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18 Cool Things To Do In Portland Oregon - 2020 (the non-boring guide)

Caroline Makepeace logo: MainLogo Caroline Makepeace 6/22/2022 Caroline Makepeace

The trend in travel is to experience local. Portland, Oregon therefore is on fleek.

When you visit Portland Oregon in the pacific northwest, don’t come looking for endless top tourist attractions and flashing neon lights.

What is Portland known for?

The best things to do in Portland Oregon (with kids or without kids) mostly involves strolling the quirky Portland neighborhoods to see what you discover, and eating and drinking your way around town!

From some of the country’s best coffee and food, to vintage and boutique stores, graffiti laden walls, and tree covered streets, you’re sure to find an area that suits your vibe.

Oh, and did I mention the craft beer and cider scene?

Even though it will be a bit of neighborhood strolling in your Portland itinerary, there are still plenty of fun things to do in Portland Oregon.

Our kids enjoyed visiting Portland as part of our Oregon road trip, especially after several weeks without any city experiences. We were happy to leave the RV in Colombia River Gorge to spend four days in Portland Oregon.

A word on how we travel with kids. We’re not big museum people – only if it’s unique and significant to the area, OR, if we feel it’s a good learning opportunity for our homeschool kids.

We travel in a way that is exciting for kids AND parents, just like on our trip to Seattle. 

I was a little dismayed researching things to do in Portland with kids before our trip and only finding playgrounds, gardens and museums. Well this is going to be a boring city!

Seriously, have you ever seen an excited parent at a playground? I mean we don’t deprive our kids of them, but still let’s make it fun for everyone.

So count this as your non-boring guide to traveling to Portland with kids. And if you don’t have kids, you’re going to love it even more!

Our travel guides really cater to both adults and kids.

Things to Do in Portland Oregon

Saturday Market (go local)

If you’re looking for local arts and crafts, music, and food and craft beers, the Portland Saturday Market is the place to come.

It’s quite large stretching over several blocks and its location in the Tom McCall Waterfront Park on the Willamette River is pretty and lends itself to other activities like walking or biking.

So why not make a day of it?

The Saturday Market is held every weekend from March to Christmas Eve and is one of the popular things to do in downtown Portland.

Walk or Bike along the Willamette River

Portland is a bikeable and walkable city and one of the popular local Portland activities is to cycle or walk around.

You’ll find plenty of trails throughout the city. For a nice safe one, especially if visiting Portland with kids, is a bike or stroll along the Willamette River.

From downtown, cross the Willamette River via the bike-friendly Hawthorne Bridge and follow a 3-mile (4.8 km) path between OMSI (Oregon Museum of Science and Industry) and the Sellwood Bridge.

There is a longer 30-mile route for the hardcore cyclists, which passes by Lake Oswego and several breweries.

There are also 30-miles of bikeable paths in Forest Park. Plenty of hiking trails too!

Powell’s City of Books

You have found yourself at the largest used and new book store in the WORLD which has turned into one of the top Portland attractions.

Book nerds rejoice here.

Powell’s City of Books is one of the iconic places to go in Portland and takes up an entire city block and has approximately one million books!

I can guarantee you’ll get lost and be hunting down a customer service rep to help you figure out how it works! The shelves mix up the old and the new so it can be a little challenging to figure out which is which.

I’m pretty sure whatever your reading interest is you’ll find it in this Portland institution. Bibliophiles will love the Rare Book Room.

I am not good at shopping when I have so many choices so the girls selected a few new books and we hightailed it out of there. It’s definitely one of the unique and cool things to do in Portland so be sure to visit.

There are even free 45-min public tours of the bookstore every Sunday. First come, first served.

Pittock Mansion

Although it’s recommended as one of the top Portland Oregon attractions, as we’re not big museum people I wasn’t confident we’d like this.

But we discovered that the Pittock Mansion is worth visiting.

The views alone make it one of the top things to do in Portland. We didn’t go inside the mansion itself, instead enjoying the beautiful gardens and learning more about the family from the interpretative panels.

Pittock Mansion sits 1,000 ft. in the West Hills. The panoramic views of the city, the Willamette River and the distant Cascade Mountains were outstanding!

On a clear day, you can see Mount Hood, Mount St Helens, Mount Adams, Mount Rainier and Mount Jefferson. So yeah, put Pittock Mansion on our Portland itinerary for sure!

