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31 Top-Rated Things to Do in Portland, OR

Written by Brad Lane
Sep 7, 2022

Portland, Oregon, is a cultural capital of the Pacific Northwest. It's also an absolute must-see for domestic and international travelers. The city's thriving culture abounds alongside the region's lush forests and rivers, appealing to urban outings and outdoor adventures alike. And with an ever-rotating lineup of music acts, museum exhibits, and prime waterfall runoffs, things to do in Portland span the entire year.

View over Portland, Oregon
View over Portland, Oregon | Photo Copyright: Brad Lane

The best things to do in Portland depend on your desired itinerary. Bibliophiles will want to check out Powell's Books, while foodies may gravitate toward one of the city's many food cart pods. Other places to visit in Portland include rose gardens; bridge crossings; and outdoor venues, like Pioneer Courthouse Square, aka Portland's Living Room.

Enjoy your trip to the Pacific Northwest with our list of top things to do in Portland.

1. Spend the Day at Washington Park

Washington Park
Washington Park | Photo Copyright: Brad Lane

Washington Park is the premiere outdoor space in Portland. Among its 410 acres are several of the city's signature tourist attractions. This impressive lineup includes the Oregon Zoo, the Portland International Rose Test Garden, the Hoyt Arboretum, and the Portland Japanese Garden.

And lush landscapes are found throughout every other acre of the park, displaying the beauty of the Pacific Northwest.

Parking is potentially a challenge at Washington Park. The best way to visit is via public transportation or bicycle. TriMet's MAX Blue or Red line has an underground stop within the park, and line 63 has a bus stop right outside the International Rose Test Garden.

Once at the park, the Washington Park Free Shuttle offers daily service throughout the year.

2. Stroll through the Portland International Rose Test Garden

Portland International Rose Test Garden
Portland International Rose Test Garden | Photo Copyright: Brad Lane

The Portland International Rose Test Garden exemplifies Portland's status as the City of Roses. This vast garden contains over 10,000 individual roses, with over 600 varieties. It also has a fascinating history as a haven for European hybrid roses during World War I. And today, it's one of the signature attractions of Portland's Washington Park.

The best time to visit the Portland Rose Garden is between May and September, when the flowers bloom. It's genuinely an eyeful this time of year, with clean-cut landscaping and rows upon rows of different colored petals.

Admission is free, and donations are appreciated.

Friends of Washington Park International Rose Test Garden helps maintain the flowers and offers volunteer opportunities.

Official site: https://waparkrosefriends.org/

3. Center Yourself at the Portland Japanese Garden

Portland Japanese Garden
Portland Japanese Garden | Photo Copyright: Brad Lane

The Portland Japanese Garden is a serene place to spend the day in Washington Park. A Cultural Village and eight distinct garden styles are within its 12 acres, all with a tranquil undertone. Several paths wind throughout the space, through ornamental landscaping and the harmonious blend of nature and intentional design.

There's a fee to visit the Portland Japanese Garden, and guided tours are available for extra insight into the surroundings.

The gardens are home to other amenities, including the Japanese Arts Learning Center and the popular Umami Cafe.

Official site: https://japanesegarden.org/

4. Tour the Pittock Mansion

Pittock Mansion
Pittock Mansion | Photo Copyright: Brad Lane

The Pittock Mansion is a historic home high in the hills above Northwest Portland. Henry and Georginia Pittock moved into their newly built home in 1914. The couple's wealth came from a career of city building and time spent as the publisher of the burgeoning Oregonian newspaper – still read throughout the city today.

The Pittock Mansion today is a living history museum with a spectacular view of the city. Exhibits throughout the house paint the picture of Portland's transformation from a pioneer town to the modern metropolis it is today. Only self-guided tours are available, with access to nearly all 23 antique-filled rooms.

The grounds of Pittock Mansion are worth a visit alone, and are free to tour.

Take some time to enjoy the generous views that spurred the construction of the house in the first place, including the city, the Willamette River, and the Cascade mountains on the horizon.

