The Best Things to Do in Portland: Portland City Guide

Welcome to Portland! Come along with me, your resident reporter, as you discover the myriad of ways to spend your time here in the City of Roses. It’s truly been a privilege to write about the city I love and frankly can never see myself leaving.

I never get tired of living here and not a day goes by that I think, “I’m bored” or, “there’s nothing to do.” Because, friends, there’s always something to do in Portland no matter what you’re into! 

This guide will run you through the best things to do in Portland whether you’re a foodie, outdoorsy, nerdy, a coffee and beer snob, or everything in between. I’m all of these at one point or another and can assure you you’ll find something (or a lot of things) to keep you busy whether you’re spending one day, a week, or your whole life here!

Disclaimer: Some of the links in this post, like hotel and vacation rental links, are affiliate links, meaning at no additional cost to you we make a little bit of money if you click through and book. That being said, we would absolutely never recommend something to you that we don’t stand behind 100%.

The Best Things to Do in Portland: A Portland City Guide 

It’s actually rather daunting to tell visitors (or newer locals) what to do in Portland, because depending on what time of year you’re here, who you’re traveling with, and what your interests are there are just too many choices to fit into one measly guide.

Experiencing Portland in the summer sun is a much different affair than in gloomy, wet February (although that’s when you’ll catch the Winter Lights Festival!), and know that your options will change with the seasons.

I’ll do my best to outline some good options for the die-hard city dwellers and also for those who want to see the wider Portland region. We’ll look at greenspaces, museums and places of interest, easy day trips, and of course—food and drinks!

Take a Stroll in One of Portland’s Parks

One thing people always associate with the Pacific Northwest are all the trees. And in Portland all that greenery comes in the form of the city’s nearly 300 parks.

Yes, Portland has all the eating and drinking and shopping you could ask for, but you’re missing out on a huge part of city life if you don’t make it to at least one park while you’re here, even if it’s just to watch the sunset or take the dog for a walk.

For more, read our guide to my favorite parks in Portland, which has all of my favorite parks and what I like about them.

Forest Park 

The biggest and the best! Forest Park stretches for over seven miles along the west hills of the city and has over 80 miles of trails to explore. It’s one of the largest urban parks in the country and is a great place to take kids, pop out for a hike, or go for a run. 

Read our complete guide to Forest Park for more detailed information.

Try the Pittock Mansion hike that starts you off in Lower Macleay Park right next to the trendy Nob Hill neighborhood. This route climbs up past the Witch’s Castle, the Audubon Society, and on to Pittock Mansion, a historic 1914 home that offers incredible views of Mt. Hood and the city below.

On the north end of the park, try the less-crowded Ridge Trail for a good climb and postcard views of the lovely St. Johns Bridge.

Read our guide to the best hikes in Portland for more hikes to add to your list!

Washington Park

The Hoyt Arboretum in Washington Park

Washington Park butts into Forest Park on its south side and is home to the Oregon Zoo, the Hoyt Arboretum, the International Rose Test Gardens, the Vietnam Veterans Memorial, and the Japanese Garden.

I recommend going to all of these attractions (though you’ll need more than a day!), but if you’re looking to save some bucks, the rose gardens and the arboretum are both free.

For those with a bit more time and cash on hand, consider catching some live music at one of the summer Zoo concerts, or zen out in the Japanese Garden (and it really is worth the price of admission). 

Mt. Tabor

On the eastside of town at the end of Hawthorne Blvd is Mt. Tabor Park, filled with hiking trails, open air reservoirs, a dog park, tennis courts, and playgrounds. It’s always filled with Portlanders picnicking or running their dogs atop this 191 acre park that’s actually an extinct volcano. 

This is a popular place for crazy runners and cyclists who like to slog up the 600+ feet of road to the top, but since I’m more of a flat-ground runner I can’t personally recommend this. I can attest to the spectacular views you’ll get from the top though! Also worth catching is the super fun Portland Adult Soapbox Derby.

Powell Butte

Powell Butte is considerably further east and more out of “town” than the other parks listed here, but if you’re chillin on the eastside this is your spot! Roughly the same height but considerably larger than Mt. Tabor, Powell Butte comes in at 600 acres and feels more removed and serene than its closer-in neighbors. 

