5 Awesome Things To Do In Portland, OR
I grew up in a big city, and as much as I love nature I do also love me some city time every now and then. However, I’m also a bit of a city snob. I’ve lived in some of the best cities on earth (Hong Kong, San Francisco, Paris) so I have high expectations for my megalopolitan endeavors. I want lots to do, prettiness, views, good food…and well all the rest. A bit of weirdness, a dash of grit, creativity and culture is also much appreciated.
I’m not being generous when I say that Portland has it ALL!
This is a city of depth, one with many facets of culture and enough appeal for all types, even the most picky. There are several, cute individual “downtown” areas and the fact that it has not just one, but two rivers running through it only adds to it’s visual appeal. I could easily live here, I really could, although at that point I’d probably ditch the RV and find a cool little downtown loft walking distance to all the coffee shops.
I also can’t claim to have explored ALL of the city. With a place this varied you’d need several years to do that. But, I have been here several times and have developed a deep appreciation of what Portland has to offer. So, even though it’ll only scratch the surface I wanted to put some of those ideas into writing. Here’s my “newbie” WheelingIt guide to the city that prides itself on “keeping it weird”:
1/ Smell The Roses
Did you know that Portland’s official nickname is actually the “City of Roses”?
The history dates back to 1889 when the Portland Rose Society was founded, and promoted the planting of 20 miles (32 km) of Portland’s streets with roses. In 1907 the first Rose Festival was held (and is still held annually) and in 1917, the International Rose Test Garden was established. The garden now features more than 7,000 rose plants, over 600 varieties of roses and is the oldest continuously operating public rose test garden in the United States. Oh, and it’s free AND it’s pet-friendly too!
Honestly if there was ever a place to stop and smell the roses this would be it.
Earlier this week Doggie and I took a sunny afternoon together with Todd, Russ & Frances getting lost amongst the blooms, and IT…WAS…AWESOME! Rarely have I ever been in a scented wonderland quite so intense. Just imagine a whiff of rose-perfumed scent, multiple it by 10,000 and you’ll be here.
Colors were so rich they flooded the camera, scents so heavy and full they almost overwhelmed us. From roses as big as your head to minature blooms the size of golf balls, there was every type and color you could ever think of. At this time of year everything is in full bloom so there is not a spot in the gardens that isn’t covered in color and heavenly aroma.
WOW! Just wow…!
After our blooming experience doggie and I re-connected to earth by hiking 3 miles or so in the dense forest of ~160 acre Washington Park right around the garden. For those without dogs, you can also visit the Japanese Gardens ($9.50 per adult) in the same area. Honestly if you’re here during bloom-time don’t miss this!
Washington Park Map (incl. Rose Garden & Japanese Gardens) -> Click HERE.
Bring Doggie? YES. On leash dogs are allowed in the gardens. Best time to visit is mid-May to mid-July. The Rose Festival is always around full bloom in June.
2/ Stop For Coffee (or Chocolate)
Oh Portland coffee, let me count the ways I love thee….
Most folks think Seattle is the top coffee-spot in the nation, but I would beg to differ. Portland Coffee is hands down the BEST, most varied, most gourmet stuff I have ever had. They take their coffee super-seriously here. From single-variety beans, to fancy cold-brews (the “new” trend) and specialty mixes, even the most exacting of coffee connoisseurs will find their elixir here. The most famous roaster is undoubtedly Stumptown, and it IS absolutely fabulous, but there are ~40 OTHER roasters in the city as well as 100’s of additional coffee shops. Choosing the top 20 is not easy.
If you fancy a cuppa, for the love of coffee please bypass Starbucks (just this once) and try one of the many other unique options in town. Even the little drive-throughs will titillate your taste buds in ways you never imagined. Oh, and for those who are choc-a-holics I highly recommend a trip to Cacao for a cup of pure liquid decadence that will send you buzzing in chocolate-heaven for hours.
By the way the best Mocha I had in town was the dark-chocolate creation at Barista. Oh YUM!
Portland Coffee Roaster Map -> Click HERE.
Bring Doggie? YES. Most coffee spots have outdoor dog-friendly areas and most also offer free dog biscuits by the sugar/cream counter. Isn’t that a nice touch?