Official site: https://pittockmansion.org/

5. Hike the Wildwood Trail in Forest Park

Wildwood Trail
Wildwood Trail | Photo Copyright: Brad Lane

Portland is home to one of the most extensive urban forests in the country. The aptly named Forest Park encompasses a remarkable 5,200 acres on the city's northwest side. This amount of space is roughly six times the size of Central Park in New York City. And this vast, nearly untouched Pacific Northwest terrain offers a true escape into nature within city limits.

More than 80 miles of trails navigate through Forest Park, connecting over 40 access points. The Wildwood Trail is one common thoroughfare spanning the entire park. Blue blazes line this 30.2-mile National Recreation Trail that connects with several other popular paths. A map or reliable GPS is recommended for exploring its depths.

Read More: Best Hiking Trails near Portland

6. Flip through Pages at Powell's Books

Powell's Books
Powell's Books | Photo Copyright: Brad Lane

Powell's Books is an absolute institution of Portland. Its flagship downtown location encompasses nearly an entire city block. It also houses thousands upon thousands of new and used titles comingled on the shelves. Perusing this bountiful collection can take a full day or a lifetime for those that enjoy a comprehensive library.

Several Staff Picks and comfy sitting areas aid in the literary exploration.

Powell's Books is also the place for literary events, like author readings and writers' workshops. There is also an on-site coffee shop for light fare and comfortable reading space.

Powell's has three locations total, with another famous shop on Hawthorne Street on the other side of the Willamette River.

7. Admire the Artwork at the Portland Art Museum

Portland Art Museum
Portland Art Museum | EQRoy / Shutterstock.com

The Portland Art Museum, founded in late 1892, is the oldest art museum in the Pacific Northwest and one of the oldest in the country. And today, it's an anchor of the downtown district next to South Park Blocks.

The museum's collection comprises over 50,000 objects spread across two buildings and 112,000 square feet of galleries. A primary focus is art from Indigenous cultures of North America, as well as Western and Northwest Art from the last two centuries.

Also displayed is a vast collection of graphic art, English silver, and photography.

Official site: https://portlandartmuseum.org/

8. Take a Book to Crystal Springs Rhododendron Garden

Crystal Springs Rhododendron Garden
Crystal Springs Rhododendron Garden | Photo Copyright: Brad Lane

Crystal Springs is a lovely nine-acre park in Southeast Portland. The park encompasses two peninsulas jutting into Crystal Springs Lake. Beautiful rhododendrons and azaleas, among other decorative shrubs, line nearly every inch of this landscaped space.

The best time to visit for rhododendrons is between February and July, with typically the biggest bloom from late April through early May.

It's a $5 admission for adults at Crystal Springs Rhododendron Garden. Parking is limited at the gardens. TriMet bus #19 makes a stop near the entrance.

9. Spend Time at Pioneer Courthouse Square

Pioneer Courthouse Square
Pioneer Courthouse Square | Photo Copyright: Brad Lane

Pioneer Courthouse Square, dubbed Portland's Living Room, is at the downtown core and is always bustling with activity.

Portland's trains and buses converge at this urban park, as do a collection of food trucks at its fringes. And chances are, especially in the summer, some live music echoes off the tall buildings surrounding Courthouse Square.

Pioneer Courthouse Square hosts over 300 events each year, including primarily free concerts for the public to enjoy. The Noon Tune concert series is a free concert not to miss, occurring during the Tuesday and Thursday lunch hour throughout the summer. Flicks on the Bricks also takes place on Friday evenings this time of year, featuring free admission and popcorn.

Official site: https://www.thesquarepdx.org/

10. Shop at the Portland Saturday Market

Baskets at the Portland Saturday Market
Baskets at the Portland Saturday Market

Portland Saturday Market has been a long-held tradition since its founding in 1974. What started as grassroots efforts between local artists has now become the largest continuously operated open-air craft market in the United States. It also is one of the most visited attractions in the city.

