Portland Travel Guide – Top 10 Vacation Highlights

With its lush greenery and temperate climate, Portland, Oregon is the ideal city for outdoor enthusiasts. Step outside and you will be welcomed by the serene green beauty of a city full of lush trees. Dubbed the “City of Roses”, Portland is a natural getaway that boasts some of the best tourist destinations in the United States. You will not run out of activities to keep you on your toes while in Portland.
Portland Travel Guide
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Portland has numerous gardens scattered throughout the city that showcase the wide array of flora thriving here, along with some of the most beautiful garden designs in the country. The Chinese Garden, Japanese Garden and the International Rose Test Garden are just a few of the green oases you must visit while in Portland.

Regarded as one of the most authentic Japanese gardens outside of Japan, Portland’s Japanese Garden is a meticulously cared for sanctuary that’s amazing to visit at any time of the year. Take a leisurely walk around the various pathways as you notice the fine details in the Tea Garden, Strolling Pond Garden and the Sand and Stone Garden.

Then stop by the International Rose Test Garden and smell the blooms of more than 8,000 rose bushes in this beautiful garden. This is the oldest official public rose test garden in the United States, which has roses sent here from around the world to be tested in Portland’s climate. On a clear day, visitors here can enjoy glorious views of Mount Hood and downtown Portland.

Beyond its gardens, Portland is home to a thriving art scene, with impressive collections of art from cultures spanning the entire globe. Book lovers will find their niche at Powell’s City of Books, one of the largest and most comprehensive bookstores in the world, which has over time become a landmark of sorts in Portland. Equally impressive is the Pearl District in which the famous bookstore is situated.

Columbia River Gorge boasts attractive parks, the beautiful Columbia River, the thundering Multnomah Falls, as well as great views of the Gorge from Crown Point’s Vista House. Also check out the Bonneville Dam with its fish hatchery and fish ladder.

Multnomah Falls is the majestic and much-photographed attraction in the Columbia River Gorge. Hiking trails lead up the face of the mountain, and a bridge crossing the waterfall offers an impressive vantage point. Stand in front of the falls for a romantic view and be awed by the spectacle. Weary hikers can find refreshment at the Multnomah Falls Lodge.

For a medium-sized city, Portland bursts with art and culture, offering visitors of all tastes and preferences, a multitude of attractions both edifying and entertaining. You could easily spend months in Portland and still not have the opportunity of experiencing all its fun attractions and things to do. No matter what your interests are, there is something for everyone in Portland.

1. The Pearl District

Portland’s Pearl District is situated to north of downtown Portland. The Pearl District is characterized by warehouses turned into loft residences, expensive real estate, wine bars, restaurants and upscale shopping. The District offers lovers of art and nightlife a myriad of options. This is a dynamic neighborhood that is constantly changing as the area continues to be developed.

The arts take center stage in this urbane neighborhood situated adjacent to Portland’s downtown area. The Pearl District boasts the highest concentration of art galleries in the city, in addition to a major museum and the biggest theater company in the city. The Pearl District is also famous for hosting gallery walks on the First Thursday of every month.

If you have to choose one time to explore The Pearl, let it be on First Thursday. On every first Thursday evening of every month, the doors of many of the Pearl’s art galleries stay open late for the popular gallery walk, attracting art lovers and people-watchers alike with free exhibits and refreshments. From April to October, the First Thursday Street Gallery fills three blocks with artworks by local artists.

The Gerding Theater at the Armory is a striking monument to green renovation. The Theater houses the Portland Center Stage, where you will find presentations of dramatic works and workshops the year-round. Visitors can drop in to check out the historic building or grab a bite at the Armory Café inside.

The Museum of Contemporary Craft is one of the oldest cultural institutions in Portland, which houses over 1,000 craft objects, in addition to curated exhibitions and a retail craft gallery.

The Pearl District is also the ideal venue for a leisurely pub crawl. Visit the Bridgeport Brewing Company, which is the oldest craft brewery in Oregon. Other beer houses stock drinks distilled on site, as well as organic offerings.

Powell’s City of Books is one of Portland’s most popular destinations for both locals and tourists. With over one million volumes, Powell’s is the biggest independent bookstore in the United States. An institution in Portland, Powell’s has been serving readers in the city since 1971.

