Creativity and cool vibes ooze out of Oregon’s biggest city. From top-notch coffee, craft brews and farm-to-table dining, to pretty parks and hipster neighbourhoods, this is a US city not to miss. Lucky enough to have a day or two in Portland? Here’s our definitive guide to what to do with 48 hours in this capital of cool.
Portland’s popularity has been growing in waves over the years, and what was thought by many as a secret jewel in America’s Pacific Northwest is now a sought-after destination, joining fellow Northwestern city of Seattle in the attention stakes.
Despite the rain (there are on average 164 days of rain here – the Pacific Northwest is infamous for its rain after all!), this city keeps people coming back for more, largely thanks to its fabulous craft brews (it’s home to around 70 breweries), culinary know-how (from food carts to farm-to-table dining, food is a big deal in Portland), outdoors offerings (the city parks are fantastic, it’s surrounded by forests, and Mt Hood dominates the city’s skyline) and an undeniable quirkiness (you’ll see ‘Keep Portland Weird’ on many a bumper sticker and wall). This is a city where two wheels are better than four (bikes rule the roads) and monikers are aplenty; City of Roses, Rose City, Little Beirut, Stumptown, Beervana, Bridge City, and PDX – take your pick, they just show how much there is on offer here.
Portland International Airport is the largest airport in Oregon, and is around 15 kilometres from downtown Portland. If you’ve pre-booked your airport transfer before you travel, you could be in the city centre ready to explore in under half and hour! This popular city will keep you happy for far longer than 48 hours, but if you only have a day in Portland, here’s what not to miss.
8.30am Coffee in Portland’s ‘living room’
Portland ranks up there with the likes of Melbourne, Seattle and Rome for its great coffee, so the best way to kick start your day in the Oregon capital is with a cup of the good stuff. There are endless independent coffee shops selling the finest in coffee beans in the coolest of settings, whether you’re a cold brew, pour over, cappuccino or macchiato kinda person. Most come with a selection of tasty treats from local producers too, so pick up your coffee and grab a pastry to set you up for the day.
Try Courier Coffee in downtown Portland, and make your way to nearby Pioneer Courthouse Square, known as Portland’s ‘living room.’ This plaza is in the centre of downtown, and many visitors will find themselves here a least once on their trip. As a central point, it’s also a great meeting place in the city and therefore is usually bustling with people meeting friends, enjoying the events such as markets and music concerts that regularly take place there, and checking out the features of the plaza; there’s art dotted around, a waterfall fountain and a weather machine, not to mention a selection of shops, food pit-stops, and a visitor information centre.
9.30am Wander through Forest Park
It’s fair to say that Portland drew the lucky straw in the natural beauty stakes. With so many rainy days comes an abundance of greenery, and with parks, trees, flowers and green spaces on every corner, it’s easy to see why locals and visitors love embracing the great outdoors here. Although the impressive 11,240-foot cone of the dormant volcano Mount Hood is definitely the attention-grabber on the city’s skyline, there is some incredible nature to explore right in town. After you’ve had your coffee fill, head over to one of the largest urban forests in the US; the immense 5,200-acre Forest Park lies northwest of downtown, and is home to more than 80 miles of trails (128 kilometres) perfect for walkers, joggers, bike riders and bird watchers.
11.30am Soak up the smells and sights of the city’s roses
With a taste for the fresh Oregon air, make your way back towards the city via another of Portland’s famous parks, Washington Park, so you can experience why this city is often called the ‘City of Roses’. Thought by many as the prettiest spot in Portland, the International Rose Test Garden is home to more than 7,000 rose plants and 550 varieties, and if you visit when the flowers are in bloom (usually April to October) your senses will be alive with the scents and colours of the beautiful flowers. While you’re in Washington Park, you could take a detour to the popular Oregon Zoo or Portland Japanese Garden.
