101 Things to do in Portland, Oregon- a Local’s Guide

One of the questions I’m asked most frequently is “What should I do while I’m in Portland?”  so I’ve decided to lay out a list for visitors, newcomers and even oldtimers of the best things to do in Portland for easy reference.

101 Things to do in Portland, Oregon

There are so many more than 101 things to do in Portland.  Portland has mindblowing natural beauty, world-class restaurants, stunning architecture and historical sights, and rich cultural and artistic attractions for any tourist or visitor.  From the nearby vineyards and farms to the solid as well as off-beat growing restaurant scene; from Cannon Beach and coastal Oregon to the Columbia River Gorge and the Willamette River with its beautiful bridges; from the colorful street murals and other city quirks keeping Portland “weird” to numerous urban and city-outskirts hikes and biking trails; from concert halls to theaters to museums and gardens, there are great things to do in Portland for everyone.

I’ve put together this list of the best things to do in Portland and organized it into categories for history, architecture, the great outdoors, music and theater, memorials, shopping, seasonal events, and of course restaurants, listed in no particular order.  Enjoy!

History

101.  The Pittock Mansion: One of the best things to do in Portland for the historically minded is to visit the Pittock Mansion.  Henry Pittock was a successful newspaper publisher who built a financial empire by investing in real estate, banking, railroads, steamboats, sheep ranching, silver mining, and the paper industry. He was an enthusiastic outdoorsman and bicyclist, and part of the first group of people to climb Mount Hood.  His wife Georgiana Pittock was a founder and fundraiser for many charities and cultural organizations, such as the Ladies Relief Society, Women’s Union, and the Martha Washington Home, a residence for single, self-supporting women.  The Pittock’s “mansion on the hill” was built of Tenino sandstone and designed by San Francisco architect Edward T. Foulkes in the style of a French Renaissance Chateau on property with panoramic views of Portland, the Willamette River and the Cascade Mountains.  Construction began in 1912 and the Pittocks moved into the 46 room home in 1914 with eight other members of their family. Henry and Georgiana lived in the Mansion for only four years before they died. Family members continued to live in the home into the 1950s and after the home was badly damaged in the Columbus Day storm of 1962, it sat in disrepair and unoccupied for a few years until the city purchased the property and maintained it through the Department of Parks and Recreation who today runs the mansion as a museum and visitor center to showcase this lovely home that is now on the National Registry of Historic Places.

100.  Stroll the South Park Blocks:  The South Park Blocks are definitely a necessary “thing to do” in Portland.  They form a city park in downtown that’s been called Portland’s “extended family room.”  12 blocks long, the park is intersected by the Portland Streetcar and forms the Portland cultural district and greenspace at the center of Portland State University.  The blocks are quite literally the heart of Portland’s cultural life with each block containing public art, drinking wells including those for dogs, bronze equestrian statues of Theodore Roosevelt and Abraham Lincoln and over 300 elm, oak and maple trees, as well as an extensive rose collection.  The blocks are also home to the PSU Farmers Market and community festivals as well as national protests and marches.

99.  Simon Benson House:  The Simon Benson House is a beautiful Queen Anne style house in downtown Portland on the Portland State University campus that is home to the PSU Alumni Association.  The house was built by wealthy logger and civic philanthropist Simon Benson at the turn of the 20th century and features impressively rich detail and decoration, including rooms each paneled in a different type of wood.

98.  Skidmore Fountain:  The Skidmore Fountain is Portland’s oldest piece of public art and located near the west end of the Burnside Bridge.  A great idea for a historical and architectural thing to do in Portland is visit this fountain and its surrounding area.  It was dedicated in 1888 in memory of Stephen G. Skidmore, a successful Portland “druggist” and financed partially by his will.  The fountain was designed in the style of fountains Skidmore saw and admired at Versailles during his 1878 visit to the Paris Exposition and was intended for horses, men and dogs to drink from.  The open area surrounding the fountain serves as a gathering point for Portland events, and is home to street performers during the Portland Saturday Market as well as protest and activist happenings throughout the year.

97.  Oregon Historical Society:  Without a doubt one of our favorite things to do in Portland, especially downtown, is to hit the OHS.  It’s Museum sits in the South Park Blocks, that area that in itself is one of our best things to do in Portland.  Dedicated to making Oregon’s rich history visible and available to all, for more than 100 years the OHS has preserved an astounding compilation of photographs, manuscripts, books, oral histories and artifacts.  Open 7 days a week and at a very reasonable price, the OHS and Museum is a must visit for Portland tourists and history buffs.

96.  Tour the Shanghai Tunnels:  Visiting the Shanghai Tunnels, is a great thing to do in Portland if you’re into folklore and legend. Also known as the Old Portland Underground, is a group of tunnels in Portland mostly underneath the Old Town Chinatown neighborhood and connecting to the downtown business neighborhood.  The tunnels connected basements of numerous hotels and taverns to the waterfront of the Wilamette River and were built to transport goods from ships docked on the river to storage areas, allowing businesses to subvert streetcar and train traffic on the streets.

95.  Visit the Oregon Rail Heritage Center:  If you’re a fan of the train, a great thing to do in Portland is visit the ORHC.  Portland is home to numerous railroads and the ORHC is a railway museum that houses three steam locomotives – Southern Pacific 4449, Spokane, Portland & Seattle 700 and Oregon Railroad & Navigation Co. 197.  The Southern Pacific and Spokane, Portland & Seattle cars are restored and operable, and if you are a fan of railroad travel and history, the center is definitely worth a visit.

