I recently had a friend text me and ask, “what are some fun things to do in Portland? I know some people that are visiting soon.”
I don’t think she had any idea how long of an email response she was going to get.
Luckily my friend was thrilled at all the information, and said that I should share everything I’ve experienced in my first year in Portland with the world. I thought it was a brilliant idea, and also a way for me to post on my own damn blog for once!
If you’ve been wondering what I’ve been up to in Portland all this time, this is a great summary. As you can see, it’s been a lot of eating and drinking everywhere, but hey, that’s what I like to do!
Also, I friggin’ love this town. I. LOVE. PORTLAND. I’d shout it from the top of a waterfall right now if I could. Or maybe just after a few beers on a rooftop patio. For now, I’ll just share some of the things I love the most about this amazing city.
I have not been offered any compensation by any of these places, although I certainly wouldn’t mind a little bonus after the fact. I’m looking at you, Harlow.
THINGS TO DO IN PORTLAND, OREGON
Portland neighborhoods are divided into four sections, as listed below. I’m starting with northeast because I live there and yes, I do play favorites.
Best streets for walking around: Alberta, Mississippi, Fremont
Places to go:
- Pine State Biscuits. Get the fried chicken. Trust me.
- Pip’s Original Doughnuts & Chai. This is where my “waiting in line” advice (below) goes out the window. Try all the doughnuts, and all the chai (made in-house).
- Verde Cocina. The most colorful and deliciously fresh Mexican food I’ve ever had.
- The Zipper. This is a cafeteria-style establishment with an array of food choices and a super rad bar called Paydirt. I highly recommend getting the fried chicken salad at Basilisk. I have dreams about it.
- The Kennedy School. This is a remodeled elementary school that has changed their classrooms into multiple bars, a music venue, small movie theater, and more. It’s such a fun spot!
- Expatriate. A dark little secret tucked away in the Alberta area, great for fancy cocktails. Get there between 5-6 for the wonton nachos. More food dreams there. OH! And order a ‘diplomatic pouch’ to drink - the bartender will make you something custom according to the flavors you like. So swank.
- Broder Nord. I didn’t think I’d come to love a Swedish brunch, but boy, now I do.
- Alibi Lounge. Tiki bar with the best pina colada I’ve ever had, and karaoke every night starting at 9pm. Need I say more?
- Sandy Hut. Greasy burger, onion rings, cheap beer, pool tables. Divey and fabulous.
- Cup and Bar. My fave spot to freelance from. Get the avocado and ricotta toast. See photo to commence drooling.
Best streets for walking around: Hawthorne, Belmont, Division
Places to go:
- Harlow. I don’t have any food allergies (they’re great for gluten-free folks and vegans), and I still friggin’ love this place. I’ve never been anywhere that I not only feel ridiculously good about what I ate, but also like I indulged myself. See photo below.
- Kati’s Thai. So fresh, SO YUMMY.
- Aalto. Go for happy hour - they open at 5 and it goes ‘till 7. They do $3 fancy cocktails!
- Schilling Cider House. 50 ciders on tap, and a great patio.
- Doug Fir. If you have the chance, catch a live show there. And be careful of the mirrors when you go to use the bathrooms. I warned ya.
- Mount Tabor. An inactive volcano that’s now a park with trails to walk. It’s gorgeous and ginormous, and much more fun to bike down rather than up.
- Creepy’s. A fun and kitschy place to drink. Check out the painting behind the bar. It’s watching you.
- Bagdad Theater.* They only feature one film at a time, but it’s beautifully remodeled and so darn cool.
*There are so many lovely remodeled movie theaters around town that show unique features and old flicks on the weekend. Laurelhurst, Mission Theater, Cinema 21, and Hollywood are a few more that are worth checking out! And everywhere serves really great beer and real food!!
Best streets for walking around: Burnside, 21st, 23rd
Places to go:
- Portland City Grill. It’s on the top floor of an office building, so the view is fantastic and there’s even a piano in there. Get there early for happy hour, and creep on folks to snag their table.
- Le Chon. On the riverfront, this place has amazing South American food and tapas. And oysters! YUM.
- Japanese Garden. It’s just beautiful, and great for walking around on a low-key day. Or if you’re hungover.
- Powell’s Books. You just gotta go if you love books at all. It’s HUGE.
- Forest Park. Super easy hiking trails right downtown. How cool is that?
- PSU Farmers Market. There are so many vendors it’s redonk. And it goes all year round.
- Even Keel Coffee Co. Because, duh.
