The imaginations of people worldwide have been captured by Portland's quirks, be they vegan tattoo parlors, risqué doughnut designs or locals dressed like Darth Vader playing bagpipes on a unicycle.
Yes, Portland likes to play and the real draw comes less from traditional attractions like museums and more from mingling with Portland’s friendly, quirky residents in its low-key neighborhoods. It’s the neighborhoods where you’re nearly guaranteed that a hand-poured coffee or microbrew, or take-away meal from a gourmet food truck, will be very, very good. Many of its 600,000 residents, though, will tell you that the best part of Portland is the natural scenery just outside city limits. Just 25 kilometers east is the Columbia River Gorge, which carves a dramatic border between Oregon and Washington. Switchback trails reach waterfalls like Multnomah Falls. And about 120 kilometers to the west, along winding roads, you’ll reach the state’s coast that boasts cliffs and dunes.
Start Your Journey in Portland
Compared with the sprawling metropolis of Seattle, Washington, 280 kilometers north, Portland lives like a big town. The snaking Willamette River splits the city into east and west.
Start to the west, where downtown and historic areas like the Pearl District and Chinatown are backed by the Cascade Mountains. The west side boasts Forest Park, with nearly 130 kilometers of hiking trails, fire lanes and roads in one of the country’s biggest urban forests; and the shadowy oasis of the Portland Japanese Garden, with views of the snowcapped volcano Mount Hood to the east. In downtown, Powell’s City of Books is a city block-sized independent bookstore that’s one of Portland’s most beloved icons.
The heart of local Portland life, however, lies east of the river. In the southeast, you can take classes on brewing methods at Stumptown’s Tasting Bar, the city’s favorite coffee roaster, or eat a doughnut topped with bacon or Fruit Loops breakfast cereal at Voodoo Doughnut. Bars in neighborhoods like Hawthorne or the Alberta Arts District regularly feature art, independent shops and live music.
Dining on Mississippi Avenue in Portland, Oregon
Make Your Way to the Waterfalls
From Portland, Interstate Highway 84 connects with the Columbia River and squeezes through the tight river gorge. You’ll likely want a car to get there; public transit for such a journey is extremely limited.
Only about a half hour from town, you begin finding some of the dozens of day hikes. The most popular is at Multnomah Falls, the second tallest waterfall in the United States. The two-tier, 189-meter waterfall is reached via a steep, paved nearly 2-kilometer trail that passes over a bridge in the spray. It’s a popular place for photographs. Get to the falls early; the parking lot at the 1925 lodge at the base fills on weekends quickly. You can visit the falls year-round.
You’ll find more space, and equal wonder, on other hikes near the Columbia River, such as the less than 4-kilometer loops to the shower spray of Latourell Falls or the bankside picnic spots of Elowah Falls. Afterwards, drop into the riverside town of Hood River, popular for its windsurfing and pick-your-own berry farms along the Fruit Loop. For a full meal, try pFriem, with its Belgian-influenced brews, locally sourced foods and views of the Columbia and White Salmon rivers.
Beautiful Multnomah Falls
Travel to Oregon Wine Country
South of Portland, the fertile Willamette River Valley’s pastoral hills are wine central, with more than 500 wineries. By car, follow signs to Penner-Ash Wine Cellars, Árdiri and other wineries on side roads graced with landscapes striped by grape vines. Nearly all offer tastings, often with outdoor seats and views of the snowcapped Cascade Mountains.
From Portland, take Interstate Highway 5 south and exit on Highway 99W at Tigard to reach towns like McMinnville, about 64 kilometers from downtown.
Oregon wine country
Walk Along Oregon’s Beaches
The Oregon coastline is one of the state’s great treasures, and it’s only 1.5 hours from Portland by car. Most visitors head to beach towns like Seaside and Cannon Beach for seafood and to check into bungalows near the sand. To escape crowds, venture to beaches south of Cannon Beach.
One highlight worth the $5 vehicle admission is Ecola State Park, a cliff-backed beach with coves and tide pools that can be reached by hiking through a Sitka spruce forest. The small parking lots mean you need to arrive early on summer weekends.
It’s best having a car, but you can take the NorthWest Point bus to Cannon Beach or Seaside.
Cannon Beach, Oregon
What Weather to Expect
Portland averages about 89 centimeters of rainfall — and only 68 clear days — a year. Don’t fret. Even in winter, there are days without rain. The best time for dry weather is from June through September, when average high temperatures run from 23 to 27 degrees Celsius.
And if it does rain, do as the locals do: No one in Oregon lets a little rain keep them from going outdoors.
Hawthorne Bridge, spanning the Willamette River