These 10 Things to Do in Portland will help you feel like a PDX local. Explore the amazing food, nature, music, art, and activities that Portland has to offer!
I love the Pacific Northwest. I think it’s the most beautiful place to live, and to visit.
I actually lived in Portland for over three years. I moved about 5 hours north of the city, but we still go back and forth very often. So I definitely have lots to say on the subject, and plenty of amazing tips to offer!
In this post, I wanted to highlight ten things to do in Portland that locals would do. Sure, there’s a lot of touristy things to do in PDX, but we all know those, and you most likely have them written down in your travel plans already.
Here, let’s explore things to do in Portland that I or any other PDX local would do on any given weekend.
Explore nature. Check out a cool show or new art gallery. Spend the day on the water. Go on a brewery or distillery tour. Shop local. Take the MAX. Enjoy Happy Hour on a patio. Go to a farmers market.
Keep reading for 10 Things to Do in Portland to Experience PDX like a Local.
10 Things to Do in Portland to Experience PDX like a Local
Eat, drink, shop, and think like a local. Let’s get weird!
1. Eat, Eat, and Eat Some More
…did we mention eat?
Coming from a professional chef and someone who is obsessed with food, one of Portland’s main attractions is the #PDXEats.
You can find pretty much every kind of cuisine in Portland, and most of it has a unique local spin.
Portland has incredible eateries—whether they come in food truck, hidden pop-up, or high-end restaurant form.
The list of great Portland restaurants is long and mighty. Let’s break it down by what you’re craving and where the best places to get it is.
If you’re craving…
Pizza. My absolute favorite is Apizza Scholls, which serves up razor-thin crust in a fun, casual space. (The Bacon Bianca is a must.) Lovely’s Fifty-Fifty would come in second, which I think is highly underrated (and bonus: also serves delicious gelato).
The best meal you can get in Portland for about 10 bucks. Nong’s Khao Man Gai chicken and rice is just perfect.
Bloody’s and fluffy French toast. Don’t enjoy waiting in Portland’s 2 hour brunch lines? Cool, me either. I dig the Bloody Marys with house-made bacon bourbon at Bluehour and their lemon curd French toast.
Crazy good Cuban. Pambiche is where it’s at. Incredible happy hour, delicious Ropa Vieja, flaky empanadas, decadent desserts, and Cuban espresso. Need we say more?
Seafood. Salty’s all the way (we’ll revisit below).
The most creative cuisine in PDX. Ataula. I love Chef Jose Chesa’s eateries so much that he makes the list twice. Ataula serves delicious, fun tapas in a lively environment.
An intimate, one-of-a-kind experience. Han Oak, a small family-run space serving up innovative modern Korean fare.
The best dog-friendly eats. Tin Shed is my absolute favorite. Never had a bad meal here in my life, and Cocoa quite enjoyed it too (they have a menu for dogs!).
Next-level Mediterranean. Nicholas Restaurant is the best Lebanese/Mediterranean food I’ve ever had. Period. Pita bread the size of your head, crispy falafels, and very tasty platters.
Chinese. Frank’s Noodle House is a step far above the rest thanks to their hand-pulled noodle dishes.
The best vegan. I’m not vegan, but Harlow always blew my mind. I still don’t understand how their Quinoa Pasta Mac & Cheese doesn’t have cheese or gluten in it.
The best chicken wings around. Ike’s Vietnamese Fish Sauce Wings at Pok Pok is a must.
Late, late-night eats. The Original Hotcake House is open 24/7 and happily reminds me of my favorite New Jersey diners growing up, and I dig it.
We’ll get into desserts/sweets & drinks below!
2. Choose Your Hotel Wisely
When finding a place to stay in PDX, choose a hotel that is local, fun, centrally located, and perhaps a little funky. I highly suggest staying away from the big chain hotels and choosing somewhere with true local character. My choice? Jupiter Hotel. Jupiter Hotel is a renovated mid-century motor-inn that’s been turned into a hip, urban boutique hotel. It’s right down the street from where I used to live in Portland, in an area called Buckman. This neighborhood is a hop and skip away from downtown Portland and filled with shops, restaurants, boutiques, art galleries, breweries, and coffee shops galore.
