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. 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. Thus, you can easily stroll over to many fantastic coffee shops and restaurants from here. Do try 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 when the weather is a bit warmer and sunnier. Portland Spirit Cruises offers a number of themed cruises, including brunch, dinner, and sightseeing cruises.
6. Explore the local food scene
Portland rightfully earns its’ place amongst the top foodie destinations in the US. Every street downtown is loaded with a variety of ethnic restaurants, local donut shops, bakeries, coffee shops, brunch hotspots, cafes, and so on. In fact, the Washington Post recently rated Portland number 1 amongst America’s top food cities. This is 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. The exotic ethnic options and convenience (you will be within walking distance of a number of food trucks no matter where you stay downtown) draws many foodies. Personally, I am not a fan of food carts and prefer sit down restaurants. Here are a few of my recommended restaurants.
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
Kells has it all – a fun lively atmosphere, a friendly owner, the best fish and chips in town, and a nice historic ambiance. Since 1990, this pub has continued a unique tradition tossing donated money upon the ceiling and sweeping it down every St. Pat’s Day. The owners donate proceeds to charity, while also matching the total (over $11,000 was donated last year!).
Local breakfast favorite serves up delicious brunch fare in a rustic, yet upscale setting. Highlights include friendly service, nice early hours for those on the go, and great people watching.
This local gem serves up a variety of housemade soups each daily. Try the most delicious creamy Broccoli cheese or a hearty chili served alongside the super moist homemade cornbread.
Classic comfort style diner fare in an old-fashioned setting, Big portions, homemade food, friendly service
7. Take the Aerial Tram ride
The Portland Aerial tram was originally created as a means of transport to the Oregon Health and Science University campus. This large public university is Portland’s largest employer. However, 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. The tram soars up 500 feet. The ride is very fast as the tram travels 22mph and takes a mere 4 minutes to reach the top. On a clear day, you can see all the way to Mt. Hood.
Taking the tram will not take up much of your time. The spectacular 360 degree view of the city and surrounding mountains in exchange for just a few bucks makes 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 due to the 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. The Gorge tour takes you to 4 of the best waterfalls in the Columbia River Gorge. This beautiful natural area 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 towering 620 foot, 2 tiered Multnomah Falls is the first and most dramatic tour stop. Multnomah lies 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. The views of the river from way up here are unparalleled.
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 therefore, it would be a shame to come and go without exploring at least some of the natural beauty of the lush Pacific Northwest.
9. Treat yourself to a relaxing massage
It’s always a nice extra treat to get a massage while on vacation. This is especially so 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. Downtown, the most luxurious choice is Sante. Fancy amenities include a whirlpool, steam room, spa, and 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. This spa includes a hot springs pool, a cold plunge pool, as well as a traditional steam room and sauna. The Loyly Steam and Spa is located a few miles outside of downtown. However, it is a great place to enjoy a traditional Scandinavian style sauna experience. For just 20 bucks, you can relax in a European steam room and sauna, with options to add on massages.
Tips for a great visit
*Stay at the Kimpton Hotel Monaco. It’s a gorgeous property that is centrally located to many great attractions and restaurants. Extra amenities include a wonderful free wine hour each evening and 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.