Portland, Oregon is known for its alternative and progressive city vibe, with lots of independent businesses, great eateries and characterful neighbourhoods, you’ll never run out of great things to do in Portland. But if you’ve seen the main sights and attractions and now you’re looking for non touristy things to do in Portland, then this Portland bucket list guide by a local is for you.
My partner is from Portland and knows all the best local spots and secret must-dos in the city. Having visited him dozens of times over the last 3 years, I’ve spent my fair share of time exploring Portland and it’s local gems too. So I’ve put together this guide with my partner, Taylor, to bring you 40 unique things to do in Portland Oregon according to a local!
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40 Unique things to do in Portland Oregon according to a local
1. Blue Star donuts are the best in Portland
You’ve probably heard of Voodoo Donuts in Portland, and whilst the vivid pink walls and huge donut boxes are perfectly instagrammable, the locals know that there are much better donuts in the city. Blue Star is my favourite donut shop in Portland and with four locations, including the airport, it’s easy to stop by and pick up one of their unique flavours.
Hard Apple Cider Fritter, Blueberry Basil Cake and Real Maple Bacon are some of my favourites.
2. Enjoy brunch on Mississippi Avenue
It would be wrong to visit Portland and not enjoy a Portland brunch, and Mississippi Ave is the place to be. My favourites are Gravy for their Challa French Toast and huge serving sizes, or Miss Delta’s for their Chicken and Waffles which I thought sounded gross until I tried it!!
If you’re not a brunch fan, I highly recommend checking out the other eateries on Mississippi too. UCHU Sushi is my favourite if you’re looking for authentic sushi with a contemporary twist.
3. Explore the cool neighbourhood of Alberta
If you’re looking for the coolest things to do in Portland, you’ll probably find many of them here on NE Alberta Street. Check out the Alberta Arts District or the Alberta Rose Theatre for live music and comedy events.
You’ll also find great food and drinks venues. Check out Salt & Straw for incredible fresh ice cream in huge portions and crazy flavours (pear and blue cheese anyone?). Great Notion taproom has a cool vibe and I also love Bye and Bye for their vegan bowls. Akasaru Ramen is also one of my go-tos for authentic Japanese.
4. Visit the St Johns neighbourhood
For more places to explore in Portland, you can’t go wrong with the St John’s neighbourhood in the north, which is one of the most underrated areas of Portland in my opinion.
St Johns is most well known for its green steel suspension bridge which spans the Willamette River. The unique design and colour of the bridge make it a great photo opportunity and I love taking a walk across the bridge and back if I have time. Alternatively, visit Cathedral Park below the bridge. This is a great area to take a stroll, there’s plenty of people enjoying the green space, walking their dogs or sitting along the docks on the river. It’s also a great spot to photograph the bridge from below.
Elsewhere in St Johns, the area is full of great cafes, vintage stores and eateries. Check out Homegrown Smoker for incredible vegan BBQ and Southern food, it’s one of Taylor’s favourite places to eat in the city.
For unique things to do in Portland Oregon, I always suggest visiting a few of the McMenamins buildings, they’re usually unique and full of character and the St Johns McMenamins theatre and pub is no exception. Head here to watch 2nd run movies in their historic theater. Housed inside a unique domed building that was built in 1905 to only last 6 months, it has now stood the test of over 100 years and you can enjoy some pub grub, tap beers and comfy sofas with your movie.
5. Pittocks Mansion view of the Portland
The view over Portland from Pittocks Mansion is my favourite view in the city, especially on a clear day when Mount Hood dominates in the background.
This one is also great if you’re looking for free things to do in Portland as you don’t need to pay anything to access the grounds of Pittock Mansion. If you’re visiting during a weekend or high season, I suggest parking your car at the bottom of the hill or taking transit there and walking through the neighbourhood to reach the grounds. The houses on this route are also beautiful and have some of the most coveted views in the city.
Alternatively there is a car park on site but it can get very busy. Walk to the rear of the mansion for incredible panoramic views of the city and mountain.
If you do decide to visit Pittock Mansion, tickets are $12 for adults.
6. Get a scoop of the legendary Salt & Straw
I’ve already mentioned Salt & Straw on NE Alberta Street but it deserves its own mention, it’s so good that even Dwayne The Rock Johnson has bought a stake in it!
The serving sizes are huge so be warned, I thought I could handle two scoops and I was wrong! They have their all-year flavours and seasonal flavours so I make sure to visit each time I’m in the city, From their all-year round flavours, I love the honey lavender and sea salt with caramel ribbons.
P.s. don’t miss their flavours for the holidays with specials like pumpkin potion for Halloween or the Cinnamon Chai Spiced Eggnog for Christmas.
7. Visit different McMenamins around the city
If you only have a short time in the city and you’re wondering what to do in Portland Oregon, I highly recommend looking up the nearest McMenamins.
McMenamins is a family owned and Oregon-Washington based company which renovates and restores local historical properties and turns them into public venues, such as brewpubs, music venues, theatres, hotels and more. Because of their historical significance, all the buildings are so unique and the decor in each really makes it among the top quirky things to do in Portland.
