Exploring all the things to do in Portland, Oregon is near the top of many people’s travel bucket lists. One of the Pacific Northwest’s crowning jewels, people are drawn to Portland for the natural beauty and one of a kind culture.
Whether you are looking for a new favorite beer, want to explore a fun museum, or are looking for a gorgeous park to stroll through for some peace and serenity, Portland has it all. If you are planning a trip to Portland yourself, be sure not to miss the following things to do.
KEEP PORTLAND WEIRD MURAL
Made popular by the television show “Portlandia,” many visitors consider a stop by this mural of the unofficial city motto a required photo op. Find this infamous wall located across the street from Voodoo Doughnuts (another beloved Portland institution worth a visit) in Old Town.
This catchphrase was inspired by a desire to see local businesses continue to thrive even when threatened by larger corporations moving in, contributing to the authenticity of this beloved, eccentric city. While “weird” is rarely seen as a sign of affection, Portlandians don’t seem to take offense but instead wear it as a badge of honor.
PORTLAND ART MUSEUM
Founded nearly 130 years ago in December 1892, Portland Art Museum boasts the title of oldest art museum in the Pacific Northwest and is one of the oldest art museums in the entire country.
Portland Art Museum’s impressive collection of more than 46,000 pieces includes Asian, Native American, and European art, in addition to modern and contemporary, graphic, and American art. The museum is also proud of its silver and photography collections, and visitors can enjoy world class exhibitions that travel through for a limited time only.
Also housed in the museum, the Northwest Film Center (NWFC) uses cinematic storytelling to introduce visitors to the world around them in new ways. Open year-round, the NWFC hosts festivals and exhibition programs, typically offering more than 500 screenings per year.
Details: 1219 SW Park Ave, Portland, OR 97205 | Website
Home to more than 70 breweries, Portland is a craft beer enthusiast’s dream come true. Many consider Portland to be the best beer city in America, some argue even the world. Whether you stop by a brewery for a cold one after a day of hiking or visit Portland specifically for one of the city’s many beer festivals, there is no shortage of options.
Craft beer has been flowing for so long in Portland that it has become a culture unlike any other. While everyone has their own favorite breweries, many craft beer lovers agree that Ecliptic, Baerlic, and Wayfinder are among the best in the city. And not wanting to leave anyone out, Portland is also home to Ground Breaker Brewing, a dedicated, 100% gluten-free brewery.
Of particular note in Portland’s beer scene is the specific emphasis on craft beer. In fact, four out of every ten beers purchased in Portland are statistically likely to be craft beers. Home brewing is also quite popular in the city, and visitors can choose from a variety of supply shops if inspiration strikes you to take up brewing at home yourself.
PORTLAND INTERNATIONAL ROSE TEST GARDEN
For more than 100 years, roses have bloomed in the Portland International Rose Test Garden located within Washington Park. Portland is known as the City of Roses due to its idyllic rose-growing climate, with roses typically in bloom from spring all the way through early autumn.
At the test garden, ten thousand rose bushes of more than 600 varieties bloom annually. In addition to this majestic floral display, Washington Park also boasts stunning views of both the city and nearby Mount Hood. Peak rose bloom season typically runs from May through September in the garden.
Arguably one of Portland’s best smelling attractions, the garden also serves as a location to test new varieties of roses and is America’s oldest continually operating public rose test garden. Established in 1917, hybrid roses from around the world were first sent here for testing during World War 1.
Details: 400 SW Kingston Ave, Portland, OR 97205 | Website
TOM MCCALL WATERFRONT PARK
This beloved downtown park takes up more than 30 acres of prime real estate that was formerly a highway along the Willamette River. The transformation from highway to park has been remarkable, and a huge win for environmentally-conscious residents. Now, this park is home to a variety of events each year.
Visit between March and December to experience the Portland Saturday Market. As America’s largest arts and crafts fair, there are plenty of unique treasures to find as a memento of your time in Portland. Visitors can also climb aboard a historic boat docked in the Willamette River to explore the Oregon Maritime Museum.
If you’re planning your trip to Portland just before peak rose bloom season, fear not: Tom McCall Waterfront Park is one of the best places to view gorgeous cherry blossom trees along the river. Aim for the 100 cherry trees planted near the Japanese American Historical Plaza and Steel Bridge for prime views of the cherry blossoms in March.
Details: 98 SW Naito Pkwy, Portland, OR 97204 | Website
TILIKUM CROSSING BRIDGE
Known as the “Bridge of the People,” there are no cars to be found crossing the Willamette River on the Tilikum Crossing Bridge. Dedicated only to pedestrians, bicyclists, and public transit including buses and the light rail, this bridge is the first of its kind in the entire country.
Each side of the bridge has a wide path for pedestrians and cyclists who choose to cross the bridge on their own and take in the views. At night, the bridge lights up different colors at different speeds based on the river below’s speed, height, and water temperature.
PORTLAND JAPANESE GARDEN
Located in northern Washington Park, visitors to the Portland Japanese Garden are treated to a tranquil and beautiful experience. Many say this is one of the most authentic Japanese gardens outside of Japan itself, including a former ambassador of Japan to the United States and other Japanese dignitaries.
The Portland Japanese Garden opened at a time many others were being established around the United States to symbolize healing after World War II and communicate the essence of Japanese culture through nature. The garden’s Cultural Village builds on this, providing an immersive experience in Japanese culture.
Make plenty of time to stroll through all eight of the unique garden spaces located on the grounds. Don’t miss stopping in at Umami Cafe, an authentic Japanese tea house, for tea and a snack during your visit.