Architecture

If you are looking for the best things to do in Portland with architectural significance and interest, here are our pics: (Note: also see “Sacred Spaces” below for more architecturally significant Portland spots).

94.  Walk with the Architectural Heritage Center: Walking Tours:  Take a walking tour around Portland’s neighborhoods and learn of historically significant buildings and architecture.  We would definitely recommend this as an idea for a good thing to do in Portland if you’re part of a group.  This tour is a must-hit for architecture and history buffs and highlights of landmark buildings and regular vernacular vintage homes and storefronts.  For ease of reference we will highlight some of those neighborhoods below.

93.  Hit the Cobblestone at Ankeny Plaza. Once the heart of Portland’s entertainment and commerce, Ankeny Plaza houses the Skidmore Fountain and was the first true public space in the Skidmore – Old Town District in downtown Portland and is on the National Register of Historic Places.  Built on vacant Vine St. and Block 35 on the site of the Bank of British Columbia, the Plaza fell into disrepair but was updated in the mid-1980s when TriMet’s light rail system was planned to travel through that area of downtown.  If you love history and the surprising old time touches to a city, this area is a great idea for a good thing to do in Portland.  The Portland Department of Parks and Recreation preserved the Plaza’s historical relevance and it now serves as a welcome to the Tom McCall Waterfront Park and Portland’s wonderful Saturday Market that features craft artists and food and other vendors throughout the year.

92.  Old Town Portland:  Without a doubt one of the best things to do in Portland is to amble through Old Town.  And hit up Voodoo Doughnut while you’re at it.  Old Town is one of Portland’s most historically significant neighborhoods, home to some of the oldest and most beautiful architectural buildings and landmarks.  Several streets are still made of cobblestone, harkening back to the days of Portland’s founding when travel was by horseback.  Old Town encompasses Old Town Chinatown and is situated in the northern end of downtown Portland, a gateway to the nearby artistic and shopping Pearl District, as well as Tom McCall Waterfront Park.

91.  Ladd’s Addition:  If you like to walk through beautiful neighborhoods, one of the best things to do in Portland is go to Ladd’s Addition, a streetcar-era neighborhood in southeast Portland with a structure that is unique among neighborhoods of similar age in the U.S.  The street and park plan of this neighborhood, with its graceful old homes and rose gardens, has been protected without change since it was “platted” in 1891.  The land in Ladd’s Addition was divided into 32 blocks containing 716 lots and the layout includes 2 through streets that bisect the neighborhood on orthogonal lines to the general city street grid, 2 through diagonal streets, and 16 shorter streets.  Many of the diagonal through streets and shorter streets end in a circular rose garden or “park” and from aerial view these parks appear as bicycle wheels tethering the street “spokes.” If you are in the southeast neighborhood eating at any of the numerous popular and well-known restaurants there, a short walk into Ladd’s Addition is a must for a post-meal stroll.

Here are some other best things to do in Portland neighborhoods:

89.  Laurelhurst:  Laurelhurst is an older neighborhood flanked at Burnside Street with an imposing old stone column pair and entrance gate that has impressively large balconied bungalow homes, undulating streets and peaceful parks.  Home to Laurelhurst Market (one of our Top 50 Portland Burgers).

88.  Irvington:  Irvington is a flat Portland neighborhood with very wide and spacious streets with some of the oldest and largest homes in Portland. An early example of a streetcar suburb, Irvington contains the biggest, most diverse, and intact collections of Queen Anne, Arts and Crafts, and Colonial Revival style residences in the City of Portland as well as the State of Oregon. In 2010, Irvington was designated an historic district and added to the National Register of Historic Places.

87.  Alameda Ridge:  The Alameda is a small neighborhood just off Fremont Street in Northeast Portland and some of the homes on the “Ridge” have commanding views into lower Portland, the West Hills, the Willamette River and downtown.  English Tudor, Queen Anne, and bungalow homes flank the Ridge which is found traveling north of Fremont, when you leave the symmetric grid-blocks and begin ascending in elevation, and the streets start running at angles, and some are circular.  It’s a gorgeous and very enjoyable walk.

86.  Northwest:  One of the oldest neighborhoods and closest to downtown Portland, the Northwest neighborhood is filled with trees and multi-leveled Victorian era style homes as well as beautiful old apartment buildings.  Northwest is also home to Salt & Straw, Bamboo Sushi, Boxer Ramen and Olympia Provisions outposts, St. Jack for french food, and lots of fun boutiques and stores such as Pottery Barn, Restoration Hardware, etc.

Shopping

For the shoppers looking for things to do in Portland, here are our suggested stops:

85. Pioneer Courthouse Square 

Pioneer Courthouse Square is definitely a good idea for things to do in Portland if you like to shop.  It is home to many major department stores, coffee shops, restaurants and boutiques, a great collection of food trucks, and in December, Portland’s ginormous lit Christmas Tree.

84. Powell’s Books:  No trip to Portland is complete without a trip to Powell’s Books in downtown, straddling the Pearl District (another of our “must” things to do in Portland) and downtown proper.  Peruse hundreds of thousands of books in every imagineable category, grab a warm drink and a snack in the cafe, shop for fun merchandise, and of course walk across the street for a slice of Sizzle Pie pizza.

83. Hawthorne Street:  Hawthorne is a funky street in southeast Portland which is a favorite among thrift shoppers and hungry eaters.  It’s Portlandia in a flat nutshell.  Great place to park and spend a whole day.

82. Division Street:  Division Street is probably the most iconically Portland dining street in Portland, with Pok Pok, Salt & Straw, and Blue Star Donuts outposts, and so, so many other great restaurants and thrift clothing and furniture shops.  One of the first on any respectable Portland traveler’s list of things to do in Portland for sure.

