Portland offers visitors beautiful scenery, awesome, innovative restaurants, brewpubs and coffee shops. There’s numerous opportunities to get outside and visit wonderfully-designed and well-maintained gardens, or experience untouched natural beauty. For culture, there’s museums, theatre, music, and one of the best independent bookstores in the country.

Here’s a few our favorites things to do in Portland:

1. Powell’s City of Books

Powell's City of Books

The main Powell’s City of Books store occupies an entire Portland city block in the Pearl District and claims to be the largest independent new and used bookstore in the world. It is known for having a vast selection of rare, used, and scholarly books at great prices. CNN tapped the bookstore as one of the “World’s Coolest Bookstores” alongside bookstores in London, Paris, and Buenos Aires. Powell’s was opened by Walter Powell in 1971 after his son had opened a Chicago bookstore the year before. In 1979, Michael, the son, closed his Chicago bookstore and headed west to work with his father. That same year they moved their store to its current location. Take some time to explore the vastness of the store and its 4 million books. Everything is color-coded for easy navigation – read more here (Photo by LWYang)

2. Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area

Columbia River Gorge

Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area is located about 30 minutes east of Portland, and getting there by car involves a scenic drive along the river. Hikers will appreciate the many breathtaking options, from an easy walk to a strenuous hike, with great views everywhere. Other activities include visiting Bonneville Dam and taking a tour, seeing the waterfalls, picnicking, fishing, and camping, and no trip is complete without a visit to Multnomah Falls. With its steady wind the blow across the river, the Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area is known as the Wind Surfing Capital of the World. Park facilities include gift shops and restaurants, etc – read more here (Photo by Glenn Scofield Williams)

3. Portland Japanese Garden

Portland Japanese Garden

Portland Japanese Garden comprises 5 blissful acres inside of Washington Park in the West Hills. It is considered to be the best and most authentic public Japanese Garden in the world outside of Japan. The five sub-gardens (Strolling Pond Garden, Natural Garden, Sand and Stone Garden, Flat Garden, Tea Garden) use stones, water and plants in different symbolic representations that reflect on the history and traditional culture of Japan. The Garden was founded in 1963 and opened to the public in 1967. It recently celebrated its 50th year anniversary. The Garden was designed by noted Japanese landscape architect Takuma Tono and is currently curated by Sadafumi Uchiyama. A visit is tranquil and transformative, with beautifully cultivated plants giving way to postcard-perfect images of Mount Hood in the background – read more here (Photo by Ryan Stavely)

4. International Rose Test Garden

International Rose Test Garden

The International Rose Test Garden is located on 4.5 lush acres in Washington Park and boast over 7,000 rose plants of approximately 550 varieties in a variety of themed gardens. In 1901 Portland adopted the designation “the City of Roses,” and the first Rose Festival was held here in 1907. The International Rose Test Garden was founded in 1917 and is the oldest continuously operating public rose test garden in the United States. The roses bloom from April through October with the peak coming in June. The Shakespeare Garden showcases roses that were mentioned in Shakespeare’s works. An amphitheater on the grounds presents music concerts and plays during warm weather months. In addition to being breathtaking, colorful, and fragrant, the International Rose Test Garden is also free – read more here (Photo by InSapphoWeTrust)

5. Forest Park

Forest Park

Forest Park is an expansive Portland city park that stretches more than seven miles along the eastern slope of the Tualatin Mountains just Northwest of downtown. In fact, Forest Park is the largest forested area within city limits in the United States. The heavily canopied park boasts more than 112 bird and 62 mammal species and over 80 miles of trails for hiking, cycling, and horseback riding. There are numerous access points to the park, many of which can be reached by public transportation. When members of the Lewis and Clark Expedition first visited the park area in 1803, the forest contained Douglas Fir trees that were up to 8 feet in diameter. (Today, nearly three-quarters of the forest is comprised bigleaf maples and red alders instead of Douglas firs.) Native Americans had inhabited the land for the last 10,000 years, but they had all been relocated by the mid-1800’s. Brothers John and Frederick Olmstead, the sons of the designer of New York’s Central Park, recommended the land become a woodland park in 1903, and it did officially become a park in 1948 – read more here (Photo by Mike Rohrig)