Details: 611 SW Kingston Ave, Portland, OR 97205 | Website
Located in Forest Park, Witch’s Castle is the stuff of legends – literally. Also known as the Stone House, these ruins have been the subject of many stories over time. Built in the 1930s, the structure was used as a park ranger station and restroom facilities for hikers until damaged and left abandoned in the early 1960s.
For at least 20 years, the structure was all but forgotten about until it was re-discovered in the 1980s by some youth who determined it was a pretty great place to party. This is when the structure affectionately became known as Witch’s Castle, but it is unclear exactly why.
Be sure to read up on the history of the land before your visit: the legend of the land Witch’s Castle is now located on involves love, murder, and an execution. Keep an eye out for signs of these ghosts haunting the land they formerly called home if you visit at night.
Located in the heart of Portland, the Pearl District is one of the most popular neighborhoods to visit. There is no shortage of incredible food to eat and beverages to drink, whether you are looking for craft beer or plenty of strong coffee the morning after.
The Pearl District is also a popular shopping destination, home to favorites like Powell’s City of Books which fills an entire city block with books. This neighborhood also boasts a robust arts community, with multiple art galleries and a theater company.
If the arts scene is what draws you in, be sure to visit for the popular First Thursday event each month. Many galleries stay open late, and visitors and locals alike can be found wandering about enjoying all the Pearl District has to offer.
OREGON MUSEUM OF SCIENCE AND INDUSTRY
One of the top science museums in the United States, there is something for everyone to enjoy at the Oregon Museum of Science and Industry (OMSI). Hands-on exhibitions are tailored for those as young as 0-6 years old all the way through adults to enjoy, with a particular emphasis on activities for children.
Families can enjoy a visit to the planetarium, step aboard and check out a retired submarine docked on the Willamette River outside, conduct experiments and test hypotheses in labs, and more. If you’re traveling to Portland as a family, this is one attraction to be certain you do not miss.
More than 2,500 animals across 200+ species or subspecies call the Oregon Zoo home. The zoo’s annual 1.5 million visitors can spend an entire day observing and enjoying the antics of penguins, polar bears, lions, cheetahs, elephants, and more.
The Oregon Zoo has received praise for their conservation and sustainability efforts over the years. The zoo also cares for several endangered and threatened species, and plays an active role in multiple species survival plans.
Details: 4001 SW Canyon Rd, Portland, OR 97221 | Website
Nature lovers can find themselves lost in a forest without having to leave Portland’s city limits in this 5,200 acre park. Forest Park is nestled in Portland’s West Hills, which are part of the Tualatin Mountain Range.
This urban forest contains more than 80 miles of trails (including Witch’s Castle which you just read about above) and provides a safe haven for many plant and animal species. With more than 40 access points to Forest Park, it’s not difficult to find a trail and start hiking. Perhaps the most popular, Wildwood Trail runs the length of the park and provides 30 miles of trails for those looking for an adventure.
SALT & STRAW
Salt & Straw is not your grandma’s ice cream parlor. Inspired by a mission to connect communities and be good neighbors, Salt & Straw provides more than just a great scoop of ice cream.
Don’t be mistaken, though: they also dish out an incredible scoop of ice cream. Made with love by hand in small batches, flavors change regularly as they work with quality ingredients and local farmers and chefs to collaborate on what is next.
Located in the scenic West Hills’ Forest Park, take a step back in time at this historic house museum. Visitors can tour this turn-of-the-century French Renaissance style mansion that was built to feature the picturesque views of the city and surrounding mountains.
In addition to admiring the stunning architecture and craftsmanship of the Mansion, visitors will learn more about Portland’s history through the story of the Pittock family. Henry and Georgiana Pittock built and lived in this home after Henry’s successes as a newspaper publisher led to him building a financial empire.
Boasting one of the best views around, some lucky visitors can see as far as Mt. Rainier on an especially clear day. The Pittock Mansion grounds are a public park, and maps are available for visitors who want to take a self-guided tour through the grounds, Mansion, and Gate Lodge.
Details: 3229 NW Pittock dr., Portland, OR 97210 | Website
PORTLAND FOOD CARTS
You’ve probably heard of food trucks…food carts are similar except they are more like large portable “stalls” rather than trucks. There are hundreds of them throughout the city – no wonder it’s been named one of the best street-food cities in the US.
Most food carts are clustered together on a corner block in a “pod,” complete with outdoor seating and some shade tarps. We noshed at Cartopia, which I highly recommend in Hawthorne. Delicious eats abound, and there are plenty of options for even the pickiest of eater.
Details: 1207 SE Hawthorne Blvd, Portland, OR 97214 | Website
DAY TRIP TO COLUMBIA RIVER GORGE
While there is plenty to do inside Portland city limits, no trip would be complete without a visit to the Columbia River Gorge. Located just 30 miles outside the city, there is plenty to explore in this designated National Scenic Area with Mount Hood towering above nearby.
With hiking trails of varying lengths and difficulty levels, there are scenic rewards around every corner. If you’re looking for a more thrilling adventure, the gorge is also a popular biking and windsurfing destination.
Whether you’re chasing waterfalls or not, you’re likely to stumble upon one as there are more than 90 located in the gorge. Don’t miss Multnomah Falls, Oregon’s tallest waterfall coming in at 620 ft high and an extremely popular attraction for very good reason.
MORE INFORMATION FOR YOUR TRIP TO OREGON
- OREGON WATERFALLS: 18 UNBELIEVABLY AMAZING OREGON WATERFALLS (+ A MAP OF 79 FAVORITES)
- BEND: 17 THINGS TO DO IN BEND OREGON FOR OUTDOOR-LOVERS
- OREGON COAST TOWNS: 16 Gorgeous Oregon Coast Towns You’ve Got To Visit
WHERE TO STAY IN PORTLAND OREGON
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