Portland, Oregon, recently recognized by Time magazine as one of “America’s greenest cities,” is nature at its finest. With the lushness of parks and green spaces, folks are drawn to Oregon’s “City of Roses.” The downtown is a unique hub of activity with various fun activities and unique attractions.
Portland is the largest city in Oregon. Located at the confluence of two rivers, the Columbia and the Willamette, the city lies between mountains and foothills. The biggest mountain is Mt. Hood, which is often visible throughout the city. On clear days, one can also see Mount St. Helens, Mt. Adams, and Mt. Jefferson.
The city is easy to reach by either car or plane. If arriving by car, the major highways are I-5 (north/south) and the I-84 (east). Portland International Airport is linked to downtown via light rail. The excellent public transit in the city means you don’t even need to rent a car.
My trip was sponsored by The Nines, Travel Portland, Hotel Zags, and Virgin Experience Gifts. All opinions and ideas are my own.
Things To Do In Portland
Enjoy the beauty of the parks, smell the roses, visit museums, attend music and dance productions, or take a sip at a craft brewery; there are various activities for all.
1. Enjoy The Activities And Green Spaces At Washington Park
Washington Park is the crown jewel of Portland’s massive park system. The 30-acre site houses six attractions, including three of my favorites: The International Rose Test Garden, the Portland Japanese Garden, and the Oregon Zoo. A free shuttle operates daily.
2. Smell The Roses At the International Rose Test Garden
Smell the roses at the International Rose Test Garden. With over 10,000 rose plants and 610 varietals, strolling through the garden is a feast for the senses. The garden is lovely to visit year-round, with the peak seasons being spring and summer when Oregon’s roses are in their prime. The ADA-accessible garden is free to visit.
3. Learn About The Animals At The Oregon Zoo
The Oregon Zoo ranks as the most popular paid attraction in the entire state. The 64-acre site is considered one of the top ten conservation organizations in the Pacific Northwest. Note that timed ticketing is required for zoo admittance.
4. Marvel At The Portland Japanese Garden
The Portland Japanese Garden combines the three elements of vegetation, stone, and water in eight beautiful, unique Japanese gardens. The gardens overlook the city and provide lovely views of Mt. Hood.
5. Stroll The Park Blocks And Visit Museums
One of the oldest and most popular parks, the downtown Park Blocks invite visitors to stroll amongst the roses and greenery. The Portland Art Museum and the Oregon Historical Society are two popular museums along the park blocks.
Explore the Oregon Historical Society to learn the history of the state. Begin with the movie “Experience Oregon.” Take the time to visit the many exhibits detailing Oregon history through thought-provoking exhibits and digital platforms.
6. Partake In The Action At Pioneer Courthouse Square
Portland’s “living room,” Pioneer Courthouse Square, is a local gathering spot with over 300 concerts yearly. Enjoy a beverage or lunch, relax on the brick steps, and watch the world pass by!
7. Stroll The Downtown And Admire The Historic Architecture
Portland boasts the “largest collection of cast-iron fronted structures outside of New York City.” The architecture using cast-iron boomed in the late 1800s. Many of these historic buildings now house shops, restaurants, and galleries.
8. Enjoy The Performing Arts
Enjoy a music or dance production at one of five major venues within the downtown area through Portland’5 Centers for the Arts. The Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall is housed in a restored 1928 vaudeville house and is the home of the Oregon Symphony. The Antionette Hatfield Hall has three theatres. The Keller Auditorium features Broadway plays, ballets, operas, and other family events.
9. Quench Your Thirst With The Refreshing Drinking Water From A Benson Bubbler
The legacy of the Benson Bubblers heralds back to the early 20th century, when a businessman donated funds to purchase and install 20 bronze water fountains. Several theories suggest the purpose. Whatever the reason, the Benson Bubblers are an iconic site in the city and “serve” almost 100,000 gallons of water daily.
10. Get “Lost Between The Pages” At Powell’s Books
Plan a visit to browse through the pages at Powell’s Books, billed as the “world’s largest independent bookstore.” With more than 1 million new, used, and rare books, the main store, is located just off downtown. Color-coded maps are available to help guide you through the store. Check this link for Powell’s in-person events.
11. Visit Portland’s Craft Breweries
Portland is recognized as one of the two national cities with the most craft breweries per capita. I visited four with the Oregon Brewery Tour through Virgin Experience Gifts.
Portland U-Brew & Unicorn Brewing is a pub, brewery, home brew shop, and a U-brew. Classes are also offered. Visit the Original Brewery & Taproom of Baerlic Brewing Company. The large, spacious tasting room offers 15 taps of Baerlic beer and is family-friendly until 9 p.m. Baerlic Brewery was named Oregon Brewery Of The Year in 2017 and 2018.