Portland Saturday Market takes place only on Saturdays between March and December. It concludes its season on Christmas Eve and a week-long "Festival of the Last Minute."

The market today occurs at Waterfront Park in historic Old Town, spanning from beneath the Burnside Bridge. The market takes place all day between 10am and 5pm.

Official site: https://www.portlandsaturdaymarket.com/

11. Grab a Bite from a Local Food Cart

Hawthorne Asylum
Hawthorne Asylum | Photo Copyright: Brad Lane

Food trucks add significant flavors to the Portland culinary scene, with an estimated 500 mobile purveyors lining the streets.

These counter-service restaurants prefer the name "food cart" in Portland, and many stick together in groups called pods spread across the city. These pods offer a food court experience, with several vendors at the ready and plenty of community seating.

With several food cart pods throughout the city, some of the largest include Cartlandia, Cartopia, and Hawthorne Asylum. Expect international flavors wherever you go and a wide array of menu options.

Most food carts accept credit cards, though not all, and bringing a little cash may help avoid any ATM fees.

12. Enjoy the Landscape at Laurelhurst Park

Laurelhurst Park
Laurelhurst Park | Photo Copyright: Brad Lane

Laurelhurst Park is a lovely 30-acre public space in East Portland, near the intersection of Stark Street and Cesar Chavez Boulevard.

It has a century-long history as a city park, with roots dating back to the famous Olmstead Brothers landscaping firm. And the city park today has matured into one of the most lovely outdoor spots on the eastside.

The large Firwood Lake tends to be a magnet for park visitors – and resident ducks. But the whole park is wonderfully landscaped, with plenty of shade-producing trees and lawn connected by hiking trails.

The park is also home to a popular playground area for young children.

13. Take a Day Trip to Sauvie Island

Sauvie Island Beach
Sauvie Island Beach | Photo Copyright: Brad Lane

Sauvie Island is the largest island in the Columbia River and one of the largest river islands in the country. And located just northwest of city limits, it's also one of the most popular day trips from Portland.

The rural and wildlife refuge landscape lends to several outdoor activities, but escaping the city bustle is always a defining tone of any visit.

Among the many things to do on Sauvie Island are bicycling, hiking, bird-watching, boating, and spending the day at the beach. The island's entire northeast coast comprises sandy real estate, including the popular Walton Beach, also known as Sauvie Island Beach.

The island is also home to several U-pick orchards, with seasons typically starting in late spring or early summer.

Read More: Best Beaches near Portland

14. Visit the Animals at the Oregon Zoo

Oregon Zoo
Oregon Zoo | Photo Copyright: Brad Lane

The Oregon Zoo is another signature attraction in Washington Park. This AZA-accredited zoo encompasses 64 acres and over 2,000 animals representing several habitats. And the Oregon Zoo attracts over 1.5-million visitors each year, making it the most visited attraction in Washington Park.

The Oregon Zoo has several auxiliary things to do, including a carousel, a zoo train, and themed play areas. However, the animals are the real magnet for this family attraction. A few residents include bears, cougars, bats, giraffes, and chimpanzees.

Several viewpoints and interpretive information frame the enclosures.

Official site: https://www.oregonzoo.org/

15. Walk down Hawthorne Street

Lounge Lizard Antique Furniture Store, Hawthorne Street
Lounge Lizard Antique Furniture Store, Hawthorne Street | Photo Copyright: Brad Lane

Southeast Hawthorne Boulevard is a defining thoroughfare on the east side of Portland. It stretches for 43 blocks with consignment shops, restaurants, and places to sample the local flavors lining the entire street. Also along the route are food cart pods, comedy clubs, and coffee shops.

Hawthorne stays busy throughout the day and night, whether for brunch, a show, or some shopping. It's a very walkable district, and the 14 bus line makes several stops up and down the street.

Hawthorne isn't the only entertainment avenue on the east side. Division Street offers a similar flavor about six blocks south, and so does Belmont Street, approximately six blocks north.