3/ Eat At a Food Cart Pod
I’ve had a love affair with food trucks ever since our first “real” experience in Austin in 2011. Given that we are huge foodies and travel in a metal box ourselves, we are irresistibly drawn to those that make gourmet creations in the same environment.
Believe me when I say that food trucks here in Portland have come a looooong way from the corner hot dog stand that you might remember as a kid. It’s become a HUGE phenomenon, so much so that there are now over 600 mini-kitchens in the city, and the food has become so GOOD that in 2010 Budget Travel named Portland the “World’s Best Street Food”. You can eat just about any type of cuisine you could imagine on the street here, and I guarantee you will like it.
The town has done it right too. Instead of hap-hazard carts roving about all over the place, all of the trucks are permanently established in collections called “food cart pods“. There are 9 major ones and a bunch of smaller ones around the city. Opening hours do vary though. Some of the pods cater mostly to the working lunch-crowd and so have limited (or no) seating and will be closed on nights and week-ends, while others are more spacious & cater to the after-working crowd. The latter are better for folks with doggies in tow and this article has a good overview of which those are. Doggie and us love all the food carts, but we’re particularly fond of Good Food Here.
Bring Doggie? YES. All the food carts we’ve been to have been outdoors and dog-friendly. Not all have seating though so if you want a sit-down meal, check before you go.
4/ Get Outside For A Hike (or Bike)
I’ve already written a bit about some of the amazing parks & hikes around Portland. Ontop of the splendid area that is the Columbia River Gorge just east of town, there are over 200 parks, gardens and recreation areas within the city itself. Once you’ve had your fill of coffee and food, these green areas are perfect for walking off some of those calories and getting your outdoor fix.
Besides the Rose Garden my top pick for the area is actually a lesser known park called Sandy River Delta just ~15 miles east of town. This is locally known as “doggie paradise” and with over 1400 acres of mostly off-leash trails that wander beautifully through meadows, forest and water, Polly absolutely concurs. We found this little gem thanks to a blog follower and went back several times while we were in town.
Another awesome calorie-burner is city biking. Portland calls itself “Bike City USA” and with over 315 miles of bikeways as well as the nation’s highest percentage of bike commuters, it certainly offers something for everyone on two wheels. I’m not much for city biking, but I do like the Marine Trail close to the RV Park where we usually stay which offers lovely views of the Columbia River without the hassle of city streets.
Bring Doggie? MOST DEFINITELY!!! All the parks in Portland are dog-friendly & if you go to Sandy River Delta you can go off-leash too.
5/ Have A Brew
There are many places that call themselves “Beervana” and we’ve been to quite a few of them. Some would say Portland has a claim to that nickname too, and with 58 breweries within city limits it’s certainly got the goods to back that up. The big thing in Portland is IPA’s and although that’s not my favorite (more Paul’s style) I did find a few I really liked even though we only had time to hit a few spots.
By far my #1 pick was Gigantic Brewing Co, a laid-back (and dog-friendly) brewery in a quiet part of town that I hit together with The Snowmads while they were in town. Everything we tried there was good, with my absolute fav being the “Ginormous”. Another interesting spot, mostly because it was so unusual was Cascade Brewing Barrel House (no dogs allowed) who specialize in barrel-aged sour beers. Honey Ginger was my pick there. We managed a few others, but they were not noteworthy enough to make the list. I’ve clearly got much more “research work” to do here!
Portland Brewery Map -> Click HERE.
Bring Doggie? DEPENDS. Not all breweries offer dog-friendly seating, even if they have an outdoor patio. General rule of thumb is that if they serve food, they don’t allow doggies. Bummer, I know…
That pretty much wraps up my short time in Portland. There are TWO other items which warrant mentioning before I sign off, and that’s a trip to unique Salt & Straw for ice cream lovers (SO many super-creative flavors, although I was partial to their honey wildflower and salt caramel), and a visit to Vintage Cocktail Lounge for their chocolate martinis (oh me oh my they’re good). We did both in one night and almost died a happy death of sugar-love overdose.
With that we’re off East to rivers, mountains and lakes, at least for a while. See ya at the next spot!
Where To Stay? When we come to Portland we always stay at the same place which is Columbia River RV Park. It’s your typical row-on-row private park, but the location is great for city exploration and the price is totally right. There are nicer parks outside of town (e.g. Champoeg State Park gets excellent reviews), but you’ll be further from town.