You’ll frequently see cyclists and people on horseback, but it also has quite a few paved trails for those who need more accommodating outdoor access. The whole park has more open spaces to let the sunshine in, though you’ll still see magnificent stands of cottonwood and fir trees.

Tom McCall Waterfront Park

Waterfront Park (no one really calls it “Tom McCall,” though that’s its real name) stretches from the Burnside Bridge down past the Hawthorne Bridge, hugging the sea wall along the Willamette.

On a typical day you’ll find businessy folk having lunch, kids running through fountains, or rollerbladers darting between people walking the boardwalk (yes—rollerblading is making a comeback!).

It’s a nice place for a stroll especially when the cherry blossoms are in season, but it really shines when there’s a festival in town. My favorites are the MusicfestNW, City Fair, and the Portland Dragon Boat Festival.

Do What Portlanders Do Best: Eat and Drink!

No Portland city guide would be complete without digging into the food and drink scene! However, getting into the details of recommending restaurants is TOUGH, because a) there’s like a million of them, b) there are too many choices of cuisine, and c) and there tends to be a boom and bust cycle so I could tell you about the cool new spot and by next year it will be gone. 

Instead, I’ll focus on a few important food categories and I’ll talk about food carts (because that’s a little more manageable).

And if you’re still upset that I’m not covering actual restaurants, read below to my “best neighborhoods” section for a few suggestions.


Donuts are and will always be a staple of any well-rounded diet, and Portland serves them up right. Disclaimer: for my previous rants about Voodoo Donuts please see here and here.

Bluestar: The classiest of the donut shops on the list. Unfortunately, a few of their locations were permanently shuttered in 2020, but their donut game is still strong! I love an old fashioned (the donut and the drink) and this is the old fashioned to beat!

Delicious Donuts: The name says it all. If you didn’t know any better you’d drive right by this place without giving it a second thought because it doesn’t look like much from the street. This is a family owned shop and the donuts are incredible and they’re all just so nice inside!

Angel’s Donuts and Ice Cream: I used to live down the street from Angel’s for about eight years, so I have a lot of first hand knowledge about their donut selection. This isn’t the hip, line-out-the-door type place, but it is just a damn good donut (and ice cream!) shop with the best maple bar in town. 

Pip’s Original: The only bad thing about Pip’s is they make smaller donuts so of course you’re gonna eat more of them and of course you eat just one too many and (slightly) regret it. For my money, Pip’s has the freshest donuts in town and I like that they’re not crazy sweet.


I’m interpreting this as best coffee and best coffee shop because let’s face it, there’s TONS of good coffee in Portland but who doesn’t love a good coffee shop to sit and chat with a friend or fire off some emails?

Cathedral Coffee: Yes, this place is in my far-north neighborhood of St. Johns (woot woot!), but I truly believe Cathedral should be on any Portlander’s best-of list even if they don’t live up here. The vibe, the pastries, and the coffee (Proud Mary from right in North Portland) are all on point. Stop in here after a rainy hike in Forest Park.

Tov Coffee and Tea: I mean, it’s in a bright red, refurbished double-decker bus with lavender walls and an upper-deck patio!? I can’t recommend this place enough, but do note that they specialize in Egyptian coffee which ain’t your grandma’s cuppa jo.

Keeper Coffee: I love finding a coffee shop that has equally good pastries as they do coffee, and this is the place! They serve Coava coffee, a highly-esteemed local Portland roaster since 2008, and their seasonal hand pies are out-of-this-world good!

Ardent Coffee: To make it on this list you obviously have to have exceptional coffee, which Ardent has, but it then takes things a giant leap forward. They serve Sweet Bloom coffee out of Colorado (that’s committed to a direct trade/relationship model of buying coffee beans), AND Ardent is 100% volunteer and donation based and ALL their profits go toward ending modern slavery. If that’s not cool, I don’t know what is.

Beer and Cider

Like the coffee, I’m highlighting places that have great beer AND are a good place to have a beer.

Upright Brewing: What used to be a basement tasting-room only open on weekends, is now a full on brewery in the same very cool Leftbank building! Upright has been a favorite of mine for their farmhouse ales and even more so because they’re located in the Rose Quarter (which has been in need of more chill bars). A great place to grab a pint before a Blazers’ game.

