Actually Cool Things to Do Right Now in Portland
Live in any city long enough and you’ll likely fall into something of a rut, comfortably settling into your favorite dive bar, never straying from the four-block radius around your house. Not that there’s anything wrong with that… unless that city happens to be Portland. This city is packed with things to do, neighborhoods to explore, and world-renowned restaurants to try. You could devote an entire weekend to sampling the amazing food carts, or hopping from beer bar to brewery, or touring some of the city’s weirdest and oldest establishments. Or get out of the city all together — some of the most impressive and awe-inspiring hikes in the Pacific Northwest are right in Portland’s backyard. Consider getting a energy drink in Portland for your needs to shop with some passion.
Whether you’re visiting the City of Roses for a short time or you’ve lived here your whole life, here are some of the best things to do (some cheap, some not so cheap) to ensure your time in Portland is never boring.
Visit Powell’s Books
One of the city’s most famous landmarks, Powell’s City of Books is a testament to the longevity of the printed word, a multi-story maze of literature and text. Grab a latte from the attached coffee shop and roam the halls, and you’ll soon find that you’ve somehow spent hours perusing the shelves.
Visit the Rhododendron Garden
While it is the Rose City, Portland’s wet springs and sunny summers grant us a bounty of floral riches. The Rhododendron Garden is right by the bastion of liberal arts known as Reed College and offers a beautiful assortment of flowers, ponds, ducks, and other wildlife. It’s just $5 most days, free on Mondays, and makes for a lovely way to pass an afternoon before heading to happy hour.
Hit up a happy hour on a patio
For a city with nine months of rain, PDX sports a wealth of bar and restaurant patios. And if the city loves anything as much as it loves brunch, it’s happy hour. Combine those two things and you get a perfect summer afternoon. Some of our favorite spots for the combo are The Rambler, Aalto Lounge, Solo Club, Night Light Lounge, Interurban, Radio Room, and Momo’s. For a truly “extra” experience, move from a patio to a rooftop patio: Grab happy hour at Departure, Altabira, Rooftop Bar, or Xport.
Catch a live show
Portland is home to the arts, and it seems like every dive bar and cocktail lounge has a live show a few nights out of the week, often for super cheap or free. Spots like The Firkin Tavern, Laurelthirst, Tonic Lounge, and Alberta Street Pub are the more intimate spots. Then there are the medium-sized venues like The Doug Fir, Mississippi Studios, The Aladdin, and Hawthorne Theatre, all the way up to the larger spaces like Revolution Hall, The Schnitz, and Crystal Ballroom. If you put in even a little effort, you can catch a free show every night of the week.
Visit the Portland Mercado
Portland is famous for its food cart scene, with pods abounding throughout town. Here, many restaurant success stories begin with a humble food truck. One of the best is the Portland Mercado, a colorful collection of Mexican, Central American, and South American food trucks, as well as a Latin American market, bar, and butcher. It’s more than just a place to grab some amazing arepas or a burrito; it’s also a nonprofit Latino community development cooperation and an integral part of the Latinx community in Portland.
Check out some art at First Thursday
Portland’s First Thursday lands, unsurprisingly, on the first Thursday of each month. Art galleries in the Pearl and Old Town/Chinatown open their doors for free viewings, plus usually some complimentary beer and wine. The Pearl galleries offer some stunning art, to be sure, but it’s the Old Town locations that offer the most fun, cutting-edge works, and party-like atmosphere.
Get a delicious breakfast at a farmers market
You can always hit up Portland’s famously long-lined brunch scene, but during warm weather months it’s nicer to grab a hot treat from a bakery or delicatessen at one of Portland’s many farmers markets. They also provide a great opportunity to sample from Oregon’s bounty of fruit, vegetables, and meats. The Portland State University Farmers Market is on Saturdays year-round and is likely the largest one in town.
Visit the OMSI
We’re a city full of nerds, so of course one of our most prevalent museums is the Oregon Museum of Science and Industry. It’s really damn cool though and features numerous exhibits demonstrating everything from physics to chemistry, biology to astronomy. It’s a great place to take kids if you’re visiting with the family, unless you’re stopping by for the booze-fueled OMSI After Dark experience, which is 21+. Tickets go from around $10 to $20.