My favorite parts about Jupiter Hotel? The ultra-comfy beds, the unique wall murals in the rooms (that are also chalkboards!), and the fact that it’s attached to a restaurant, bar, art gallery, AND music venue. Doug Fir, the hotel’s restaurant, offers a hip, log cabin-inspired ambiance with a full menu and cocktails galore. The downstairs venue hosts concerts almost every night of the week, so definitely check out their music schedule.
Jupiter Hotel is also expanding this summer to offer the adjacent Jupiter NEXT, a new modern addition with secret gardens, public lounges, fresh air patios, and a restaurant and bar.
>> Book the Jupiter Hotel using the code PARSNIPS before June 14 and save 10% on your 2018 stay! <<
3. Experience Some Culture
Portland is a great place for music, art, and culture. As mentioned above, catch a show at Doug Fir (and some cocktails, too). If you’re in North Portland, Mississippi Studios is another great spot for live music (with Bar Bar next door). Edgefield, Portland’s largest outdoor venue, is a great place to catch a live show in the summer. Be sure to check out Portland’s annual music festivals, like February’s Jazz Festival, Fourth of July’s Waterfront Blues Festival, or the infamous indie music fest Pickathon.
For the arts, we’ve got that, too. Portland’s film scene is incredible (PDX is home to Gus Van Sant, after all). One of my favorite spots is Hollywood Theater, a historic theater that brings both contemporary and classic films. The theater supports local filmmakers and has brought 70mm film back to life through one of their film programs. Of course, another great thing about these little Portland theaters is that they all serve up cheap local beer, too.
If you appreciate visual arts, you can see it for free… on the streets. Portland Street Art Alliance paints art and murals throughout PDX, making the city a living, breathing piece of artwork. Book a tour to experience Portland’s best street art and murals. Portland also has monthly art walks almost every single week to experience several local galleries at once.
For museums, OMSI (Oregon Museum of Science and Industry) is my favorite. From engaging science exhibits to a planetarium to dinosaurs to robots, OMSI is always on my list of the top things to do in Portland. OMSI After Dark is especially fun, a 21+ night at the museum that’s accompanied by food and cocktails like Tapas and Tequila.
4. Think Sweet
If getting a sugar rush is on your itinerary of things to do in Portland, you’re in luck. Donuts, ice cream, churros, or pie? Pick your poison.
For ice cream, the obvious choice is Salt and Straw for both their classic and unique flavors (Sea Urchin, anyone?). You can also visit their sister shop, Wiz Bang Bar, which serves up soft serve and Magic Cone Sundaes.
For donuts… where do I start? Portland is the king of donuts, and it knows it. Here’s the deal. Go to Voodoo for novelty and the Maple Bacon Bar. Go to Blue Star for a more refined donut and the Cointreau Creme Brulee. And go to Pip’s for next-level mini doughnuts. Pip’s Original Doughnuts & Chai is one of my favorite places in the world. Pip’s has Chai flights and the tastiest tiny treats around. What I love best about Pip’s is how much they love and support the Portland community. They even spread that love by giving you a free dozen donuts the week of your birthday!
For a rogue sweet, 180 Xurros serves up incredible churros and xocolata. Whether you get a dulce de leche-stuffed churro, a chocolate and sea salt coated churro, or a churro ice cream sandwich, you won’t go wrong. (Psst: their churros are vegan and dairy-free!)
If you’re looking for alternative treats, Portland of course has that too. For gluten-free, try Back to Eden. For vegan sweets, there’s Petunia’s Pies & Pastries (gluten-free as well) or Sweetpea Baking Co.
5. Spend a Day on the Water
Stand-up paddle boarding. Whitewater rafting. Windsurfing or kayaking. Portland has it all.
Check out all of the amazing water activities that PDX offers. Whether you’re just looking for a swimming pool to cool off in or an epic adventure, it’ll undoubtedly be easy to find.
For waterfront dining, I love Salty’s on the Columbia River. The view is beautiful and the seafood is fresh. Salty’s offers brunch, lunch, and dinner. Pair a Black and Blue Martini (black pepper-infused vodka with blue cheese olives) with some incredible Pacific Northwest oysters.
6. Keep Hydrated
Coffee. Beer. Kombucha. Smoothies. Tea. Whatever you’re thirsty for, it’s a guarantee that Portland has it (and excels at it).