Henry Pittock was an outdoor adventurist, investor, and successful newspaper publisher. He built the house on the hill for his family and moved into it in 1914.

It stayed in the family until 1958 when it sat empty for 4 years and became derelict until the citizens of Portland came together to save it form the hands of developers.

In 1965, Pittock Mansion opened as a historic house museum.

It’s one of the top free things to do in Portland, if you only visit the grounds, and the land beyond has been kept wild, offering great opportunities for hiking.

The woods behind Pittock Mansion are part of the Forest Park and you can hike the popular Wildwood Trail through here.

Unfortunately, it was closed due to damage when we visited so couldn’t enjoy the hike.

Museum Costs:

  • Adults: $12
  • Seniors: $10
  • Youth (6-18) $8
  • Children under 6: free

Eat Donuts

The question “who makes the best donuts in Portland” is enough to start a war amongst Portlanders. It’s best that you taste test for yourself.

You have probably heard about (or even tasted) the incredibly wild and unique Voodoo Doughnuts. Well, they originated in Portland after noticing the city had ZERO donut shops.

Now there as ubiquitous as Starbucks (which, thankfully you won’t find a lot of in Portland).

The three main donut shops people rave about are:

Eating ALL the donuts is one of the best things to do in Portland Oregon for kids and us big kids!

Our girls couldn’t go past the extreme flavors of Voodoo.

I appreciated the elegant fine dining style of Blue Star, and Craig went for the traditional style of Pips – it is hard to beat the smell of a hot cinnamon donut!

Whatever your favorite becomes, this is a must do in Portland!

For more great places to eat in Portland, stay tuned. The food in Portland is so good, we are writing a separate post on it!

Donut lovers can join the Portland Underground Donut Tour. If you do, we’d love to see photos and hear what you thought. Tag us @ytravelblog or post on our Facebook page.

Tom McCall Waterfront Park

Tom McCall Waterfront Park is a 30-acre park located alongside the Willamette River in downtown Portland.

It has some nice views of Portland’s skyline and is host to many Portland events due to its location. So keep an eye on what events are on when you visit Portland.

This is one of the places to visit in Portand for afternoon strolls, picnics, and to cool off in the Salmon Street Springs fountain.

At the northern end of the park is the Pine Street Market food hall.

Brewery Tours

It’s Portland Oregon. It stands for breweries almost on every street corner.

Even better, most of the breweries and cideries are family-friendly with food, games, and outside areas! We’ll share more about the breweries we enjoyed in our upcoming Best places to eat in Portland blog post.

But if you’re not traveling with kids and looking for fun things to do in Portland for adults, I recommend you seek out a good brewery tour. Portland really is one of the best places in the country for it.

Kid-friendly breweries in Portland include:

For more brewery suugestions, see this guide to Portland’s best breweries. 

Explore Portland Neighborhoods

As mentioned, Portland is a neighborhood city.

Take your time exploring each one, sampling the food, browsing the stores and enjoying the atmosphere. I can guarantee almost all will be filled with tree lined streets and you’ll love the lack of development and high rises.

And of course roaming the Portland neighborhoods is one of the best free things to do in Portland! Well, until you start buying and tasting local things.

We spent so much time exploring the neighborhoods of Portland that we didn’t even visit the heart of downtown Portland!

Here are a few of our favorite neighborhoods in Portland:

Mississippi Ave.

Located between North Fremont Street and North Mason Street, Mississippi Avenue was probably my favorite neighborhood in Portland.

It almost had a southern charm to it with its turn-of-the-century wood homes and porches. The local stores and restaurants were quirky!

Mississippi Ave, Portland is meant to be one of the most recent revitalizations over the past few years that took it from hell to hipster heaven.

You’ll find local fusion cuisine, cocktails and whisky bars, and breweries.

Places to check out include:

  • The Rebuilding Center – is a used buildings material store which takes up an entire block. It’s a recycling company that sells at discount bits and pieces from old houses and commercial buildings. you’ll find sinks, toilets, old signs and furnishings. Its one of the cool things to see in Portland.
  • The Light Bulb Lady – do not miss this 16 year old store dedicated to adoration of the light bulb. I wasn’t too sure this would be an exciting peruse, but I was pretty taken in with the wide variety of lightbulbs in all colors, shapes and sizes. I never knew they could be so cool actually. I hope “The Light Bulb Lady”, owner Kay Newell is there to greet you and hand over one of her hand drawn funny light bulb cartoons.
  • Psychic – while we did not get to visit Psychic, I fell in love with the vision and outside vibe. Kelly gives it a double thumbs up. It’s a neighborhood haunt in an old Victorian house serving Indian-inspired fare with drinks to match. Yep, you’ll stare up at that one on its small hill and say, Portland is pretty cool. Weird but cool.

