The city of Portland is known for its laid-back vibes, incredible food, and its vibrant art scene that has been producing incredible musicians, actors, and all types of creators for decades. If you’re interested in visiting this Pacific Northwest city, this travel guide will help you plan the perfect trip and give you all of the basics you need to prep for your visit to Portland, Oregon. Here's the ultimate Portland travel guide!
What to Expect in Portland
Language: English is the main language spoken in Portland, but you may also meet people who speak more Spanish than English. You’re not likely to encounter many other languages, but Portland also has a significant Japanese and Russian immigrant population so don’t be surprised if you overhear these languages or see cafes or stores that represent those cultures.
Currency: The US Dollar ($)
Credit Cards and Banks: Portland has most major banks and ATMs throughout the city. You’ll be able to use credit cards for most purchases but it’s best to keep a small amount of cash on you in case you want to stop at a food truck and they don’t accept credit cards.
Climate: They’re not exaggerating when they say the Pacific Northwest is rainy! Although the actual amount of rain that falls daily in Portland is less than in many other areas in the country, it’s kind of constantly drizzling and overcast in the spring and fall. In the summer you’ll experience mildly sunny days with little to no humidity.
Helpful Tip: Most Oregonians will stubbornly refuse to use umbrellas even in the worst of rainstorms, but you should definitely bring one. You could also opt for a solid rain jacket with a good hood instead.
Getting Around in Portland
Portland consists of 95 individual neighborhoods located throughout six districts, termed “quadrants” by locals. Most neighborhoods are fairly well connected by the public transportation system and in most cases, the Uber/Lyft options are reliable with few unexpected price surges.
North Portland: Called the fifth of the six “quadrants,” North Portland is where you can find some unique commercial districts like Mississippi/Williams. This is also where the St. Johns Bridge is located.
Northeast Portland: This is where a lot of the major entertainment venues can be found. The Moda Center is where the Portland Trailblazers play, and it hosts many concerts throughout the year.
Northwest Portland: This quadrant of Portland is where you can shop, eat, and explore the area of Portland that starts to weave back into the foggy Pacific Northwest forests. You can hike, explore Pittock Mansion, and check out the Nob Hill, Pearl District, and Old Town Chinatown neighborhoods.
South Portland: South Portland is filled with urban green space and places you can take a dip into the waters of the Willamette by renting a kayak or paddleboard or relaxing on one of the beaches along the river.
Southeast Portland: A quirkier side of Portland with neighborhoods and streets like Hawthorne and Belmont filled with vintage shops, tattoo parlors, and truly unexpected boutiques.
Southwest Portland: Southwest Portland is an anchor point that includes downtown Portland and the Goose Hollow neighborhood that is home to Portland’s soccer stadium, Providence Park.
Where to Stay in Portland
Portland has some amazing hotels in every corner of the city, with options for every budget. If you’re wondering where to stay in Portland, here are some of the city’s best hotels.
If you love books, elegance, and a world-class hospitality experience, the Heathman Hotel in downtown Portland is the hotel for you! Each room is carefully decorated with a series of art and the amenities range from complimentary craft beer when you check in to a fitness center with a Peloton bike. Grab a cocktail every evening in one of the hotel’s most exciting features, the large library complete with a sliding ladder so you can live your Beauty and the Beast dreams!
For a hotel bursting with historic charm, check out the Benson Hotel, which is also located in downtown Portland. Stepping into the lobby feels like stepping back in time to a European resort, with original features from the 1913 construction still in place such as the Italian marble floors, Austrian crystal chandeliers, and Circassian walnut wood imported directly from Russia’s imperial forests.
A luxurious retreat in the heart of downtown Portland, the Duniway is an upscale boutique hotel that is filled to the brim with high-quality amenities and gorgeous original art. The cozy and inviting restaurant, Mayrose, serves up a locally-inspired menu of American cuisine, and the 11th-floor private guests-only bar, Abigail’s Hideaway, provides a great place to relax and enjoy views of Portland.
The Inn at Northrup Station was built in the 1970s, and the interiors of the hotel today still celebrate the creativity and vibrant colors of the designs of the time. Every room at this hotel is a suite, which makes it perfect for longer stays or for traveling with a group – think a girls’ weekend getaway or a bachelorette trip! Oversized jars of candy in the lobby and playful color palettes throughout make the Inn at Northrup Station a fun and unique place to stay.
