Old Town Portland White Stag sign

Portland is most famous for being one of America’s quirkiest cities. The eccentric city keeps true to its’ famous “Keep Portland Weird” motto. An offbeat destination, Portland offers a new & interesting sight at every turn, thus, making it a great choice for tourists seeking a unique vacation destination. From the highly touted foodie scene, to eclectic art and funky shops, oddball attractions & interesting museums, a never ending supply of local coffee shops, and a lineup of strange events throughout the year (did you know that there is an annual Naked Bike run?!), there really is something interesting to do anytime of the year in Portland.

Easy access to Natural wonders

Multnomah Falls near Portland, Oregon
At 620 feet, Multnomah Falls is the tallest waterfall in Oregon and one of the tallest year-round falls in the US. This is the most popular tourist attraction in the Pacific Northwest, and definitely worthy of a visit, either by a quick drive or via a tour.

In addition to all the unique attractions found within the city limits, there are endless natural wonders to explore, many of which are within an hour drive from downtown. Four of the best waterfalls in the gorgeous Columbia River Gorge (the most concentrated waterfall region in the country) are all located within a half hour-45 minute drive of downtown.

While I recommend staying downtown, there’s also much beauty lurking right outside of the downtown limits that should not be ignored. Gorgeous hiking trails, parks, waterfalls, scenic drives, and more can all be enjoyed via a short drive (or convenient tour). Here’s a nice starter list of 9 must-do’s while visiting Portland, with a focus on both cultural and natural attractions.

1. Spend the day exploring Washington Park

Peaceful views at the Portland Japanese Garden

Washington Park is hands down the best attraction in the Portland region. Conveniently, this natural oasis is located just a 10 minute drive (or Lyft/Uber ride) from downtown. This massive park is home to the Oregon Zoo, the Portland Japanese Garden, the Hoyt Arboretum, the Portland Children’s Museum, as well as hundreds of miles of beautiful woodsy trails.

The zoo, while small at just 60 acres, is pretty impressive, being that it is home to a diverse mix of animals including many endangered species. Unique features include an underwater seal exhibit, a fantastic elephant exhibit, an impressive polar passage exhibit, and a beautiful Pacific Northwest section featuring native plants and animals. Lots of trees give this zoo a really natural feel as opposed to most others. The mix of indoor and outdoor exhibits comes in handy weather-wise, as there are plenty of places to escape the inevitable rain.

The really unique aspect of Washington Park, which really sets it apart from many other urban parks, is the wonderful trail system. Here you can choose to hike a number of connecting trails as a means to get to and from various attractions. This is a great way to get in a nice workout while also enjoying the beautiful natural scenery of the area. Anyone looking to relax can opt to take the free (seasonal) shuttle.

More info on Washington Park

2. Check out the local coffee scene

Americano and White Mocha at Cafe Ponte in Portland, Oregon

Portland is home to an amazing independent coffee scene. With a number of local shops lining every street, you never have to resort to a common Starbucks here. Most of the shops feature big open windows so you can people watch while enjoying a great cup of locally roasted coffee. Case Study, Cafe Ponte, Stumptown, and Spella are a few excellent choices to check out during your trip.

Most local coffee shops focus on high quality single origin beans and roast in small batches to produce a flavorful brew as opposed to the burnt and bitter undertones which are all too commonly present in the coffee at big chains. True coffee connoisseurs will be impressed with the Portland scene.

3. Take your pic by the famous Keep Portland Weird sign

Keep Portland Weird sign

Most of us are well aware of Portland’s status of being the king of weird. In fact, it’s a prime reason the city sees so much tourism each year. You really cannot leave without getting your picture next to the famous “Keep Portland Weird” sign.

If you have the extra time, you may want to check out the free Secrets of Portlandia tour which will take you past the Keep Portland Weird sign, as well as many other interesting sites. Meet up by the Pioneer Courthouse at 11am to partake in this fun and free tour.

A few odd sights to check out

Portland is known for all sorts of oddball attractions. Below is a brief overview of the more interesting sites.

  • Peculiarium – An odd artifacts museum.
  • The Witch’s House – Haunted stone ruins in a creepy forest which were once the site of many murders – old remains can be viewed via a 1/2 mile hike.
  • The Vacuum Cleaner Museum – Spotlights more than 100 vacuums from the late 1800’s to 1960.
  • Rimsky-Korsakoffee -The oldest coffeeshop in Portland and also one of the most haunted places in town (plan for a dessert & drink in this most unusual setting).

Simpsons tour – Fans of The Simpsons will also want to check out this Self Guided Portland Simpsons tour (Simpson’s creator Matt Groening is from Portland and many of the characters and places in the show were inspired by actual places in the city).

If you are a sweets lover, you will want to check out the massively popular Voodoo Donuts located right next door to the Keep Portland Weird sign. This eclectic sweets shop offers over 2 dozen specialty donut flavors, with everything from Captain Crunch, to a Mexican Hot Chocolate, to vegan varieties on the lineup.

Gigantic donut at Voodoo Donuts in Portland, Oregon

4. Indulge in a scoop of “safe to eat” cookie dough

The Cookie Dough Cafe in Portland, Oregon

We’ve all been told never to eat raw cookie dough due to salmonella concerns, however, sometimes it’s just too tempting to resist. I’ve never made a batch of chocolate chip cookies without indulging in a spoon (or 2). Lucky for us, some clever entrepreneurs decided to take advantage of everyone’s love of cookie dough by creating safe to eat cookie dough. This tasty treat manages to skip the raw eggs while still maintaining the same delicious raw cookie dough flavor and consistency that we all love.

At The Cookie Dough Cafe in downtown Portland (featured on Season 5 of the popular reality TV show Shark Tank), you can test out about a dozen flavors of safe to eat cookie dough flavors. Everything from Oreo, to gluten-free Oatmeal, to a Naked cookie dough (for those who prefer to skip the chocolate chips) is available. You really cannot go wrong with good old classic chocolate chip cookie dough.

Check out the full Cookie Dough cafe menu