Powell’s City of Books boasts an unbeatable selection with its main store taking up an entire city block. If you love browsing for books, you can get lost here for hours among the new and used books. The bookstore also has an amazing magazine selection. It also attracts great authors for speaking engagements. Among the 9-color-coded rooms at Powell’s are an onsite coffee shop and a wide array of locally made gifts.

Powell’s mission entails a social responsibility towards its community and industry to promote literary awareness, fight censorship and encourage authors in their works. The bookstore chain is therefore involved with the local community, supporting public libraries and schools, adult literacy programs and hosting their own program that donates thousands of books to schools in Portland and Beaverton.

2. Portland Japanese Garden

Washington Park has been a part of Portland since 1871, with more land and attractions being added over the years. Today, it is a community hub that contains some of the most popular attractions in Portland. One of these attractions is the phenomenal Portland Japanese Garden.

Touted as the most authentic Japanese garden outside Japan, the Portland Japanese Garden is a 5.5-acre haven of meticulously maintained tranquil beauty nestled in Portland’s scenic west hills. The Portland Japanese Garden was founded in 1963 as a symbol of healing between Second World War adversaries.

Situated close to the International Rose Test Garden, the Portland Japanese Garden is composed of five distinct garden styles that work in harmony to create a sense of peace. These garden styles include the flat garden, the strolling garden pond, the tea garden, the natural garden, and the sand and stone garden.

The lush Tea Garden is focused on a stone walking path designed to assist visitors in shedding the concerns of the outside world. The Tea Garden has outer and inner gardens that surround a traditional tea house.

The Strolling Pond Garden features bridges, accent structures and still and rushing water. While the Strolling Pond Garden would be a display of wealth in Japan, here it reflects the rich landscape, with a bridge that zigzags through beds of iris by a waterfall.

A mossy fairyland, the Natural Garden is full of leafy plants and trees, deliberately positioned to show off how they change color and form through the seasons.

The Sand and Stone Garden features stone and raked gravel, and utilizes elements as focal points for quiet contemplation.

The Flat Garden has trees, shrubbery and manicured stones, and is reminiscent of a landscape portrait that combines various elements into a serene, 4-season tableau that is best enjoyed from the garden’s pavilion.

As you wander through the Portland Japanese Garden, you will see beauty all around you, be it in the koi pond, the waterfall or the wisteria arbor. The Garden features an authentic Japanese tea house, intimate walkways, meandering streams and an unsurpassed view of Mount Hood.

The best time to visit the Portland Japanese Garden is during spring when the azaleas bloom and in autumn when the leaves change color. Nonetheless, the Garden is beautiful year-round and visitors can enjoy tranquility and inspiring views here.

There is a Gift Store on site that has been set up like a museum shop, with plenty of art and graceful gifts including tea pots, bath products, calligraphy sets and more. Guided tours are available and the Portland Japanese Garden frequently hosts events such as the popular autumn moon-viewing nights that feature live music, sake, tea and seasonal Japanese foods under an illuminated sky.

3. Lan Su Chinese Garden

The Lan Su Chinese Garden is a year-round wonder, an authentic Ming Dynasty-style garden built by artisans from Suzhou, which takes up an entire block in the city’s historic Chinatown district. Visitors can find respite and celebrate Chinese culture at this Suzhou-style garden within the heart of Portland.

Since the Lan Su Chinese Garden was opened in 2000, it has created an urban oasis of tranquil beauty and harmony with its bridges, pavilions, open colonnades, covered walkways and richly planted landscape that frames the man-made Zither Lake.

The Lan Su Chinese Garden offers an inspiring, serene setting for meditation, quiet reflection and tea served at The Tao of Tea within the Tower of Cosmic Reflections, in addition to public tours of the grounds which are guided by expert horticulturalists.

Although the grounds are designed to offer peaceful respite, certain periodic events give the Chinese Garden a festive atmosphere. Over a span of 2 weeks every winter, the Lan Su Chinese New Year Celebration fills Portland with festivities exploring the history and culture of this Eastern holiday.

Starting on the final day of the last month of the Chinese calendar, typically from late January or early February, the festivities include calligraphy demonstrations, paper lantern viewings and lion dance performances.