Although hostels in Europe are pretty popular and commonplace, they haven’t quite hit that same stride in the United States. But the HI Portland Northwest Hostel is changing the game, with free lockers in the rooms as well as private rooms and apartments available as well. One of the best parts of staying at a hostel is that you’ll have a home base and a built-in network, which can make visiting a new city just that much easier. The Hostel Cafe serves up affordable food and craft beers, and you can watch soccer games, participate in trivia, or enjoy live music on certain nights. The Hostel also offers walking tours of the area to guests on occasion.
When you step inside the Royal Sonesta Portland, you’ll be greeted by vintage vibes and whimsical decor like custom-made bird wallpaper. Treat yourself to a spa day at the Dosha 5th Avenue Spa on the hotel’s main level and grab a bite to eat at Finch on Fifth.
Get the comfort and serenity you expect from Hilton hotels in Portland’s vibrant Pearl District neighborhood. The Canopy by Hilton is just a few blocks away from Powell’s City of Books and has easy access to the streetcar. The hotel also offers guests complimentary use of their Canopy Bikes, which makes exploring Portland a breeze!
Where to Eat in Portland
Portland’s food scene is an absolute dream, with unique flavors around every corner! From fancy culinary experiences and exquisite desserts to casual food trucks and sweet treats with a twist, Portland has a seemingly endless selection of incredible eateries. Here’s a guide to some of the best restaurants in Portland that you should definitely check out when you visit.
While Voodoo Doughnuts aren’t necessarily the best donuts in the city, you definitely have to visit because it’s a Portland institution. Known for quirky decorations and flavors that push the limits of what a donut can be, Voodoo Doughnuts is an experience in itself.
Salt & StrawIce Cream
Not only is the ice cream you can buy at Salt & Straw perfectly creamy and delicious, but they offer a unique and creative selection of flavors that draw from the surrounding area. Some staple favorites include pear and blue cheese or honey lavender, but they always have something new and exciting on their monthly rotating menu.
Located next door to the Salt & Straw location on 23rd, Bamboo Sushi is the place to go for fresh and delicious sushi. The restaurant prides itself on sustainability and serves up some of the best sushi, sashimi, and nigiri in the region. The experience of eating at Bamboo Sushi is also quite peaceful with elegant yet minimal design elements throughout.
This charming neighborhood restaurant offers a unique menu of mostly French cuisine that embraces Japanese and Southern United States influences. Soon after it opened in 2015, Coquine almost immediately received critical acclaim and the chef and co-owner Katy Millard received her fair share of accolades as well.
Portland is known for its food carts, so make sure you try them at least once during your visit. There are multiple areas throughout Portland where you can find groups of food trucks parked, with notable pods like the 5th Avenue carts downtown or Cartlandia and Cartopia in southwest Portland. You can often pay with credit cards at the carts these days, but it’s typically easier to have cash. The average food truck meal will be between $10-$15 so if you have a $20 handy you’ll be able to cover your meal and a tip.
Mother’s Bistro and BarComfort Food
Mother’s Bistro and Bar is the ultimate comfort food spot, serving up delicious food that is made with love. While the standard menu is unbeatable, the highlight of Mother’s is their Mother of the Month menu, which is curated by a mother from around the world who was nominated through their website. This means the specialty menu might feature some incredible Middle Eastern cuisine one month, and then some Tex-Mex flavors the next.
If you’re a fan of whiskey, Scotch Lodge is a must-do during your trip to Portland. You can order it on the rocks or choose from one of their craft cocktails that feature a variety of whiskey and other ingredients designed to bring out the best possible flavors. They also have non-whiskey drink options like their Quiet Gardner cocktail which is made with American botanical gin, gran Classico, lemon, and orange bitters. Round off your experience with one of the small plates which are inspired by French cuisine.
Under the direction of chef Ryley Eckersley, Quaintrelle has curated a menu of the best Pacific Northwest ingredients with a hint of global flair. The menu may change seasonally so they can feature only the freshest ingredients – the one thing you’ll know for sure is that the food you’ll get at Quaintrelle will be inspired by the region and will be carefully and passionately created.
What to Do in Portland
The list of the top things to do in Portland is ever-growing as there are always new unique points of interest that pop up in the city. There will always be a new brewery you haven’t tried or a restaurant you’ve never heard of, and those are all worth checking out. In fact, some of the most uniquely Portland experiences come when you try something unexpected!
Now, if you’re looking for things to do in Portland to add to your itinerary, this list of some of the city’s best points of interest and activities will give you the information you need. Just make sure you allow yourself a little wiggle room in that itinerary so you can allow the city to lead you and show you what makes it special.
Planning a short trip to Portland? This ultimate 2-day Portland itinerary will give you an amazing place to start when crafting an itinerary of your own.