81.  Portland Saturday Market:  The Portland Saturday Market is located at the North end of the Tom McCall Waterfront Park and features many craft artists as well as food vendors.  There is great people watching to be had at this funky and eclectic market and it puts you at the entrance of the waterfront in view of Portland’s scenic bridges.  If you’re looking for something fun with great variety and diversity, add the Saturday Market of your list of things to do in Portland.

80.  Pearl District:  Perhaps Portland’s most tony and gentrified shopping district, the Pearl District contains nearly every popular store you can think of and therefore of course downtown’s only Whole Foods Market.  The Pearl has a ton of amazing boutique shops, fitness studios, urban parks, art galleries and cafes as well as a number of very fine restaurants too.  Plus lots of high rise modern apartment and condominium complexes.

79.  PSU Farmer’s Market:  Portland State University’s Farmer’s Market on Saturday is truly one of the nation’s greatest farmer’s markets.  In our opinion.  And it is definitely a must-do item on any foodie or shopper looking for cool things to do in Portland.  Over 200 vendors showcasing our wonderful PNW raw material food bounty. Anything and everything that grows and can be eaten is here, and it’s all good.  An absolute must visit for foodies.

Restaurants

Whether or not you’re a foodie, you’ll need to eat while in Portland so here are the best things to do in in Portland in that regard:

78.  Best 35 Pizzas in Portland:  This is our list of the best 35 pizzas in Portland, from NY to PDX style and everything in between.

77.  Top 40 Restaurants in Portland:  From casual to fine dining, this is our comprehensive guide to the best food experiences Portland has to offer.

76.  Top 25 Brunch Spots in Portland:  You can’t visit Portland without braving the brunch scene, so here’s our guide to the top 25 spots.

75. Top 50 Burgers in Portland:  If you’re looking for the best burger thing to do in Portland, we’ve got a ton of suggestions in this guide.

74.  15 Great Places for Summer Dining in Portland:  Summer is a great time to visit (and live!) in Portland and we’ve got these 15 great spots to hit from June through September.

73.  15 Favorite Restaurants in Portland:  A few favorites from our staff.

72.  Pine Street Market:  A great thing to do is head here if you’ve got a group of people, because there’s something for everyone in this food “court.”

71.  Pine State Biscuits:  One of Portland’s iconic spots, a must visit for great biscuits and morning fare.

70.  Pip’s Original Donuts:  What could be better than a plate full of mini-donuts straight out of the oven?

69.  Podnah’s Pit BBQ:  You may not be in Texas, but you’re still gonna eat great BBQ while in Portland if you head here.

68.  Pok P0k :  Another of Portland’s iconic restaurants and an obligatory stop is this funky and authentic Thai place from Chef Andy Rucker.

67.  Visit one of these 20 Food Cart Pods:  If you’re game for lots of choices and have a big appetite, hit up a food cart pod and crawl your way through at least a few of the carts on campus.

66.  All Female Foodie Restaurant Coverage:  Always a good thing to do while in Portland, check out all of our coverage on Portland restaurants.

Music & Theater

Looking for something musical or theatrical to do to add to your list of things to do in Portland?  Try these fine venues:

65. Attend a Classical Music Concert at the Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall:  Concerts of all types, year-round, in the beautiful downtown concert hall named after prominent Portland philanthropist Arlene Schnitzer.  The hall is a historic building and performing arts center that is part of the  Portland Center for the Performing Arts, and home to the Oregon SymphonyPortland Youth PhilharmonicMetropolitan Youth Symphony, White Bird Dance Company, and Portland Arts & Lectures. It is also a concert and film venue.

64.  See a Concert in an Old Church:  The Old Church Concert Hall features stunning architecture and modern, state-of-the-art audio and lighting and a small 300 seat space where you can enjoy folk, alternative, indie, classical and jazz music concerts.  Originally known as the Calvary Presbyterian Church, The Old Church was built in 1882 in the Gothic style with a pipe organ & stained-glass windows and is on the National Register of Historic Places.

63.  OK Chorale:  The OK Chorale is a drop-in community pop chorus open to ages 21 + and a fun place for shower singers to band tenors, to experienced or hobbyist singers who like to socialize and sing in an informal setting.  OK Chorals meets twice a month at Revolution Hall or Martha’s Cafe and sings two songs, which are posted a week in advance with audio files and lyrics when available.  Each song is practiced for about half an hour and then performed, sometimes videotaped.

62.  Karaoke at the Spare Room:  The Spare Room in the Cully neighborhood (Northeast) is a fun place to grab breakfast, lunch or dinner, and either enjoy live music (Thursdays – Sundays at night) or hone your karaoke skills on Monday or Wednesday evenings.  For the adventurous and shameless, add this place to your list of things to do in Portland.

62.  The Academy:  Diverse offering of movies at this historic theater in Northeast Portland that offers babysitting and birthday parties.  Opened in 1948, the Academy was a popular Montavilla neighborhood entertainment destination until it’s shutter in the 70s, after which it fell into disrepair.  In 2006 a full-scale renovation brought the theater back to life complete with its glittering rounded lobby and soaring metallic two-story dome.

61.  Moda Center:  The Moda Center arrived in 1995 as Portland’s premier multi-purpose arena and has served as the home of the Portland Trail Blazers and WHL’s Portland Winterhawks.  In addition to basketball and hockey, the Moda Center, formerly known as the Rose Quarter, also hosts concerts, family shows and other miscellaneous sporting events and in 2005 held the 2005 U.S. Figure Skating Championships.  Pink Floyd’s Roger Waters filmed his DVD In the Flesh – Live at Moda Center, at Moda in 2000 and the first ever concert held here was David Bowie & Nine Inch Nails on October 25, 1995.  The Moda Center also has a small theater, Theater of the Clouds, that has hosted a variety of concerts and speakers over the years.

