The Best Things To Do in Oregon, In and Around Portland

I visited Portland, Oregon for the first time in the summer of 2016 and it was a delicious adventure. It’s a great place for those who love to explore the outdoors located just outside the city and an amazing food destination. There’s no shortage of things to do in and around Portland. Here are some of my favorite things I did along with some helpful tips for your trip.

Rent A Car and Get Outside the City

Just outside Portland is the Columbia River Gorge, a scenic canyon that stretches for miles between Oregon and and the state of Washington. If you’re driving from Portland heading east on the I-84 you’ll be driving alongside the Columbia River Gorge. This is the route to Oregon’s most well-known waterfall, Multnomah Falls. And you can stop along the way to visit other falls such as Bridal Veil and Wahkeena. Wahkeena is a smaller waterfall and is very close to Multnomah. It’s an easy half mile hike in and there’s hardly anyone in sight. Most the other waterfalls will be about a three mile hike in. So if you have the time and enjoy hiking I recommend visiting your favorite falls.

Renting a car is your best bet for an outdoor adventure outside Portland. You’ll have the freedom to stop and go as you please. However if you’re only looking to visit Multnomah Falls there is a bus line called the Columbia Gorge Express* that runs on select days. There is a lot of traffic around Multnomah Falls so try to get there as early as possible to beat the crowds.

*The Columbia Gorge Express is no longer running until Spring 2017. Check their website and sign up for their mailing list for details.

Hiking and Waterfalls

Beyond Multnomah Falls there is plenty more to explore. Keep heading east on the I-84 to head to Punchbowl Falls, a 4 mile roundtrip hike. This picturesque waterfall and natural pool is a great place to hang out. It was a bit crowded since we went on a Saturday. Bring a swimsuit and some snacks, it’s a great place for a dip. If you don’t want to get wet you can always watch people cliff jumping.

The hike is easy and is mostly shaded. There’s a slight elevation gain but nothing too challenging. You’ll see plenty of people hiking in swimsuits on their way back. The area around the falls is shaded and is a great place to relax.

Need to know how to get to Punch Bowl Falls? To get to the falls you’ll exit Eagle Creek Lane off the I-84 and head to the Eagle Creek Trailhead. Don’t forget to purchase a pass at the trailhead; daily passes are $5.

Lakes and Mountains

I really wanted to hang out at a lake and have a clear view of Mount Hood so we headed to Lost Lake because I found some photos online and it looked beautiful with the majestic mountain in the background. We ended up at Lost Lake Resort but we didn’t have a view of Mount Hood. Perhaps we were on the wrong side or maybe there isn’t really a view of the mountain.

The resort was very family friendly and had kayaking but it wasn’t what I was looking for. When I go back I’d like to visit Trillium Lake instead. From what I gathered this pristine lake has an amazing view of Mount Hood.

Driving around this area you see a lot and a lot of nothing. There’s wineries, nothing, Mount Hood, dirt roads and more nothing. I love the outdoors but the drive around this area can get a bit dull at times. The highlight was seeing Mount Hood in the distance. It looks so massive. Almost as massive as our appetite.

Eat Some Mountain Food

It was well into the evening and we were hungry so we stopped to eat in the Mount Hood Village area. We stumbled upon Zig Zag Inn for dinner. We heard some live music coming from the back patio area. They had a one man band, Tony Smiley performing for the evening. I caught some of his set. Pizza and live music made for a great stop and from there we headed back to Portland.

Take A Day Trip Out to the Coast

Another activity to do if you want to explore more of Oregon outside Portland and the Columbia River Gorge is heading to the coast. We headed to Cannon Beach for lunch at Mo’s and walked along the beach to see the famous Haystack Rock.

From Cannon Beach we headed up the coast and into Washington. We headed to Cape Disappointment to see the lighthouse, the coast and wander the surrounding area. There’s plenty of lighthouses on the Oregon coast but Cape Disappointment was anything but a disappointment.

All the Eats in the City

There’s so much to do in Portland and as I mentioned before there is plenty of amazing food to eat. You don’t need to go far to enjoy the food treasures within the city. With a fantastic public transportation system combined with the accessibility of ride sharing apps like Uber you can leave your car behind.

I took advantage of the happy hours since there are so many delicious places with great food specials.

My Happy Hour favorites include:

Luc Lac Vietnamese Kitchen

If you love Vietnamese food with a modern twist you’ll enjoy Luc Lac Vietnamese Kitchen.

Happy Hour is everyday from 4-7pm: $2 and $3 select small plates 

Fresh Spring Rolls with Shrimp, La Lot, Mussels, Bo Tai Chanh Coconut Curry with Tofu
Single Knight (on the right): Four Roses Single Barrel Bourbon/ pho syrup/ angostura orange bitters/ lapsang souchuong tea ice cube
Sassy Sour: Four Roses Bourbon/ thai tea-kaffir lime leaf syrup/ mango/ lime
Thai Tea Cremosa: Thai tea-kaffir lime leaf syrup, soda water, whipped salty coconut cream

Southpark Seafood

Southpark Seafood is a great place for happy hour drinks and snacks. And if you love seafood, this is the place for you. Oysters, charcuterie boards and cocktails are $5, what’s not to love?

Salmon pâté charcuterie board, daily red wine and three oysters in a half shell

Happy Hour is everyday 3-6pm and  10pm-12am

Other Good Eats and Drinks:

Breakfast

Mother’s Bistro

If you’re in the downtown area, head to Mother’s Bistro for a hearty breakfast. Omelets, pancakes and waffles… oh my!

