The votes are in! I can’t thank you all enough for letting me know what you’d like to read next on this blog. Since my subtle foray back into blogging after last week’s “Life Lately” musings, the majority of you lovely and supportive commenters were interested in seeing the Portland guide first.
And here it is!
After describing why I think Portland is so weird, there are actually some pretty normal things to do here too. On second thought, normal might still be an understatement but oh well. There’s still plenty to do and see!
Even after my five days here last fall, it still wasn’t enough time to fully explore the city (is there ever enough time though?)
Whether you’re here with a car or not, it’s pretty easy to get around by transit or bike. Purchase a day pass for $7 from any bus and you’re good to go. The day pass also has you covered while taking the light rail.
As with any bustling city, Portland is unique in its own way. From artsy markets, coffeehouses, and an eco-friendliness feel all around, Portland is the gateway to the Pacific North West (PNW) in my opinion as the Oregon Coast is right outside the city. I actually spent a day exploring the lush area on the outskirts of the city (think Multomah Falls, Cannon Beach, etc.) but more on that in a later post.
So here we go, I hope this roundup guide to Portland is helpful for anyone planning a visit. The guide starts off with things to do and then places to eat. Enjoy!
Things to do in Portland
I can’t tell you how much I love this bookstore. It’s insanely maze-like and you could spend a week dissecting each room let alone each shelf.
The flagship Powell’s store and headquarters is located in the Pearl District and it’s known as the largest new, used and out-of-print bookstore in the world.
There’s probably over a million books in this building, which also happens to take up a whole city block. While there are smaller locations scattered throughout Portland, this is the one you definitely want to check out at 1005 W Burnside Street.
To help you get around, the rooms are colour-coded so you can find the genre you’re looking for. Here’s a handy link to the store’s map if you need a quick reference guide. Don’t forget to visit the “rare book room” at the top floor where you may find some interesting but hella expensive gems.
This is pretty much Portland’s new Chinatown and the place to be, or rather the only place to get the majority of your typical Asian goods.
It’s supposedly the largest Asian mall in Oregon, which is kind of sad because it’s definitely no Aberdeen Centre like what you’ll find in Richmond (Vancouver, BC).
But Fubonn Mall has everything a typical Asian could hope for from a Hong Kong bakery, tea shop, clothing stores, and of course a supermarket with specialty Asian meats, vegetables, houseware items, appliances, etc.
Portland Saturday Market & Skidmore Market
I love local markets no matter where or what time of the year, but I wasn’t expecting such a huge and diverse market downtown. Portland’s Saturday Market is one of the largest arts and crafts market in the USA and it’s massive.
There’s a ton of local artisans selling handmade goods in what is mostly an open-air market, but half of it is covered too thanks to the Burnside Bridge.
It’s completely free to wander around and the market is open on both Saturday and Sunday, not just Saturday as the name suggests.
If you’re looking for vintage, used, or eclectic items, across the street there’s the Skidmore Market (also open on both Saturday and Sunday). You’ll find funkier stuff here and some odds and ends, but it’s different nonetheless and a great way to spend a weekend afternoon.
Portland Art Museum
Traveller’s tip: if you know it’s going to be a rainy day, plan a day inside. For the art lovers or appreciators, Portland’s Art Museum is a perfect place to visit on a dreary day. It’s one of the oldest art museums in the PNW too.
There’s something interesting for everyone here since the permanent collection features American, Asian, European, and contemporary art along with a photography section, graphic arts, and an antique silver collection.
The museum is open Tuesday to Sunday from 10 am to 5 pm except Thursday and Friday when it’s open until 8 p.m. Tickets are about $20 for one adult, and of course cheaper for students or seniors. For those 17 or under though, admission is free!
International Rose Garden
A lovely place to visit if the roses are still in bloom. I was here during the Canadian Thanksgiving weekend in October and there were thousands of roses to smell, photograph, etc. The gardens are considered to be a landmark in Portland and its open everyday, free of charge.
They say there are at least 10,000 roses alone here and the gardens even date back to the early 1900s. During WWI, this area was used as a safe haven for hybrid roses from Europe. Talk about nature conservation back in the day!
Tom McCall Waterfront Park
Here’s a “did you know” fact.
A freeway used to occupy the space of this waterfront park in downtown Portland, but nowadays things are a little calmer. Go for a stroll next to the Williamette River where the park spans 2.4 km. Surrounded by green lawns and plenty of geese to chase, the pathways are frequented by walkers, joggers, cyclists, Segway-ers, and skaters.
While many local commuters take this route during rush hour, it’s also a nice spot to people watch. Throughout the year, you can find many festivals here from the Waterfront Blues Festival to Pride, Bite of Oregon, and the Rose Festival.
Religious or not, this place is so peaceful and meditative. The Grotto is a National Catholic Shrine dedicated to Mary where people can come for community workshops, religious retreats, or prayer. Find it just outside of downtown Portland, tucked away from the busy streets, and surrounded by towering fir trees with a botanical garden.
