If you are looking for the most interesting and unique city on the West Coast, Portland Oregon is at the very top of the heap. With a good dose of physical beauty, this city is bordered by two broad rivers and surrounded by wooded mountains and green valleys. In addition to all its natural beauty, Portland is also well-known as a cultural and creative hotspot, with many unique and one-of-a-kind restaurants, shops, and hotels. It almost feels like a town overrun with artists, musicians, and creative-types.
From the breathtakingly beautiful Multnomah Falls, to the downright wacky Voodoo Donuts, to the tasty food trucks spread out across the city. Portland is a true gem that takes some time to see and appreciate. If you’re spending time in Downtown, be sure to browse our guide to the best 16 Best things to do in downtown Portland.
1. Powells Books
Powell’s Books is a massive independent bookstore located downtown is very popular with locals and visitors alike. The store contains over 68,000 square feet of space and takes up an entire city block. There are over 4 million books displayed for sale here and are categorized into 3,500 various book sections. These books are spread throughout the store in color-coded rooms to help you navigate the sprawling expanse of literature. Powell’s regularly hosts book-related events and book readings by various authors.
Since CNN has called it one of the “Coolest Bookstores in the entire World”, you should probably head downtown to see what everyone is talking about Powell’s Books!
2. Multnomah Falls
Multnomah Falls is a breathtaking waterfall located in the Columbia River Gorge area, a short 30-40 minute drive from Portland. This waterfall is known as the tallest waterfall in Oregon, standing at 620 feet high. It is also the most visited waterfall in the United States, attracting 2 million visitors each year. The lower part of the falls has a paved trail leading to a bridge that lets visitors view the falls from 100 feet up. If you are up for some vigorous exercise, you can continue up the many switchbacks to the top of the falls for an even better view of the falls and the valley below.
We would highly recommend a visit to the falls if you have a car, as Multnomah Falls is an epic sight to behold and well worth the drive.
3. Oregon Zoo
The Oregon zoo is located close to downtown Portland in Washington Park and has a large collection of plants as well as animal exhibits. With a collection of over 1,800 animals, you can see elephants, penguins, hippos, monkeys, and hundreds of other species. The zoo is one of the top tourist destinations in Portland and once you visit, you’ll see why. It’s easy to get to the zoo from downtown, with easy access via the Washington Park light rail train.
4. Voodoo Donut
For something on the fun and wacky side, you should visit Voodoo Donut. This local chain of donut stores is something of a legendary experience for anyone visiting Portland. With never-seen-before donuts and fried creations, you’re sure to join the ranks of fans who can’t get enough of this unique donut shop. If you’re downtown, you can visit the Old Town Voodoo Donut location, but be prepared to wait in a line of tourists who are busily taking photos of this wacky Portland favorite.
5. Mount Tabor Park
For a peaceful walk through the forest and a great view of downtown Portland, Mount Tabor Park offers a relaxing alternative to the bustling sounds of the city. With large reservoirs and an extensive series of walking paths, this mountain is home to many parks and recreational areas and is popular with the locals from the surrounding neighborhoods. We’d recommend a visit to Mount Tabor.
6. Portland Food Trucks
To experience the food of Portland properly, you’ll at some point need to pay a visit to one of the hundreds of food trucks located in various areas throughout the city. One great example is the Grilled Cheese Grill, a two-story bus that serves grilled sandwiches. For a current list of all the fun food trucks around Portland check out the Food Cart Maps which shows you where all these groups of mobile vendors are located. If you’re looking for a meal that really sums up the culture of Portland’s creative spirit, we’d recommend visiting the food trucks and having a terrific meal.
7. Portland Japanese Garden
For a quiet zen experience, we’d recommend a visit to Portland Japanese Garden. Spread over 12 acres, this garden is close to downtown and features a traditional Japanese village set amongst multiple themed garden areas. With waterfalls, streams, lakes, and lovingly manicured bonsai trees, this garden is an escape from the current day Portland just down the street.