60.  Doug Fir Lounge:  The Doug Fir Lounge is a great place on one of Portland’s great eating streets, East Burnside (which is home to one of our best brunch spots, Canard), to grab a bite, lounge around and catch a live music show.  Concerts weekly throughout the year, from rock to alt to jazz and everything in between.

59.  Mississippi Studios :  Another one of our favorite eating streets and home to Lovely’s Fifty Fifty, Mississippi Street, features a fun live music venue and a great outdoor space to enjoy one of our favorite burgers at Bar Bar.  Built, owned and operated by musicians, Mississippi Studios of a perfect Portland place to grab a burger and drink, sit by the fire pit and enjoy some good tunes in a lively neighborhood setting.

58.  Wonder Ballroom:  Located on Russel Street in North Portland, the Wonder is a truly great music show venue.  Bonus points for housing Bunk Sandwiches in the basement of Wonder Ballroom for fun sandwiches and snacks.  A great combination for music and food lovers, so those who fall into that category should add Wonder to their list of things to do in Portland.

57.  Crystal Ballroom:  McMenamin’s Crystal Ballroom, originally built in 1914 as the historic Cotillion Hall, a true ballroom, where dance revivals were held there through the Great Depression.  These days the Crystal Ballroom holds concerts and is available for private rental for parties, events and conferences.

56.  Alladin Theater:  The Alladin theater is located in the Brooklyn neighborhood of southeast Portland and originally launched as a vaudeville house named Geller’s Theater in 1927.  In 1934 the name changed to Alladin and the venue operated pornographic film for more than 30 years.  In 1991 the Alladin was revived as a classic movie and live music event space.

55.  Tom McCall Waterfront Park Concerts:  Summer concerts at the beautiful riverfront park are a perfect entertainment for visitors during the warm weather months.  Concerts of all types for all ages at the banks of the Wilammette River.  Wonderful views of Portland’s historic bridges.

54.  Keller Auditorium:  Keller, like the Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall, is part of Portland’s Center for the Performing Arts, and is known at the Center’s “workhouse” space as it houses every kind of event from ballet to Broadway plays to opera and much more.  Located downtown in the heart of the arts district.

Museums

For the museum minded, here are the best things to do in Portland.  Please note that listings for the Portland Zoo, the Portland Children’s Museum, the Hoyt Arboretum, Japanese Garden, International Rose Test Garden and the World Forestry Center Discovery Museum are found within the Washington Park listing under “The Great Outdoors” below.

53. Portland Museum of Art:  The Portland Museum of Art is a wonderful place to view beautiful paintings, sculpture and artifacts both in their permanent collection and seasonal exhibits.  Museum Cafe available and also hit up Behind the Museum Cafe, a separate Japanesinfluenced tea cafe with small bites.  Free on Friday evenings from 4 – 6 p.m.

52. Oregon Jewish Museum and Center for Holocaust Education:  The OJMCHE is the place to explore the history and legacy of the Jewish experience in Oregon and teach timeless lessons of the Holocaust.  Offering exhibitions, programs, teaching resources and opportunities for intercultural dialogue, the OJMCHE challenges visitors to resist indifference and discrimination and aim toward a just and inclusive world.

51. Stark’s Vacuum Museum:  Stark’s Vacuum Cleaner Museum showcases more than 100 vacuums from the late-1800s to the 1960s within a section of the Stark’s Vacuum Store in Portland.  Admission is free and pieces include a 1930s cardboard model, a Duntley Pneumatic that attaches to the ceiling, an Electrolux on runners and hand-pumped vacuums.  A fun diversion for the quirky history buff.

50. Freakybuttrue Peculiarium:  If your’e in the mood for something a little different to do in Portland, head to the Freakybuttrue Peculiarium in Northwest Portland.  Founded by Portland adventurer Conrad Talmadge Elwood who spent his lifetime traveling the world in search of the freaky and inexplainable, the Peculiarium is a unique store and snack bar devoted to the founder’s odd vision.  Visitors can view interactive displays including retro toys, candies, gags, books, original artwork, oddities, ephemera and more.    Head to the snack bar complete with edible insects for a really peculiar treat.

49. Oregon Museum of Science and Industry:  OMSI is a science and tech museum that contains three auditoriums, a large screen theater, a planetarium and exhibit halls with a wonderful variety of hands-on and interactive permanent exhibits focusing on the natural sciences, industry and technology.  A must visit for adults and kids alike.

48. Center for Contemporary Native Art:  Housed within the Portland Art Museum, the Center for Contemporary Native Art is a dedicated gallery for highlighting the work of Native artists.  Opened in 2015, the Center hosts two rotating exhibits each year featuring a range of related native arts material.

47. Portland Institute for Contemporary Art:  For those who appreciate and enjoy modern art, the Portland Institute for Contemporary Art is a The Portland Institute for Contemporary Art is a must visit to experience contemporary performance, visual arts and cutting edge speakers and lecturers.  The Institute also supports a researched-based artist residency program that serves working artists who participate in two labs annually.

46. Oregon Nikkei Legacy Center:  Located in Old Town Portland, the Nikkei Center is an intimate museum with exhibits focusing on the history of the Japanese-American experience in the United States and Oregon in the 1940s.  The Center features holiday fundraising feasts and other seasonal community events, and offers group tours of the museum and speaking engagements for classrooms or other community groups.  A gem in the heart of Old Town.