Steeplejack Broadway is housed in a spacious, beautifully restored early-1900s church. Breakfast, lunch, and dinner are served daily. The site is family-friendly. Note that cash is not accepted for payment. The Glisan Pub of Migration Brewing offers award-winning craft beer and delicious food.
12. Enjoy The Solitude Of Portland’s Grotto
The Grotto is a 62-acre sanctuary for people of all faiths. Stroll through the lush greenery and enjoy a picnic at one of the picnic tables. From the upper level of the beautifully landscaped gardens, you can gaze at lovely views of the Cascade Mountains and Mt. St. Helens.
13. Fly Like An Eagle On A Columbia Gorge Scenic Flight
Close to Portland is the spectacular Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area. The breathtaking 80-mile canyon offers sheer cliffs, waterfalls, grasslands, and the mighty Columbia River. We were in a tiny four-seater airplane and thoroughly enjoyed our 20-minute flight. One of the highlights is flying over the historic Vista House at Crown Point State Scenic Viewpoint. I was treated to this experience with a gift certificate from Virgin Experience Gifts.
14. Shop Till You Drop
With no sales tax, many folks love shopping in Portland. An upscale shopping center next door to The Nines, Pioneer Place has a variety of shops and restaurants. For everything Nike, visit the Nike Portland Store. Be sure to visit the third floor for the interesting display of The History of Air Jordan. The open-air arts and crafts market, Portland Saturday Market, has over 250 booths and a food court. The market claims to be “the largest continuous outdoor market in the nation.” Look for unique gifts, art, jewelry, and fresh produce.
Enjoy A Bite At The Cafes And Restaurants In Portland
15. Urban Farmer Restaurant (The Nines)
A beautiful spacious setting on the 8th floor of The Nines, Urban Farmer is decorated with lovely greenery and varied seating, all under a massive skylight. The restaurant is open for breakfast and lunch with varied menus. I enjoyed two breakfasts, the Farmhouse Breakfast Classic and the traditional eggs Benedict. I particularly liked the decoration of the jars of pickled fruit and veggies.
16. Luc Lac Vietnamese Kitchen
Recommended by a local, the Luc Lac Vietnamese Kitchen lived up to its reputation. A small restaurant within walking distance from the Nines Hotel, the menu features pho, banh mi, and other Vietnamese favorites. There are also gluten-free and vegetarian dishes. The counter service is speedy and pleasant.
17. Savor The Dishes At A Food Truck Location
Portland is well-known for its delicious offerings at food trucks. I chose The Whole Bowl Food Truck in Pioneer Courthouse Square. The food truck serves one dish: The Whole Bowl. It is a delicious combination of brown rice, black olives, sour cream, cilantro, Tali Sauce, salsa, black & red beans, cheddar cheese, and avocado. It was worthy of a second visit.
18. Park Avenue Cafe
Located a few blocks from Hotel Zags and across the street from Portland State University, Park Avenue Cafe is popular with the locals. The menu offers varied breakfast dishes, soups, salads, sandwiches, wraps, and paninis. Both inside and outside seating are available.
19. Departure Restaurant & Lounge (The Nines)
Departure Restaurant & Lounge, on the 15th floor of The Nines, offers Asian-inspired cuisine and Northwest favorites. I enjoyed the three-course Departure Experience. Guests may choose dishes from a variety of offerings. It was a meal fit for a king! Departure also features Portland’s most extensive sake list. Two outdoor patios and the main dining room offer beautiful views of Portland and the countryside. There is also a mushroom garden and a vegetable garden.
20. Hotel Zags Restaurant And Patio
The Hotel Zags Restaurant & Patio offers both inside and outside seating. Outside is a huge patio with lovely greenery and shaded tables. The menu features delicious salads, flatbreads, charcuterie boards, sandwiches, pasta, and meatballs.
Hotels In Portland
21. The Nines
The Nines, Portland’s newest luxury hotel, is housed in the historic 1908 Meier & Frank Building. The luxurious rooms feature 9-foot ceilings, oversized windows, and a window seat for relaxation. Each guest room is “dressed to the nines” with refreshing colors of sky-blue and beige and features original artwork.
Throughout the hotel is a museum-like art collection valued at over $2 million. The 400 pieces of art beautify the atrium, library, restaurants, guest rooms, and lobby. The in-house art connoisseur offers tours, or if you prefer, a solo interactive art tour is available.
22. Hotel Zags
Hotel Zags is also located in the downtown area, within walking distance of Portland State University, Keller Auditorium, Portland Art Museum, Park Blocks, and Oregon Historical Society. Another draw for Hotel Zags is their Gear Shed. Guests of the hotel can borrow bikes, cameras, scooters, walking sticks, backpacks, and fishing rods.
There are so many fun and unique activities in Portland that it is easy to spend a fabulous weekend here. You might even decide that one weekend is not enough!