Portland in Oregon is one of our favorite cities to visit for a weekend getaway due to all it has to offer. Everytime we visit, we always regret not having an extra day or two to experience more. Find out more about Portland Oregon in this post and the top 10 things we love about this city to help you plan your visit!
1 – Size and Scale – Great Things Come in Smaller Packages:
Portland may not be as renowned or glamorous as other cities in the United States or across the world and that is one thing that makes it special and accessible, in our opinion. As much as we enjoy cities like San Francisco, Los Angeles, Paris, Hong Kong, Dubai, and New York City to name a few, we appreciate the smaller scale of Portland and how low-key it is.
As the US’ 25th largest city with a population of about 653,000 residents, for us, it’s the right size and scale for our urban adventures. With some planning, it is easy to visit most of the popular neighborhoods within 1-2 days without feeling overwhelmed and traveling extensive distances. It also doesn’t feel as crowded as other popular tourist cities.
2 – The Pacific Northwest Experience:
In our opinion, Portland that provides a well-rounded Pacific Northwest experience compared to other places. As much as we love Vancouver British Columbia (we live here), Portland doesn’t have the same snooty vibe that can be annoying here despite all the natural beauty. We also really enjoy visiting Seattle but to us, Seattle feels like a much larger and urban city and it can be more difficult to get around without a car. Portland’s biggest downfall as a Pacific Northwest city is that it’s not on the ocean but you can access the stunningly beautiful Oregon coastline a 1.5 drive away. As for the mountains, the Mount Hood recreation area is about a 2.5 hour drive away.
From outdoor adventure within a few hours, greenery and parks within the city, a thriving craft beer scene, a thriving and trendy food scene, urban wineries and vineyards that specialize in Pinot Noir, an eclectic community of hippies and hipsters…and everything in between, you will run out of time to experience everything there is so see and do in the city and beyond.
3 – PDX – Portland Airport is the best airport you’ve never been to:
Don’t underestimate PDX – Portland International Airport! Did you know Portland’s airport has won the “America’s Best Airport” 6 straight years in a row due to all its services and on-time arrivals and departures? When we can, we connect in Portland over Sea-Tac (Seattle-Tacoma International Airport) because of how much more enjoyable PDX is as an airport.
Sure, it is much smaller than other airports and there are less international flights, but it is possible to travel here non-stop from other destinations in the US, Canada, Europe, and even Asia (Source: https://www.iflynonstop.com/).
PDX Airport is a fun place to hang out as it boasts of local Portland businesses within the terminal, including Hollywood Theatre where you can watch short films by Oregon filmmakers and food and beverage outlets like Tamale Boy which started as a food truck, popular Blue Star Donuts, Laurelwood Brewing where you can get a growler of beer filled, as well as Hopworks Urban Brewery. The Made in Oregon Store and Tender Loving Empire are two stores where you can buy local products to take home with you, including Marshall’s Haute Sauce, canned and bottled beer, wine, and ciders that you would normally check in your bag (Source: https://www.flypdx.com/Shops-Dining#/). As my friend Steve mentioned in the comments, PDX Airport vendors cannot charge more for things at the airport than they do at their other locations which means you will not get gouged like you do at other airports. At PDX Airport, you get street pricing at the airport.
It is also super easy to access downtown Portland from the airport:
- The MAX Train costs $2.50 and runs about every 15 minutes and it takes about 40 minutes to get downtown. When the weather is over 95F, service is delayed by about 15 minutes.
- Lyft/Uber: Lyft and Uber serve PDX airport and it costs about $15-$40 to get downtown, depending on the time of the day and the service requested. It can be a little chaotic due to the high number of rides arriving and leaving though and to help, Lyft has ground personnel helping drivers and passengers.
- Taxi: It costs about $35 to take a taxi and takes anywhere between 20-40 minutes on average to get downtown.
4 – No car, no problem – It’s easy to get around:
Once you are in Portland, it is very easy to walk, bike, e-scoot take the transit or use Uber/Lyft. Compared to other cities we have visited, Portland is by far the easiest to get around without a car; we rarely ever rent a car or use our own.