6. Lan Su Chinese Garden

Lan Su Chinese Garden

The Lan Su Chinese Garden is the largest classically-styled Chinese garden located outside of China – it is so large that it takes up an entire Portland city block in the Old Town-Chinatown area near the Pearl District and the Farmers Market. A staggering 500 tons of rocks were brought over from China to be used in the garden, and some of the plants are over 100 years old. The Garden is wonderfully detailed and maintained. Lake Zither is the centerpiece of the garden and has a wonderful pavilion overlooking it. The garden changes with the seasons, so any time of year is a good time to visit. There are special celebrations held during the time of the Chinese New Year. For refreshments, head to the Teahouse in the Tower of Cosmic Reflections. Guided tours are available – read more here (Photo by David McSpadden)

7. Portland Farmers Market

Portland Farmers Market

The Portland Farmers Market is rated as one of the five best farmers markets in the United States by Eating Well Magazine. It’s a very popular market and offers a huge variety of fresh local foods, numerous workshops and demonstrations, samples of unusual produce, and many festivals throughout the year. The first location opened in 1992 and had 13 vendors participating, and now there are numerous locations in the Portland area. There is currently a location open somewhere in Portland every day of the week during the warmer months, with the main location being the Saturday market at Portland State University downtown. Almost 200 vendors sell produce, fish, meat, dairy products, baked goods, etc. – it’s so popular that there is a waiting list for new vendors – read more here (Photo by Mack Male)

8. Multnomah Falls

Multnomah Falls

Multnomah Falls were first seen by white men when members of the Lewis and Clark expedition saw the falls as they floated down the Columbia River.  Today, they can be found by heading East from Portland on 1-84 for about 30-40 minutes to the Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area. The Falls The waterfalls are actually a series of two falls. In total they drop 611 feet: 542 feet in the upper fall and 69 feet in the lower. The views from the top of Multnomah Falls are outstanding, and there are also some other, smaller waterfalls also in the area. The Multnomah Falls area is a very popular part of the Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area, and it can get very crowded – it is actually the number one visited natural attraction in Oregon. Consider going early in the morning to avoid the crowds. The falls can be seen from the the parking area, but, for hikers, there is .2 mile paved path (steep) that begins at Multnomah Falls Lodge and goes to Benson Bridge, plus another 1.25 mile walk to the top of the falls. The scenic Benson Bridge was constructed in 1914 to allow visitors to cross over the lower falls and continue their paved trail journey to the viewing platform at the top – read more here (Photo by John Tregoning)

9. Washington Park

Washington Park

Washington Park began as a small, 40 acre plot that Portland bought in 1871. Today, the park occupies a huge space just west of downtown and offers something for everyone. Attractions at the Park include the Oregon Zoo, the World Forestry Center Discovery Museum, the Hoyt Arboretum, the historic Pintock Mansion, the Portland Children’s Museum, the International Rose Test Garden, and the Portland Japanese Garden. Other facilities include an amphitheater, memorials, an archery range, tennis courts, soccer fields, picnic areas, playgrounds, public art, and trails. Many parts of the Park offer great views of downtown and Mount Hood – read more here (Photo by Doug Kerr)

10. Mount Hood

Mount Hood

Mount Hood would certainly be ranked higher on this list if it were a bit closer to Portland. The picturesque mountain is located about 55 miles southeast of Portland and can be seen from many points in downtown. Reaching heights of over 11,000 feet, it is home to 12 glaciers and snowfields, and, with 6 ski areas, it is the region’s main skiing area. The mountain is, for the most part, a dormant volcano, and it is the Oregon volcano considered to be the most likely to erupt. It last erupted in 1907. Go for skiing, hiking, rafting, fishing, picnicking, etc. There are also facilities for lodging, dining and shopping. The Timberline Lodge on the south side of Mount Hood is a National Historic Landmark – read more here (Photo by stu_spivack)

