Trip Date 07/11/2018
Posted On 08/09/2018 17:35:48
Destinations | Oregon | Portland | Free Things to Do in Portland | Portland Foodies | Low Cost Portland Activities | Portland Tourism | What to do in Portland
12 Free Things to Do + 7 Fun Food Experiences + 4 Low Cost Activities = 23 Fun Things to do in Portland, Oregon!
There is so much to see and do in and around the city of Portland that choosing what to do can be difficult. Take a look at this list of 23 fun things to do in the city to get a jumpstart on your planning. You'll find either the address, cross-streets or links with additional information so that you can more easily locate each item on the list. If you want to avoid driving (and parking) a car, when there is a MAX station within walking distance, the station name is also included to help with planning.
Transportation in PortlandPortland's Max Train is a great service for getting to many places in the city. Each time we have visited, we have ridden the train which leaves right from the airport at a cost of just $2.50 per adult (valid for 2 1/2 hours of riding). We've also used the train to get to several of the destinations below as it was more convenient and easier than having to search for parking.
At only $5.00 for a full day ticket, you can transfer between bus, light rail, street car and some commuter rail transit services to get virtually anywhere in the city or surrounding metropolitan area. If you plan to use any of the TriMet transportation services, consider downloading the TriMet Tickets app for ease and convenience - one person in your party can buy tickets for everyone (as long as you stick together while riding).
12 Free Things to Do in Portland
1. Stop and Smell the Roses in the International Rose Test GardenMAX Station: Washington Park
Open daily from 7:30 AM to 9:00 PM, the International Rose Test Garden is one of 11 test sites in the US. While the primary purpose of a rose test garden is to test new varieties of roses, you will enjoy wandering through the 4 1/2 acre garden breathing in the aroma and admiring the colorful flowers on the 8,000 bushes. If you can't arrange your visit to coincide with the 1:00 PM free public tours offered between Memorial and Labor Day, the Portland International Rose Test Garden at Washington Square Self-Guided Tour is a great resource.
There are a limited number of pay to park spaces, therefore many locals recommend using a combination of TriMet and the free seasonal shuttle to explore the park.
2. Soak in the Skyline Views from Pittock MansionFrom kids running around and playing with huge bubbles to adults flying drones, people of all ages enjoy the grounds at Pittock Mansion. Located just a couple of miles west of downtown at 3229 NW Pittock Drive, the panoramic views of the Portland skyline are second to none. If you have a choice, make your visit on a day with clear skies for views of the five surrounding mountains - Mount Adams, Mount Hood, Mount Jefferson, Mount Rainer and Mount St. Helens. If you time it right, you might even want to bring a picnic lunch to eat while enjoying the views and fun on the grounds.
3. Get some Exercise on the Pittock Mansion HikeIf you have more time while you are at the mansion and you enjoy exercise, take the Pittock Mansion Hike. It's a 5 mile round trip hike between the mansion and Lower Maclean Park Trailhead. (This hike is actually part of the 30 mile Wildwood Trail through Forest Park.)
4. Hang out in Pioneer Courthouse SquareMAX Station: Pioneer Place/SW 5th Avenue OR Pioneer Square South
Nicknamed Portland's Living Room by locals, Pioneer Courthouse Square is located in the center of downtown bordered by SW 5th Avenue, Broadway, SW Morrison and SW Yamhill. Like a living room, the square is designed with friends hanging out with friends in mind. In place of the sofa and television found in most living rooms, the square has two amphitheaters with steps for seating to watch live performances. Replacing the decor in a home living room, there is some cool "artwork" like the milepost marker, a fountain (hint, it looks like a waterfall), a bronze of a man holding an umbrella, a chess table and much more.
Rather than reading a coffee table book, you can search the 70,000+ named bricks that you're walking upon for names like Elvis Presley, Mr. Bill or Sherlock Holmes. (If you happen to be in the square at noon, in place of the news at noon, don't miss the two minute long weather forecast by the Weather Machine. In addition to the temperature, you'll learn whether the day will be clear and sunny, stormy or somewhere in between.)
The square is also home to a Visitor Information Center (enter through the waterfall fountain) and is host to a variety of events. During the summer months, you'll find:
- Portland Farmers Market at the Square on Monday's from 10:00 AM to 2:00 PM;
- Noon Tunes Summer Concert Series on Tuesdays from 12:00 PM to 1:00 PM
- Wellness Wednesdays (a free summer 30 minute guided meditation series) each Wednesday starting at 12:30 PM; and
- Flicks on the Bricks on select Friday evenings from 7:00 PM to 11:00 PM.
