The Ultimate Portland, Oregon Travel Guide

The Ultimate Portland, Oregon Travel Guide

Portland, Oregon offers a little bit of everything for everyone — urban forests, a deliciously diverse food scene, top-notch craft breweries, and mountains in the distance. It is one of our favorite US cities and rightfully a “must see” destination in the Pacific Northwest. To help you explore the City of Roses, we put together this comprehensive Portland travel guide, including the best hotels, restaurants, and things to do.

Portland travel guide

Portland’s reputation as one of America’s hippest (and hipster) cities is well-deserved. It has a dizzying culinary scene that has gained notoriety up and down the West Coast. Think Voodoo Donuts, Stumptown coffee, Pok Pok, Salt and Straw — all with Portland roots and now in cities like LA, San Francisco, and Seattle. Beyond that, the city has a noteworthy coffee culture and houses some of the top craft breweries in the country. Flanked by the Willamette River, Portland is also just a short hop away from stunning nature getaways in Oregon — Columbia River Gorge, Cannon Beach, and Willamette Valley. All in all, there are so many reasons to fall in love with Portland, hence why we felt the need to create this Portland travel guide!

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Portland Travel Guide: Portland, Oregon City View

Getting to and around Portland

To travel to Portland, you’ll want to fly into Portland International (PDX). From there, it’s 12 miles to downtown via the MAX train (40 minutes, $2.50 one-way) or taxi/rideshare (20 minutes, ~$40).

Once you’re in Portland, you have a few options for getting around:

  • Walk: Portland’s main neighborhoods tend to be very walkable, especially if you plan to stay mostly around Downtown and the Pearl District. It’s also easy to take an Uber/Lyft to a popular neighborhood (e.g., Alberta Arts District) and walk from there.
  • Public transportation: Portland has an excellent public transit system called TriMet, which includes the MAX train, buses, and street cars. You can use the TriMet planner to map out your trip.
  • Biking: Biking is a popular way to get around Portland. As a result, many hotels offer complimentary bikes. The city also has bike-share programs available like BikeTown.
  • Car: Unlike big cities like NYC or LA, driving and parking in Portland is relatively easy. All-day parking garage in Downtown will run you about $5/weekend day or $15-20/weekday. Parking outside of Downtown is even easier and often free. 

Personally, we like having a car in Portland because it allows the most flexibility to see different neighborhoods, which we think is the best way to explore Portland. You’ll also need a car if you plan to visit nearby destinations like Columbia River Gorge or Willamette Valley. 

Tip: If you’re planning to mostly stay Downtown, skip the car rental since it is easy enough to walk or take public transit. However, if you want to see more of Portland and its surrounding area, a car rental can be worth it. We recommend using Rentalcars to find the best deal.

Best neighborhoods for a first trip

In our opinion, the best part of Portland is soaking up the vibes you get from visiting different neighborhoods. The city itself is divided into 5 “quadrants” — Northeast (NE), Northwest (NW), North (NoPo), Southwest (SW) and Southeast (SE).  Each area has its own unique feel, so you’ll have to hop around to see what you gravitate towards best. That said, we recommend the below areas, especially on a first trip to PDX.

  • Downtown / Pearl District: This is where all the action is! The entire area is highly walkable, with tons of restaurants, nightlife, shops, and a real city vibe. Notable landmarks include Powell’s Book store, Downtown food cart pods on Third Avenue and Fifth Avenue, the waterfront, and the Portlandia statue. Fun fact: you can also find the world’s smallest park consisting of a single tree here (aka Mill End Park).
  • Hawthorne: This is a fun neighborhood in Southeast Portland with a unique and funky feel. There’s no shortage of things to do in this area, making it a great stomping ground for first-time visitors to Portland. Hot spots include Common Ground for coffee, Next Level Burger, and Quarterworld Arcade.
  • Alberta Arts District: Although technically made up of multiple neighborhoods, this is one of our favorite areas in Portland because it has amazing food (Aviary, Proud Mary, Tin Shed, Pine State Biscuits), bars, street art, and shops by local designers.
  • Boise & North Mississippi Ave: North Mississippi Avenue consists of a small strip of shops, bars, and music venues, and is a fun, relaxed neighborhood to explore. Best of all, it is home to some amazing Portland restaurants. Highlights include Ecliptic Brewing, Lovely’s Fifty Fifty (amazing pizza), and the People’s Pig (mouth-watering BBQ).

Best things to do

Powell’s City of Books

Perhaps one of Portland’s most “famous” spots, Powell’s City of Books is the world’s largest independent bookstore. Occupying an entire city block, Powell’s has 9 color-coded rooms and over 3,500 different sections. Whether or not you like to read, it’s absolutely worth a visit because there is really nothing else in the world like it. And if you are a bookworm, have fun geeking out — we know we do!

1005 W Burnside St, Portland, OR 97209

International Rose Test Garden

Portland International Rose Test Garden

There’s a reason why Portland is nicknamed the City of Roses. Located within Washington Park next to the Portland Japanese Garden, the International Rose Test Garden features more than 10,000 roses against the backdrop of Mt. Hood. If you’re visiting between May and October when the roses are in bloom, taking a stroll through this free, public garden is a must. Fun fact: It is also the country’s longest-running rose test garden. 