11. Ecola State Park and Haystack Rock

Ecola State Park

Ecola State Park and Haystack Rock both offer visitors miles of beautiful Oregon coastline with panoramic views, crashing waves, tidal pools, a lighthouse, and huge monolith rock formations. They are located about 1.5 hours drive northeast from Portland on the Pacific coast near the town of Cannon Beach. Ecola wraps around the Tillamook Head peninsula comprises over 9 miles of coastline. Those who make the trek will pass along a narrow and curvy road through a verdant Sitka spruce forest before encountering a grassy bluff overlooking the vastness of the Pacific Ocean. Ecola is great for walking along the beach or on the trails, picnicking, exploring sea life in the tidal pools, and bird-watching. Migrating gray whales can often be spotted in the distance during the winter and spring. Haystack Rock is located south of Ecola State Park and Cannon Beach. It is 235 feet tall and is accessible by foot during low tide, although it is generally too steep to climb. Although unverified, it is claimed to be the third largest monolith that can be reached by land. Just south of Haystack are two smaller rock formations called the Needles – read more here (Photo by Ralph Arvesen)

12. Pittock Mansion

Pittock Mansion

Pittock Mansion was built in 1914 and offers a reveling glimpse into what life was like for a wealthy Portland family 100 years ago. The mansion was originally the home of Oregonian newspaper publisher Henry Pittock and his wife, Georgiana. It contains 16,000-square feet and more than 23 rooms. Besides the detailed architecture, prominent features include the grand staircase and a Steinway piano from 1887. The home sits on high ground inside Washington Park and offers a wonderful view of downtown Portland. The estate grounds feature a magnificent garden, bird-watching opportunities, and hiking. During the holidays the home and grounds are decorated. Pittock Mansion was severely damaged during a storm on Columbus Day, 1962, and there was talk of leveling the Mansion and developing the land. Luckily, the city of Portland decided the purchase the historic 22-room chateau, restore it, and open it for public touring – read more here (Photo by PhotoAtelier)

13. Pedal Bike Tours

Pedal Bike Tours

Pedal Bike Tours allows visitors to Portland to see the biking capital of the United States by the city’s favorite local mode of transportation. They offer numerous tours from which to choose: Downtown, Columbia Gorge, Wine Country, Forest Park, etc. Still want more choices? There’s also food and brewery tours and snowshoe tours. Check the Pedal Bike Tours web site for a full list of tours – read more here (Photo by PhotoAtelier)

14. Portland Saturday Market

Portland Saturday Market

Portland Saturday Market has operated since 1974, which makes it the largest continually-operating outdoor arts and crafts market in the United States. Located in the historic Old Town district in downtown next to the Waterfront Park, the PSM is quintessential Portland and epitomizes the progressive city’s “buy local” mentality. Visitors can meet the artists and the farmers, shop for great local handcrafted goods, listen to local music and attend seasonal festivals. Handcrafted goods include jewelry, pottery, woodwork, clothing, paper goods, glass, toys and games, etc. There’s also plenty of food booths. Check the Portland Saturday Market web site for a schedule of performances and festivals and a list of vendors. From mid-December until Christmas Eve, PSM is open for holiday shopping – read more here (Photo by Mack Male)

15. Stumptown coffee Roasters

Stumptown Coffee Roasters

Stumptown Coffee Roasters put Portland on the map as a major-league coffee city, and they are consistently recognized as one of the best coffee roasters in the country. Part of their success is due to the extra efforts they go to in sourcing their coffee. Stumptown was a pioneer in the practice of roasters actually travelling to coffee-growing regions and working directly with coffee farmers to get the best coffee from the farmer and form a long-term, sustainable relationship with the farmer. Source trips are available to public. Stumptown Coffee Roasters loves brewing with a Single-cup Chemex. They are also loved by Portlanders for their Hair Bender Espresso. The are numerous locations in Portland, but their flagship store opened in 1999 at SE 45th and Division – read more here (Photo by Pouregon)

16. Tom McCall Waterfront Park

Tom McCall Waterfront Park

Tom McCall Waterfront Park is a 36 acre park located in downtown Portland next to the Willamette River. In 2012, Waterfront Park was voted one of America’s ten greatest public spaces by the American Planning Association. Many festivals are held at Tom McCall Waterfront Park, and it’s a great spot for jogging, biking, or walking along the riverfront, playing in the fountains, or just sitting on a bench. Tom McCall Waterfront Park hosts a Cinco de Mayo celebration, the Rose Festival CityFair in late May-early June, the Oregon Brewers Festival in July, and the Oregon Symphony’s Waterfront Concert in August or September. The space was created by the removal of a freeway, and the park was named in honor of Tom McCall, a former governor who championed for the beautification of Portland – read more here (Photo by Tress)