Transit: Trimet is Portland and surrounding cities’ transit authority. They operate the MAX train, busses, and commuter trains. You can buy single fares, multiple tickets, or day passes at machines or via their app that you can download for Android and Apple. They also have a easy to use trip planner on their website and on the app.
Tip: Since each trip costs $2.50 on the busses and trains part of the TriMet network, opt for the $5.00 day pass if you plan on riding more than once per day.
Getting around by bike: Since we find renting bikes inconvenient, we really appreciate Biketown PDX, a bicycle sharing system. All you need to do is download the app, pay a one-time $5 sign-up fee, and you get billed $0.08 per minute (you unlock a bike and ride it and then lock it up somewhere else). We signed up for their emails and often end up with credits. You can also accumulate credits to offset the cost of rides if you return the bikes to places where they are low in stock but high in demand; we’ve often ridden the bikes for free using this strategy. If there is one thing that’s annoying about Biketown, it’s the bikes as they are a little old, they’re heavy, unlocking and locking them can be a little challenging, and some of the bikes can be unavailable if they are marked for maintenance. It’s not perfect but if you’re patient, it can be fun and cost effective. The app also tells you how many calories your burned, how fast and far you rode. While we are spoiled for cycling in Vancouver, we do find Portland to be the bike friendliest city we have ever been to in North America; there are lots of lanes, the Biketown PDX bike share program, and people are generally courteous.
Tip: You should always wear a helmet, even if it’s only the law for people under the age of 16.
e-Scooters: While they are very popular, we personally find the e-scooters unsafe and impractical. By law, you need to wear a helmet to drive them but since the fine is only $25 and helmets are not provided, this is often overlooked. We have also seen many people operate then unsafely which affects people driving, biking, and even pedestrians (Don’t drive like a maniac on the sidewalks).
Walking: We also find it very easy to walk around in Portland and have clocked in 15+ kilometers some days. Most, if not all bridges have sidewalks and the neighbourhoods are well connected. We also find this the best way to take in Portland’s shops and lovely neighbourhoods.
5 – Lots of Accommodations Options:
As Portland’s popularity increased, there was a room inventory shortage that really drove prices up during peak season like the summer. In the last few years, more hotel rooms have been added, and so prices aren’t as crazy. We have stayed near the airport at aloft and commuted in the city when the prices were too high, and that is still an option.
In addition to the usual chain hotels, Portland has many unique and awesome boutique hotels that really do enhance your trip. Our favorites are:
Hi-Lo Hotel: The Hi-Lo is an Autograph Collection Hotel part of Marriott Hotels & Resorts but it feels like a small, independent, boutique hotel. We love staying here due to the hotel’s location, design and incorporation of local products, such as Maak Lab toiletries, reclaimed wood from Pioneer Millworks, and collaborations with local beer, wine, and cider companies to develop branded drinks.
Kimpton RiverPlace Hotel: Part of IHG, the RiverPlace maintains its Kimpton character. We love staying here for its services, customer service, design, and location on the river. When we checked in and said the secret word, we were given “free valet parking”, had access to bikes, and enjoyed beer, wine, and cookies during the happy hour. I’m not sure if it’s still a thing, but the “Run with the GM” program is a great way to get their cookie recipe from the GM, who is more than happy to share it (way better than the ones served at the DoubleTree)!
Hotel Deluxe: Part of Provenance Hotels (based in Portland in Seattle), Hotel DeLuxe is one of several stunning boutique hotels in Portland. We love staying here for its design, service, and atmosphere. With the theme of “Celebrating the Golden Age of Hollywood cinema”, Hotel DeLuxe is less hipster than some of the other boutique hotels and offers a more refined experience. That being said, if you are there in the summer, we recommend playing a game or two of mini-putt at the 19th Hole in their parking lot, where you can also enjoy a few local beers, wines, or ciders.
Tip: We have never stayed here but think that The Sentinel (has roof terrace rooms with fire pits) and Woodlark are two unique and splurge worthy boutique hotels housed in historic buildings. These two hotels are part of the Provenance Hotel portfolio are on our boutique hotel wish list!
