how to be a tourist in portland, or

1. Start your day with a cup of coffee

You won’t find a shortage of cafés here. Like the beer scene, the coffee scene is just as happening in Portland. My first Portland cup of Joe was at Coava Coffee Roasters. It was a honey latte and it was perfectly balanced. We also went to Stumptown to bring a few bags of beans to bring home

Honey latte & nitro cold brew
2. Enjoy the scenery in the Portland Japanese Gardens

It’s a nice little oasis right inside Portland. The gardens are located inside Washington Park, which is huge. I would say it’s Portland’s version of Central Park. We went in February, so there weren’t much flowers/plants to see but it was still very pretty. In May/June, their rose garden blooms and is home to 610 different varieties of roses across 10,000 bushes

Zen garden
3. Eat all the seafood

Oregon is located right next to the Pacific, so it’s no wonder that the seafood would be fresh. They’re most known for dungeness crab, oysters, and of course – wild salmon. Here is all the seafood we ate at Jake’s Grill

4. Grab a donut from Blue Star Donuts

Everyone goes to Voodoo Doughnut (which we didn’t try) but if you don’t want to wait in a massive line, Blue Star has some pretty unique flavors

The selection at Blue Star Donuts
5. Enjoy some biscuits and gravy

Yes, this is a dish that is typically known from being from the South, but you’ll find that it’s really popular in Portland, due to workers from the south migrating up to Portland back in the day. This article gives an excellent explanation of its popularity

Pine State Biscuits (Reggie Deluxe (fried chicken, bacon and Tillamook cheddar topped with gravy and a fried egg)
6. Drink some beer

Portland is known for its beer scene. In fact, it has the most breweries per capita than any other city in the U.S. We visited the most obvious one, Deschutes and really enjoyed the beer. We also tried Cascade Brewing Barrel House, which is mainly sour beers

7. Buy some books at Powell’s City of Books

When is the last time you read a book? Well, Powell’s is a great place to pick up that habit again. It is the largest independent new and used bookstore in the world, and spans an entire city block. Even if you are not a reader, I am positive you will find a book that would catch your eye, given that the store has 3,500 different sections. It’s also nice to discover genres you never even knew about. For example, I saw a book about making crafts with cat hair. Not saying I’m interesting but it’s just so cool to see so many unique topics that you wouldn’t even think is a topic. There’s also souvenirs around the store, and a coffee shop if you want to read your newly purchased book there while enjoying some java

Powell’s Books
8. Learn some new things at the OMSI (Oregon Museum of Science and Industry)

I’ve been to my fair share of science centers across the nation. I don’t have any kids but I have a husband, who is like a big kid and really enjoys this stuff. So whenever we travel, we try to make it a point to visit that city’s science museum. I must say that OMSI was one of the better ones. Most are just geared towards kids, but I felt like I did actually learn a couple of things here

Oregon Museum of Science and Industry
9. Marvel at the tallest waterfall in the state of Oregon, Multnomah Falls

620 feet, to be exact. We took a half day trip here and you definitely need to rent a car, even though it’s only about a half hour drive from downtown. You would have no issue getting an Uber to Multnomah, but it’s the getting back that’s the problem. Besides, there are so many waterfalls/hikes along this stretch that you would want to go at your own pace anyway. Tip – also check out Bridal Veil falls right nearby but do this first if you’re coming from Portland. If you do it on the way back, you’ll have to loop back around for a few exits

The falls
Vista House – one of the many stopping points on the way to Multnomah
10. Eat some cheese at the Tillamook Factory

Ever since Ben discovered Tillamook, he became obsessed with it. Then we booked a trip to Portland and found out that the Tillamook Factory was driveable from the city. It’s about 1.5 hours west of Portland. Since our time was so limited in Portland (4 days, 3 nights), we combined this trip with the falls and it was pretty rushed. I wouldn’t recommend it. Because all the tastings were already booked up, we really only just ate lunch at Tillamook and did the self-guided tour. I would only recommend it if you are planning to explore the coast of Oregon, especially since Tillamook is right there

The drive to Tillamook from Portland was snowy but beautiful
11. Check out Pioneer Square