17. Ground Kontrol Classic Arcade

Ground Kontrol Classic Arcade

Ground Kontrol Classic Arcade offers classic video games and vintage pinball machines in a two-story retro-futuristic arcade with a DJ, live music, craft beers, and light pub fare. With over 100 games offered, Ground Kontrol has developed a good reputation in the gaming world and has become a destination for arcade game fans from around the world. In addition to the games, there are also No Pun Intendo stand-up comedy nights, Rock Band competitions, Video Game trivia nights, and live music. Most of Ground Kontrol’s arcade games cost 25 cents to play, and most pinball tables are 50 cents per play. Free Play nights let visitors play unlimited games for $5. Guest must be over 21 years of age after 5 PM.  The food choices include hot dogs, pizza, ice cream sundaes, and 5 kinds of nachos. A beer and wine bar was added in 2005, and mixed drinks began being served in 2011. Be sure to check out the bathrooms – they feature Pac Man and Ms. Pac Man door labels, floors with Pac Man tiles, and sinks that change colors – read more here (Photo by Pouregon)

18. Oregon Museum of Science and Industry

Oregon Museum of Science and Industry

Oregon Museum of Science and Industry was founded in 1903 when Colonel L. L. Hawkins began assembling a collection of artifacts at the Portland City Hall. It opened at its current location in 1992. Not only does the Oregon Museum of Science and Industry feature the requisite hands-on permanent exhibits, an IMAX Dome theater, a playground, and a planetarium, but it also has an actual submarine parked out back. The USS Blueback submarine appeared in the 1990 film The Hunt for Red October, and it’s docked at a pier adjacent to the museum and is open for tours. The Oregon Museum of Science and Industry is fun and educational for all ages – read more here (Photo by Benjamin Chan)

19. Salt & Straw

Salt & Straw

Salt & Straw brings the same creativity and sensibility to ice cream that other innovators have brought to the Portland food scene. Expect quirky flavors and carefully sourced ingredients. What kind of flavors? How about Dandelion Sorbet with Edible Spring Flowers from Viridian Farms. Feeling more adventurous than that? There’s always Sweet Heat Apricot Wheat Ale with Candied Scotch Bonnet Peppers and Burnside Brewing Ale. In true Portland fashion, the farm-to-cone” ingredients are very much seasonal and locally-sourced. Salt & Straw is the brainchild of cousins Kim and Tyler Malek and began life as a food cart in 2011. With their ultra-exotic flavors, they quickly gained recognition, and they were able to open a brick-and-mortar location a mere three months later. They now have 4 Portland locations and a Los Angeles location – read more here (Photo by Jen)

20. Oregon Zoo

Oregon Zoo

Oregon Zoo is located on 64 acres inside of vast Washington Park. It opened in 1888 after a private animal collector donates his animals to the city of Portland, and the zoo was originally known as the Washington Park Zoo. Highlights of a trip to the Oregon Zoo include riding the narrow-gauge railway that connects with the International Rose Test Garden. Notable exhibits include Africa Rainforest, Africa Savanna, Predators of the Serengeti, Amazon Flooded Forest, Asian Elephants, Bears, and Great Northwest. The Zoo is well-regarded for its successful breeding programs of California Condors and Asian Elephants – but not with each other. The lights at Christmas are well worth seeing, and in the summer there are concerts at the zoo amphitheater. Bring your own food if you want – read more here (Photo by Pelican)

 

21. Portland Art Museum

Portland Art Museum

Portland Art Museum (PAM) was founded in 1892 and is the oldest museum on the West Coast and the 7th oldest in the United States. The current museum building opened in 1932 in Portland’s Cultural District, and a new wing was added in 1939. The PAM’s large collection contains more than 42,000 works of art. Permanent holdings has a focus on Native American and Northwest art, along with lots modern and contemporary art. There is also a good focus on Asian art. Prominent artists represented in the holdings include Monet, Renoir, and van Gogh. The Portland Art Museum has an outdoor public sculpture garden, plus many traveling exhibits. The NWFilm Center is part of the PAM and hosts film festivals, shows independent movies, and has a film school – read more here (Photo by Joshin Yamada)

 

Featured photo by Tony Webster. All photos CC-BY-2.0.

See our list of the 49 best things to do in Portland here.

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