During the summer, the Tuesdays by Twilight concert series brings a variety of music to the gorgeous Lan Su Chinese Garden. Running over 5 consecutive Tuesdays, the open-air performances feature a range of styles from Chinese music and dance, to tango, jazz and African pop.

This event is typically held after the Lan Su Chinese Garden has been closed for the evening. Wine, beer and box dinners from some of the best Asian restaurants in the city are available, served lakeside in the pristine setting of the garden.

4. Oneonta Gorge

Situated within the Columbia River Gorge, Oneonta Gorge is a slot-like mossy canyon with steep basalt walls that are home to many rare plants, as well as an incredibly scenic waterfall. Oneonta Gorge is barely 0.6 miles long but boasts one of the best natural swimming venues in Portland.

Visitors to Oneonta Gorge can climb the log jams, hike through the creek, peer up at towering, fern-laden walls, and thereafter swim inside the splashing pool of a magnificent 100 foot tall waterfall.

The adventure going up the Oneonta Gorge is very unique. Situated close to the busy Multnomah Falls is a delightful trail that explores around Oneonta Gorge. The route that goes up the Oneonta Canyon constantly changes and there are times when a log jam close to the start of the Canyon is simply too hard to navigate. For your own safety, you may have to go back and not attempt at crawling over the log.

While you can visit Oneonta Gorge at any time of the year, only dare to hike up the Gorge when the water is very low. This is because unlike other hikes, you actually must walk up the river as there is no trail. The river itself is the trail.

From Oneonta Bridge, hikers can walk on down to the water onto the eastern side of this bridge. While it may seem precarious, it actually isn’t as thousands do this each year and have all survived.

Almost instantly you will arrive at a big log jam that is stuck inside the canyon. But be careful while crossing this, particularly when it’s wet as it can get quite slippery. After getting across this log jam, just wade up to the creek. Don’t fear getting a little wet during your adventures in Oneonta Gorge.

This is a short hike, although soon you will be up to water, which, at its lowest, is three feet deep. After wading the pond, you will come to its end and its reward that will make it all worthwhile, the falls. The photogenic falls offer a great opportunity to take photos.

On a hot summer’s day, hiking doesn’t get any better than this. After completing this hike, if you have the energy, go on another brief hike to view the top of the canyon you have just came up. Recently, the Oneonta Tunnel has been unearthed and appropriate repairs made such that it resembles its original appearance and is safe again to walk through.

This adventure through the Oneonta Gorge will require that you gauge your tolerance, as well as abilities for cold water wading and climbing. There is a rather large log jam that will require you to scramble over, up or around before you continue on your journey. Also, the water inside this shaded creek is quite cold, ranging in height from chest high to ankle deep.

A bathing suit, good water shoes and a love of cold mountain water are recommended during a tour of Oneonta Gorge. But don’t be scared off, as most visitors make it out and back without any problem.

5. Multnomah Falls

In a state where water flows regularly down from up high, Multnomah Falls stands above the rest as the tallest in Oregon. Multnomah is also the second-tallest year-round waterfall in the United States, and one of the best spots in the Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area.

Situated about 30 miles east of downtown Portland along the Historic Columbia River Highway, Multnomah Falls rises to 620 feet and comprises a 2-drop cascade. The grand 2-tiered Multnomah Falls is the most photographed and most famous of the Columbia River Gorge waterfalls.

Fed by snowmelt and rainwater, the steady stream of the Multnomah Falls runs year-round, making it a year-round attraction. The dramatic 2-tiered falls are fed by springs underground from Larch Mountain, with its flow varying, usually at its highest during spring and winter. The highest volume of water comes in spring and winter, and sometimes the Falls partially freeze at the height of winter.

Oregon’s tallest waterfall draws all types of visitors, with both wheelchair accessible viewing platforms and steep hiking trails leading up all the way to the top. Whether you prefer to climb Multnomah Falls all the way to the top or peer up from below, there are numerous scenic hiking routes close by.

Many visitors will take the quarter mile hike up to Benson Bridge, the photogenic foot-crossing that was built in 1914 and which spans the second drop of the falls. In addition to being a great spot for enjoying the views, the Bridge is also perfect for catching your breath before you forge ahead to the top or return to the Multnomah Falls Lodge below. The Multnomah Falls Lodge offers excellent views as well.