1pm Experience the food cart revolution
You’ll have worked up an appetite after all that walking and fresh air, and there’s no better US city to be in when your tummy is rumbling; Portland is a haven for foodies. Farm-to-fork dining and eating local are the ethos of this city, but the weird, cool and kooky nature of Portland has also led to an explosion in creative dining, starting with the food cart revolution. There are more than 500 food trucks dotted around the city, many of which nestle together in ‘food cart pods’. The biggest concentration of pods is found around the West End neighbourhood near 10th Street and Adler, known as the Alder Street Food Cart Pod, and offers a round-the-world-excursion for your taste buds; Korean, Indian, Italian, Thai, or just a classic American double cheeseburger or tasty grilled cheese sandwich… you name it, it’s probably here. And the best bit is that dishes are very affordable, meaning that dessert is totally acceptable.
2.30pm Pick up your next page turner
While you’re in the area, why not pop by one of the world’s largest independent bookstores? With around one million used and new books, out-of-print titles and rare finds, hundreds of author events, writing workshops, and occupying an entire city block, Powell’s City of Books isn’t just a bookshop, it’s an attraction where tours are even available!
3.30pm Do as the locals do and pedal
If you’ve been using your two feet to get around up until now, swap for a stint of exploring on two wheels. Portland is a green city in more than its verdant surroundings; looking after the environment is a fundamental way of life here. So it’s no surprise that Portland is one of America’s big cycling cities; there are 315 miles (over 500 kilometres) of bikeways here, and the city has the highest-percentage of bike commuters in the US. Pick up a trusty steed even if only for a quick pedal – then you’ll truly experience Portland. There are plenty of bike hire shops around town, with shops like Pedal Bike Tours, Waterfront Bicycle and Cycle Portland Bike Tours & Rentals all not too far from Powell’s City of Books. Depending on how your legs are feeling after all the walking, try for a gentle pedal along the Willamette River, which runs through Portland city. If you pick up a bike from one of the central shops, head south to Tilikum Crossing, the largest car-free bridge in the US. This iconic bridge takes cyclists, pedestrians, the Portland Streetcar, buses and trains, and is fondly called the Bridge of the People.
Tip: If you’re here for longer than 48 hours and want to see more of the city by bike, try out the Willamette River Loop, a 30 mile (48 kilometre) route popular with cyclists.
5pm Get crafty with your brews
You simply can’t experience Portland without sampling some of the city’s famous brews. Portland has more breweries than any other city in the world, and the craft beer scene is one of the best in the USA, if not the world. So it’s no wonder that Portland also goes by the name of ‘Beervana’. And it’s not just your average brews being churned out here; IPAs, pilsners, lagers, stouts, saisons… there’s pretty much a craft tipple to suit every preference. Taste your way round Portland’s beer trail on a tour (there are plenty on offer to guide you round this world-renowned beer scene, whether you prefer walking or wheeled tours), indulge in one of the many beer festivals that take place in the city if you happen to be there at the right time, enjoy a classic Portland experience with a ‘brew’n’view’ (exactly what it sounds like; catch a movie from comfy seats while sipping on a local brew), or work your way round some of the city’s finest breweries. Research the breweries before you go to make the most of your trip; Oregon Craft Beer is a great place to start, and is run by the Oregon Brewers Guild.
7.30pm Enjoy the culinary treats of Portland
Dubbed one of America’s great food cities, Portland is a place where food is front and centre, and comes in all forms; from the food carts to fine-dining, exploratory donut shops to ‘farm-to-cone’ gourmet ice cream joints. But what stands out more than anything else is the importance Portlanders put on the provenance of their food; the city’s restaurants are adventurous in their culinary delights but also place so much importance in the ingredients. Head to SE Division Street (affectionately labelled Restaurant Row) where you’ll find many of Portland’s iconic restaurants, including Roman-inspired cuisine at Ava Gene’s, popular Thai food joint Pok Pok and inventive ice creamery Salt & Straw. Expect creative flavours with a local story at the latter; try the unique Honey Lavender made with Oregon-grown lavender petals and honey originating from urban hives around Portland, the delectable Sea Salt with Caramel Ribbons made with Fleur de Sel from local salt shop The Meadow and hand-burned caramel, or the perfectly matched Pear & Blue Cheese made with Oregon Trail Northwest Bartlett Pears and Rogue Creamery’s Crater Lake Blue Cheese. Oh my, get us a cone pronto!