If hotels aren’t your thing, there are also many AirBnBs and even a “Tiny House Hotel” where you can stay in a tiny house parked in a lot. If you’re planning a trip to wine country, consider staying at The Vintages Trailer Resort, where you can choose from a series of vintage trailers.
6 – It’s Affordable – Eat, Drink, and Shop for Cheaper:
In addition to the cost-effective transportation options and accommodations, there is no sales tax in Portland, making it an affordable place to shop.
Things like food and drink are also affordable and many places offer “happy hour” deals. We’ve been to Teote numerous times to enjoy $4.50 with a plate of plantains.
Due to all the food trucks/carts, it is really easy to find a fantastic meal for $10 or under, which for us as Canadians who end up paying 30% more due to our currency is one of the reasons we love Portland so much. We really enjoyed Matt’s BBQ Tacos during our last visit; we ate there twice during our last visit.
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It can be hard to choose where to eat in Portland because there are so many great options and we ate at @mattsbbqtacos…twice…within 24 hours! It’s that good! With pressed corn or flour tortillas made to order, bbq meats, salsas, and BBQ sauce, it combines two of our favorite things: bbq and tacos. Best enjoyed with a refreshing Topo! #weleavetoday #weekendwelllived #maxandjayinportland #mattsbbqtacos #pdxfood #maxandjayaroundtheworld #letstacoboutit #bestthingieverate #briskettacos #porkbelly #lambbarbacoa #bbqtacos #onlyinportland #yolo #fomo #imeatingsaladforaweek #youhadmeatbarbacoa #topochico
We also do splurge on more expensive things, and when we do, we’re never disappointed. The Pok Pok Restaurants have really changed how we see and enjoy Thai food as the focus is on northern Thai food (less pad Thai and curry and more grilled meats and salads). Another favorite is Bollywood Theatre where the emphasis is on Indian Street food instead of the usual items on Indian food menus; we’ve enjoyed the Bhel puri, the fried okra, and Goan shrimp.
We’ve also gotten use to paying about $5 per beer on average and because there are so many breweries and craft beer bars, it’s easy to find space to enjoy a beer inside or outside as opposed to other cities like Boston and New York where places get very busy and you’re paying about $8 per beer. There is nothing better than enjoying a craft beer outside while sitting on a picnic table in Portland during the summer.
7 – It’s Home to the World’s Largest Book Store – Powell’s Books:
As the world’s largest independent bookstore, Powell’s Books is a dreamland for all book lovers. Selling both new and used books, this has been the place where I have found all those hard-to-find books that aren’t carried by the library or sold at other bookstores. As a francophone, I am super impressed with their collection of French books, where I was able to find Antoine de Saint-Exupéry’s “Terres de Hommes”, a book I really enjoyed reading in high school. We were also able to find Mexican author Juan Pablo Villalobos books translated from Spanish into English: “Down the Rabbit Hole”, “I’ll Sell You a Dog”, and “Quesadillas: A Novel”.
Tip: If you like to visit Mexico, we highly recommend these books to better understand Mexican culture, including life for everyday citizens. We consider Juan Pablo Villalobos the Douglas Coupland of Mexico.
Inside Powell’s World of Books Source: https://www.winecountry.com/businesses/3746/powell-s-books
In addition to finding books you’re looking for, they also have so many displays and you’ll find books you’ve never heard of in a comfortable atmosphere. Powell’s is also a good place to pick up souvenirs and knick knacks like Bob’s Burgers figurines. When in Portland, I always visit Powell’s Books to relive my summer vacations of browsing book stores to find things to read.
8 – It’s Not Boring or Conventional – The Dream of the 90’s is alive in Portland:
Portland is never boring and lives up to its credo of “Keep Portland Weird”. Sure, it’s a little hipster and gentrification and homelessness are problems here like other places but there is a vibe here that makes it different than other cities. We’ve only experienced a similar vibe in Austin but to a much lesser degree.
