9 Must-Do’s While Staying in Downtown Portland, Oregon
5. Take a stroll along the waterfront
Portland’s lively waterfront area is the perfect place to take a jog or walk on a nice day. This is also the location of the popular Portland Saturday Market, the largest continuously operated outdoor market in the country. Every Saturday & Sunday, all sorts of vendors are out, and you can find just about anything here including exotic foods, fresh produce, arts and crafts, clothing, jewelry, and much more.
The market is located within walking distance of the thriving Old Town neighborhood, and thus, you can easily stroll over to many fantastic coffee shops and restaurants form here including Kell’s Irish Pub which serves delicious fish and chips and the tastiest Irish nachos anywhere. This is also where you will have the best view of the iconic Portland white stag sign.
Along the waterfront, you will find a nice little paved path where you can jog, walk, ride a bike, or rent a classic 4 person surrey bike, while enjoying the quaint river scenery. It’s a nice little area for tourists, particularly during the summer months when the weather is a bit warmer and sunnier. Portland Spirit Cruises offers a number of themed cruises, including brunch, dinner, and sightseeing cruises so if you are looking for more to do a relaxing cruise is another option.
6. Explore the local food scene
Portland rightfully earns its’ place amongst the top foodie destinations in the US. Every street downtown is just loaded with all sorts of top knotch ethnic restaurants, local donut shops, bakeries, coffee shops, food trucks, brunch hotspots, specialty cafes, and so on. In fact, the Washington Post recently rated Portland number 1 amongst America’s top food cities, a notable distinction considering Portland is much smaller than many of the other top ranked cities.
If you like food trucks you are in luck as Portland has over 600. The food cart scene has received rave reviews by numerous major publications across the country due to the exotic variety of ethnic options and convenience (you will be within walking distance of a number of food trucks no matter where you stay downtown). Personally, I am not a fan of food carts and prefer sit down restaurants. Here are a few of my recommended restaurants.
Mama Mia – Amazing authentic Italian food in a gorgeous setting, wonderful 3 course meal option includes delicious homemade soup, an entree, and a decadent dessert, Great service too!
Kell’s Irish Pub – Fun lively atmosphere, friendly owner, the best fish and chips in town, nice historic ambiance. Since 1990, this pub has continued a unique tradition where customers donate money, which is then tossed upon the ceiling and swept down every St. Pat’s Day. The owners donate proceeds to charity, while also matching the total (over $11,000 was donated last year!).
Mother’s Bistro – Local breakfast favorite serves up delicious brunch fare in a rustic, yet upscale setting, friendly service, nice early hours for those on the go, great window watching
Portland Kettle – This local gem serves up a variety of housemade soups each day including the most delicious creamy Broccoli cheese and a hearty chili served alongside the most deliciously moist homemade cornbread.
Fuller’s diner – Classic comfort style diner fare in an old-fashioned setting, Big portions, homemade food, friendly service
7. Take the Aerial Tram ride
Although the Portland Aerial tram was technically created as a means of transport to the Oregon Health and Science University campus, a large public university as well as Portland’s largest employer, it is also open to tourists who want to take in the scenic vistas from the campus observation deck. And for only 4 bucks, it’s worth the small fee for the amazing views. As the tram soars 500 feet, you can see just about everything including views of the skyline, river, and even Mt Hood on a clear day. The ride is very fast as the tram travels 22mph and takes a mere 4 minutes to reach the top.
Taking the tram will not take up much of your time and you will get a fabulous 360 degree view of the city and surrounding mountains in exchange for just a few bucks, making it one of the best values in the city. Although both daytime and nighttime rides are available, a day trip is definitely more worthwhile, especially on a clear day.
8. Book a waterfall tour
There is a great tour company called Wildwood Adventures which offers various scenic tours including coastal, waterfall, and vineyard options. Any of these tours are ideal for tourists as the tour includes a convenient pickup from any downtown hotel. Due to the immense beauty of the Columbia River Gorge, the Half Day Gorge waterfall tour is the must-do in my opinion, although the Coastal tour is right up there too. The Gorge tour takes you to 4 of the best waterfalls in the Columbia River Gorge, a beautiful natural area which borders Washington & Oregon, and is known to be the most concentrated waterfall region in the US. In fact, there are more than 70 waterfalls on the Oregon side alone!
The drive to the first waterfall, the gorgeous Multnomah Falls, a towering 620 foot 2 tiered beauty, is just over a half hour outside of the city. The 3 others are all in close proximity along the Columbia River Gorge highway. Your tour will end (depending on weather conditions) at the gorgeous Vista House at Crown Point overlook, where you are treated to magnificent views of the river.
This tour is worth the small $60 price tag, not only for the wonderful scenery, but also for the convenient pickup from downtown hotels. Tour guides are friendly and knowledgeable and all the waterfalls are breathtaking. There’s much beauty to be found right outside of the Portland city limits, and thus, it would be a shame to come and go without exploring some of the natural beauty of the lush Pacific Northwest.
More info on Portland waterfalls
9. Treat yourself to a relaxing massage
It’s always an extra treat to get a massage while on vacation, especially in a city like Portland where you will be on your feet all day exploring. If you plan on doing a lot of hiking, a nice massage will come in handy. Although not exactly a hotspot for luxury spas, there are several nice options downtown. The most luxurious choice is Sante, a high end spa which features a number of luxurious amenities like a whirlpool, steam room, spa, and even a UV room to soak up some much needed Vitamin D on overcast PNW days. A great mid range option is the Dosha Spa at the hotel Monaco. Prices here are very affordable (about 100 bucks for a 60 min massage with access to a steam room).
Knot Springs is a newish health club which just opened downtown and includes a hot springs pool, a cold plunge pool, as well as a traditional steam room and sauna. The Loyla Steam and Spa is located a few miles outside of downtown, however, is a great place to enjoy a traditional Scandinavian style sauna experience. For just 20 bucks, you can relax in a traditional European steam room and sauna, with options to add on massage services for an additional fee.
*Stay at the Kimpton Hotel Monaco. It’s a gorgeous property that is centrally located to many great attractions and restaurants. An an added bonus, the property puts on a wonderful free wine hour each evening and offers complimentary locally roasted coffee in the morning.
*Avoid walking around late at night. Like most major cities, common sense comes in handy. I recommend taking a Lyft or Uber as much as possible, especially at night!
*Book your waterfall tour ahead of time to ensure availability.
*Do not overplan. Leave some time to explore random sights and check out restaurants on the fly.
*Stop by Powell City of Books if you have the extra time. It’s the largest independent new and used bookstore in the world! This place is massive -they seriously have everything here for the book lover. including a Rare Book room.