Some of the best things to do in Portland include walking in nature and visiting beautiful gardens, which is unsurprising for a city that cares so much about the environment.
Individuality and creativity are celebrated: all over town you'll also spot 'Keep Portland Weird' on bumper stickers, murals and signs. Add to this a thriving downtown with great coffee, independent stores, and a diverse food culture and you've got the perfect mix of urban life and nature in one compact city.
The largest independent bookstore in the country, Powell's City of Books spans an entire block and contains more than a million titles in its 3,500 different sections. It’s a bibliophile's delight, with multiple floors and color-coded rooms – grab a map and lose yourself among the stacks of new, used, rare, small-press, special-edition and out-of-print selections. Spending an entire day here is an easy feat, and with the store buying more than 3,000 used books per day, there's always new inventory to peruse.
Cinema for cinephiles
If you're a movie buff, pass on multiplexes in Portland – instead, take your pick from a host of historic theaters screening first- and second-run flicks, indie and art-house gems, documentaries and foreign films. These neighborhood establishments have a cozy atmosphere with loads of character, and ticket prices are often much cheaper.
Many theaters, such as the Hollywood Theatre, have pizza and other tasty snacks available, plus craft beer on tap to wash it all down. In March, the city hunkers down for Portland International Film Festival, which showcases some 100 films from over 30 countries.
Appreciate the gardens at Washington Park
Within the 410 acres of manicured Washington Park you’ll find Rose City’s namesake rose blooms at International Rose Test Garden. There are more than 700 varieties on show here, plus great city views. Further uphill is the lush and tranquil Japanese Garden, another oasis of tranquility.
Proclaimed as one of the most authentic you'll find outside of Japan, it was one of a wave of many that were established in the wake of WWII to promote diplomatic relations between Japan and the US. Divided into multiple gardens, the grounds feature a tea house, wooden pavilions and bridges, winding stone paths and cascading streams to aid in serene contemplation.
Bargain hunting at Saturday market
The largest and longest-running open-air craft market in the US, Portland's Saturday Market is home to hundreds of vendors, which are all chosen by a jury. Despite the name, it's open on Sundays, too. You can easily while away hours as you wander through craft stalls selling everything from clothing, jewelry and handmade accessories to local art, knick-knacks and homewares. Grab a bite from the many food carts and take in the antics of street performers while you chow down – this is one of the best places in Portland for people-watching.
Wander Tom McCall Waterfront Park
On the west bank of the Willamette River, Tom McCall Waterfront Park spans a great stretch of downtown Portland and is home to many of the city's notable monuments and sights such as the Japanese American Historical Plaza and Salmon Street Springs. Its waterfront path is wonderful for strolling, jogging and cycling, and in springtime, you'll see an explosion of cherry blossoms from the trees lining the path. Named after the governor who established Oregon's urban growth boundary system to protect green spaces from development, the park hosts numerous festivals and events like the Waterfront Blues Festival and LGBTQ Pride.
Check out a very Portland festival
Portland loves a party from parades and rallies at Pioneer Courthouse Square to festivals and free events there’s almost always something on in the city. Portland Rose Festival is the city's grandest affair, with a carnival, fireworks, parades and the crowning of a Rose Queen in June. Typically kooky, PDX Adult Soapbox Derby sees costume-clad grown-ups speed down Mt Tabor in homemade gravity-powered vehicles, usually on the first weekend of August.
Similarly Pedalpalooza is a summer-long celebration of Portland's cycling culture, with daily volunteer-run events plus the World Naked Bike Ride. For foodies, Feast Portland is a four-day extravaganza celebrating Portland's food and drink scene with talks, classes, markets and dinner series. And finally to round the year out, Holiday Ale Festival sees the city come together and sample seasonal suds in December, all under one roof (or tent).
Portland is home to the second-largest LGBTQIA+ community in the US, second only to San Francisco. Unlike most progressive cities with high queer-identifying populations, Portland lacks a definitive 'gayborhood.' Gentrification and the city's housing crisis no doubt play a large part in this, but no matter where you find yourself, it is generally safe – and even empowering – to exist in your skin here.
Rainbow flags and emblems are posted in the windows and yards of countless businesses and residences and in 2016 city commissioners made two-thirds of the city's public restrooms gender-neutral. Despite the closure of a number of gay-centred spaces as a result of losses from the Covid-19 pandemic you can still enjoy the annual PDX Pride Parade, drag performances, dance parties and queer film screenings across the city.
Hike Forest Park
To get away from it all – without having to really leave – take a walk in Forest Park. It's the country's largest urban park, with more than 70 miles of woodsy trails for hikers, mountain bikers and horseback riders. Decked in moss, flowering shrubs, ferns and other flora, the paths wind through towering trees – you may strain your neck in wonder as you gaze up to their dizzying heights. The canopy is home to an array of bird and mammal species, making it a delight for birders and wildlife lovers.
Grab a speciality coffee
A rainy day in Portland (they’re not uncommon!) is the perfect opportunity to settle into one of its famous barista-led cafes for a perfect coffee. With the most roasters and cafes per capita in the US, the city has enjoyed a thriving independent coffee culture since the 1990s, when Stumptown Coffee Roasters was established. Portland’s cafe culture put small-batch roasting and third-wave coffee practices on the map in the US. Many cafes have followed in Stumptown's footsteps since, some with multiple locations around the city so a quality brew is never far away in Portland.
With 60-plus breweries – reportedly more than any other city in the world – Portland is heaven for hop heads. Connoisseurs can sample a wide variety of microbrews at every turn – even the smallest dives have a couple of top-notch taps; and those who aren't usually big on beer will likely find something that suits their taste buds. High-quality suds are just the standard in this town – breweries take their craft seriously, often offering a unique edge, such as Hopworks Urban Brewery, whose brews are all organic and made with local ingredients.
Visit the cultural institutions around South Park Blocks
A couple of blocks southwest of Pioneer Courthouse Square you'll find many of Portland's big cultural attractions such as the Portland Museum of Art, the Oregon Historical Society and Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall around South Park Blocks. The Oregonian newspaper dubbed this precinct Portland's 'extended family room' as Pioneer Courthouse Square is known as Portland's 'living room'.
Portland Art Museum exhibits First Nations carvings, as well as Asian and American art and photography. It also houses the Whitsell Auditorium, part of the Northwest Film Center and School, where rare and international films are screened. At the southern end of the South Park Blocks is Portland State University, the city's largest university.
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