It’s easy to miss as the location isn’t exactly well-marked, but it’s worth a visit if you’re looking to slow things down a little. I found myself silently contemplating life, reflecting, and asking myself questions while wandering through the trees. Did I find the answers I was looking for? I don’t think so, but this place does have a spiritual feeling to it.
It’s free to wander around the lower gardens where you’ll find the visitor centre, religious artwork, and Our Lady’s Grotto (a rock cave carved into the base of a 110-foot cliff). The upper gardens where I’ve heard has an amazing view, costs $6 general admission to enter.
Not far from Old Chinatown, Union Station is an Amtrak station and a major transportation hub that’s still operating in Portland. Built in 1896, the structure is recognized by its terra cotta and brick exterior with a neon “Go By Train” sign at the top of the clock tower. As a side note, the Greyhound station is nearby too.
Lan Su Chinese Gardens
Another breathtaking garden, this one is reminiscent of something you’ll find in Asia. Immaculate and landscaped, these gardens take after the Ming Dynasty gardens of China where the vibe is as spiritual as it is peaceful.
There are many activities scheduled throughout the day from guided or self-guided tours, mahjong, tai chi, calligraphy, tea tastings, and lectures. Find the gardens in Portland’s original Chinatown. For adults, the price of admission is $9.50.
Portland Aerial Tram
A transportation hub that offers the best view of Portland, the aerial tram is for local commuters and visitors alike. From the South Waterfront, it takes you up to OSHU (Oregon Health & Science University) which happens to be the city’s largest employer and home to many medical schools.
It’s a busy place during peak rush hour times, but the view is worth it once you reach the top. Roundtrip fare is $4.55 but free for OSHU patients, employees, and students which you’ll notice right away by their clip-on ID badges.
Love boutique shops? Head to Mississippi Ave for a morning stroll if you’re in the mood for a little window shopping.
Take your time and pick a sunny day as there’s lots to explore along this street. The Rebuilding Centre was an interesting discovery among many other spots. At first glance, the centre may appear to be a recycling warehouse, and it is to an extent. It’s a place where people can sell used, repurposed, or salvaged material for creative home projects.
If you poke around inside, there’s a ton of stuff you’ll find similar to a Home Hardware or Home Depot store. From electrical cords, old doors, lamps, appliances, lumber and glass, sinks, or even toilets, it’s a handyman or handylady’s dream. The big difference is that this is a non-profit where community members can find affordable and reclaimed materials.
You’ll also find mini galleries and local businesses lining the street from a comic store and food carts (of course), to a flora and fauna shop with chickens out back that kinda roam around freely. Do check out the Reading Frenzy, a neat independent and specialty bookshop/gallery supporting independent media and culture. You’ll find tons of small press titles like zines, comics, or self-published work there.
Places to Eat in Portland
I stayed in an Airbnb a couple blocks away, so it was only natural to take a couple strolls up and down this street. It’s a laid-back area dotted with shops and restaurants. Some of the best tried and true spots for eats are these places:
This lively joint is where you’ll find a range of Indian street food bites. Everything we tried on the menu was delicious and the small dishes are great for sharing. Awesome Bollywood films are also screened on the wall at the back.
Salt & Straw Ice Cream
Right next door to the Bollywood Theatre is a small artisanal ice cream shop with some interesting flavours. There was a lineup out the door to get in but totally worth the wait!
Case Study Coffee
I love to start any day with a latte and bagel and Case Study didn’t disappoint with their mocha! It’s an airy/hipsteresque cafe with space to sit back and relax.
A comfortable and reasonably priced restaurant if you’re craving some sushi!
Next to the Portland Community College on Killingsworth Street, this coffeeshop is study haven but a great spot to grab a caffeinated drink and some eats too.
Monsoon Thai Cuisine
For me, it’s hard to find a decent pad thai these days but this unassuming little restaurant far exceeded my expectations. There’s a reallllyy good wonton soup here and while you may mistake this place as a laundromat since it’s attached to a red building, the yellow side is where the restaurant’s at.
The Rest of Portland
One of the most popular places to grab a box of doughnuts, Voodoo Doughnut is funky and a tad bit obscure. I mentioned this in my roundup for why I thought Portland was weird, but if you’re feeling adventurous in the sweets department, try one of the crazy doughnut combinations or opt for something safe but still yummy like the Portland Cream.
Follow your nose and head to this cute bakery located a block away from Powell’s Books. From artisan breads and pastries to lunch sandwiches, desserts, or coffee and tea, a bite to eat here will refuel your body after all that exploring.
Small Pharoah’s (food cart)
After a day trip to the Oregon Coast up by Cannon Beach, we returned to Portland a little later than expected. Turns out a lot of places are closed downtown at midnight but thank goodness for this food cart (open 24 hours, seven days of the week).
There can be some questionable characters downtown at this hour, but if you’re absolutely starving, you can count on this place. Big portions (chicken and rice) at reasonable prices ($7). Find it at the end of a row of food carts right along the light rail tracks at 340 SW 5th Street.
Does Portland sound cool to you? Why or why not!?