Things to do in Portland for First Timers
24 January, 2016
‘Portland – where young people go to retire!’ This quote has been doing the rounds on the old viral trail ever since the ‘marmite’ (love it or hate it) TV show, Portlandia, coined it. Discuss the top things to do in Portland with with anyone from this Pacific Northwest city and the response will be something along the lines of beer, bikes, noms, and nature. By the end of this article, I hope that you’ll agree that Portland certainly is a very liveable and loveable city in Oregon, America.
Happening Things to do in Portland
Beer in Portland
Fact: Portland currently has the most breweries of any city in the world. That’s a lot of growlers! There is even a bar in Vancouver called Portland Craft which boasts of serving Portland craft beer, regardless of Vancouver having its own craft beer creators! That gives you an idea of the level of respect Portland’s craft beer community receives. We kicked off our first night in Portland at Bailey’s Taproom (SW Broadway). Craig tested a pint of Red Chair whilst I had a flight of five. Flights—trays of small taster glasses—are great for non-beer drinkers like myself. We drank these with a friend who we met in Peru, Nate. Nate is a brewmaster, which isn’t really that impressive if you live in Portland – everyone has a brewmaster pal! Portland now has an emerging cider scene. Excellent for the waistline…
Bikes in Portland
Why not combine beer and bikes? Cycle Portland Bike Tours offer brewery tours, around the city. Since we were flying to Orlando that night we declined the brew tour in exchange for the Essential Portland City Tour. I was keen to get a bit of background on the city we’d spent the last three days in. Our guide, Sarah, kitted us out with bikes that can change gear without pedalling (genius – no more smacked shins!), a helmet, and gloves at the Chinatown / Old Town store. I like this area; we stayed there during the first half of our visit, and it felt refreshing to be in an area which is up and coming—the next to be ‘gentrified’ according to Sarah.
The tour took us along the riverfront, over two of the twelve Portland bridges, through the university area, and in amongst the Pearl District. We stopped for photos and information—Portland is very picturesque (very instagrammable)!
One of my favourite things to photo during our stay was the Portland, Oregon sign (located at 70 NW Couch, that’s ‘Cooch’ not ‘Couch’, Street). Like the city itself, the sign has gone through many changes at the hands of whoever owned the building. Initially it advertised White Satin Sugar, then White Stag Sportswear. Most recently The City of Portland took over the rights. The sign you see today will be the final version as, like many of Portland’s old houses, it is protected. This pleases Portlanders as the red nose, which is put on the stag at Christmas, is a bit of an institution in itself! This was just one of the stories that Sarah shared with us on our bike tour.
Biking is big and it’s not just one of the many hipster things to do in Portland! There are cycle paths, bike traffic lights, and left hand turns (although some are blighted by the tram tracks – don’t get stuck in them)! 7.2% of people commute by bike in Portland. To put this into perspective, the national average is a mere 0.5%. Cyclists have the same rights as cars when it comes to lanes.
Although the passion for the pedal is respected by most, Portlanders still like to show that they are vulnerable by staging a naked cycle protest once a year! Being naked in public is actually lawful, it falls under artistic license – Portland is happening now!
Website: Cycle Portland Bike Tours
Address: 117 NW 2nd Ave, Portland, OR 97209, United States
Cost: $39 USD per person
Food Carts in Portland
In the U.K we get burger vans. In Portland, you get Thai, German, Korean, Indian – you name it, they’ve got it and it comes from a food cart. There are approximately 848 food units in Portland, which serve a variety of cuisine for relativity cheap, quality food. Portlanders take decent produce very seriously. Han Hwang, owner and chef extraordinaire of Kim Jong Grillin’ excitably told me that Portland food carts are different to, say, California, because the rules state that all carts must produce from scratch, so all food is made freshly on the premises (so in a small van!) Many of these carts are found collectively, in areas such as SW 10th and Alder. Many of Portland’s restaurants have evolved from a food cart, pretty sweet eh?
Some food carts are stand-alone like Han’s cart. We took a hungover trip to Kim Jong Grillin’ to sample his Korean offerings. I can vouch for the Bibim box (japchae, rice, fried egg and meat of your kind) – it is certainly Portland’s best hangover cure!
I was pretty jealous of the hot dog too…
Website: Kim Jong Grillin’ Food Cart
Address: SE Division St, Portland, OR 97206, United States
Nature in Portland
Many Portlanders advised us to get out of Portland! By that they meant take a hike at the likes of Multnomah Falls or Forest Park. Portlanders appear to have a nice balance between fitness and frolic. Multnomah Falls was about a forty minute drive from the city via car. On a clear day you can see Mount Hood in the background. The Multnomah Falls isn’t the biggest I’ve seen (Athabasca or Niagara Falls in Canada compete for that title) but it was still impressive. The hike can be as easy or intermediate as you like.
Transport in Portland
Nate very neatly organised Portland’s transport system into four T’s – Trail, Tram, Trolley, and Train! Rides on transport with wheels were $2.50 USD and those on tracks, $2.00 USD. Like Seattle and Vancouver, the ticket was valid for 90 minutes which meant we could commute between two, three, etc. trains, etc. Uniquely, Portland has an ariel tram! It was purpose built for students to get between campuses but tourists can also try it out for $4.50 USD.
Getting to Portland
We used Bolt Bus (again) from Seattle to Portland (£35.97 for two tickets) The bus had Wi-Fi and took three hours.
Portland, Main Weather
Yes, it rains in Portland hence the lushness of its surroundings. Portlanders are cool with it, they’ve even named it the cute ‘Portland mist’. However Portland doesn’t even make it into American’s top 10 rainiest cities for rainfall so don’t fret! If you don’t like rain then the best times to visit are summer, July, August and often September. May and June are drier than April and March. Mid October sees the rain appear again.
Things to do in Portland When it Rains
There are heaps of things to in Portland when it rains. There are variety of museums to suit every interest from Portland’s Shanghai Tunnels to the Art Museum. Portland has lots of brewery tours where companies take you on a sampling trip by foot, bike, or bus. Obviously there are lots of shopping opportunities in Portland when ducking from the mist, the city has mainstream big named shops, small businesses, Portland’s Saturday market and the institution itself, Powell’s Book Shop.
Portland is Happening Now
This article only touches upon some of the factors which I feel back up that Portland is happening now. I know I’m not alone in my views because according to the census, in terms of population growth, Portland was the 15th fastest among America’s fifty largest metro areas. Unfortunately with popularity comes competition and many young people can’t afford property. The solution? Tiny houses! Craig and I would fit right in…
Seattle and Portland on the big screen!
Hover over image to pin to your Portland inspiration board
PS. With thanks to Travel Portland, Cycle Portland Bike Tours, Kim Jong Grillin’ for hosting us and our family – Erin and Ian for letting us do a wash! I really did love this city, check out more cool things to do in Portland via our fellow blogger, Taylor.
Have you been to Portland?