Upper Multnomah Falls plunges 542 feet into a pool surrounded by mossy boulders. The water then cascades down an extra 69 feet. A paved uphill hike leads half a mile from the plaza behind Multnomah Falls Lodge, all the way up to the Benson Bridge, which overlooks the base pool of the upper falls on one side and the top of the lower falls on the other.

More trails branch off from the Multnomah Falls area, connecting to the same trails system leading to Horsetail Falls, Wahkeena Falls and Oneonta Falls.

At the Multnomah Falls Lodge, visitors can see exhibits that cover the human and natural history of Multnomah Falls and the Columbia River Gorge. The historic stone day lodge is staffed by forest service rangers on hand to advise you on trail conditions and provide hiking maps. Built in 1925, the Multnomah Falls Lodge also has a well-stocked gift shop that sells books, souvenirs and gift items.

Breakfast, lunch and dinner are available at the Multnomah Falls Lodge dining room. Sit in the fireplace room that is elegant in its own rustic way; at the outdoor patio or in the window-framed atrium. The menu features Northwest ingredients, in addition to Northwest wines and microbrews. For a more casual meal, head over to the snack stands outside the lodge that serve sweet treats and fast food.

6. Alphabet District

The city of Portland is divided into 5 quadrants: North, Northwest, Northeast, Southwest and Southeast. The Northwest Portland quadrant borders a huge urban wilderness laced with trails, and is home to cultural institutions, entertainment options and local attractions.

Northwest Portland’s official name is “Alphabet District” given to signify the fact that the streets run alphabetically, starting with Burnside, Couch, Davis, all the way to Wilson Street.

Alphabet District has long been one of the most desired neighborhoods in Portland for the obvious reason that it is very close to downtown. This area has both character and charm and has been historically very popular. The neighborhood is also full of nice, well-maintained beautiful traditional houses, old apartment buildings and an eclectic variety of retail businesses.

In Alphabet District, there are plenty of trendy shopping spots as well as one-of-a-kind dive bars with some good beer and wine, as well as restaurants offering delicious meals. There are also forested locales that are nice for a hike, and plenty more off the beaten path.

Visitors to Alphabet District should not miss out on a visit to the Pittock Mansion. Wander inside the halls of the elegant chateau as you peruse the many lovely bedrooms.

The Pittock Mansion offers picture-perfect views of the city and its surroundings, as well as a revealing glimpse of the history of Portland. During the 22-room tour, visitors can marvel at the opulent, baroque staircase, and thereafter wander around the gardens lined with rhododendrons, savoring knockout vistas of snowy Mount Hood and downtown Portland’s skyline.

Next, head over to Forest Park, the largest urban forest of the United States. Forest Park is aptly named as it puts the wilderness inside Portland. This 8-mile long forest in the city is home to over 112 bird and 62 mammal species, and features seventy miles of trails popular with hikers, runners and cyclists. Nature lovers will particularly enjoy the Dogwood-Wild Cherry Loop Hike that stretches 2.6 miles.

The Freakybuttrue Peculiarium and Museum in Alphabet District is a bizarre museum and shop selling everything from art to gag gifts and obscure candy. Truly one-of-a-kind, the Peculiarium offers live magic shows, vampire-killing kits and even an interactive alien autopsy. Part art gallery, part museum and part ice cream parlor, the Peculiarium is 100 percent fun.

Each evening in September, join crowds of spectators gathered to enjoy picnics on the lawn while observing swifts at the Chapman Elementary School in Alphabet District. The event features thousands of migratory Vaux’s Swifts that pour into the School chimney during this community ritual known as the Swift Watch. Volunteers are available to answer any questions about these small, swallow-like birds.

If you fancy a movie, then head over to the historic Cinema 21, where you can find art-house, classic and foreign films, accompanied by wine and microbrews. The McMenamins Mission Theater is another popular brew n’ view cinema also located within the Alphabet District.

Join families on Sauvie Island as they pick berries and get lost in corn mazes on local farms. Sauvie Island is situated at the point where the Columbia and Willamette Rivers meet. Most areas of the island are wildlife refuge and farmland which makes for an idyllic and close by getaway from the city.

Cyclists visiting Sauvie Island can bike laps around the islands, while birdwatchers go hiking at Wapato Access Greenway State Park. The birds are particularly many during winter here. You can also go on a long walk along the beaches of the island. Note that part of the Collins Beach is clothing optional.