16. Learn about the Landscape at Hoyt Arboretum

Hoyt Arboretum, Washington Park
Hoyt Arboretum, Washington Park | Photo Copyright: Brad Lane

The Hoyt Arboretum occupies 190 verdant acres of Washington Park, a few miles west of downtown.

Over 12 miles of hiking trails navigate this living museum of trees, with over 2,300 species growing. Placards abound in this forested space, helping identify the unique trees throughout the natural area.

A few notable hiking trails at Hoyt Arboretum include the Fir Trail Loop and Overlook Trail - featuring a fantastic vantage point of Mount Hood to the east.

The Redwood Trail is also a popular route within the arboretum. It leads to a tranquil Redwood Deck surrounded by old coastal redwoods.

17. Stroll through Tom McCall Waterfront Park

Tom McCall Waterfront Park
Tom McCall Waterfront Park | Photo Copyright: Brad Lane

Governor Tom McCall Waterfront Park is on the west side of the Willamette River, next to downtown. This beacon of urban engineering was once a bustling six-lane highway before the 1970s. But today, Tom McCall Waterfront Park is a signature outdoor space with monuments, events, and an excellent view of "Bridge City."

The park stretches for 1.5 miles along the waterfront, with a paved hiking trail and ample open lawn.

Monuments and attractions also dot the public thoroughfare, including the Japanese American Historical Plaza.

Tom McCall is also home to the popular Salmon Street Springs, featuring 185 water jets; it's one of the top places to visit during summer.

Several major Portland events also take place at Tom McCall Waterfront Park. The Portland Saturday Market sets up shop every week in the park underneath the Burnside Bridge. And a few annual festivals at the park include the Portland Rose Festival and the 4th of July Waterfront Blues Festival.

18. Explore the Alpine Landscape of Mount Hood National Forest

Mount Hood National Forest
Mount Hood National Forest

Mount Hood, Oregon's largest mountain, is a mere 50 miles east of the city. A few spots in Portland, like the Hoyt Arboretum or the OHSU campus, offer excellent vistas of this conical peak in the distance. But the real way to experience the mountain majesty is with a day or weekend trip to Mount Hood from Portland.

Any trip to Mount Hood enters the over-a-million-acre Mount Hood National Forest. All the hiking trails and campgrounds in this massive expanse would take a lifetime to explore.

The historic Timberline Lodge is one of the highlights of Mount Hood National Forest, with its up-close mountain view.

19. Bike or Walk across the Tilikum Crossing Bridge

Tilikum Crossing Bridge
Tilikum Crossing Bridge | Photo Copyright: Brad Lane

Tilikum Crossing Bridge is one of a dozen bridges in Portland. This beautiful cable-stayed bridge connects the city's South Waterfront and Central Eastside, south of the Interstate 5 bridge (Marquam Bridge).

The bridge is unique in design, and unique in that it only supports pedestrians and public transportation. The non-vehicle status of the Tilikum Crossing Bridge lends to its other nickname, Bridge of the People.

The bridge connects to other pedestrian trails on either end, and the views from its walking path are spectacular. Take time to appreciate the murals and additional interpretive information along the route.

20. Hop aboard History at the Oregon Rail Heritage Center

Oregon Rail Heritage Center
Oregon Rail Heritage Center | Photo Copyright: Brad Lane

The Oregon Rail Heritage Center houses three historic locomotives donated to the city. Two of these trains are fully renovated and operational, and everyone has a chance to admire these iron horses of history. The Oregon Rail Heritage Center is in Southeast Portland, near the Tilikum Bridge and the Oregon Museum of Science and Industry.

Visitors to the Heritage Center get close to these massive trains and engines. Hours upon hours of volunteer work have helped restore the trains, and on-site docents are happy to answer any questions.

Special train rides are also available throughout the summer on the third Saturday of each month.

