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12 Top-Rated Tourist Attractions in Portland, Oregon

Written by Chloë Ernst and Brad Lane
Jun 8, 2020

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Perhaps to compensate for the damp Pacific Northwest winters, Portland is alive with cultural happenings, musical entertainment, theater, and a selection of other fun things to do. But those same rains also nourish the city's impressive gardens, one of the city's top attractions. Green spaces range from colorful plantings of roses and rhododendrons to a classical Chinese garden.

Portland, the largest city in Oregon, straddles the Willamette River and is considered by many to be one of the most desirable places to live in the United States. Discover the best places to visit in this lush state with our list of the top attractions in Portland, Oregon.

See also: Where to Stay in Portland

Note: Some businesses may be temporarily closed due to recent global health and safety issues.

1. Washington Park

Portland Japanese Garden in Washington Park
Portland Japanese Garden in Washington Park

Portland's Washington Park contains a number of tourist attractions, including the famed International Rose Test Garden, a zoo, and museums. A one-time wild land first purchased by the city in 1871, it is located to the west of the city center. Visitors can spend a day exploring the park's attractions, and another strolling through the unusual gardens.

The well-known International Rose Test Garden is where new varieties of roses are grown. In the city's mild climate, roses continue to flower into autumn, though visitors can catch an annual Rose Festival in May and June. Another escape, the Portland Japanese Garden, is one of the largest outside Japan and is landscaped on the grounds of an old zoo.

Other popular things to do in the park include visiting the present-day zoo, the Portland Children's Museum, and Hoyt Arboretum. The Oregon Zoo at Washington Park features animals from across the world, including African crocodiles, American beavers, and Asian elephants. The Hoyt Arboretum is comprised of 190 forested acres and features 12 miles of hiking trails.

Address: 4033 Southwest Canyon Road, Portland, Oregon

2. Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area

Latourell Falls
Latourell Falls

The Columbia River marks the Oregon-Washington state border, and its entire length is a remarkable sightseeing region ideal for leisurely drives and enjoying the outdoors.

One of the top day trip destinations from Portland, the Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area covers an immense 292,500 acres along the Pacific Northwest's largest river. The trip takes in locks, viewpoints, and hiking trails.

Many visitors like to stop and photograph the waterfalls that edge the route, including the towering Multnomah Falls (which flows year-round), lovely Oneonta Gorge, and Latourell Falls in Guy W. Talbot State Park.

Other places to visit include Vista House at Crown Point and the Angel's Rest hiking trail. Camping is available in the gorge at Ainsworth State Park.

3. Pittock Mansion

Pittock Mansion
Pittock Mansion

Just west of downtown Portland, this grand home was built in 1914 by Henry Pittock - founder of the Oregonian newspaper. Pittock lived here for only five years until his death in 1919 at the age of 80.

The house, set for demolition in the 1960s, brought the community together as they persuaded the City of Portland to purchase the home. Through private fundraising, the mansion was restored to its full glory, and it is because of the forward thinking of local residents that visitors have a chance to tour this impressive and eclectic home today.

Especially for its day, the Pittock Mansion had many impressive features, including a central vacuum system, intercoms, and indirect lighting. The home is set on 46 acres and at an elevation 1,000 feet above Portland. This allows for exceptional views of the city on clear days.

During its heyday, the home was also known for the impressive gardens. That trend continues today, plus the house is mid-way between Washington Park, Hoyt Arboretum, and the many trails of expansive Forest Park.

Address: 3229 NW Pittock Drive, Portland, Oregon

Official site: http://pittockmansion.org/

4. International Rose Test Garden

International Rose Test Garden
International Rose Test Garden

The Rose Test Garden in Portland's Washington Park was founded in 1917 and is the oldest continuously operated public rose test garden in the United States. Developing new rose varieties and even miniatures, the grounds are divided up into several sections with many interesting plants and spaces to explore. Award winners are planted in what is known as the Gold Award Garden, which also features a lovely gazebo.

It's best to visit during the late spring bloom. On blue sky days, Portland's city center and Mount Hood are in clear view from the gardens. Parking is often competitive at the International Rose Test Garden, and the city provides expansive public transit options to reach the park.

Another lovely Portland rose garden - Peninsula Park Rose Garden - is set in a sunken landscape on the other side of the river.

Address: 850 SW Rose Garden Way, Portland, Oregon

5. Forest Park

Hiking trail in Forest Park
Hiking trail in Forest Park

For an easy escape from the urban environment, Forest Park flanks the west side of the city and provides more than 5,000 acres of Northwest forest to explore. Covering the eastern slope of the Tualatin Mountains, Forest Park is one of the largest urban parks in the country and contains more than 80 miles of hiking and walking trails. It's easily accessible by car, bike, or public transportation.

The park is home to many of the best hiking trails in the Portland area, and first-time visitors should bring a map to help navigate. The 30-mile Wildwood Trail is popular, as it connects with other pedestrian paths that circumnavigate the city.