5. Skidmore Fountain and ColonnadesMAX Station: Skidmore Fountain
Originally designed in 1888 as a drinking fountain for dogs, horses and humans, the historic Skidmore Fountain was erected at the intersection of SW Ankeny Street and SW 1st Avenue. Apparently a local brewery offered to pump beer through the fire hoses to the fountain on opening day. (It was vetoed in fear of residents damaging the fire hoses in order to get free beer!) If you visit on a Saturday or Sunday, you'll find the Skidmore Market vendors open for business.
Flanking Ankeny Square you can't miss the row of historic renaissance inspired arches (colonnades). As you get closer, you'll see that some have been restored - they were reportedly remolded from original pieces. The nearby fire station also has some original artifacts mounted on the outside wall.
6. Find the Keep Portland Weird SignMAX Station: Skidmore Fountain OR NW 5th & Couch
Being a long time Austinite, I've always been curious about which slogan was created first - Keep Portland Weird or Keep Austin Weird. If you can believe what you learn on line, it appears that Austin used the slogan first. I also found several sources which compared the two cities for their amount of weirdness, and in each case Portland won hands down!
In any case, while you are in the city you should definitely find the Keep Portland Weird sign. Located on 3rd Street between Burnside and Ankeny, when you are in the area, you can't miss finding the sign on the outside of a building. Nearly everyone who goes to the trouble of finding the sign poses with it - so you probably should too!
7. Appreciate the Art at Oregon Health & Science University's Rooftop Terrace and GardensA visit to the OHSU upper rooftop terrace and shaded garden will provide you with views of the city and surrounding mountains. In addition to plenty of places to sit down, relax and enjoy the view, there are also a number of interesting sculptures. An outdoor stairway will lead you down two flights of stairs to the lower sculpture garden designed for children to explore with their families. The lower garden is home to even more sculptures including "Standing Lady Hare with Dog" by Sophie Ryder.
Marquam Trail, part of the 4T Trail (see low cost activities below), is also accessible from the OHSU terrace and gardens.
8. Picnic in a ParkSpend some time in one of the many Parks in Portland. There are so many area parks that I stopped counting when I got to 58 on an alphabetical list (and I had only counted those starting with A, B or C)! The great thing is that there are parks all over the city and parks for all kinds of activities. So, if you are into basketball, bocce ball, disc golf, hiking, horseshoes, rock climbing, skating, swimming, tennis or volleyball (to name just a few), there are parks for you. And, of course, there are plenty of parks where you can enjoy a picnic. (Depending on your timing, you may even find a free concert or picnic in the park of your choice!)
9. Notice the Moss Covered TreesDriving along Skyline Drive to northwest Portland, turn right towards the Willamette River on to NW Germantown Road. The moist climate in Portland is perfect for a fuzzy textured moss to grow on trees, and this part of the city is a great place for getting a close-up look. You can find parking near the Wildwood Trailhead in Forest Park. If you spend some time enjoying the fresh air during a hike in the park, you might even come across large moss covered rocks like one near the entrance to the Leif Erikson Germantown Trailhead.
10. Admire the St. John's BridgePark near Cathedral Park (N. Edison Street & Pittsburg Avenue) and walk on the path near the river to get a good look at the St. John's Bridge. Spanning the Willamette River, the four lane bridge features two tall Gothic spires connected by cable rope strands - all made of steel. Apparently the bridge engineer chose the green color to ensure that the bridge would blend into the forest at the west end. David Steinman who designed this and nearly 400 other bridges was once quoted as saying, "If you were to ask me which bridge I love best, I would have to say the St. Johns. I put more of myself into it than any other bridge."
11. Walk (or Bicycle) Across the Bridge of the PeopleMAX Station: South Waterfront/SW Moody OR OMSI/SE Water
The Tilikum Crossing referred to as the Bridge of the People is a "no cars allowed" bridge - the largest one in the US. In addition to pedestrians and cyclists, the bridge (which opened in 2015) services area transit including buses, the MAX (Orange Line) and the streetcar. Designed with two piers on land and two in the water all linked with cables supporting the weight of the bridge, it is pleasing to the eye. When crossing the bridge on foot or bicycle, take some time to stop and enjoy the views from various points along your journey.