Be sure to check out BodyVox, Portland’s wildly imaginative and often hilarious dance troupe that has been performing at its own dance center in a 150 seat studio since 2009.

At the Voicebox Karaoke Lounge, you will find 6 private suites, as well as sake, beer, wine, and snacks. Go here during your visit to the Alphabet District and be a star for the night.

7. North Mississippi Avenue

North Mississippi Avenue is situated 3 miles north of downtown Portland. Part of the Boise neighborhood, the Avenue is a vibrant part of town that’s filled with hip Portlanders and young families. The Avenue is a popular destination for people out for a stroll, to dine or shop.

North Mississippi Avenue anchors a vibrant neighborhood that provides abundant watering holes and options for entertainment. Join locals in North Mississippi Avenue as they enjoy some music, local beer and more. The bars feature interesting themed décor and even offer local organic brews. There are airy brewpubs with outdoor seating, which offer an array of delicious gastro pub fare.

The beers brewed onsite at these venues have equally innovative names and are complemented by spacious patios, complete with a fire pits and tenting during winter. You can sample a comprehensive offering of regional beers here.

For some entertainment, visit the Mississippi Studios where you will feel as if you are getting your own private show from major acts that can easily pack a much larger venue. There is also live music, bingo nights, karaoke, and weekly spelling bees for adults.

At the innovative Sampling Lab you will find yourself inside an entire store filled with free samples. Here, customers get to exchange some complimentary products for candid feedback.

Visitors to North Mississippi Avenue can also take some classes on aromatherapy, cheese making, coffee roasting, preserving and canning, as well as cultured foods.

The Q Center in North Mississippi Avenue is a good first stop for lesbian, gay and transgender visitors to Portland. This is a community gathering spot and resource center which hosts regular LGBTI events.

Each July, the North Mississippi Avenue Street Fair takes place. This is the most popular neighborhood event in Portland, drawing crowds with many musical acts, a kid’s parade, a craft beer garden, local artisan marketplace and Grandfather’s barbecue contest. Plan your visit to Portland around this time to get in on the action.

8. Columbia River Gorge

People come from all over the world to enjoy the spectacular beauty of the Columbia River Gorge. The Oregon side of the river has many of the most popular attractions of the Gorge. There are various major population centers as well, from which you can access a selection of entertainment options.

The Columbia River Gorge is famous for its stunning natural beauty, as well as its windsurfing opportunities. Nature lovers will find plenty to appreciate here, from the lush forests and grand waterfalls, to the spring wildflowers and fascinating wildlife. You can experience all this on a paddle or hike. Adventure seekers will enjoy mountain biking, rock climbing and kite sailing.

Go on a scenic drive on the Historic Columbia River Highway a 20-mile stretch that was one of the first American roads built specifically for scenic auto touring. Opened to the public in 1915, the unique Highway is full of mesmerizing stonework railings and bridges that accent the grand waterfalls and the Columbia River views, as you drive through the lush green forest.

Along the way are multiple spots to stop and enjoy the view along with a stroll or picnic. If you’re up to it, spend some time on one or more of the many hiking trails that will take you past the waterfalls and creeks.

Vista House is situated at one of the most spectacular viewpoints along the Columbia River Gorge. The charming house offers interpretive exhibits, a snack bar and gift shop. Wander the grounds or climb the roof to take in the beautiful scenery in all directions.

The Columbia Gorge Discovery Center and Museum is situated in The Dalles, at the eastern end of the Columbia River Gorge. The fun Museum features local history and nature topics. The Gorge’s interesting geology, including the impact of the Ice Age Floods is explained both via exhibits and in film.

Native Americans, the Oregon Trail and the regional flora and fauna are some of the things you can learn about during your visit to the Columbia Gorge Discovery Center and Museum.

Bradford Island Visitor Center at Bonneville Dam houses exhibits along with an observation area to take in the amazing Columbia River views. During your visit, you can watch activity on the fish ladder, go on a guided powerhouse tour, or see a film at the Visitor Center theater. River access, nature trails and picnicking spots are also available within the park area.