Another popular loop is the Maple Trail Loop, which highlights some of the tallest flora in the park. The iconic Pittock Mansion is also accessible with a hike through Forest Park starting from Lower Macleay Park.

Address: NW 29th Avenue and Upshur Street to Newberry Road, Portland, Oregon

6. Powell's City of Books

Powell's City of Books
Powell's City of Books | rayb777 / photo modified

Bibliophiles will love exploring more than a million books at this legendary used bookstore. Shelves mix new titles with used copies for a slightly haphazard but welcoming feel.

Staff picks, clever displays, and plenty of space to lean against a corner and read make choosing a book easier to do. The Burnside location also features a roomy coffeeshop with plenty of space to sit and read your new book selection.

The events calendar at Powell's Books has something nearly every day, including author readings, panel discussions, writing workshops, and many different types of book clubs. This shop on Burnside Street is one of five of the independent chain's locations in the Portland area, and easily the largest.

Address: 1005 W. Burnside Street, Portland, Oregon

Official site: http://www.powells.com/

7. Portland Japanese Garden

Portland Japanese Garden
Portland Japanese Garden

Encompassing 12 acres within Washington Park, Portland's Japanese Garden is located on the grounds of an old zoo. First opened to the public in 1961, the Japanese Garden was built to give the citizens of Portland a place to find serenity in their day and to recognize the growing cultural ties between Oregon and Japan. Both of these impressions remain today at the Japanese Garden, and the area is beautifully laid out in a variety of styles that offer a uniquely peaceful experience for visitors.

Garden spaces include the picture-like Flat Garden, the Strolling Pond Garden, and a Tea Garden complete with a lovely ceremonial teahouse. Events at the garden include cultural demonstrations, lecture series, and mindfulness tours. The Umami Café at the garden features tea and Japanese finger foods served in a bright and modern cafeteria.

Address: 611 SW Kingston Ave, Portland, Oregon

Official site: http://japanesegarden.com/

8. Portland Art Museum Editor's Pick

Portland Art Museum
Portland Art Museum

The oldest museum in the Pacific Northwest, the Portland Art Museum was founded in 1892 and has since amassed a substantial and varied collection. The number of items exceeds 50,000, and only a small portion is displayed in more than 112,000 square feet of gallery space. Highlights include Native American artifacts, graphic arts, English silver, Asian art, photography, and Northwest art.

One of the Portland Art Museum's most notable pieces is Vincent Van Gogh's Cart with Black Ox. Also part of the museum is the Northwest Film Center and the visual-arts focused Crumpacker Family Library. Free days are offered at the museum in the evenings on the first Thursday of every month.

Address: 1219 SW Park Ave, Portland, Oregon

Official site: http://portlandartmuseum.org/

9. Lan Su Chinese Garden

Lan Su Chinese Garden
Lan Su Chinese Garden

The Lan Su Chinese Garden opened in the year 2000 to shed light on Chinese culture and history after the city developed a relationship with its sister city of Suzhou, China.

This tranquil environment blends rocks, plants, trees, gardens, and a lake on about 40,000 square feet, roughly a city block, of land in central Portland. Artisans came from Suzhou to construct traditional buildings and walkways, and native Chinese plants were imported.

Completing the garden is a lovely tea house. Guided and self-guided tours are available, and special events like mahjong, tai chi, and tea tastings also occur at the Japanese Garden on a regular basis. Personal cameras are encouraged at the gardens, but tripods are not allowed.

Address: 239 NW Everett Street, Portland, Oregon

Official site: http://www.lansugarden.org/

10. Oregon Museum of Science and Industry

Exhibit in the Oregon Museum of Science and Industry
Exhibit in the Oregon Museum of Science and Industry | Chris Christian / photo modified

The OMSI complex in Portland includes a theater with a four-story screen, a planetarium, a US Navy submarine, and educational hands-on displays. Among the galleries, visitors will find colorful, entertaining, and educational exhibits for young children, as well as hands-on and interactive displays for all ages. Some of the fields covered may include energy, the environment, health, chemistry, engineering, and technology.

Docked just outside the Oregon Museum of Science and Industry is the USS Blueback, a non-nuclear submarine that was in use for more than 30 years. This submarine was featured in the movie Hunt for Red October. Today, visitors can climb aboard for a guided tour.

Address: 1945 SE Water Avenue, Portland, Oregon

Official site: www.omsi.edu

11. Oregon Zoo

Lions at the Oregon Zoo
Lions at the Oregon Zoo

Located in Washington Park, Oregon Zoo features hundreds of species, including many birds and marine animals like Steller sea lions and sea otters. Animals from around the world are represented here, from the African savannah to the Amazon and Arctic. One man, Richard Knight, put together a private collection of animals and began the zoo in the late 1800s.