12. View the Colorful Floating Home CommunitiesJust like in the movie Sleepless in Seattle, some Portland residents call a floating home on one of the rivers their place of residence. The houseboats in Portland come in a variety of shapes, sizes, colors and designs - some are more traditional and others are very eclectic. You can get a view of one of the floating home communities on the Columbia River when driving across the I-5 bridge toward Vancouver, Washington. Others are located in the Multnomah Channel, the Marine Drive area and along the Willamette River south of Portland.
7 Fun Food Experiences in Portland:
1. Flip your own Pancakes at Slappy CakesSlappy Cakes has a pretty extensive breakfast menu, but they are best known for "DIY Pancakes":
- Squeeze your favorite batter flavors;
- Add sweet or savory fixin's;
- Watch for the bubbles to pop, then flip; and
- Stack them on your plate, add toppings and eat!
The restaurant is open during typical breakfast and lunch hours, service is pretty quick and your meal will be both tasty and oh so fun! Located at 4246 SE Belmont Street, Slappy Cakes opened in Portland almost 10 years ago. They have since expanded and have locations in Maui, HI as well as Japan, Malaysia, Singapore and Thailand..
2. Devour a Doughnut at Voodoo DoughnutMAX Station: Skidmore Fountain or NW 5th & Couch
The original Voodoo Doughnut located at 22 SW 3rd Avenue in downtown Portland definitely receives mixed reviews from locals. No matter what people think about the doughnuts (not donuts!), the shop is truly unique and definitely draws crowds of visitors day and night (open 24/7 on most days). Their menu includes 50+ different and very original doughnuts ... plus they take special request orders, too. While there is no seating room inside, there are a number of picnic tables outside. Oh, and by the way, Voodoo Doughnut accepts cash only!
3. Try a Cup of Bubble TeaPortland seems to be one of the first cities to embrace the Bubble Tea craze that is spreading across the US. Bubble Tea (Boba Tea), originally created in Taiwan, is definitely a unique drink - and people either love it or hate it. Depending on where you go for your Bubble Tea (locations serving this tea are in every neighborhood around the city), the assortment of flavors available will vary. What is pretty consistent is that you will get a cold beverage with a combination of ingredients including your chosen flavor mixed with tea and milk and poured over coconut beads, fruit chunks or tapioca pearls served with an oversized straw.
4. Enjoy Lunch or Dinner at the Oregon Culinary InstituteMAX Station: Goose Hollow
Reservations are required for lunch or dinner at Oregon Culinary Institute - and the 50 seats per meal often fill up well in advance. Located at 1701 SW Jefferson Street, a meal at the institute will be a "real-world learning experience" for both you and the students who operate the restaurant.
As part of their learning, students at the institute help with creating the menu, selecting ingredients, cooking, baking, serving - they do it all! The three course lunch and four course dinner menus change seasonally, and you won't be able to find a gourmet lunch ($12.00) or dinner ($22.00) at a fixed price (excluding drinks) this low anywhere else around.
5. Fill up on a Burger and Shake at Skyline BurgersLocated at 1313 NW Skyline Blvd., the menu at Skyline Restaurant includes numerous 1/4 or 1/2 pound burger options as well as other sandwiches, soups and salads plus an assortment of breakfast and dinner entrees. Additionally, the restaurant has one of the biggest selections of unique shake and malt flavors ever! The only downside of the restaurant is that they accept cash only (they do have an onsite ATM).
6. Dine during Happy Hour at CruzRoomBilled as "not your average tacos", the menu at CruzRoom is unique and filled with lots of options. With a selection of tacos for carnivores or herbivores plus some side dishes, all al la carte tacos are priced at only $2.50 each during happy hour (4:00 PM - 6:30 PM every evening). Depending on your appetite, a serving of 2 - 3 tacos will probably leave you just hungry enough for a little dessert. (Hint: There is a Salt and Straw location just a couple of blocks away.)
CruzRoom is also known for their house infused liquors (served straight up, on the rocks or with a little soda) which, during happy hour, are priced at $5.00 each. The restaurant is located at 2338 NE Alberta, and if you can plan your visit to coincide with great weather for dining outdoors, you won't be disappointed!
7. Try a Scoop (or More) of Ice Cream at Salt and StrawWith 5 Portland locations, Salt and Straw seems to come highly recommended from everyone who has been to one or more of their shops (we've now been to 3 between Portland and San Francisco). They always seem to have a line, yet their ice cream flavors are all so unique that you need a little time before ordering anyway! While waiting, read the extensive descriptions so you can narrow down the list of flavors that you want to sample. (They will let you sample as many as you want!) Be sure to also consider a split scoop - for an additional $0.50, half scoops of two different flavors make up a single scoop.