400 SW Kingston Ave.PortlandOR 97205

Portland Japanese Garden

Portland Japanese Garden

Once you’ve visited the International Rose Test Garden, head across the street to the 12-acre Portland Japanese Garden. This is one of the most beautiful spots in the city and supposedly one of the most “authentic” Japanese gardens outside of Japan.

611 SW Kingston Ave, Portland, OR 97205

Pittock Mansion

Located near both the Rose Garden and Japanese Garden, Pittock Mansion is a historic home in the West Hills of Portland. This is a great spot for history and architecture buffs to admire beautiful architecture, see stunning views of the city and Mt. Hood, and learn about one of Portland’s influential families.

3229 NW Pittock Dr, Portland, OR 97210

Forest Park

Portland - Forests

Forest Park is one of the largest urban forests in the US, and it’s located right WITHIN Portland city limits. If you’re itching to get outdoors but don’t have time (or want) to leave the city, visit Forest Park. It’s the perfect way to see a true Northwest forest, and with over 80 miles of trails and forest roads, there’s plenty to explore.

McMennamin’s Kennedy School

Kennedy School - Portland, Oregon

Ever fancy drinking aged whisky in a school classroom? Well, in Portland, you can! This elementary school-turned-hotel/bar is a fun, quirky thing to do when in Portland, so of course it had to make an appearance in this Portland travel guide. We also enjoy movie night in the school auditorium (yes, it’s a real thing!). The whole experience puts a fun, grown-up spin on “back to school.”

5736 NE 33rd Ave, Portland, OR 97211

Drink top-notch craft beer

Oregon in general is a beer haven, so it’s no surprise that some of the best craft breweries in the country are located in Portland. Some of our favorites include:

For a fun afternoon, check out this guided walking tour that takes you through a number of Eastside breweries, with beer samples and locally made snacks at each stop.

Sample small-batch spirits at Distillery Row

Portland’s Central Eastside houses a number of small-batch, independent distillers. Stop by this area, and within walking distance, spend an afternoon going from spirit maker to spirit maker, sampling spirits and touring facilities. Check out New Deal Distillery, Stone Barn Brandyworks, and Eastside Distilling

Visit a nearby landmark Oregon destination

Columbia River Gorge - Multnomah Falls
Multnomah Falls in Columbia River Gorge

There are so many world-class destinations just 1-2 hours outside of Portland that we could write a whole post on each one! From Cannon Beach to Willamette Valley to Columbia River Gorge, we recommend taking a short day trip to at least one if you have the time to spend. Any one of these locations is well worth the travel, even on a first trip to Portland. If we had to choose just one, we’d pick Columbia River Gorge for its proximity, stunning views, and easy hikes.

If you have a car, you can easily see these sights on your own. But if you opted not to rent a car or simply want someone else to do all the planning, you can find plenty of day tours (see this highly recommended 3-hour tour to Columbia River Gorge, for instance).

Best things to eat

Portland has a burgeoning food scene, from food trucks dotting streets to fine dining within blocks of one another. With so much variety and so much to choose from, the city has rightfully earned its reputation as a foodie destination! We’ll detail our favorite places to eat in Portland in a future Portland travel guide article since there’s so much to cover, but until then, here are our highlights for the road:

  • Breakfast: Screen Door, Proud Mary, Sweedeedee
  • Lunch: Nong’s Khao Man Gai, Lovely’s Fifty Fifty, Afuri
  • Dinner: Andina, Olympia Provisions SE, Ox
  • Coffee: Stumptown
  • Dessert: Salt & Straw, Voodoo Donuts

Take a food tour

One of the best ways to explore all the diverse culinary highlights of Portland is to take a food tour. We could spend all day going from neighborhood to neighborhood trying new restaurants, and honestly, that would be an amazing day. To get a good foodie overview, you could try this highly rated deluxe food tour through Downtown , or try one of the other tours below:


Best places to stay

Downtown / Pearl District

To be in the thick of it all, there’s no better place to be than Downtown and Pearl District. The area is highly walkable, and you’ll be close to a lot of notable locations like Powell’s City of Books, Tom McCall Waterfront Park, Pioneer Courthouse Square, and the Portland Saturday Market. This is also the best area to stay if you don’t intend to have a car.

Hotel recommendations:

Alberta Arts

If you’re looking for a more local vibe, we recommend staying in Alberta Arts which has a more residential feel compared to Downtown. The neighborhood is also highly walkable and is a great place to prop up in a vacation rental.

House rental recommendations:

Best time to go to Portland

Portland is a destination where you can go year-round. Summer has the best weather and longest days, but spring and fall are also beautiful albeit cooler and sometimes rainier weather.

Extending your trip in Oregon? See more travel guides

If you are looking to extend your Oregon trip beyond Portland, check out our other travel guides:

Well, that’s a wrap! Hope you enjoyed this Portland travel guide!

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