Just a touristy thing to do. It’s supposedly ‘Portland’s Living Room’ but not much people were around

Pioneer Square
12. Visit the food pods

The downtown ones are located on 5th and 3rd Avenues. I was told that this was a thing in Portland and I was really excited to try everything out but when we went there in the middle of the day, it was deserted. There were also many pods that were closed, and it seems people have set up their homes there. Maybe we just went to the wrong spot so if you find something good, let me know

Food pods
13. Snap a picture with the White Stag sign

Just another one of those touristy things to do. I would have loved to see it lit up during the nighttime but the other side of the bridge is not an area you want to find yourself in, especially at night

White Stag
14. DON’T go to Chinatown

Whenever I visit any new city, I always love visiting their Chinatowns just to see what they have to offer, and how it compares to my home city – NYC’s Chinatown. Admittedly, I hadn’t done much research on Portland prior to the trip. I saw a cheap RT flight from EWR for $200, and Ben and I were on the plane the following week. Once we landed, we took an Uber to the hotel from the airport, which by the way, is not cheap. (It costs $40 to go from airport downtown. At the minimum, it costs at least $10 to go anywhere within the city, even if it’s just for a mile). Anyway, we mentioned exploring Chinatown to our Uber driver and he said to avoid that area if we can, especially at night. He said that if he sees a ride request after a certain time going to/from there, he won’t even accept it. Ever since Covid, Chinatown has been declining. After a mental health facility shut down, they just dropped off all the patients there, and the neighborhood is a known area for drug use, and gang violence. To be honest, we didn’t even feel comfortable walking around the border of Chinatown in the daytime, which was where the bridge to view the White Stag sign crossed over into. We also tried to order delivery for a late dinner from two different restaurants in that area, and both orders ended up getting cancelled. We rented a car for a day and the car rental location was in Chinatown (this was before we found out about the safety issues) and the employee mentioned there are a lot of car break-ins there. Because of that, we ended up rushing back to make it in time before the rental company closed, and Ubered out of there as fast as we could. So that was our experience with Chinatown. Thank you for listening to my TED talk

2 thoughts on “how to be a tourist in portland, or

  1. I’m so glad I kept clicking your posts and ran into this one! I’m from Portland! (though right now I am living in a tiny nearby town) I loved parts of what you experienced and was sad about others. Our public transit is very reliable, frequent, easy to use, and cheap. I do so wish visitors were told about this at the airport. Americans aren’t used to amazingly great public transit, but Portland has it, and thus locals don’t take a $40 Uber from PDX. Oh my gosh you did Multnomah and Tillamook in the same day? It sounds stressful and exhausting. As you said, it was too much, but you were cramming it all in during a short trip, so good on ya! I love that you went to Blue Star instead of VooDoo ❤ I love that you went to the Japanese garden, and glad you noticed how enormous Washington Park is – so big. Yes, Pioneer Square is often packed with stuff going on, and just filled with randos in the summertime so good for people watching, but in February?….brrr. Powell's is the best bookstore in the country, IMHO, ha ha. The saddest things on your trip were your Chinatown and food carts experiences. The food carts really are the BEST, and the ones you visited are in a place where the city has not yet rebounded after COVID. There are a hundred great places for food carts, and if you ever come back, please try again. And Chinatown has so much potential, but I can't deny the stories you heard. The one magnificent thing about Chinatown is Lan Su garden which makes me still love Chinatown, and it's my favourite part of town to be in for the Pride parade in June. You guys did a great job with seeing so many things in a short amount of time. Ben and I agree on cheese (have him also try Cabot if he has not). I love that you decided to take a spontaneous trip to Portland. It's a wonderful city whose reputation is plummeting after all the COVID chaos. We will find our weird soul again though. ❤ I believe you have just inspired me to create a blog post of Things To Do On A Short Trip To Portland.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. We did Multnomah and Tillamook on the same day! Exhausting but worth it. I hope to come back one day and do a coastal Oregon drive (and hopefully not a crammed trip!) I’ll have to check out Cabot! I do see it in the supermarkets here in NJ.

      Liked by 1 person

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