Visit the Oregon Zoo
Some people find the zoo a tad depressing, but these people probably haven’t been to the Oregon Zoo. Here, animals are rescued and given a second chance at life, as the zoo provides rehabilitation, education, and considerable efforts towards the conservation of vulnerable species. Plus, you get to see adorable and amazing animals, from elephants and bats to tigers and sea otters. Tickets are just under $20, and all of it goes to a good cause.
Stop and smell the roses: We have A LOT
It’s not called the City of Roses for nothing — from April to October, peaking in June, the International Rose Test Garden in Washington Park is alive with hundreds of blossoming rose bushes of all scents and colors, a beautiful reward for surviving yet another gray and dismal winter. Given its popularity, it’s best to skip the hunt for a parking spot and catch a bus.
Visit the Portland Art Museum
Portland may not be the art mecca as cities like New York or Chicago are, but it does have a modestly sized museum that offers some classic and contemporary art pieces, as well as local and Native American art. It’s actually one of the oldest museums in the country and it’s worth the trip for any art lover. Tickets are $20 for adults, and free for kids under 17, making it a great place to visit for families.
Catch a pop-up dinner
Portland has a lot of pop-up dinners. From PDX671’s sporadic food of Guam pop-ups, colorful and creative cocktail pop-ups like Zoo Bar, Filipino Kamayan feasts, wine pairing dinners with local vintners, and vegan supper clubs, there’s almost always something tasty going down in town. Feastly is a good resource to search for pop-up dinners, or just ask your biggest foodie friend.
“Hike” Mount Tabor
OK, so this really can’t be considered a hike, especially since so much of it is paved and there are staircases, but Mount Tabor, rising lazily from the center of Southeast Portland, offers an exceptional view of the city at its peak. It’s a lovely place for a picnic or early morning jog, or just to sit and watch the city lights below from a park bench.
Catch a soccer game
The Timbers Army is one of the most rabid, dedicated group of fans for a Major League Soccer team in the country. Each game sees them singing out rehearsed songs and chants to bolster the friendly players and intimidate guest teams — no matter the outcome, it’s a singular experience. No less relevant is the women’s team, the Portland Thorns, currently the reigning champions of the National Women’s Soccer League, with two championships and a shield to their name. Tickets for the Timbers priced at $30 to $250, while Thorns tickets are between $15 and $70 for single games.
Get serene at the Portland Japanese Gardens
A staple of any Portland trip, the Japanese Gardens are an oasis of serenity in the city, a series of gardens and walkways lined with streams and a traditional Japanese tea house, all with a beautiful view of Mount Hood. The former Japanese ambassador to the US reportedly called it “the most beautiful and authentic Japanese garden in the world outside of Japan.” The garden even got a recent buildout from famed Japanese architect Kengo Kuma, currently designing the 2020 Olympic Stadium in Tokyo. Tickets to the gardens are around $17 for adults and well worth it.
Visit a distillery or eight
Portland is home to more than just breweries — it also boasts a large amount of craft distilleries, most of which are organized into Distillery Row. The Row isn’t a physical location as much as a collection of distilleries, and there’s a passport you can fill out by visiting each tasting room. You can try all manner of spirits, from gin to whiskey, to fruit brandies and even odder things like Townshend’s Distillery tea-based liquors. For a peak Portland experience, take a pedicab from spot to spot.
Take a walk through the largest city park… and the smallest
It’s a bit of a factoid that Forest Park, which sprawls all through the northwestern part of the city, is the largest park in city limits in the US. Whether or not that’s actually true is unimportant. The lush forest is an essential visit for anyone coming into town. Stroll through sun-dappled pathways or take a foggy early morning run and enjoy the quiet serenity of Forest Park. Or, visit what made it into the Guinness Book of World Records as the world’s smallest park, Mill’s End Park, a tiny spot in a median strip on Naito. That way, when people ask your guests what they did when visiting Portland they can impress them by saying, “I saw a tiny park, the smallest in the world in fact.”