Official site: https://orhf.org/

21. Chase Waterfalls throughout the Columbia River Gorge

Wiesendanger Falls
Wiesendanger Falls | Photo Copyright: Brad Lane

One of the country's best waterfall corridors is a quick drive north of Portland. The renowned Columbia River Gorge is the state dividing line between western Oregon and western Washington. And the Oregon side of the gorge has a spectacular lineup of waterfall attractions.

Several of Oregon's most famous waterfalls line the side of the Historic Columbia River Highway within the gorge. This collection includes the 620-foot Multnomah Falls, spanning two tiers on either side of the historic Benson Bridge.

But this tallest waterfall in Oregon isn't the only gravity on display, with several of the best waterfalls near Portland lining the entire river canyon.

As of 2022, you need to obtain a Waterfall Corridor Permit to visit some of the most popular waterfalls in the gorge during the summer. This permitted area includes Multnomah Falls.

22. Explore a Volcanic Cinder Cone at Mount Tabor Park

Mount Tabor Park
Mount Tabor Park | Photo Copyright: Brad Lane

Mount Tabor is one of many crown jewels in Portland's park system. It encompasses an ancient and extinct volcanic vent in East Portland, giving the landscape a unique elevation and quite the view.

At approximately 175 acres, the park has plenty of room for several activities. An expansive trail network weaves throughout the park and toward the summit. These trails connect several amenities, including an off-leash dog park, a playground, and sports courts. The trails also lend beautiful views of the park's historical reservoirs.

The Portland Adult Soapbox Derby takes place on the hills of Mount Tabor every August, hosting an exciting downhill endeavor. Creative contraptions fill the lineup of this celebrated event.

23. Experience Northwest Portland in the Nob Hill Neighborhood

Northwest 23rd Avenue
Northwest 23rd Avenue | Photo Copyright: Brad Lane

Portland's Northwest District is one of many unique neighborhoods with its own vibe. This area, west of the river, next to the Pearl District, also encompasses a large part of Portland's Alphabet District.

Visitors today note the alphabetical street names, from Burnside to Wilson, all taken from influential city members.

The Northwest District spans approximately from Burnside to Thurman between 20th and 23rd Avenue. The two most bustling streets are 21st and 23rd Avenues.

A wide range of dining, shopping, and people-watching opportunities line this dense, tree-lined neighborhood.

The district also lends quick access to other top places to visit, like Providence Park and Washington Park.

24. Smell the Roses at Peninsula Park

Peninsula Park Rose Garden
Peninsula Park Rose Garden | Photo Copyright: Brad Lane

Peninsula Park is in the Piedmont neighborhood of North Portland and is home to the city's first public rose garden. A century-old fountain anchors this submerged garden with rows and rows of roses. And while the blooming season of late spring to early fall draws ample visitors, it tends to be a more local crowd.

And it's not just roses that attract attention to this 16-acre park. It's also home to a historic community center and bandstand, alongside ample lawn space and walking paths.

Visitors also make use of the park's playground and sports facilities, including basketball and tennis courts.

25. Learn Something New at the Oregon Museum of Science and Industry

Submarine Exhibit docked outside of OMSI
Submarine Exhibit docked outside of OMSI | Photo Copyright: Brad Lane

The Oregon Museum of Science and Industry (OMSI) is on the Willamette River waterfront, opposite downtown, near the Marquam Bridge (Interstate-5). It's a leading science museum in the nation and features several hands-on exhibits and a continuous calendar of public programs. It also features a hard-to-miss submarine docked in the river outside.

OMSI is a popular thing to do in Portland with kids. Several STEM-based labs comprise the facility, all featuring hands-on ways to learn about science.

But adults also enjoy the intricate and detailed exhibits, many with sensory components. And a planetarium, big-screen theater, and several "after-hours" events also appeal to an older crowd.

Official site: https://omsi.edu/

26. Catch a Professional Sports Game in Portland

Providence Park
Providence Park | Kaytoo / Shutterstock.com

Portland appeals to sports fans. Whether rooting for the Portland Timbers or Thorns at a professional soccer game or watching the Portland Trailblazers dribble down the court, some of the world's best athletes entertain the City of Roses.