45.  Portland Puppet Museum: The Portland puppet museum is a worthwhile visit for youngsters and the young-at-heart puppet enthusiasts.  Don’t miss the wacky send-up of the Nutcracker Ballet.  Always free and open Thursdays – Sundays from 2 – 8 p.m.

44.  Kidd Toy Museum:  In Kidd’s Toy Museum, still located next door to Frank Kidd’s family auto parts business, the bulk of the 15,000 toys featured were amassed from 1869 to 1939 when Kidd was an adult — he cited his lack of playthings when growing up as reason for his fascination with toys. Room after room at the museum contain stuffed toys ranging from dolls to Disney figurines die-cast trains and railroad locks and sand-casting molds for cap guns.  Notable is Kidd’s collection of mechanical banks which in itself is an impressive and interesting collection.  If you can believe it after visiting, the remaining two-thirds of Kidd’s collection actually remains in storage due to lack of display space.

43.  The Hat Museum:  Located in Ladd’s Addition neighborhood of southeast Portland, the National Hat Museum is our country’s largest hat museum with a collection carefully curated to highlight the most characteristic styles of past historical eras.  A very interesting and somewhat different historical perspective on fashion.

42.Center for Contemporary Art and Culture:  The Center for Contemporary Art & Culture is the steward of the Pacific Northwest College of the Arts collection that represents 75 + years of craft and design works, particularly mid century ceramics works by artists early in their careers.

Sacred Spaces

Now, if you’ve tired of the best “things” to do while in Portland and are craving some quietude, or want to attend a service, head to some of Portland’s most beautiful places of worship.  Many are on the National Register for Historic Sites.

41.  The Grotto: The Grotto is a national Catholic shrine dedicated to Mary, Our Sorrowful Mother, and is a ministry of the Servite Friars – Order of Friar Servants of Mary.  With acres of fir frees, rhododendrons and other native plants, the Grotto is a peaceful destination and an internationally-renowned Catholic shrine and botanical garden.  The focal point of the shrine is our Lady’s Grotto, a rock cave carved into the case of a 110-foot cliff with a life-sized marble replica of Michelangelo’s Pieta in the center.  On the upper level of the Grotto, visitors can enjoy panoramic views of the Columbia River Valley, the Cascade Mountains and Mt. St. Helens, as well as visit the Meditation Chapel and Servite Monastery.  The Grotto is of particular interest during the Christmas season when it is decked out in thousands of lights.  Meditators and solace seekers, add this to your list of things to do in Portland.

40. First Presbyterian Church:  Portland’s First Presbyterian Church is located on the National Register of Historic Places and is considered one of the finest examples of High Victorian Gothic architecture in the state of Oregon.  If you’re going to have one church on your list of things to do in Portland, this one could easily suffice.  It includes stained glass windows, made by Portland’s Povey Brothers Art Glass Works and a church bellcase with a bronze from captured Civil War cannons.

39..Redeemer Church:  Another beautiful Gothic building, Portland’s Redeemer Church is sometimes referred to as “the castle.”  Built in the late 1800s, the building was once home to the Mars Hill Church.

38.  Oaks Pioneer Church:  The Oaks Pioneer Church was first known as St. John’s Episcopal Church in the southernmost part of Portland, the Milwaukee- Sellwood neighborhood.  Added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1974, this tiny but picturesque church is the oldest intact church buildng in Oregon and now functions as a museum and popular wedding site.

37.  First Baptist Church:  Portland’s First Baptist Church is another beautiful old church built in 1894 in the Romanesque Revival style.  Located in the heart of downtown and near the Multnomah County Library, is it also home to Portland Baroque Orchestra performances.

36.  First Congregational Church:  With its soaring 175-foot bell tower, the First Congregational Church was built from 1891 to 1895 and designed by Swiss architect Henry J. Hefty to resemble the Old South Church in Boston.  This beautiful house of worship is considered to be one of the very few examples of Venetian Gothic architecture in the United States.  Probably second in line as a thing to do in Portland if you’re only going to have one church on your list.

35.  Trinity Episcopal Cathedral:  This beautiful Gothic Revival style church in Portland’s Northwest neighborhood, is made of basalt and sequoia, and its 100% stunning and glorious enormous red doors alone make this church worth a visit.  Trinity Episcopal Cathedral is the seat of the entire Episcopal Diocese of Oregon of the Episcopal Church.

34.  First Unitarian Church:  Portland’s First Unitarian Church was built in 1924 and its original building is now used to host weddings, receptions and other events.  The congregation now has worship services in a larger church building next door.  This Georgian Revival/Colonial Revival, style church, which is also a National Historic Place, is one of the very few churches that is still opened and operated by the congregation that built it.

33.  St. James Lutheran Church:  The congregation of St. James Lutheran Church was founded in 1889 by missionaries as Portland’s first English-speaking Lutheran church and its edifice was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1975.

32.  Congregation Beth Israel:  Beth Israel, a Reform congretation and Jewish synagogue in Portland’s Northwest neighborhood, was founded in 1858 while Oregon was still a territory, and built its first synagogue in 1859.  After undergoing two physical building transformations, its third incarnation in 1928 is a neo-Byzantine building that is considered one of finest examples of Byzantine-style architecture on the west coast and was inspired by the Alte Synagogue in Essen, Germany.  In 1979 Beth Israel was listed on the National Register of Historic Places. 

31.  The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints Temple:  Portland’s LDS Church temple is located on 7 acres of land in Lake Oswego, Oregon and is a towering auspicious building of six white spires and a white marble exterior with green marble trim and a green sate roof.  Built in 1989, the church in 2012 added a visitor’s center open to the public daily from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m.

