Best Things to See & Do in Portland Oregon

Portland Oregon is a jewel of the Pacific Northwest. The offerings for locals and visitors are vast and today we’re going to talk exactly about that: the best things to see and do in Portland, Oregon.

On a sunny day, this city of just over 600,000 has a vista of five mountains in the distance – this is, as you can imagine, a real treat.

But this is definitely not all the beauty that Portland has to offer. With the Willamette River slicing through the city at its confluence with the Columbia River and being just an hour by car to the craggy coastline, Portland is one amazing city to visit.

Speaking of amazing cities, make sure to also read about the best cities for digital nomads in the US, as well as the list of the cheapest & nicest US cities to live in.

But let’s get back to Portland now and let’s check out the best things to do in the city!

Top Attractions in Portland, Oregon

There are plenty of things that you can do when visiting, including many that you can simply stumble upon while exploring the downtown area of Portland.

But if you want to make sure that you don’t miss any of the important ones, here are the best things to do in Portland, Oregon:

1. A day at the Oregon Zoo

The zoo covers over 60 acres in the West Hills section of Oregon. The fee is nominal compared to similar large zoos and parking is provided.

The Oregon zoo features a herd of successfully breading Asian elephants, which are one of the main attractions. Packy the elephant is a local celebrity, for example.

The zoo is reachable on the Max red or blue line’s Washington Park stop if you choose public transportation. Plan to spend at least one day here, because this is the area where you will find another amazing attraction, listed below.

2. Visit the Japanese Garden

This widely respected garden is open to the public all year long and is by far one of the main things to visit in Portland.

Many consider it one of the most authentic gardens of its kind outside of Japan and it is jaw dropping for sure.

Serpentine paths lead visitors through a sand and rock garden, tea garden and strolling pond garden. It offers peaceful tranquility to a busy day of site-seeing.

Daily tours are offered. The fee is really low, but Seniors and children receive a discounted rate.

3. Visit the International Rose Test Garden

International Rose Test Garden

We’re sticking to beautiful gardens – a rose one this time, also located in the close vicinity of the zoo and the Japanese Garden.

Portland’s International Rose Test Garden showcases over 10,000 rose bushes representing numerous rose varieties, and it’s located in the Washington Park.

It’s a stunning attraction, particularly in late spring and early summer when the roses are in full bloom. Entrance is free, and it offers panoramic views of the city skyline as an added bonus.

4. Pittock Mansion

The mansion was built in the early 1900’s as a private home for Henry and Georgiana Pittock. Public tours of the home with original furnishings are offered.

The well- kept grounds make a perfect picnic destination. The location in Oregon’s West Hills neighborhood offers breathtaking views of the Cascade Mountains.

5. Portland Art Museum

Portland Art Museum

The Portland Art Museum is another main thing to see in the city – especially if art is your cup of tea. This museum boasts an extensive collection of art from various cultures and time periods and is impressive for sure.

Featuring works of art from important artists like Monet, O’Keeffe, and Homer, it can be visited all year long and can also have themed exhibitions and special events.

Check out the museum’s website for updated admission fees and current exhibitions.

6. Powell’s Books

Locals and visitors gravitate to this literary retreat, which is the largest new and used bookstore in the world.

It is located between downtown and the fashionable Pearl District. But don’t expect this to be your regular bookstore: it’s huge and you will get lost here, no matter if you are an avid reader or not.

Schedules are available, which alert customers to special events including book signings and there are always special deals and great offers to take advantage of.

Related reading: Check out the top things to do in Atlanta, Georgia.

7. Explore the Food Cart Pods

food carts in Portland

Portland’s food cart pods are clusters of diverse food carts offering mouth-watering options from both international cuisines and local specialties.

They’re all delicious and the experience of eating from Portland’s food trucks is definitely one of a kind.

Some popular pods include Cartlandia, Alder Street, and Mississippi Marketplace. Prices are generally reasonable, and the food – even though not the healthiest around – is delicious and hearty.

8. Check out OMSI (The Oregon Museum of Science and Industry)

The Oregon Museum of Science and Industry (aka OMSI) is a family friendly attraction and one of the must see places in Portland.

It includes hands-on labs meant for children while also fascinating to adults. Located on the Willamette River, the museum includes an OMNIMAX Theater, planetarium and a submarine among many other cool science-related attractions.

9. Stroll through the Pearl District

Pearl District Portland

The Pearl District is a trendy neighborhood filled with art galleries, upscale boutiques, and plenty of dining options, all mixed in with public art installations and some of the most impressive historic buildings in the city.

I recommend simply walking through the streets (or biking, since Portland as a whole is a very bike-friendly US city) and enjoy what the area has to offer.

10. Explore the Creepy Witch’s House

Portland Witches house

The “Witch’s House” in Portland is actually the unofficial name for the remnants of the Stone House in Forest Park.

This is a moss-covered stone structure built sometime in the mid-20th century. While it has no actual legends surrounding any witches that have lived in the area, its eerie appearance makes it look like a witch’s dwelling.

You can reach it while enjoying a stroll through the lush Forest Park and take some spooky photos when you reach it.

And if you’re into spooky attractions, we also have one located outside Portland: The Haunted Maize at the Pumpkin Patch. Read about it and the top scariest attractions in the US here.

11. Visit Mount Hood

Mount Hood Portland

Mount Hood is a beautiful volcanic peak just outside Portland, one that can be visited all year long and one that is indeed considered one of the top attractions in the area.

During winter times, t’s a popular destination for skiing and snowboarding, while the summer months make it perfect for hiking, biking and camping.

And if you did not bring a date to explore it and you’re unlucky to find a local in the area, you might want to turn your eyes to other regions. If so, make sure to read my guide to Texas women here.

Wrapping up

Portland and the surrounding area have a great deal to offer and the walkable Downtown area come as an added bonus for those who want to explore more in-depth and find some off the beaten path things to do.

For example, there are plenty of options for locally brewed beer or coffee, while pizza places are some of the best in the country.

So, you have a complete mix of things to do in Portland Oregon and you’ll surely be satisfied with what’s on offer.

Are there any other things you’d recommend first time visitors to see in Portland, Oregon? Share your thoughts in the comments section below.

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