There are bookstores, there are big bookstores, and then there’s Powell’s City of Books! It takes up a whole city block and has four stories packed to bursting point with books on any subject you can imagine. They sell new and used books, so exploring some older and more unexpected titles can be a fun way to spend an afternoon.
The Portland Japanese Garden is considered to be one of the best examples of a Japanese-style garden outside of Japan itself. It consists of a twelve-acre plot of land with a Sand and Stone Garden, a 100-year-old five-tiered pagoda lantern, and a tea garden. The garden is non-profit, and the money you pay for your admission ticket goes back to the garden and the people who run it.
Stop and smell the tens of thousands of roses at the International Rose Test Garden! This garden was first established during World War I when rose experts from around the world collaborated to send all of their best and most unique roses to one central location to avoid losing them to damage from the war. Visiting the Rose Test Garden is completely free and it’s a prime spot for a casual photo shoot! Just make sure you don’t damage the rose bushes or take any souvenir blooms when you leave.
The Tom McCall Waterfront Park runs along the Willamette River and you can often find different festivals, celebrations, classes, and gatherings taking place here. It’s where the famous Portland Saturday Market is held and if you visit during the spring, you can even see the light pink cherry blossom trees in full bloom.
The Pittock Mansion was built by the prominent Portland family, the Pittocks’, who are responsible for creating The Oregonian newspaper, which is still widely read to this day. The family celebrated their newly found wealth and success by building a gorgeous mansion that overlooks Portland, the Willamette River, and the Cascade Mountains. During certain hours of the day, the mansion is open for tours but it’s also a stop along with a series of great hiking routes in the area if you’d prefer to explore on foot.
It’s pretty easy to figure out why one of Portland’s nicknames is “Bridgetown” — there are 12 bridges that span the Willamette and Columbia Rivers, as well as several that cross major highways and roads. Many of the bridges are over a century old and were record-breaking when they were built.
St. Johns Bridge is Portland’s tallest bridge and is the only suspension bridge in the Willamette Valley. The east side of the bridge connects to Cathedral Park, named for the Gothic archways that support the bridge. The park has a small outdoor stage where many events take place such as the Cathedral Park Jazz Fest. If you visit during the summer, you might get to catch one of these free shows, and the park is a great photo op and place to relax on the grass.
Portland is full of incredible vintage boutiques and shops where you can find almost anything you’re looking for. Pick up some new records or a vintage necklace to add some unique charm to your look. Xtabay Vintage Clothing Boutique and Hollywood Vintage are amongst some of the most popular vintage clothing stores in the city, but there are small boutiques and vendors around every corner.
Portland is famous for having more breweries per capita than any other U.S. city so you’re sure to find at least one that you love. Why not take a guided tour of Portland’s best breweries to make sure you get to experience some of the best in one evening with an expert guide who can help recommend brews to you and make sure you get where you need to be!
If you think the city of Portland is beautiful, check out the natural beauty that surrounds it! The Pacific Northwest is full of lush landscapes and the most incredible waterfalls, and there are many you can see within an hour of the city center. Multnomah Falls is the tallest in the state and is just 30 miles east of Portland. There are many to pick from, but some of the most popular include Oneonta Gorge, Bridal Veil Falls, and Latourell Falls. Make sure you wear sturdy waterproof shoes if you’re interested in venturing beyond the lookout points because some trails take you through the water and under the falls.
Portlands’ historic Chinatown neighborhood is home to several iconic sites such as the Lan Su Chinese Garden and Portland’s Chinatown Museum. You can find several authentic Chinese restaurants and tea houses throughout the area, and it’s also home to a lot of Portland’s nightlife. One of the most famous venues in the neighborhood is Darcelle XV Showplace — it opened in 1969, making it one of the oldest drag clubs in the United States. It’s owned and named for Darcelle (a.k.a. Walter Cole), who turned 91 in November of 2021 and has a celebrated drag career that spans over 55 years.
Chinatown is also home to a darker side of Portland’s history. The Shanghai Tunnels are a famous underground network that is said to have been a hotspot of organized crime. “Shanghaiing”, or the process of kidnapping unsuspecting bar patrons to serve as sailors, is said to have been one of the most common uses of the tunnels and is how they got their name. Although there’s very little evidence to prove this ever happened, a tour of the tunnels is always a good time.
Once an industrial warehouse district, the Pearl District of today is one of Portland’s trendiest shopping neighborhoods. This is where you can find Powell’s City of Books as well as other stores like Anthropologie, Lululemon, or The North Face. In addition to Powell’s, you can also find a selection of local boutiques and cafes such as Lovejoy Bakers and a series of art galleries that are featured during First Thursday, a monthly art walk and celebration.
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