8. Washington Park
Washington Park is Portland’s signature park, located on the hills surrounding downtown portland covering over 400 acres. The park is home to many of Portland’s top attractions, such as the Oregon Zoo, Forestry Museum, Children’s Museum, and more. With many picnic areas, tennis courts, trails, and open spaces, Washington Park is a great destination for many activities and would take many days to fully explore.
9. Ground Kontrol
For another unique thing to do in Portland, we’d suggest a visit to Ground Kontrol, a video arcade bar and DJ venue in downtown. With many retro arcade games and a full bar, this venue is sort of a “Arcade for Adults” and has a cult following of locals from around Portland who come to play games from the “golden age” of video arcade games. For something interesting to see downtown, we’d recommend you stop by Ground Control.
10. Portland Timbers
While Portland isn’t known as a big “sports town”, you can find the communal athletic spirit alive at a Portland Timbers game. The Timbers are Portland’s official professional soccer club and have a large and rowdy fanbase. they play their home games at the Providence Park stadium and you can check the calendar of events to see what games are coming up. If you want to experience a fun soccer match with a lively atmosphere, then we’d recommend looking into getting in to see the Timbers play.
11. Stumptown Coffee
If you are into great coffee, then the Portland Coffee scene is a dream come true. Standing at the top of the must-visit coffee establishments is Stumptown Coffee. With five locations around Portland, this coffee shop is considered one of the city’s finest with beans roasted on site at many of their locations. We’d recommend starting your day off with a coffee from Stumptown – you won’t be disappointed.
12. Oregon Museum of Science and Industry
A fun thing to do in Portland with kids, the Oregon Museum of Science and Industry, or OMSI, is packed full of interesting science exhibits and industrial machinery. Located on the Williamette River, this museum even showcases the partially submerged USS blueback submarine that’s available for daily tours and even sleepovers for kids that want to know what life was like onboard. Other features of the museum include a retired steam turbine for viewing, a planetarium, and a large theatre for showing films. We’d recommend a visit to the OMSI if you’re visiting portland with kids and want
13. Forest Park
If you’d like to experience the untouched forest just minutes from downtown, you need to visit Forest Park. This public is considered one of the largest public urban forests in America and is full of untouched and spectacular forest. Covering over 5,100 acres, you can really feel like you’re in the wilderness. Head out on one of the many hiking trails for a pristine experience of nature, right next to Downtown Portland.
14. Hawthorne District
If you want to visit a part of Portland that is well-known as a cultural center for the local community, then you should visit the Hawthorne District. Located in Southeast Portland, this neighborhood is full of trendy shops, cafes, brewpubs, and retailers and is definitely not something traditionally seen in tourist guides. If you are looking to get a taste for what local Portland culture is all about, then stroll through the Hawthorn district to see it up close.
15. Portland River Tour
Since Portland is bordered by two large rivers, we’d suggest looking into a boat tour. This is a great way to see Portland from this unique perspective and learn more about Portland’s maritime history. There are various tours you can find, from dinner cruises to concert cruises, to other themed cruises along. Check out a list of Tripadvisors recommended boat tour options here.
16. Pittock Mansion
For an interesting architectural activity, we’d recommend a visit to the massive Pittock Mansion. This 46 bedroom was built in 1909 as a personal residence for a wealthy newspaper publisher. Standing out from other Portland mansions, the Pittock Mansion is built in the French Renaissance style. The city of Portland now owns this home and offers free tours so you can see for yourself why this historic home is visited by nearly 100,000 people each year.
17. Lan Su Chinese Garden
Located in Downtown Portland, the Lan Su Chinese Garden is an interesting destination if you want to experience the serenity of an exquisitely manicured Chinese garden. With some plants that are over 100 years old, this garden displays many different plant species, 90% of which are native to China. For an unusual thing to do in Portland, we’d recommend a visit to Lan Su Chinese Garden.