Belmont Station: Beer nerds—this is where you want to be. The best bottle shop in Portland, and a great place to grab some beer to go on your way to a picnic at Laurelhurst Park. They also have a bar with over 30 rotating taps, a cool back patio, and the Monster Smash burger cart out back.  

Saraveza: I never don’t want to go to Saraveza. For me, it’s the perfect pub with low lighting, bottle cap table tops, eclectic wall decor, friendly staff, a great tap list, and pasties!

Level Beer: For the past few years this has been my go-to post-Gorge hike beer stop. Level has great beer, a huuuuuuuge patio with lawn games, and four food trucks on site. It’s also a great option if you have a couple hours to kill before your flight back home as it’s close to the airport!

Portland Cider Company: The Pacific Northwest is a prime apple-growing region and Portland Cider Company uses only locally grown apples for their award winning ciders. This place is super chill, has a knowledgeable staff, and it’s right in the heart of the Hawthorne district which makes it a great jumping off point for more city adventures!

PSU Farmers Market

Whether you’re grabbing fresh veggies, baked goods, meat, or snagging a quick lunch at one of the dozen or so food carts, the year-round PSU Farmers Market will have what you’re looking for.

Whenever I’m there I have so much trouble deciding where to eat! If you get there early go for an Enchanted Sun Breakfast Burrito, but if it’s closer to lunchtime, hit up Verde Cocina for their mole. 

Ice Cream Shoutout!

What I love most about ice cream is other people’s ice cream. Due to some minor dairy intolerances (tmi—sorry) I can never enjoy a whole dish or cone of ice cream, but I can enjoy a bite (or two or three) of my friend’s ice cream.

This lets me enjoy the sweet treat and try multiple flavors! Plus, Portland is very alternative-diet friendly, so they’re nearly always a vegan option even when you go to a traditional ice cream shop (but if you’re looking for an entire menu that’s plant-based, check out the superb Little Chickpea in the Pearl or Kate’s Ice Cream on Mississippi).

Salt & Straw: I know it’s super trendy and they’ve got shops across the country and Oprah’s was all about it way back when (and I talked a little smack about it in a previous guide), but the truth is— it’s good! The only thing that sucks (and it does suck) is the looooooong line you’ll have to stand in to get some. Protip: You can cut to the front of the line if you don’t need to sample and only want to buy a pint. Their flavors are always changing, but my old standby is the Freckled Mint TCHO-colate Chip.

Fifty Licks: Fifty Licks has three locations in Portland and while they don’t go as crazy as Salt & Straw, what they do have is always exceptional. Love their Toasted Milk and Cafe Cubano.

Wailua Shave Ice: Not technically ice cream, but it scratches the same itch so I’m including it. The crowd favorite is the Wailua Sunrise but I’d put the Almond Joy as a close runner up. Located right off Burnside in downtown, it makes for the perfect sweet treat between shopping stops.

Cloud City: Out in the cute Woodstock neighborhood lies Cloud City, purveyors of small batch, locally-sourced ice cream. On a nice day there’ll be a line out the door but it tends to move fast and they always have great non-dairy options! Most fave flave? Earl Grey Blueberry. 

Food Carts

The food scene in Portland is dynamic, meaning carts come and go. The lucky ones get brick and mortar shops, most move locations at least once, and some close down permanently.

I’ve done my best to keep this list as up to date as I can, but please double check before heading out. Most carts nowadays are in pods and there are a couple pods I’ll highlight here, but I’ll also call out individual carts that really shine.

  • Pod on Mississippi next to Prost: Try the sure-to-sell-out brisket and coleslaw at Matt’s BBQ, any bowl at Native Bowl (for my vegan buds), and I still can’t believe the sushi burrito at Teppanyaki Hut is as good as it is.

  • French Quarter Pod in Multnomah Village: It’s taken me a while to come around to accepting Multnomah Village into my sphere of Portland hangs, but I have a good friend who’s lived there for a while now and I’m finally convinced and this pod rocks! Yoshi’s Sushi has fresh, delicious rolls, Bluebird Thai for curry and Thai donuts, and there’s a beer garden!