Anything goes in Portland, more or less, which is why you’ll see The Unipiper, a guy wearing a Darth Vader mask and a kilt on a unicycle playing the bag pipes. One year, we left the Oregon Brewer’s Festival and found ourselves walking in a Mermaid Parade.
There is also street art and murals here, and people have interesting displays in their front lawns. You can visit interesting bars, like Bible Club “a pre-Prohibition-area museum that you can drink in” which now has a location in Osaka Japan. There is also McMenamins Kennedy School, an elementary school turned into a hotel that also has a movie theatre, soaking pool, and brewery onsite.
While we think it is overrated and gimmicky, Voodoo Donuts and their nostalgic donut creations like one with crushed Oreos or Captain Crunch cereal, is very popular and unique in the way it captures the Portland vibe. You can even get married there if you want to!
9 – Celebrating Community – Special Events/Festivals:
There are a number of special events and festivals that capture the cities’ charm. Here are 3 of them:
Feast: Started in 2012 and held in September, Feats is a food and drink festival that celebrates Portland’s food scene.
Oregon Brewers Festival: As one of the USA’s longest running craft beer festival, OBF brings in upwards of 50,000 people each year in July to enjoy craft beer in a casual and affordable setting. It has also become our favorite beer festival because of how low-key it is; you buy a mug ($10) and tokens ($1 each; a taste is $1 and full-pour $4) and try craft beers that interest you among about 90 breweries.
The Big Float: Each July, there is an event called “The Big Float” to celebrate the Willamette River. Part parade, float, and beach party, this charity event that benefits the Human Access Project (HAP) is a fun way to float down the river while visiting the city.
10 – Buy Local:
Portland and its residents are very entrepreneurial and for us, supporting local business, especially smaller ones is something important to us. It is easier than anywhere else we have ever been to buy local products.
A visit to the Saturday morning Portland Farmer’s Market in the University District is also a great place to be introduced to Portland as a city. With numerous vendors showcasing local produce and products, you get a sense of how serious people are about good things and creating them here. From coffee, to ice cream sandwiches, dosas, kombucha, and kimchi, you will enjoy talking to the people who make these things as much as you enjoy trying them.
We remember the first time we visited Salt & Straw ice-cream, when it was just a small ice cream cart on Alberta Street. Since then, their business has expanded and you can find Salt & Straw in Washington, Oregon, and California, and even onboard our favorite airline, Alaska Airlines. To this day, my favorite ice cream is their seasonal Goat Cheese Marionberry Habanero available in July.
In addition to food cart pods, Pine Street Market is a food hall comprised entirely of local businesses serving up food in a casual food court style setting.
As far as products, we’ve enjoyed Masala Pop (Indian spiced popcorn), tea from The Jasmine Pearl, cured meat products from Olympia Provisions, Som drinking vinegar by Pok Pok, and Marshall’s Haute Sauce.
As you can see, Portland has many things to offers as a destination in the Pacific Northwest. For us, it’s our favorite place to just walk, eat, drink, and repeat, especially on those nice summer days. We also appreciate the accessibility of the food scene, its high quality, affordable, and very casual; you often order at the counter, your food is brought out to you, and you bus for yourself.
With so many options, it can be hard to choose where to eat and drink and trust us, it is hard to have a bad meal here. Overall, we find people to be pretty friendly and feel good about spending our money here to support this city’s entrepreneurs. That being said, at the time of writing this, Portland’s culture and spirit is being threatened as more food cart pods are being shut down for hotels and condos being built; Portland’s biggest food cart pod at Alder is being closed to build a 35 story hotel. Let’s hope Portland keeps being a city known for its casual food scene and entrepreneurs who bring flavours and culture to a small city in the Pacific Northwest.
Have you been to Portland? Did I miss anything in this post? What’s your favorite brewery in Portland? Do you agree that Portland is a very bike-friendly city?
- Review: Hi-Lo Hotel, Autograph Collection in Portland Oregon
- Tips for OBF (Oregon Brewers Festival) in Portland Oregon
- Priority Pass Restaurant at Sea-Tac: Floret by Café Flora
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