The Trailblazers play at the Moda Center near downtown, with the regular NBA season spanning October through April. Both the Portland Timbers and Portland Thorns play at Providence Park near Northwest Portland. These professional soccer clubs have matches between April and October.

The city is also home to the Portland Winterhawks of the Western Hawkeye League, the Portland Pickles summer baseball collegiate team, and the local-favorite Rose City Rollers all-female roller derby team.

27. Take an Urban Adventure on the 4T Trail

4T Trail
4T Trail | Photo Copyright: Brad Lane

The 4T Trail is a unique urban hiking adventure utilizing the city's TriMet public transportation network. Urban explorers board a Train, Tram, and Trolley and traverse a hiking Trail to complete the 4T loop.

This half-day to full-day sightseeing journey visits Washington Park, downtown, and the OHSU campus for a ride on its aerial tram. Signs help direct explorers throughout the route, though it helps to be proficient with a smartphone or map.

Several side adventures line the route. These other adventures include all the attractions of Washington Park, where the 4T Trail converges at the underground TriMet station. Downtown is also easily accessible along the 4T Trail.

Official site: https://www.4t-trail.org/

28. Catch the View at Council Crest Park

Council Crest Park
Council Crest Park | Photo Copyright: Brad Lane

Council Crest is a historic park in Portland, just south of Washington Park. It's one of the highest points in the city and offers a fantastic view up and down the Cascade Range.

Designated viewpoints lend views of the not-so-distant Mount Hood, Mount St. Helens, Mount Adams, and Mount Rainier. The weather significantly affects the chance of seeing these Cascade peaks.

Visitors can drive to the top of Council Crest Park. Alternatively, several hiking trails lead up to this vantage point, including the Marquam Trail ascending from Marquam Nature Park. A sprawling lawn area comprises much of the park perched above the city. It's a popular venue for lounging and congregating with friends.

29. Hit the Slopes at Mount Hood

Mount Hood skiing
Mount Hood skiing

Snow adorns the top of Mount Hood throughout the year. And when it accumulates in the winter, several of Oregon's best ski resorts operate on the side of the mountain.

Mount Hood is home to four resorts and many other snow play areas, including the popular Snow Bunny Sliding Area Sno-Park.

Mount Hood Meadows, Mount Hood Skibowl, and Timberline Lodge are the three most prominent and most visited resorts on the mountain. These three each have accolades, like Timberline Lodge's 365-day ski calendar. But each resort draws similar crowds on any snowbound weekend.

Cooper Spur Mountain Resort, the fourth resort, is still popular but receives fewer crowds, on the mountain's northeast side.

30. Photograph the St. John's Bridge at Cathedral Park

St. John’s Bridge
St. John's Bridge

Cathedral Park is a lovely public space on the northwest edge of city limits, abutting the Willamette River. Arguably, its most attractive feature is the photogenic St. Johns Bridge. This iconic bridge was constructed in 1931, and many visitors regard it for its stunning aesthetics, especially come sunset.

The park's 20 acres also draw a crowd, scattered with different amenities like picnic tables, nature gardens, and an off-leash dog area. And alongside the river views, the park also has a boat ramp and dock, often used by kayakers and paddleboarders to get onto the water.

31. Find Something Strange at The Freakybuttrue Peculiarium and Museum

The Freakybuttrue Peculiarium
The Freakybuttrue Peculiarium | Photo Copyright: Brad Lane

The Freakybutttrue Peculiarium is a unique showcase of sci-fi and other oddities in Northwest Portland. It's a combination art gallery, museum, and interactive experience at the Peculiarium, with refined and evolving displays dating to the store's opening in 1969.

Despite a few macabre displays, it's all fun and laid-back at the Peculiarium. Several photo opportunities are available throughout the relatively small space, including the chance to put yourself right in the middle of an alien autopsy.

Plan to spend some time in the gift shop after the self-guided tour, with several unique peculiarities to peruse.

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