The McMenamins Bagdad Theatre and Pub in Hawthorne is one of my favourites, but the best part is the Backstage bar. Make sure to enter at the side door rather than the restaurant at the front. The Backstage Bar has a speakeasy type vibe and is a really quirky and fun place to visit.
As well as the St Johns Theatre brewpub, the theatre and bar in Hawthorne, you can also stay overnight in their historic hotels. If you’re looking for unique accommodation in Portland, check out the White Eagle Saloon & Hotel which is not far from Mississippi Ave, which is supposedly haunted and comes with many myths and legends about mysterious happenings, killings and disappearances there.
If you’d prefer to stay downtown, you’ll want to stay at the Crystal Hotel.
The Kennedy School Hotel is fascinating, with some rooms fashioned after the old school rooms with chalkboards and clockrooms. The building is also home to a theater, several bars, a brewery and even a pool.
8. The Portland vegan food scene
If you’re vegan, vegetarian or just enjoy meat free food and you’re looking for vegan restaurants in Portland, you’ll find it hard to run out of options. For every cuisine, there seems to be a vegan or veggie option. Use this mini Portland vegan and vegetarian guide to plan where to eat in Portland.
Some of my favourites are Homegrown Smoker, a vegan southern BBQ restaurant. The Bye and Bye, a super chilled cafe bar with amazing vegan rice bowls.
Gravy is great for vegan and veggie breakfast options.
Pixie Retreat is a cafe with three city locations with great lunchtime food made with organic, vegan ingredients.
Laughing Planet is a chain with several Portland locations and although not everything is vegan, they have a large selection of bowls and burritos which are great for those who are vegan or with specific dietary requirements.
Cafe Yumm is Asian style food with rice bowls, salads and wraps with locations throughout the city.
9. Visit the world’s largest independent bookstore
Powell’s is a Portland institution and for good reason! This huge independent bookstore in downtown Portland takes up an entire city block with 3 floors and over 1 million books!
Enjoy some downtime with a book in their cafe area or check out their event listings for some great talks, events or signings, some of which are free.
Also if you shop here, you’re supporting local and there really is a book here for everyone!
10. Guardian Games
If you’re a gaming fan then you HAVE to visit Guardian Games while you’re in Portland, Guardian Games is a huge gamestore with everyone from tabletop to classic boardgames to RPGs.
They have a vast selection to shop from as well as a gaming area where you can book a table to enjoy some time with friends and your favourite game, plus they have an onsite bar for drinks and refreshments. Make a reservation for this via their website.
11. Portland white stag sign
Okay, the Portland White Stag sign might not be unique or quirky, in fact it’s one of the most recognised icons of Portland. But that doesn’t mean it isn’t fun to visit.
I highly recommend visiting just after sunset before the sky is completely dark, the darker sky makes the lights pop but without the harsh contrast of nighttime.
Walk a little way along the Burnside Bridge with a zoom lens for a great perspective.
12. The Portland Saturday Market
The Portland Saturday Market is the longest running market of its kind in the USA. It’s held every week along the Tom McCall Waterfront Park in the downtown area.
Although it’s traditionally an arts and crafts market, you can now find a huge range of stores there, all local businesses with unique products and crafts, plus food stalls and quirky gifts for people or souvenirs to take home.
Grab a coffee for a Saturday wander and take a stroll along the waterfront here too.
13. Tom McCall Waterfront
Speaking of strolling along the waterfront, if you’re wondering what to see in Portland Oregon in spring, the blossom trees blooming along the water really are spectacular in the spring months.
You’ll see plenty of blossom and floral blooms throughout the city too during spring, especially in the suburbs or city parks.
14. Take a brewery tour or try a sample flight in one of Portland’s breweries
Portland has a reputation for its great craft beer and it’s not hard to see why. With over 70 breweries in the Portland metro area, there is a craft brewery for everyone!
If you visit a Portland craft brewery, order a flight. A flight or a paddle is a selection of beers in smaller measures which is a great way to try a few of the local tap brews and perhaps find one you enjoy to order a full pint of.
There are also many brewery tours in Portland. Some are offered independently by breweries so check with them when you visit or see their website. Alternatively go on a brewery cycle tour. These tours will take you on a brewery crawl by bike so you can try a selection of local craft beers.
If biking isn’t your thing, there’s also plenty of Portland brewery walking tour options too.
Some of my favourite Portland breweries:
Breakside Brewery & Tasting Room
Hair of the Dog Brewing Company
Ex Novo Brewing Co.
Cascade Brewing Barrel House (known for their sours which are my favourite beers!)
Hopworks N Williams
15. See a beard competition
If you’re looking for weird things to do in Portland, I bet you’ve never thought of seeing a beard competition! But with the thriving facial hair scene in the Pacific Northwest, it’s no surprise that there are many beard competitions in the area!
In fact the Portland beards were crowned the best in the world at the International Beard and Moustache competition in 2014. Now there are several local and regional competitions that happen throughout the year. Local beard club, the Portland Beardsmen, is a not-for-profit group which uses its winnings and events to fundraise for local causes and support those most in need in the area.