Grilled portabella mushroom scramble and passion fruit tea

The Egg Carton

If you’re staying in Southeast Portland head to Carts on Foster for breakfast at The Egg Carton. There’s a ton of food carts in Portland but who doesn’t love eggs for breakfast? These heavenly plates will leave you happily full.

Beat the crowd and get there early
On top: Biscuits and gravy, bottom: FoPo Cristo

Lunch

Olympia Provisions

My favorite restaurant for lunch has to be Olympia Provisions. They have a couple restaurants in Portland and we ate at the southeast location. I had a Spanish board and “The Randy” sandwich. If you love meats and charcuterie boards, this is the place for you.

Spanish Board: two Spanish salamis, chorizo el rey, jamon york, fresh chorizo, Miticaña, fried almonds, piquillo pepper salad
“The Randy”: sliced apples, buttermilk blue cheese, sweetheart ham, hazelnuts, greens & aioli on ciabatta

Drinks

Departure Restaurant + Lounge

Being from Los Angeles and having a fair share of rooftop bars I was happy to stumble across one in Portland. As I was walking through the city I noticed some people on a rooftop. I was hoping it was a bar but wasn’t sure since no information was coming up on Yelp for the location. I discovered the building was a hotel and Departure Restaurant + Lounge was situated on the 15th floor.

It was quite crowded for a Monday evening but still very enjoyable. I sipped my drink at the bar and went to the outdoor patio to take in that view of the city. I also spotted Mount Hood in the distance. The decor is very sleek and modern with a mysterious travel vibe. The walls are decorated with a map of an unknown world with made-up places such as Heartless Island.

Check out the views of Portland from the rooftop patio
Elyxir of Life

Teardrop Lounge

Teardrop Lounge was our first stop after arriving in Portland. With classic cocktails and their own specialty menu, there’s a little something for everyone. I enjoyed my John Wood.

Late Night

Food Carts/Pods and Voodoo Donuts

Food Carts and Pods in the Downtown area are great for late night snacks. The original Voodoo Donuts is also in the same vicinity and makes for a fun stop. Who doesn’t like donuts at 3am and listening to some great music? It’s a donut party and everyone is invited.

This isn’t the original Voodoo Donuts location but we did make it to Voodoo Donuts Too (their second location in Portland).

Things To Do In Portland

Ride a Biketown PDX Bike

There’s plenty to do and see in Portland. A fun and inexpensive activity is to rent a Biketown PDX bike and ride around the city. We rode around the downtown area and along the river which made for a fun time.

You’ll have to download the app and you can chose between a single ride or a day pass and there’s also an annual pass option. Bikes are located all over town and you can check locations on the app.

We rode around the rover and across a couple bridges.

Don’t Forget to Stop and Smell the Roses at the Rose Test Garden

The Rose Test Garden is a large garden within Washington Park with a extensive list of types of roses. The garden is open to the public between 7:30am-9:00pm and free public tours are offered daily at 1:00pm, from Memorial Day weekend through Labor Day weekend. Meet at the Rose Garden store at least 10 minutes prior to the start of the tour.

Get Your Zen On at the Japanese Garden

The Japanese Garden is a traditional Japanese garden located in Washington Park, just across from the Rose Test Garden. The garden is open to the public and admission for adults is $9.50. The garden offers a special rate for seniors, students and youth. Their hours vary depending on the season so check the website for the most accurate information.

Admire the Architecture and City Views at Pittock Mansion

The Pittock Mansion is an estate once owned by Henry Pittock, a man who came to Portland on a wagon and built an empire. He was an outdoorsman and climbed Mount Hood multiple times. The City of Portland now owns the property and today the mansion is now a museum. It’s a nice drive up to the mansion. I didn’t go inside but you can sit outside in the grassy area and enjoy the clear view of the city and Mount Hood in the distance.

The mansion is open to the public and is $10 for adults with different rates for seniors, students and youth. Children six and under are free.

Visit China in Portland at Lan Su Chinese Garden

Lan Su Chinese Garden is an authentic Chinese garden located in Portland’s Chinatown. I was quite impressed with the garden. It doesn’t feel like you’re in Portland at all once you’re in there. We took a self-guided tour and had some tea and mooncakes at the teahouse.

Tea and mooncakes inside the teahouse

The Garden offers an array of events and is open to the public. Admission is $10 for adults. Children five and under are free.

Get High On the Portland Aerial Tram

The Portland Aerial Tram is anything but a tourist attraction. In fact most who ride the tram are commuters and people who are going to Oregon Health Science University, Shriners Hospital for Children Portland. It’s a three minute ride that connects Marquam Hill and the South Waterfront. A round trip ride is $4.55 and the tram runs every six minutes. Hours vary, so check the site to ensure it’s running.

The view from the aerial tram.

Ride the tram and enjoy the views, then admire the views from the hospital.

Get Spiritual at The Grotto

The Grotto is a Catholic shrine and botanical garden. It is open to all and masses are held daily (see website for mass times). Although it is very much a religious attraction it’s a beautiful place that an outdoor enthusiast can enjoy.

There’s a lot to see on the lush green grounds and you can really take your time and relax. The Grotto is open daily from 9am – 5pm and is $6 for adults with discounted rates for seniors, military, students and youth. Children six and under are free.

Snap A Photo at Portland’s White Stag Sign

The famous Portland White Stag Sign is a neon sign that is located by Pacific Highway and the Burnside Bridge. We parked by the Burnside Skatepark and walked over the bridge to get some shots of the sign. We got there just after sunset so it was getting dark fast which made for great night shots of the sign.

There’s so much to do in Portland. Whatever you decide to do, have fun with it. There’s always more and that’s always a reason to come back.

Until next time, Portland!

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