What to See and Do in and Around Portland

Choose your own Pacific Northwest adventure beginning in Portland, the largest city and ideological epicenter of laid-back Oregon. Portland beckons travelers to experience its diversity, personality and culinary scene. The city is not only a convenient hub from which to explore Oregon’s urban attractions, but also an easy jumping-off point to see much of the natural beauty just beyond the city’s border.

Getting Settled in Portlandia

Choose Your Adventure: Dark Brews or Clever Bites

Drive just 11 miles southeast of Portland International Airport and into the heart of the city, where you’ll find the trendy, urban Pearl District. Here, seemingly disparate notions of the city collide — from its independence to its rustic appeal, artistic nature and amiable locals — making it an ideal home base for your Oregon adventure. Stay at the Hampton Inn and Suites, where you can catch the sun setting over the city from the hotel’s rooftop patio. Or consider making your home away from home a trendy condo or renovated historic apartment available through home-sharing services such as Airbnb and Home Away.

Voodoo Doughnuts: Fun Things to do in Portland Take a bite out of this disturbingly delicious doll and signature stuffed pastry from the peculiar — but oh so very Portland — Voodoo Doughnuts. Photo by R. Crap Mariner, Flickr.

What to Eat and See
When thinking of Portland, two brews come to mind: coffee and beer. The Pearl District itself hosts a multitude of artisanal coffee houses, like Caffe Umbria, to start your morning. If you’re looking for something on the more delectable side, visit the infamous Voodoo Doughnut on Southwest Third Avenue. As seen on the Travel Channel and the Food Network, Voodoo’s doughnuts are maliciously clever. You may have to wait in line, but it’s worth it to try the signature Voodoo Doll, a terrified doll-shaped chocolate pastry stuffed with raspberry jam and a pretzel stake driven through its heart. Portland is keeping it weird.

Drive just a few miles west of the Pearl District to Washington Park, and you can burn those calories at the 64-acre Oregon Zoo — the oldest U.S. zoo west of the Mississippi. With 1,800 animals from more than 230 species and subspecies, see how many you can spot as you walk around the world and through the zoo’s five major exhibits spaces: Great Northwest, Fragile Forests, Asia, Pacific Shores and Africa. Afterward, head to the Portland Japanese Garden, adjacent to the zoo in the ark. There, you can learn about ikebana, the art of flower arranging, and stroll the grounds for inspiration.

At the end of your day, park your rental car at home base in Pearl and walk to the McMenamins pub on Burnside and Stark streets. The McMenamins chain of breweries and restaurants is not only a staple of the Portland area, but the microbrewery and its owners also helped lay the groundwork for Oregon’s beer renaissance.

Portland Day Trips

Choose Your Adventure: Hike, Soak or Explore

Hike Multnomah Falls
After experiencing Portland’s eclectic charms, drive just outside the city and explore an entirely different side of Oregon. Wind through the dense evergreens that surround the city as you drive 30 miles east on Interstate 84 to the beautiful Multnomah Falls, a 620-foot-tall, year-round waterfall. (Spoiler alert: It’s big and loud!) After taking Exit 31, park for free and walk south to the Visitor Center, where you can collect information and begin a day hike to the top of the falls along the Larch Mountain Trail.

Multnomah Falls: Portland Attractions Listen as gallons and gallons of water from Larch Mountain’s underground springs, melted snowpack and rainwater come together and crash down at the breathtaking Multnomah Falls.

Soak in the Bagby Hot Springs
Ready to take a dip? Head to the Bagby Hot Springs soaking tubs, located just 70 miles southeast of Portland and nestled in the Cascade mountains. Made of three major springs with several minor outlets, these springs average over 120 degrees Fahrenheit and produce up to 24 gallons of water per minute. Park at the trailhead and follow the 1.5-mile hike through the forest to get to the bathhouses and springs, which have healing powers, according to Native American legend. In winter, the trail is often covered in snow, so visitors should be ready to march through any powder on the ground. For shorter wait times, travelers with flexible schedules should journey to the springs during the week — or arrive early in the morning or later in the evening if stopping in over a weekend.

Explore Evergreen Aviation & Space Museum’s Spruce Goose
For history buffs, a must-see is the Evergreen Aviation & Space Museum in McMinnville, about a 40-mile jaunt southwest of the city. The museum hosts arguably the strangest airplane ever created: the Spruce Goose. Made entirely of wood, this five-story-high monstrosity that’s wider than a football field was the wildly impractical pet project of eccentric billionaire Howard Hughes. Though it flew only one time back in 1947 — for one minute, at an altitude of only 70 feet — the aircraft has since become the stuff of legend as depicted in Martin Scorsese’s Hughes biopic, The Aviator. The museum is open 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily. Adults: $27; children under 5: free; youths ages 5-16: $19.

Spruce Goose: Things to do in Portland Howard Hughes’ Spruce Goose, nicknamed the Hughes Flying Boat, was constructed completely out of wood and six times larger than any other aircraft of its time. Photo by Kathleen Tyler Conklin.

 

 

About the Author

Elijah J.K. Olson hails from Portland, Oregon, and currently resides in Los Angeles. In addition to writing travel stories, he freelances in the documentary feature world as a researcher.