30.  St. Patrick Catholic Church:  Portland’s oldest Catholic church straddles the Slabtown and Northwest districts, just under the 30 Freeway.  Opened in 1891 and listed on the National Register for Historic Places in 1974, St. Patrick’s was built in the Second Renaissance Revival Style and is cruciform, with an Italianate hipped dome and spire rising 35 feet above the ridge of the roof.  A truly beautiful old church in a neighborhood with lots of good restaurants and shops nearby.

29.  Sixth Church of Christ, Scientist:  Portland’s Sixth church of Christ, Scientist is located in the heart of downtown.  Its architectural style is Art Deco Byzantine or Early Modern and was inspired by the 1906 Mother Church in Boston, MA.  Designed by H. Whitehouse of Morris H. Whitehouse & Associates, the Sixth Church of Christ, Scientist in Portland was contracted during the worst years of the Great Depression and sought to be a means of creating economic opportunity for local artisans.

Day Trips and Scenic Drives

If you’re looking for some best things to do just outside of Portland, here are some ideas:

28.  Fort Vancouver:  Just a few very short miles across the bridge is one of our favorite places to visit in the greater Portland metropolitan area.  Fort Vancouver is a National Historic property and filled with beautiful sights as well as a host to fun seasonal and educational family events.  A definite must for history buffs who should add this to their list of things to do in Portland.  The main unit is located in Vancouver, WA and is complete with restored Army barracks, an Officer’s Row of historic officer houses, fort walls and the Pearson Air Museum which is an operating “airport” for small aircraft.  Be sure to catch a meal at the wonderful Eatery at the Grant House.

26.  Mt. Hood:  No extended Portland stay is complete without a trip to Mt. Hood, that majestic snow-capped mountain that is visible from so many points of interest in Portland.  It is simply a must visit thing to do in Portland.  Ski, snow-shoe, snowboard or just sit by the fire at the Timberline Lodge.  Mt. Hood is a potentially active volcano formed by a subduction zone and is Oregon’s highest mountain.  The peak is home to 12 glaciers and snowfields and the mountain is considered the Oregon volcano most likely to erupt.

25.  Columbia River Gorge:  Take a drive on either the Oregon or Washington side of the gorge and treat yourself to breathtaking beauty.  If you like to take scenic drives, definitely add the Gorge to your list of things to do in Portland.  Miles of hiking, exploring, skiing, water sports, wildlife and small-town charm and good eats are all available on a trip down the Gorge. The Columbia River Gorge is a National Scenic Area protecting the canyon where the Columbia River cuts through the Cascade mountains – with cliffs and vistas of Washington to the north and Oregon’s mountain ranges and waterfalls to the south.  If you’re on the Washington side, stop at Skamanai and chill at the Lodge, and on the way back to Portland hit up beautiful Multnomah Falls to see one of the most beautiful waterfalls with a fantastic walking area for families and couples. You can also stop by the original Pendleton Mill Store for great discount gear and blankets and eat breakfast and lunch at Washougal’s Our Bar.

24.  Cannon Beach:  Even if you can only carve out a half or full day to visit Cannon Beach, it would be completely worthwhile, for some of the most gorgeous pacific northwest beach you have ever laid eyes on is here.  Coastal lovers, add this to your list of things to do in Portland for sure. Escape the business of the city and head west for 90 minutes of driving through the beautiful Clatspo State Forest and other scenic parts of green and lush Oregon. Bring your jacket nomatter what time of year and slowly walk across the beach- don’t forget to get a picture near Haystack Rock. If you want to see more like this, head north to Astoria (where The Goonies was filmed) and stop at Pacific Way Bakery & Cafe on the way.

23.  Pacific City:  If you’re itching to see the Oregon Coast, head to charming Pacific City for miles of peaceful beaches and lots of good seafood.  A great place to spend a weekend, but you can also make a long day-trip of it.  Beach lovers, add this place to your list of things to do in Portland.

22.  Tillamook:  Another great day trip near Portland, the tiny town of Tillamook is most known for their famous Tillamook Cheese. If you are a cheese lover, add this to your list of things to do in Portland.  Visit the newly improved (as of 2018) Tillamook Creamery for an incredible cheesy experience. Perfect for families and dairy fans of all ages, Tillamook provides a great experience at this visitor’s center from the food hall to the factory windows to the market. It’s necessary to try several free cheese samples and to order the grilled cheese, mac and cheese, and a scoop of ice cream.

Memorials

21.  Japanese American Historical Plaza:  The Japanese American Historical Plaza is located at the north end of Tom McCall Waterfront Park and is a narrative of the Japanese people in Oregon.  Designed by landscape architect Robert Murae, the memorial uses 13 engraved basalt and granite stones to poeticize of the sufferings and mistreatment the Japanese immigrants faced during their incarceration during World War II.  The plaza aims to honor the bravery of those who served in the U.S. Armed Forces while their families were in interned.

20.  Oregon Holocaust Memorial:  Located in beautiful Washington Park in Southwest Portland, the Oregon Holocaust Memorial is free and open to the public from dawn until the sun sets every day of the year.  The memorial includes a stone walkway and wall and several small figurines and inlaid bronze personal items that serve as a permanent reminder of the Holocaust and aims to honor those who lost their lives from 1933 to 1945 during the systematic state-sponsored persecution and murder of six million Jews under the Nazi regime and its collaborators.