SE Division St.

I feel like the buildings here grew out of the trees and gardens that surround it. It’s a mix of old and new buildings all hosting (again Portland style) independently owned retail and restaurants.

The Division St District is pretty long, so it may need a little longer. Although we only did one section of it and parked our car centrally.

In this area, you’ve got wine bars, breweries, eateries and of course, more shops to peruse.

In SE Division St, don’t miss:

  • Pok Pok – for Chiang Mai street food (see more below)
  • Blue Star Donuts – multiple destinations in the city. The elegant choice for donuts.
  • Salt & Straw Ice Cream – multiple locations in the city, but this was the one we ate at. It’s a local institution spreading throughout the West Coast.
  • Bollywood Theater – another Portland restaurant I wish we ate it. It’s meant to be one of the best Indian restaurants in Portland. I was drawn in by the colorful umbrellas out the front. You may be by the Bollywood movies they play on the wall.
  • The Little Beast Brewery – again something to come back to Portland for. We missed this one but were drawn in by the little yellow cottage sitting under a gigantic shady oak tree. Its elevated beer garden is primed for people watching and tranquility. They serve food and craft wood-aged and blended beer naturally with diverse cultures, including Saccharomyces, Brettanomyces, Lactobacillus, and wild flora.
  • Clinton St Theater – has been playing the Rocky Horror Picture Show for decades.

SE Hawthorne St.

E Hawthorne is located in SE Portland, south of Belmont Street and north of Division Street.

It’s the grungy side to Portland, doing its best to maintain the weirdness of the city. With its funky shops and vintage stores, it’s probably a distant relative to Haight St in San Francisco.

This area felt a little more cluttered to me with storefronts and restaurants stuck close together and spilling out onto the sidewalk.

Things to check out:

  • Vintage thrift stores – there are loads here so if that is your thang you will love it here. Browse away.
  • McMenamins Bagdad Theater & Pub – will satisfy movie goers and pint swillers.
  • Portland Cider House – if you love cider (like me) be sure to stop in here. You’ve never seen so many ciders of varying flavors. Grab yourself a flight, or save yourself the pain of not liking one of your flight choices, and go for a full pint of what you know you’ll love. For me that was cherry cider paired with a fun game of UNO with the girls.

NE Alberta St.

Another Portland neighborhood that was once riddled with crime, Alberta St in North East Portland is where you’ll find a fashion and artsy vibe.

Murals adorn the walls, galleries line the street featuring local and global artists. Fashionistas will want to do their boutique shopping here and foodies can head straight to the street’s flavorful and eclectic independently owned restaurants – bohos will have their vegan tastes covered here.

Things to do on Alberta St, Portland:

  • Proud Mary Cafe – an Aussie owned cafe that serves delicious food, communal ambiance and the best coffee in Portland. Vegemite toast for the brave ones.
  • Back to Eden Bakery – is 100% Gluten free and 100% vegan. Woop Woop. The root vegetable hash is a MUST!
  • Barista – another good spot for coffee.
  • There are a few murals waiting for your perfect gram pose. Don’t forget your accessories.
  • We didn’t get to Tin Shed Garden Cafe, but I loved the look of it and it was always busy when we drove by. Meant to be best for breakfast or brunch.
  • Fuel Cafe – the place for organic coffee and vegan friendly food.
  • Pine State Biscuits – always had a line out the street for warm, melt in the mouth biscuits with all sorts of fillings.
  • Waffle Window – meant to be just as delicious when it comes to breakfast. Works of art that belong in nearby galleries

Stay tuned for our places to eat post coming soon for more info on Proud Mary Café and Back to Eden Café.

NW 23rd Ave –Nob Hill

Why are trendy, slightly upper class places in cities called Nob Hill?

Reciprocal question.

This neighborhood on the edge of Forest Park and Washington Park has art galleries, plentiful shopping on walkable streets and many restaurants. Perfect.