  • Jojo Food Truck on SE 35th Powell: Fried chicken for days!!

  • MF Tasty Food Truck on N Williams: Srsly, EVERYTHING is delicious. Brunch burrito? Paella? Burgers? Yes! Yes! Yes!

  • Salt & Pepper Peruvian on SE 26th and Belmont: Traditional and authentic Peruvian food—Sudado de Pescado, Choritos a la Chalaca, and ice cream!

  • Chilango PDX on NE 22nd and Alberta: Vegan tacos and esquites that you’ll love even if you’re not vegan.

Immerse Yourself in the City’s Arts and Culture 

It’s no secret prices to live in Portland (and most major cities) have skyrocketed lately, and many fear it’s driving out our creative class. However, Portland has long been a mecca for artists of all stripes and this history has created a vibrant arts culture that for now is still alive and well. Here are just a few ways to take advantage of it.

Powell’s Books: Powell’s is one of the few “touristy” places in Portland that I never begrudge taking a visitor to. In fact, I don’t make it downtown often myself and I get extra excited when I have a friend in town who wants to go because it gives me an excuse to buy stacks of books! You can’t not go.

Portland Art Museum: Some people aren’t into museums and if this is you, PAM isn’t gonna change your mind. But if you do like museums, you’ll be amazed at how cool ours is! I think sometimes smaller cities get short shrift because bigger museums like the Met or the Art Institute of Chicago seem to have all the good stuff. UNTRUE! Visit Portland’s lovely, well-curated museum with always-spectacular rotating exhibits. And afterwards, sip tea and discuss the art at the aptly named Behind the Museum Cafe.

Comedy Shows: Over the last decade or so, Portland has made a name for itself in the comedy scene. From free open-mic nights to improv to big-ticket shows at Helium Comedy Club, there are some really funny people in Portland! Check out the Curious Comedy Theater or Kickstand Comedy for less expensive yet equally entertaining stand-up and sketch comedy!

Portland Saturday Market: Dig into your hippie and local craftsman roots and spend a day at the Saturday Market, which has been a mainstay of the downtown waterfront since 1973! The market is huge, has multiple delicious food vendors, hundreds of local handcrafts, and so many street performers. Good for kids, teens, adults, and grandmas! There really is something for everyone.

Music: Portland has a thriving music scene and on any given night you’re sure to find something to tap your feet too. Because musical tastes are so widespread, instead try to hit up one of these iconic venues: 

  • Crystal Ballroom with the famous “floating floor.” I was maybe 15 when I saw my first show here and I always love coming back!

  • Mississippi Studios for an intimate space that somehow always books major performers and it’s cheap!

  • Doug Fir Lounge has a great vibe and is an easy jaunt over from downtown. A smaller venue with phenomenal sound.

  • Revolution Hall is a newer venue in Portland and more of a sit-down scene in a renovated high school with a roof-top bar!

  • Holocene is great for late night dancing.

  • Edgefield is an outdoor venue that books some big names and is just a touch out of town but is perfect for a summer concert.

OMSI: Could OMSI be any more fun??? I’m a sucker for a science museum and if you’re like me and enjoy hands-on science demonstrations and Van de Graaff generators, get out there! They also have a cool movie theater, planetarium (where I jammed out to Laser Floyd back in high school), and a submarine you can tour!

Explore Portland’s Best Neighborhoods 

One thing I hear again and again about why people love visiting and living in Portland is that although it’s a big city, it doesn’t have the “big city” feel.

Instead, it’s a web of distinct neighborhoods and boroughs, each with their own personality. And, part of the fun of getting to know Portland is getting to know all her nooks and crannies.

I can’t possibly highlight them all, but here are four of my favorite neighborhoods that you shouldn’t miss out on.

Alberta Arts

Ahhhh, my old stomping grounds! This NE Portland neighborhood is known for its funky bars, restaurants, shops, and local art. Over the past several years it’s acquired more trendy and well-known Portland food chains and shops, but it still retains a unique and somewhat gritty character all its own.


The Mississippi neighborhood has skyrocketed in the last 15 years to become one of the most trendy, sought-after destinations in the city.