19.  Vietnam Veteran’s of Oregon Memorial:  Portland’s Vietnam Veterans Memorial was inspired by the dedication of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, DC.  Designed by landscape architect Walker Macy, the memorial is made of a curved black granite wall that lists the names of all Oregon residents who died in Vietnam or are missing in action.  The wall’s location in the Hoyt Arboretum in Washington Park provides a peaceful setting suitable for reflection and it includes several symbolic components such as the bosque of pear trees and water elements to represent life and sacredness (pear trees) and life, purity and hope (water).

The Great Outdoors

There are so many great ideas for outdoorsy things to do in the Portland area, so we’ve just highlighted what we think are some of the best options for hiking, walking and biking in the area.

Hike/Walk

18. Daydream Under the St. John’s Bridge in Cathedral Park:  Cathedral Park is said to be one of the 14 Lewis and Clark landing sites in the Vancouver-Portland area.  William Clark and 8 men camped in what is now known as the St. John’s neighborhood park on April 2, 1806.  The property had been a camping and fishing site for many Indian tribes in the area.   In 1847, the founder of St Johns, James John, settled on the site and operated a ferry to Linnton across the Willamette River and in 1931, the St Johns Bridge was built on the site with 400-ft towers and a main span of 1,207 feet. It is the only steel suspension bridge in Portland and the most picturesque bridge in Portland, for this photographer.

17. Hike for Hours at Forest Park:  Forest Park is a required trip for any hiking enthusiast.  At 5,200 acres, the park is one of the largest urban forests in the United States with more than 80 miles of trails.  Forest Park stretches for more than 7 miles along the eastern slope of the Tualatin Mountains overlooking Northwest Portland where the Columbia and Willamette Rivers converge.  This is THE park to visit if you want a true Northwest forest experience without leaving the Portland proper city limits.

16. Hike to a View at Council Crest Park:  Council Crest is considered the highest point in Portland (1,073 feet above sea level).  According to McArthur’s Oregon Geographic Names, the park was named by delegates to the National Council of Congregational Churches, who met on the top.  According to legend, however, the name was derived from meetings and signal fires built and held here by Native Americans.  From the top of the hill you can see views of five mountains in the Cascade Range: Mt. Hood, Mt. St Helens, Mt. Adams, Mt. Jefferson, and Mt. Rainier. In addition, on a clear day the park provides a fantastic 180-degree view of Portland and surrounding towns.

15. Take a Chill Hike at Powell Butte Nature Park Hike:  Powell Butte is an extinct cinder cone volcano which rises near Johnson Creek, an urban creek with remnant populations of salmon and steelhead, in southeast Portland.  The park at Powell Butte is 611 acres of meadowland and forest and is open year-round for a nice moderate hike.  If you like to hike but don’t want to sweat, add this to your list of things to do in Portland.

14. Visit Multiple Museums and Gardens at Washington Park:  One of Portland’s oldest parks and now encompassing the Portland Zoo, the Portland Children’s Museum, the Hoyt Arboretum, Japanese Garden, International Rose Test Garden and the World Forestry Center, as well as the Oregon Holocaust and Vietnam Veterans Memorials, Washington Park is an absolute must visit for park enthusiasts and Portland visitors.  Definitely add this park to your list of best things to do in Portland.  The park’s first keeper, Charles Meyers, was a former seaman without any landscape training but he transformed the park by pulling from memories of his native German and European parks.  By 1900 Washington Park had roads, trails, lawns, manicured hedges, flower gardens and a zoo, and even had cable cars operating from 1890 into the 1930s.

13. Stroll Around Mt. Tabor Park:  A truly great example of an urban park, nature lovers should add Tabor to their list of things to do in Portland.  Located in southeast Portland in one of our very very favorite neighborhoods (Mt. Tabor, home to our No. 1 Restaurant Coquine) is Mt. Tabor Park named after Mt. Tabor in Israel.  Mt. Tabor itself is a volcanic cinder cone and is surrounded by long flights of stairs, gently curving parkways, numerous walking trails and a nursery yard.  At the top of Tabor Park you can enjoy panoramic views of Portland.  At the crest of the park is a bronze statue of Harvey W. Scott, editor of The Oregonian newspaper which was gifted to the park by Scott’s widow and family and is notable because it was sculpted by Gutzon Borglum in the early 1930s while he was at work on Mt. Rushmore in South Dakota.

Bike

12. Ride the Rail Trails on the Banks-Vernonia State Trail:  One of the best things anyone can do in Portland is to get on a bike and ride.  The Portland area has so many wonderful bike trails and we especially like those built along the banks of former railroad tracks such as the very well known Banks-Vernonia State Trail.  As medium-long rides go (42 miles), the route is a simple out-and-back, very forgiving journey and it’s so pretty you that you may forget how hard your muscles are working.  The highlight of this ride is seeing Vernonia which is a great little town and is becoming a destination spot for bicyclists.  There are at least four or five cafes along the main street that have spots to lock up your bike as you walk around or refuel

11. Tour some of Portland’s Best Bridges on the Vera Katz Eastbank Esplanade:  A super easy, flat and scenic bike trail, the Vera Katz Eastbank Esplanade is 1.5 miles long and extends north from the Hawthorne Bridge, past the Morrison and Burnside Bridges, to the Steel Bridge with connections to eastside neighborhoods as well as across the Wilammette River to Gov. Tom McCall Waterfront Park.  The landscape architects who designed the Esplanade included 13 urban markers at key locations with 22 interpretive panels that provide information about the river and the history of the area, from the building of Portland’s many bridges to the development of the eastside and each marker includes unique lighting to make visible the walkway at night.