Best streets for walking around: I don’t really know. But if you keep heading south, you’ll hit the areas of Tualatin and Durham where there are a ton of wineries! I haven’t explored the SW area much, but dang, the wine is FAB.
The Hangar at Oaks Park. The Rose City Rollers have their bouts at this location, and although their venue will be changing soon you should definitely see them play. It’s also right next to an amusement park. DAY. OF. FUN.
The Columbia River Gorge. Drive up to do some hiking and see some waterfalls! I wouldn’t bother with Multnomah Falls - it’s right off the highway and very touristy. Sadly, the Oregon side was decimated by fires last year, and a lot of the trails are still under repair. Definitely cross over to the Washington side of the river though. The hikes are lovely - see below!
Sauvie Island. Just north of the city there is a little beach along the river where you can hang out. Be sure to stop at the convenience store on your way to get a day pass for parking (there’s one right off the road just before you arrive). There's totally a nude section of the beach too, although I haven't been to that part. YET.
The Oregon Coast. It's only about a 1.5 hour drive away, and so worth it. See photo below.
Yes, there’s always more.
Coffee: Way too many places to name them all. Extracto, Marigold, Water Avenue, Case Study, Proud Mary - these are just some off the top of my head. They all roast their own beans, and it's gosh darn delicious.
Breweries: They are AWESOME and there are also SO MANY! What makes them even better is that everywhere is required to serve food. Therefore since they're all in friendly competition with one another, they all have really, really good food.
Food cart corrals: A huge thing in Portland, and you'll come across them everywhere. I highly recommend trying something from them! Although there are some corrals downtown, the best ones are in the neighborhoods I mentioned above.
ADDITIONAL TIPS ABOUT...
...going out to eat:
Check and make sure a restaurant is open before you go - some locations keep unusual hours, and aren’t open certain days of the week.
There are a lot of places where people wait in a long line for a table even when the food is not all that fabulous (I mean, it might be good, but not GREAT). I don’t like waiting 2-hours for food (I get cranky), and I guarantee there’s another place close by that’s just as delicious if not moreso. However, at some places (such as Harlow and Pine State) you just order at the counter then sit down at a table with a number (which I LOVE), causing the line to move quickly even when it’s long.
You really can’t go wrong with where you go out to eat - the restaurants are amazeballs.
...going out to drink:
At some bars a line forms for ordering. It was weird for me at first, but queue up with everyone else. It helps when there is only one bartender working so that they don’t lose their minds. And Portlanders are excellent at waiting in lines. I don’t get it.
Oh, and don’t ask for water from the bartender. Almost every bar has a water station if you look around, and I will never understand why Denver doesn’t adopt the same practice. It’s the mile-high city for cryin’ out loud! Gotta stay hydrated!
...going out in the rain:
It doesn't rain much in the summertime, but in the spring/fall/winter be prepared. Just don't use an umbrella if you want to look like a local. It is usually light rainfall, and a waterproof jacket is so much easier.
Keep a sharp eye out for pedestrians and cyclists in busy areas like SE Hawthorne, NE Alberta, and downtown. This is a very walk / bike friendly city and some folks are very confident about their crosswalks! When in doubt, yield to them.
Also, everybody drives really freakin’ slow. You just gotta get over it.
Downtown is full of transients and homeless people, and the numbers may surprise you. Although it may seem like a lot of people, it's not much more than any other city. The problem is that all of the relief facilities are located within the same few blocks, so they're all concentrated in one area. It's a huge problem here and a good thing to be aware of.
Also, drivers will sometimes stop for you whether you’re at a crosswalk or not - even if you were only thinking about crossing the street. Just wave “thank you” and cross carefully.
...getting around in general:
I highly, HIGHLY recommend either renting a bike or using Biketown (the bike share program from Nike) to get around town. Portland is rated in the top 5 cities in the U.S. for cycling, and there’s a good reason for that. The infrastructure is fantastic and you see the city in a whole new way.
That's one of the reasons why we came here to start The Bike Dress! (Shameless plug, and I DON’T CARE.)
Otherwise, the public transportation is really great too - it’s so easy to get around town without a car.
...doing anything else:
Everyone here is SO NICE. Chat with anyone and everyone. They'll give you recommendations, whether you ask for them or if they just overhear your conversation - and very happily. It will bug you how happily.
Welp, that’s my list! I have had many, many more experiences out here in Portland and I’m sure I’ve missed some awesome stuff. There is just too much awesomeness to fit into one blog post.
If you have additional tips or suggestions, please share them in the comments!
For more resources, visit Travel Portland. Happy travels!