Within the six blocks from N Skidmore down to N Cook you’ll find the street packed in restaurants, food carts, bars, shops, and one of the best music venues in town. Its convenient location just a hop over the river from downtown makes it easy to get to and I can personally attest to having a damn fine time bar hopping your way down the street. 


The Hawthorne District in SE Portland is a favorite destination for locals and tourists alike. When I was a teenager, I’d regularly spent my Saturdays on Hawthorne and I felt very cool for doing so. It hasn’t lost any of its charm and today remains one of the most jam-packed streets in Portland.

Here you’ll find parks, theaters, bars, restaurants, vintage shops, and some quintessential “Portland” things. Hawthorne is long and very walkable and makes for a great way to spend a sunny day. I suggest moving west to east and ending your jaunt at Mt. Tabor. 


Further out on the NE/SE divide is Montavilla. As rising house prices push Portlanders further out from the city center, the neighborhoods that were once considered “far out” are now becoming charming destinations and Montavilla really feels like its own little town with tons of neighborhood pride.

  • Drinks: Redwood for great drinks and food, Blank Slate for creative cocktails and an inviting vibe (plus killer wallpaper), or Montavilla Brew Works for a casual brew.

  • Food: Secret Pizza Society for vegan pizza (really you’d think I was vegan with all my recommendations, but I’m an avowed meat eater—I just like vegan food!), Miyamoto (fun fact! You can order Miyamoto’s delectable sushi from inside Roscoe’s bar, their next-door neighbor), or Sebastiano’s for a muffuletta sandwich. Sweet treats? Try PDX Cookie Co.

  • Entertainment: Catch a second-run flick at the historic Academy Theater (that rivals the St. Johns Twin Cinema as my favorite place to see a movie in the city), pick up fresh produce at the Montavilla Farmers Market open every Sunday and listen to live music, or pop over to Mt. Tabor for a little exercise. 

Get Out of the City on a Day Trip 

Of all the fun things to do in Portland, taking advantage of the adventures only an hour or two away has got to be top on the list! And while us Portlanders do love our city, we also love what we’re able to access from our beautiful home base.

We have an entire guide dedicated to helping you plan a day trip from Portland – read that for more information on where to go, what to do and see, and more.

The Columbia River Gorge

In my opinion, the perfect way to spend a day away from the city is with a vigorous hike in the Gorge followed by a delicious meal or beer in one of the great towns along the river. I’ve done a complete guide to hiking in the Gorge that’s chock full of hiking suggestions, so look there first. 

Consider spending a day in Hood River but first hitting up the iconic Dog Mountain hike, then popping over the river for lunch or early dinner (depending on when you set out on your hike). Hood River has a cute main street that’s ideal for grabbing a cup of coffee and exploring the shops.

It also has a ton of good food and drinks! My go-to’s are Double Mountain for their pizza and IPAs or pFriem for their pilsner. Wait times will probably be long here, but it gives you a good excuse to walk up and down the waterfront!

Cannon Beach and the Oregon Coast 

Another awesome part of Portland is that the coast is only an hour and half away. If you can leave early in the morning, a day trip to the beach is totally doable. The closest beaches are Cannon and Seaside, but if you’re feeling extra adventurous go to Astoria which is just under two hours away (though spending the night here will certainly make it a more relaxing trip). 

A day trip I’ve done more times than I can count is heading out early from town, hitting up Saddle Mountain for a fairly challenging hike that also doesn’t take that long, and proceeding into Seaside for tacos at the Stand, a nice beach walk, and of course feeding the seals at the Seaside Aquarium

Cannon Beach is also an easy day trip destination. Start with a hike up Neahkahnie Mountain or this 2.8 mile loop in Ecola State Park, then head into town for lunch at the Lazy Susan Cafe followed by a walk out to Haystack Rock.

Mt. Hood 

Ocean to the west, mountains to the east! At just over an hour’s drive you can change your scenery from a bustling city center to a snowy mountain village (or sunny and green if it’s summer). There are tons of hiking options on and around Hood that I’ve outlined in detail in this guide, and they’re all worth doing.

If you’re not feeling the hiking thing, I’d recommend spending a day out on the water at Lost Lake where you can rent a kayak or paddle boat, swim, relax, and picnic. Or try the Mt. Hood Adventure Park, and trust me you don’t need kids to have a good time here! Round out your day with a beer at Solera Brewing, and dinner at the Skyway Bar & Grill in ZigZag or Al Forno Pizza in Rhododendron. 