10. Triathlon Train with a nice 135 mile ride on the Willamette Valley Scenic Bikeway:  This is likely a multi-day trip for the serious cyclist, although the route is mostly flat and not too strenuous.  On this ride you’ll pass through one of the most beautiful and active agricultural valleys in the country which is also known for its pinot noir wine, beer hops, hazlenuts and marionberries.

9. Soak in the Scenery on the Columbia River State Highway Trail:  An absolutely stunning ride, this 13.5 mile and growing (project not completed yet) trail runs along the along the Columbia River heading east out of Portland.  It is an innovative road-to-trail conversion constructed on portions of the Historic Columbia River Highway and runs from the Sandy River Bridge near Troutdale to the Dalles.  Definitely stop at Sugarpine Drive-In in Troutdale for a treat either before or after your ride.

Seasonal

8.  Cure Your Blues at the Winter Light Festival:  One of the coolest things to do in winter in Portland is see the amazing Winter Lights Festival, a city-wide event showcasing illuminated art installations, vibrant performances and killer kinetic fire sculptures.  This year it’s February 7 – 9 and you can even ride on in on your bicycle.

7.  Parade for Days at the Rose Festival/Grand Floral Parade (June):  Portland’s first Rose Festival occurred in 1907 and it’s been a wild ride every year since then.  The Grand Floral parade is the focal point of the festival and the second largest all-floral parade in the U.S. after the Tournament of Roses Parade.  With more than 500,000 spectators lining the route, this is the largest single-day spectator event in all of Oregon.  The first festival occurred in 1907.  Since 1930 a queen has been selected from a court of high school seniors.  During Fleet Week, ships from the U.S. Navy, Coast Guard, Army Corps of Engineers and the Royal Canadian Navy dock along the seawall of Tom McCall Waterfront Park.  Truly an amazing turnout and it’s fun to run into the uniformed participants in town.  Now, if that doesn’t include enough amazing things to do in Portland within one event, the festival also hosts the Starlight Parade, a fireworks display and carnival rides along the Portland waterfront, among even more events including Dragon boat races along the river.  So. Much. Fun.

6.  Wooden Shoe Tulip Festival (Spring):  Here’s a fun thing to do in Portland that will make you feel like you’re in the Netherlands.  Go to the Wooden Shoe Tulip Festival.  There are so many events to enjoy at this festival and seeing so many vibrant healthy flowers can’t not leave you in a happy mood.  Even if it’s raining, which it probably will be.  Every year 40 acres of tulips are arranged differently against the backdrop of Mt. Hood and Wooden Shoe Vineyards.  You can bring your dog, a picnic and kids of all ages.  Food is also available for purchase onsite.

5.  Chamber Music Northwest Summer Festival:  Easily one of the most ambitious chamber music festivals in the Northwest, this amazing 5-week-long event puts on near-daily classical concerts, some free.  Come hang along the river or at Reed College lawn and picnic with your friends like half of Portland does every summer, it’s totally worth the hassle with congestion at times.  If you love classical music in the great outdoors, add this to your list of things to do in Portland.

4.  Pickathon (August 2019):  Established in 1998, Pickathon is an independent music festival held at Pendarvis Farm in Happy Valley, OR, just minutes from Portland.  Pickathon spans 4 days and hosts musical performances by some of the best new and established musicians from everywhere.  Considered to be a leader in sustainability practices, Pickathon eliminates waste through a reusable dishware and cup system.  Camp out at the farm, take yoga classes, get a massage and enjoy the best PNW food and drink while listening to tunes from dawn til dusk.  If you’re a music lover and like to camp, add this to your list of things to do in Portland.

3.  Feast at Feast Portland (September 2019):  A week of foodcentric fun featuring chefs and food writers and media from around the globe.  Foodies, add this to your list of things to do in Portland for sure!  Buy tickets for a single event, or a pass to attend numerous events.  You’ll eat well and meet a lot of food friends at this annual event that’s been held at Tom McCall Waterfront Park and other venues every late-summer since 2012.  Take a class, attend a collaborative dinner, or hear a speaker and bonus points for your money going to a good cause:  Feast Portland has donated $400,000 since its inception to end hunger.  If you like foodie events and doing good at the same time, add Feast to your list of things to do in Portland.

2.   Chinese New Year at the Lan Su Chinese Garden (February 2019):  The Lan Su Chinese Garden is one of our favorite places in downtown Portland and each winter it pulls out all the stops for two weeks to celebrate the Chinese New Year.  Festivities include lion dances, martial arts performances, calligraphy, family-friendly craft activities, fun food and much more.  The party kicks off with “Rolling in the Wealth,” a fun prosperity-bringing activity of rolling oranges and gold coins through the Garden’s front door, and ends with several nights of Lantern Viewing Evenings when the Garden is lit with colorful lanterns and a raucous dragon procession.  If you like lively and interesting sultural events, add this to your list of things to do in Portland.

1.  Portland Scandinavian Misdummer Festival (June):  Get into the summer solstice spirit in June, Scandinavian-style, with bonfires, traditional Nordic music and dress, live entertainment including music and dancing, and a maypole at Southeast Portland’s Oaks Amusement Park.  Scandinavian roots are not required to celebrate Midsummer. Endlessly fun and also funny, if you’re in Portland in June, you should definitely check out at least some of the events at this festival.

A Note About Getting Around

Clearly, you have a lot of options now for things to do in Portland.  And you will need to get around.  Luckily Portland is a city planned around public transportation and bicycles, especially downtown.  Bikes via Bikeshare are available for rent throughout not only downtown but in the various residential neighborhoods.  Bike paths are well marked, safe and enjoyable.

TriMet and the MAX will get you to or from nearly anywhere in or around Portland and the system is very easy to navigate.

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