Fun Sail Brewing Co. Brewery Tours & Tasting Room is one of the many great microbreweries of the Northwest. The brewery is situated in the windsurfing Mecca of Hood River. Visitors can enjoy a free brewery tour and thereafter sample some brews and food at the on-site Tasting Room and Pub.

Learn about the operations and construction of The Dalles Lock and Dam. Spend some time watching the fish ladders, observing navigational lock activity and enjoying water recreation on Lake Celilo, which is the reservoir situated behind the Dalles Dam.

Go on the Columbia River Gorge Sternwheeler Cruise for scenic sightseeing, dinner and brunch on a colorful and grand paddle wheeler. From your river point of view, you will be able to take in the entire length of the Columbia River Gorge National Recreation Area, as well as landmarks such as Multnomah Falls, Bonneville Dam and Beacon Rock.

9. Hoyt Arboretum

Established in 1928, the Hoyt Arboretum is a Portland’s living trees museum at which plants and trees from across the globe are grown and exhibited, to educate the community and conserve vitally important plant biodiversity.

Hoyt Arboretum comprises 189 acres inside Washington Park, made accessible by twelve miles of trails. Its collection nurtures about 6,000 specimens from across the globe, including more than 2,000 species, some of which are endangered or vulnerable. For the world, the Hoyt Arboretum serves as an important partner in global conservation and scientific research.

Hoyt Arboretum features a unique collection of plants and trees from all around the world. It is also a critical resource for the conservation of plant biodiversity serving as sanctuary for sixty three endangered and vulnerable species. This is a great spot for learning about trees, as well as their relationship with our environment.

Every tree at the Hoyt Arboretum has its own story to tell. The tree collections have been organized by plant family (taxonomy) and geography. The identification labels will help you to learn about the trees that catch your interest.

The collection at Hoyt features over 2,000 species and specimens being grown from seeds that have been collected from the wild. The lineage or provenance of every tree is known. The plants produce their seeds which can then be used in replanting native ecosystems that are at risk or have been destroyed. Dried samples of more than 800 species are available in the Hoyt Arboretum herbarium.

To the local community, the Hoyt Arboretum offers a peaceful urban oasis and refuge for recreation and education, with 12 miles of hiking trails. Visitors can go here to enjoy the natural beauty of the wonderful, mature trees planted many, many years ago.

At the Hoyt Arboretum, visitors can wander among 1,000 different specimens of trees. Begin your arboretum tour at the Visitor Center where you can grab maps for self-guided tours that cover various portions of the 12-mile trail system.

10. Portland International Rose Test Garden

Portland is famous for having spectacular roses and the Portland International Rose Test Garden is just the place to see these roses blooming in abundance. Unofficially known as the Portland Rose Garden, the Portland International Rose Test Garden offers great views of roses and the city skyline.

The Portland International Rose Test Garden was conceived in 1915 and began as a haven of safety for the hybrid roses that were grown in Europe during the First World War. Roses began to arrive in Portland in 1918, and the Garden and its amphitheater were then dedicated in 1924. It therefore shouldn’t come as a surprise that the Garden is one of the signature landmarks of the “City of Roses.”

Located inside Washington Park, the Portland International Rose Test Garden covers 4.5 acres of parkland and features more than 6,800 rose bushes that represent 557 rose varieties. Operated by the Portland Parks and Recreation, the International Rose Test Garden is the brainchild of the Portland Rose Society.

Founded in 1889, the Portland Rose Society is a non-profit organization that offers educational programs on rose culture and encourages the use of roses within the landscape. The Portland Rose Society assists with the garden’s upkeep, and also operates the gift shop.

The Garden has 3 main parts: the Royal Rosarian Garden; the Shakespeare Garden and the Miniature Rose Garden. Be sure to see all the 3 areas during your visit. You can also go on a free guided tour of the Garden.

Walking through the Portland International Rose Test Garden, visitors can marvel at the thousands of rose bushes that include hundreds of different rose varieties. Each variety has been labeled, and the gardeners can identify for you some appealing specimens to grow at home.

While the garden is open the whole year-round, the best period for viewing the rose blooms is from late May through to early August.

The Portland International Rose Test Garden is perched on a hill, thereby allowing for awesome views of Mt. Hood and downtown Portland. Every year, hundreds of thousands of visitors from across the globe come to enjoy the scents and sights of the gardens, including its amazing views of Mount Hood and the Portland downtown area.