Hit the trails and browse the century-old Victorian and Craftsman-style storefronts housing unique boutiques after it.

It’s probably Portland’s most well known street and although you’ll find some of the bigger chains, you’ll still find many local retailers here.

There will be plenty of places to enjoy a quiet drink over the summation of a great day. Grab some food while you’re there. While pretentious for Portland, I found this flashy district mixed with slightly hipster, bohemian pinch of spice. It was quite a likeable place.

Just next to it is Slabtown, an industrial and residential area that offers a few cool new bars and breweries.

Don’t miss:

  • PrAnaMy go to place for travel, yoga and outdoor clothes. actually any kind of clothes. Their stores are few and far between so stock up here.
  • New RenaissanceThree Victorian homes join here to create what is said to be the largest metaphysical bookstore in the country. Something about Portland and books. I loved browsing the store, not just for books,but crystals, herbs, jewelry and yoga mats. All with a touch of mysticism. You’ll be happy to know you’re supporting a 28 year old local business here.
  • Lela’s Vietnamese Kitchen – for a steaming, bowl of delicious (and comforting) Pho.

See this NW 23rd Ave shopping guide here.

Washington Park

Portland is well known for its green urban landscapes, and there is no better place to get your fill of that then at Washington Park.

Washington Park is the heart of the city and is filled with gardens, forests and museums.

It’s where you’ll find:

There are plenty of small hiking trails in Washington Park if you want to stretch your legs and walk off all that food.

International Rose Test Garden

Alongside the weird label attached to Portland is the nickname of the City of Roses.

I wasn’t sure I’d enjoy the International Rose Test Garden, so I was surprised by the awe I felt visiting. The Rose Garden has over 7,000 rose plants of about 550 varieties. They bloom typically from late May though to September.

It is the oldest continuously public rose test garden in the US. What does that mean?

Well during World War I a rose test garden was established to preserve the species of European roses that may be destroyed and so the garden was born.

Today the garden is mainly used to test new varieties that will be made commercially available to the public.

You’ll find rows of roses in various colors and sizes all emitting a divine fragrance. Don’t miss the Gold Medal Garden, you fill find some of the prettiest roses you’ve ever seen. So pretty they have all won Gold Medal Awards!

The Portland Rose Garden is one of the impressive free things to do in Portland and also has great views of downtown and Mt Hood.

FREE public tours are offered daily at 1:00pm, from Memorial Day weekend through Labor Day weekend.

Friends of Peninsula Park Rose Garden

Looking for local and non touristy things to do in Portland?

Here is a rose garden that is equally as beautiful, albeit smaller, and almost free of people, so head to the Peninsula Park Rose Garden.

Our friend Kelly from Damesly Tours who lives in Portland took us here after a yummy breakfast together at the Proud Mary Cafe in nearby NE Alberta st.

The Peninsula Park garden dates back to 1913 and features more than 9,000 rose plants.

Stroll around and literally smell the roses. There is a beautiful fountain in the middle of the garden too.

This is also one of the fun places to visit in Portland with kids as there is a nice playground here.

See, I told you we do incorporate them. This time we weren’t bored as we had Kelly to chat to making it fun for everyone.

Tilikum Crossing, Bridge of the People

Tilikum Crossing is the largest car-free bridge in the United States!

It’s a popular place for cyclists and pedestrians to cross but also carries the Portland Streetcar, the MAZ Orange Line and TriMet buses.

This is a handy way to get from one side of the city to the other over the river and simply for those wanting to stretch their legs, enjoy the fresh air and the beautiful views of the Portland skyline.

Combine this with your walk/bike along the Willamette River and a visit to OMSI Museum which is right next to the bridge.

Explore more of Portland’s bridges and waterfronts on this 2 hour walking tour!

OMSI Museum

We decided to put the Oregon Museum of Science and Indusrty (OMSI) on our Portland itinerary because we had free entry with our annual recipricol musuem pass.

The OMSI has 5 halls of 200 interactive exhibits and activities for all ages making it one of the top things to do in Portland Oregon with kids.

There are a lot of upsells with theater shows, submarine tours, and the Planetarium.

We decided to just do the basic section of the museum which the kids really enjoyed. We actually didn’t get to do too much beyond the first Innovation Station area. They were completely absorbed by the many challenging designs and puzzles that were out to solve.