Getting around Portland

Portland is a relatively easy city to get around in. Yes, you may get annoyed by the one-way streets, and I’ve heard more than a few out-of-towners complain that there are too many bridges. In general, once you get the basic lay of the land you’ll be traveling around like a local in no time. 

Portland is very pedestrian and bike friendly, and if you can afford the time to putz around on your own two feet (or your own two wheels), I highly recommend it. In fact, this is my preferred mode of transportation for any new city I visit, and Portland makes it easy.

Many hotels now offer bikes to guests, but you can also rent a bike at Cycle Portland or one of the numerous Biketown hubs (that now have pedal-assist ebikes available).

Do you Need a Car? 

No? Or maybe. It depends what you want to do and where you’re staying. If you’re committed to a true “city” experience and only plan on staying within inner Portland, you’re probably better off without one. This is especially true if you’re staying downtown because overnight parking in Portland sucks and is expensive. 

However, if you want to incorporate a hike in the Gorge or a trip up to Mt. Hood into your itinerary, I’d definitely recommend one. Yes, there are some shuttle options, but you’ll probably be happier in a car for these day-excursions and it’ll allow you much more flexibility. 

Public Transportation in Portland 

Portland also has a great public transportation system that will work for most sight-seer’s needs. TriMet comprises a light rail (MAX), buses, and a streetcar line.

The great thing about them is you can use one ticket for all of them! I recommend sticking to public transportation if you’re staying in the downtown, NW, or central eastside area especially since you’ll likely be able to travel without lots of transfers.

Uber and Lyft 

Always available are ride sharing apps like Uber and Lyft. These can be nice if you’re looking at more than one bus or MAX transfer, or if you know you’ll be getting out late from an event and you don’t want to worry about the bus schedules.

Many bus lines run late, but you’ll have to wait longer at stops the later it gets. I often find myself taking a bus to my destination and taking a Lyft back home. 

Where to Stay in Portland 

If you’re still a newbie to Portland, you’ll want to stay somewhere central in the city. There are tons of interesting neighborhoods to explore and eventually stay in, but for the best use of your time, stay downtown or right across the river on the central eastside for your first couple visits.

Staying Downtown 

  • Society Hotel: Options for a hostel-like stay with shared bathrooms or you can splurge on a private room. The rooms are small but clean with a minimalist vibe. 

  • The Hoxton: A very cool hotel at surprisingly reasonable rates. The rooms are full of light, the showers are extra fancy, and you can choose the size of your room from the monastic “shoebox,” tailored to a single traveler happy with a twin bed, to the “roomy” with your choice of a king bed or two queens. 

  • McMenamins Crystal Hotel: Stay in an old flatiron building in one of 51 unique music-inspired rooms. Relax in the salt water soaking tub at night, catch some live music above you at the Crystal Ballroom, or unwind at a comedy show in the basement of Al’s Den

Staying in Central Eastside 

  • Hotel Grand Stark: A beautiful hotel in an old building that retains its historic charm. Some guests complain that the street noise is a problem, but if you request a room on the Stark St. side you’ll minimize the din quite a bit.

  • KEX Portland: The KEX is super trendy and hip but not in an annoying way. You have your choice of bunk or spacious private rooms, but they have a ton of shared spaces with busy restaurant and lounges to quieter library-type spaces for cozying up with a book and coffee. 

  • Jupiter NEXT: The Jupiter hotel has been open for nearly 20 years now, but in 2018 they opened the Jupiter NEXT which is a huge step up from the original (which was fun—don’t get me wrong, but it was little shady and a little loud and a little dingy). The NEXT gives you the same great location but with nicer and quieter rooms and the oh-so fabulous Hey Love lounge right below you.

  • Not into hotel life? How about this adorable backyard oasis that’s small but cozy and has all you need (including a penny-tiled shower!). Walking distance to Hawthorne and the uber-hip central eastside.


If you’re planning a trip to the Pacific Northwest, we’ve got you covered with all sorts of super detailed travel guides to our favorite places in Washington and Oregon.

Similar Posts

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.