18. Portland Aerial Tram
The Portland Aerial Tram is a unique elevated cable tramway that was built primarily for commuters to shuttle workers between the waterfront district and the Oregon Health and Science University located 500 up the hill from Downtown Portland. Operated by the city of Portland as part of the public transportation system, this tram is a fun way to see Portland from the air and is only a 3-minute trip. For a quick and fun thing to do in downtown Portland, we’d recommend taking a roundtrip on the Portland Aerial Tram.
19. Old Town Ghost Tour
For a spooky thing to do in Downtown Portland, you should look into buying a ticket for a Portland ghost tour. On these themed walking tours, you’ll be taken on a tour of the shadier side of historic Portland and learn about some of the ghost legends from around the local area. Check out a list of current Portland ghost tours that you can get tickets for here.
20. Portland Saturday Market
For a great weekend activity, we’d recommend a visit to the famous Portland Saturday Market. This outdoor market is located along the waterfront in the Tom McCall Waterfront Park and showcases hundreds of vendors selling homemade arts and crafts. Seeing nearly 1 million visitors each year, this weekend market is a fun Saturday activity and is open from 10am-5pm.
21. Portland Children’s Museum
For another great thing to do with Kids in Portland, the Portland Children’s Museum features many fun and imaginative exhibits and exciting play areas. This great museum is located in Washington Park right next to the Oregon Zoo. We’d recommend a visit to the Portland Children’s museum if you visiting with kids and looking for more family-friendly things to do in Portland.
22. Pearl District
Home to some of Portland’s most famous destinations, such as Powell’s books, the Pearl District is another cultural hotspot. With many upscale restaurants, boutiques and art galleries, the Pearl District is a great shopping destination in Portland. If you want to see the upscale side of Portland, then we’d definitely recommend a visit to the Pearl District.
23. Willamette Valley Wine Tour
If you like wine and would like to see some of the gorgeous landscape of the Willamette Valley, then we’d suggest going on a Willamette Valley Wine Tour. Being recognized as a major wine-producing region, the Willamette Valley produces many wines that are famous around the world. To see a current list of the great wine tours you can book, browse here.
24. World Forestry Center
The World Forestry Center is an interesting spot to visit in Portland. With a mission to “Educate and inform people about the world’s forests and trees”, this unique facility features a discovery museum for learning more about the world’s forests, event spaces, and a tree farm that showcases forest management practices and techniques.
25. Portland Art Museum
For an immersive art experience, you need to visit the Portland Art Museum. This very large museum houses over 42,000 pieces of art feature native American art, Asian art, and contemporary art among others. The museum also has an outdoor sculpture garden.
26. Hoyt Arboretum
For another trip out of the city and into nature, we’d recommend a visit to the Hoyt Arboretum. The Arboretum is located with Washington Park and houses over 6,000 plants from 2,300 various species from all around the globe. There are also some great hiking trails that take you through various areas of the arboretum. If you’re looking for a beautiful hike close to downtown, then we’d suggest exploring the Hoyt Arboretum.
27. Alberta Arts District
For another concentrated dose of current hip Portland culture, you need to check out Alberta Street in the Alberta Arts District. Once a crime-ridden area of Portland, the Alberta Arts District area is now an epicenter of popular art and culture, featuring many trendy restaurants, bars, clothing stores, and art galleries.
28. Oregon Maritime Museum
The Oregon Maritime Museum is located on the Columbia River in downtown Portland is an interesting destination in Downtown Portland. The museum features multiple restored historic ships, a library, and many maritime artifacts that tell a story of Portland’s rich maritime history.
29. Mount Hood
Though it is a 2 hour drive from Portland, Mount Hood is a spectacular mountain to visit. Perpetually topped with snow, this 11,239 ft tall volcanic mountain is the tallest in all of Oregon and can be seen clearly from around the city. Mount hood even offers a rare ski lift that is open all year round. So, if you would like to hit the slopes, we’d recommend a trip out to the magnificent Mount Hood.