl District.
Most of Portland is pretty artsy, but the Pearl District is especially so, with several art galleries to check out. Here, you'll find galleries like UPFOR, which showcases contemporary art in a variety of media from both established artists and breakout talent; others, such as Gallery IDL, seek new ideas to present to the world. If you want to snack while you browse, stop by Hood River-based Cerulean Wine, where you can sample delicious cheeses, charcuterie, and wine in the same space as an art studio and gallery.
A fabulous time to visit these is during First Thursday, an event that opens most of the area’s gallery doors at the same time. In addition to exploring galleries, you’ll also find wine and music during the event, which takes place on the first Thursday of most months between about 5 p.m. and 8 p.m. (some galleries might open sooner, some stay open later, but most are open during those hours).
If you’re in the area with kids, they may not be thrilled with an itinerary filled with breweries and art galleries—but never fear. PlayDate PDX is a giant indoor playground where kids of all ages can play 'till their hearts' content. It features a three-level jungle gym, slides, tubes to climb through, a ball cannon room, dance floors, and a toddler room. There’s also a café so you can stay for lunch or dinner—it even serves coffee, craft beer, and wine to help keep the adults happy. And Mondays after 5 p.m., there’s free admission.
Grab a Beer
Of course, Portland is also known for its craft breweries—and a couple of the best are located in the Pearl District. Bend-based Deschutes Brewery has a pub worth checking out. Besides the full tap menu of Deschutes’ beers, the pub also has a full food menu that ranges from small plates to soups, salads, sandwiches, and entrées. Rogue Ales also has a pub in the Pearl District, the Rogue Pearl Public House. Rogue offers 40 ales, lagers, ciders, and more on tap, as well as cocktails created with spirits from their distillery. It also has a full food menu and five TVs to watch your favorite sports (with an emphasis on Timbers games).
Portland Center Stage at the Armory is a great place to enjoy some live entertainment or a show. The theater is one of the largest theater companies in the U.S., and puts on all kinds of live shows from contemporary to classic. The Armory was the first building added to the National Register of Historic Places and the very first performing arts venue to earn a LEED Platinum rating—so it’s more than just a pretty face. The Armory Café is a fine spot to grab a bite to eat before or after a show, but Deschutes Brewery is just across the street and is an equally fine place to grab a bite (and a brew).
Splash Around at Jamison Square Park
While there are a few parks in the Pearl District, Jamison Square Park deserves special mention for its unique fountain that kids love to play in. Modeled after a tide pool, water falls down over stone steps and into a shallow basin. Splash on the stone steps or at the base of the fountain—it’s lots of fun and all okay (the water is recirculated and treated). The park also has plenty of places to sit for a picnic, which you can pick up from one of the nearby restaurants or cafés.
Eat at One of the City's Best Restaurants
If you visit Portland and don’t go out to eat, you’re missing out. The entire city is filled with delicious eateries of all stripes, from stellar breakfasts to delightful dinners. The Pearl District is no exception. If what you seek is a sit-down dining experience, look to more upscale options like Oven and Shaker, which is led by James Beard Award-nominated chef Cathy Whims and serves up amazing wood-fired pizzas and cocktails. Or give Andina a try for its elegant Peruvian cuisine. Some of what Portland does best is comfort food, and TILT—with its burgers and fluffy, freshly-baked biscuits—excels in that department. Also expect to find a selection of bakeries and places to grab quick bites, like Lovejoy Bakers.