They especially loved the earthquake simulator and trying to balance a lever with numbered weights, simulating a balanced equation.

There was loads of other learning happening in this room so I was happy for the girls to experiment.

The section I found most riveting was the Life Lab upstairs in the Natural Science Hall. There was a gigantic timeline display of babies in utero. They had life size replicas of how the baby looked from conception to birth.

It was fascinating to follow the growth. I’ve never seen such a powerful display before.

There is also a planetarium, exquisite creatures, and cinema showings of science documentaries.

This is one of the most popular kids museums in Portland Oregon so be ready for lots of movement and noise.

Video: Things to do in Portland with Kids

Check out our Portland with kids video playlist. Subscribe to our Youtube channel, so you don’t miss our latest travel adventures. Loads more to come.

Tips From Our Community

Whenever we visit a place, we always ask our communities on Facebook and Insatgram for their suggestions on things to do.

And we love to chat with the locals as well. Here is what they suggested for things to do in Portland Oregon:

  • Mt Tabor is a fun short hike and you get a great view of the whole city. We did try to do this one, but there was no street parking nearby.
  • Definitely check out Kennedy School. It used to be an elementary school but now it has a bunch of bars in the building with school theme. This is part of the McMenamins’ chain, which you’ll get to know in Oregon. They take old historic buildings and turn them into unique and quirky brewpubs, theater pubs, live music and hotels. You can see the one we saw in Bend here.
  • Forest Park, which sprawls all through the northwestern part of the city, is the largest park in city limits in the US.
  • The Shanghai Tunnels hide a seedy Portland Past. Join an underground walking tour of them here.
  • Willamette Jet Boats are another of the fun things to do in Portland with kids.
  • Macleay Park has some fun trails, too. All within the city.
  • Cultured Caveman is delicious if you like paleo.
  • Townshend’s Tea has the best kombucha on tap!
  • A Portland must see is the famous Portland Oregon neon sign at night. (You can see it at 70 NW Couch Street (White Stag Building) White Stag sign, also called Portland Oregon sign). Put this on your list of things to do in Portland at night.
  • Pips & Bounce is a ping pong bar (not that kind!)
  • Portland Children’s Museum is fun for the younger kids

How To Get Around Portland

Portland OR has a good public transport system with light-rail, streetcar and buses to help with your Portland sightseeing. They are all operated by TriMet.

You can buy tickets and day passes on the bus (exact change needed) or at vending machines at the stops. A day pass cost $5 adults, $3.30 (7-17). You can also buy 7 day pases $26 adults, $8 (7-17).

You wouldn’t need a car to get around Portland, but you would need to rent one if you are looking for other things to do in Oregon further afield.

If you have your own car, be warned, parking can sometimes be difficult (although we always found one) and the streets are very narrow in the neighborhoods.

It was quite the challenge with our huge Ford F250 truck!

Map of Things to Do in Portland OR

Things to Do Near Portland

Stay tuned for blog posts coming up on the following places in Oregon, which are only a short drive away:

Where to Stay in Portland, Oregon

Hotels in Portland

If you want a more traditional hotel stay in Portland, here are a few options:

  • The Benson Hotel – A downtown Portland landmark since 1913, the Benson Hotel is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
  • Ace Hotel – A stylish business-class boutique hotel that features vintage furniture, original art and eco-friendly elements.
  • Kimpton Riverplace Hotel – One of our favorite hotel brands, this pet friendly hotel on downtown Portland’s waterfront, offers in-room spa services, a 24-hour fitness center and marina-view condos for extended stays.
  • The Heathman Hotel – is home to the acclaimed Headwaters restaurant and features a unique library of over 3,000 volumes signed by their authors (including Nobel and Pulitzer Prize winners).

See more Portland accommodation to suit your style and budget here.

Unique Portland Accommodation

Portland likes to keep it weird. Here are some of those Portland style accommodations:

  • McMenamins Kennedy School
  • Crystal Hotel – each guestroom is inspired by a song or performance from the past 100 years at the nearby Crystal Ballroom.
  • White Eagle Saloon – One of the most haunted places in Portland it’s steeped in stories of spirits, Shanghai tunnels and rockin’ concerts.
  • Traveler’s Houseboutique hostel lodging in a renovated house featuring private and dorm-style rooms with shared facilities.

Plan Your Oregon Road Trip with our Bucket List

More Things to Do in Oregon

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