Take coffee, for example. There’s a coffee shop on nearly every corner, and a ton of local roasters. For a great buzz, we love Stumptown, Coava, Heart, and Water Avenue, just to name a few. Prefer tea? Tea Bar and Tea Chai Té are a dream.
For local breweries, you can choose the ever-popular Deschutes, 10 Barrel, or Widmer, and you won’t go wrong. However, my favorite Portland breweries include Cascade Brewing Barrel House, Base Camp, and Hopworks. Both Cascade and Base Camp have great outdoor seating that’s perfect in the summer. Cascade specializes in sour beers, my absolute favorite kind of beer. Base Camp has really fun offerings, like a toasted marshmallow-topped S’more Stout, while Hopworks focuses on sustainable and eco-friendly brews. Prefer cocktails? I’ve never had a bad one at Rum Club.
For a next-level beverage experience and one of my favorite things to do in Portland, check out House Spirits Distillery. The craft distillery offers a fantastic tour and tasting that will teach you how all of their spirits are made. House Spirits is home to some of my favorite spirits: Westward Whiskey, Volstead Vodka, and Aviation Gin.
And their house-crafted cocktails? Incredible.
7. Get Outside
If you’re not exploring nature in Portland, you’re not doing it right.
Multnomah Falls is a 45 minute drive from the city, and worth it. You can spend the day there hiking, taking in the gorgeous scenery, and eating homemade fudge.
If you want to stay close to the city, that’s not a problem. Check out Lan Su Chinese Garden right downtown. The garden is a serene and peaceful respite from the city. There’s also a lovely teahouse on property that serves tea in a traditional Chinese style.
Put some of the Pacific Northwest’s best parks at the top of your list of things to do in Portland. Washington Park has a stunning and vast rose garden and Japanese garden. It is also home to the Portland Children’s Museum and the Oregon Zoo.
Looking for a less crowded experience? Powell Butte Nature Park has hiking trails perfect for mountain viewing and Oaks Bottom Wildlife Refuge is a great place to spot wildlife.
8. Shop Local
If you’re a fan of shopping, include the incredible boutiques, markets, and local shops on your list of things to do in Portland.
If you’re looking for “made-in-Portland” apparel or goods, there’s plenty of options in each neighborhood. Some musts for local shopping include Powell’s Books, the world’s largest independent bookstore and a downtown institution. MadeHere PDX is a great little Pearl District shop for a sampling of everything Portland artisans have to offer. At MadeHere you can find Alma Chocolate, Jacobsen Salt Co., Lady Faye, and Letterpress PDX, to name a few.
No matter what you’re looking for, you’ll find it. Searching for the sweetest in home decor? Try Ink & Peat. For the cutest arts and crafts, Crafty Wonderland can’t be beat. Sloan Boutique and Redux are perfect for boutique fashion finds. If vintage is your thing, hit up House of Vintage or Rerun.
9. Rethink Your Transportation
Sure, you could rent a car to experience all these amazing things to do in Portland. But there’s other options when it comes to transportation. There’s the MAX light rail, a great bus system, and even an aerial tram.
One thing we all know Portland is known for? Bikes. Named one of the top bike-friendly cities in the U.S., you will see tons of people cycling PDX streets everyday. Biketown from Nike makes it easy to explore Portland by bike, especially for travelers. Biketown has a thousand bicycles at 125 stations throughout the city which you can rent by the minute or hour for eight cents per minute. Just look for the neon orange bikes stationed around town.
10. Embrace the Weirdness
Portland is weird. I mean, it admits it right in the city slogan.
I say embrace it. Do some things on your PDX vacation you wouldn’t necessarily do. Join in on the World Naked Bike Ride, try your luck at the Adult Soap Box Derby, or go to a vegan strip club for dinner.
Portland events can get pretty weird, too. Like Santacon, an annual pub crawl where hundreds of people dress up as Santa Claus and get smashed.
Of course, you can always watch Portlandia for some inspiration. I worked on the TV show for 3 years in a row and I can say that most of it is very true to PDX.
Embrace the weird.
I hope that you enjoyed this post on 10 Things to Do in Portland to Experience PDX like a Local! What are your favorite things to do in Portland? Let us know in the comments below.