4 Low Cost Activities
1. Take a Tour of the Pittock MansionThe Pittock Mansion, located at 3229 NW Pittock Drive is just a couple miles west of downtown Portland. Georgiana and Henry Pittock commissioned the design and development of the home in 1909, and sadly only lived to enjoy it for a few years.
Family descendants lived in the mansion for almost 40 more years until a grandson put the house up for sale in 1958. The City of Portland purchased it in 1964 and following a 15 month restoration project, the mansion opened for visitors in 1965. The mansion has been a memorial to the contributions made to the city by the Pittock family ever since.
Guided tours including the mansion, the gate lodge and the grounds are offered at $11.00 per adult. Visitors have the option of an approximately 60 minute self-guided tour or a 50 minute volunteer led mansion only tour (confirm availability at 503-823-3624).
2. Get Some Exercise on the 4T TrailMAX Station: Pioneer Place/SW 5th Avenue OR Pioneer Square South
Get some exercise and explore the city of Portland in a rather unique way. The 4T Trail Loop is a self-guided tour which combines a trail (about 2 1/2 miles of walking), tram, trolley and train. Completion of the entire trail takes about 4 hours and costs $5.00 (for an all day pass good for travel on all T's except for the trail - which only requires energy).
Here's a very brief synopsis of the 4T Trail (you'll see signs along the way):
- Ride MAX light rail from Pioneer Courthouse Square to Oregon Zoo where you will ride elevator up;
- Join Marquam Trail and hike 1.3 miles up to Council Crest Park;
- Choose one of 2 routes to walk or hike to upper terminal of Portland Aerial Tram (on OHSU campus); Ride tram downhill (no cost to ride down);
- Board Portland Streetcar back to downtown Portland.
3. Enjoy the View from the Portland Aerial TramMAX Station: South Waterfront/SW Moody
If you choose not to complete the entire 4T trail, consider riding just the tram. Tickets can be purchased at the lower terminal ticket machines (SW Moody & Gibbs) at $4.90 per adult (credit card only) for the Portland Aerial Tram. If you can find a place to stand near a window for the scenic (but quick) 4 minute ride to the upper terminal, you'll enjoy views of the Willamette River, Tilikum Bridge and downtown Portland.
Each of the two cabins, Jean (named after the first female engineering graduate from Oregon State University) and Walt (named after the first African American graduate from OHSU formerly Oregon Medical School), have a capacity of 79 people. If you plan to ride the tram, it is recommended that you visit on a Saturday (or Sunday, when open). If you visit on a weekday, try to avoid the peak hours of 7:00 AM - 9:00 AM and 4:00 PM - 6:00 PM when employees are using the tram to commute to work.
4. Escape at Lan Su Chinese GardenMAX Station: Old Chinatown
Escape hectic city life for a few hours during a visit to [Lan Su Chinese Garden}(https://lansugarden.org), one of only 6 authentic Chinese gardens in North America. Located at 239 NW Everett Street, admission to the garden is $10.00 per adult, and includes the optional guided tours offered several times daily based on docent availability.
The creation of Lan Su Chinese Garden was a collaborative effort between two sister cities - Portland, Oregon, USA and Suzhou, Jiangsu, China. Nearly 13 million dollars was raised over the course of 15 years to fund the tranquil garden. Based on 2,000 years of Chinese traditions, the garden was meticulously designed to engage the senses of each visitor including feeling, touching, smelling, and seeing.
Make sure to notice the doorways and windows as well as the changing colors and fragrances as you move from room to room. Look up, down and all around so you see the the fine details - the beautiful mosaic stone work beneath your feet, the inscriptions above the doorways and the picturesque views from everywhere you stand. Don't miss shaking the Chinese fortune sticks to learn your fortune and check out the calligraphy master at work!
Day Trips from PortlandIf you are in search of more than these 23 fun things to do while you are in Portland, check out our post titled 3 Magnificent Day Trips from Portland, Oregon. For each of the three day long driving adventures, you'll find maps, directions and optional hiking and sightseeing stops to make along the way.
Portland, OregonWhat suggestions do you have for additional free things to do, favorite fun eats or low cost activities for people visiting Portland?
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