Visitors may also want to take the time to learn about the Oregon Zoo's conservation programs and research, as one of the primary focuses is on preserving the species of the Pacific Northwest.

The Oregon Zoo features special behind-the-scenes tours that include animal interactions and a look at the operations of the facility. The zoo also hosts a wide range of camps, classes, and after-school programs.

Address: 4001 SW Canyon Road, Portland, Oregon

Official site: www.oregonzoo.org

12. Crystal Springs Rhododendron Garden

Crystal Springs Rhododendron Garden
Crystal Springs Rhododendron Garden

Beyond the Pacific Northwest's rhododendrons, this Portland garden also contains azaleas, Japanese maples, dogwood, and magnolias on almost ten acres of land. While the main attraction is, of course, the spring blooms, when the colors are simply incredible, the spectacle continues into early summer. In winter, admission is free, and the garden becomes a more peaceful place to spend some time.

The many lovely features of the garden include waterfalls and ponds, along with many coniferous trees. For anyone looking for a great place to volunteer their time and meet other community members, regular Wednesday work parties occur at the garden from February through November. The gardens are just as popular for waterfowls, and hundreds of species of birds are spotted in the park throughout the year.

Address: 6015 SE 28th Ave, Portland, Oregon

Where to Stay in Portland for Sightseeing

The best place to stay in Portland for fun and sightseeing is right downtown. The city center is relatively compact, and staying here will put you in reasonable proximity to many of the major attractions. Nearby is Nob Hill with trendy restaurants and boutiques. Below is a list of highly- rated hotels in convenient locations:

  • Luxury Hotels: One of the most highly rated hotels in the city is the recently renovated RiverPlace, a Kimpton hotel. This boutique hotel lies along the beautiful Willamette River, adjacent to the Waterfront Park, a perfect place for a stroll.

    Another good option is the Embassy Suites by Hilton in the heart of downtown, near Old Town Chinatown.

    The Sentinel is also a popular choice, just up the street from Powell's Books, one of Portland's landmarks.
  • Mid-Range Hotels: Just a little outside the main downtown area but close to the chic Pearl District is the Residence Inn. This recently renovated property is an extended-stay hotel with large suites.

    The Courtyard by Marriott downtown has an excellent location and offers good-value accommodation.

    Fans of unique properties will like the Ace Hotel with its clawfoot bathtubs and funky interior decor.
  • Budget Hotels: The Crystal Hotel is a hip option with unique decor and a saltwater pool, in a good location downtown.

    Another popular hotel is the Econo Lodge, near Portland State University and the Portland Art Museum, known for being good value.

    The Park Lane Suites and Inn offers both regular rooms and large suites, making it a good option for budget-minded families. It's also conveniently located near Washington Park, which is home to many of the city's attractions, including the Portland Japanese Garden, the zoo, Portland Children's museum, and the Hoyt Arboretum.

Tips and Tours: How to Make the Most of Your Visit to Portland

  • Sightseeing Tours: A great way to explore the city without the hassle of parking and finding your way around is the Portland Sightseeing Tour Including Columbia Gorge Waterfalls. Enjoy the convenience of being picked up from your hotel in a bus and seeing all the city highlights, with interesting insider information from an expert guide. On this full-day tour, you'll learn about Portland's food cart culture and visit the city's different neighborhoods and top attractions, including the beautiful Columbia Gorge waterfalls.

    If you're short on time, the Best of Portland Small-Group Sightseeing Tour is a half-day tour in a luxury van or SUV. The tour also includes a convenient pickup from your downtown hotel as well as fresh pastries, seasonal snacks, and a naturalist guide, who shares fascinating information about the parks, gardens, and city landmarks.

    For a more on-the-ground-style sightseeing adventure, the Portland Segway Tour gives you the flexibility of either a one-hour riverfront tour or a two-hour tour. The longer tour adds even more attractions, such as the Pearl District and Powell's Books, to the same riverside itinerary.
  • Day Trip: Oregon is famous for its spectacular wilderness areas, and a fun and easy way to see them is on a day trip from Portland. The Mt. Hood Day Trip from Portland to Multnomah Falls and Hood River is a fun way to escape the hustle and bustle of the city without the worry of navigating your way and researching the top destinations.

    Board the coach from your downtown hotel on this full-day tour, and sit back and relax as your guide leads you through the highlights of the scenic Columbia River Gorge and Mt. Hood area, including waterfalls, the Cascade Mountains, and the pretty town of Hood River.

More Related Articles on PlanetWare.com

imageOther Oregon Cities: East of Portland, in the Columbia River Gorge, the city of Hood River is gaining notoriety as the windsurfing capital of the West Coast. South of Portland in the Willamette Valley, the state capital of Salem features great manicured spaces, including an ornate state capitol building. For some Southern Oregon adventures, the Shakespearean city of Ashland entices travelers with its attractions and festivals.

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