The Rose City Beard and Moustache competition happens annually with categories including Partial Beard, Business Beard, Moustache Freestyle and even build-a-beard.
All ticket proceeds go to a local cause. It usually happens in June, so look out on local news pages such as the Oregonian or Portland Mercury for event details.
And if you’re in Portland and you have a beard, head over The Greeley Ave Bar and Grill on Greeley Avenue on a Monday night to join the local Portland beards club - The Portland Beardsman, for their weekly beard night!
16. Cartlandia food trucks
Cartlandia is an outdoor space in southeast Portland which is full of independent and gourmet food trucks. Here you’ll find an ever-changing, international array of foods to try, you’ll have a hard time picking what to buy first!
With outdoor seating and a market feel, this place has a chilled out vibe, great for casual food with friends or if you fancy trying something new for dinner!
17. $5 burritos at King Burrito or Burrito Azteca
Both of these locations are in North Portland and it just proves that if you’re willing to leave downtown and the main tourist area, the food you can find is some of the best cheap and authentic food around.
King Burrito has most of its staple burrito menu for $4.95 including their Carne Asada, Steak Picado and the Beef, bean and cheese. All their tacos are also under $2.
Burrito Azteca is a little more expensive, but at less than $9 a burrito, this is another great option if you’re in the North Portland area!
18. Keep Portland Weird sign
An icon of Portland is the Keep Portland Weird sign, painted on the wall in the car park at the back of Dante’s bar in downtown Portland. Make sure to snap a photo of the sign and then check out Dante’s which always has plenty of events going on if you’re looking for things to do in Portland with more of a local crowd!
Check out their website for karaoke, games nights and quizzes, live bands or even the beard competitions I mentioned earlier!
19. Explore Portland by bike
Portland is another city which is becoming increasingly more bike friendly, with bike paths and even completely dedicated bike streets such as N Williams Ave which is a great way to see the neighbourhoods from the safety of your own bike road!
The Portland BIKETOWN e-bikes are dotted around the city and can be unlocked for $1. It then costs $0.20 per minute which is great for quick trips to get around and explore local neighbourhoods.
For longer rentals, check out PDX Rentals for great deals on a bike for your time in Portland including ones you can take out for multi-day trips to the mountains or forest. Their deals start from $25 per day and include helmet and lights.
20. Visit Cargo Store
Cargo is one of my favourite off beat things to do in Portland. It’s full of unique products from around the world, sourced from every corner of the planet and put into this warehouse in a quirky, unique maze of antiques, wall hangings, vibrant art and handmade crafts.
The store is huge, colourful and smells like you’ve walked into a southeast asian spice market. This store is great if you’re looking for a unique large piece of furniture for your house (all of which is in their basement) or a unique trinket or gift from farflung destinations.
Expect to spend an hour or two browsing and you’re unlikely to leave the store without a purchase!
21. Take a day trip to the waterfalls in the Columbia River Gorge
While the famous Multnomah Falls and other falls in the gorge are no secret, many people visit Portland for a short trip and don’t realise that a day trip to the gorge, or even just an afternoon, is completely possible from the city.
Take a drive out east to the Columbia River and stop at some of the spectacular waterfalls. Most are right by the road or just a short walk from the car park, so no need to pack your hiking gear! Just wear good shoes in case it has rained recently and is muddy!
Waterfalls to visit on a day trip:
Bridal Veil Falls
Vista House viewpoint
Latourell Falls is a single drop which you can get right up close to and feel the misting water on you on a windy day. Bridal Veil Falls has a lovely short walk down to the powerful falls, dropping into a pool where you can stand on the viewing platform to observe it.
Check out my other post for more day trip ideas from Portland.
22. Sauvie Island fruit picking and pumpkin patches
Just north of Portland, where the Willamette River meets the Columbia River, Sauvie Island is the place to be in summer for fruit picking and in the autumn for pumpkin picking!
The Sauvie Island Pumpkin Patch offers PYO Pumpkins as well as a corn maze and farm shop which opens seasonally.
Sauvie Island Farms including apple, blueberry, strawberry, peach and many other fruit farms which are all open for u-pick. There are also sunflower and lavender farms during the summer.
23. Sauvie Island nudist beach
If you’re looking for more adult Portland activities, did you know that Portland has a nudist beach?
Sauvie Island is home to the city’s only nudist beach - Collins Beach, where clothing is optional! It’s located on the banks of the Columbia River and gets extremely busy in the summer so make sure you arrive early to get a spot!
Remember nudist beach etiquette if you do decide to visit, avoid taking photos, keep your dog on a leash, don’t approach other naked sunbathers and probably don’t take your young children.
24. Washington Park
Washington Park is a real oasis in the city and is great if you’re looking for free things to do in Portland. The park is right on the edge of the city but you wouldn’t know you were so close to the bustling city area.
In the park you’ll find the Portland Japanese Garden, play parks, an Archery Range, the Portland Zoo, the Arboretum, a redwood observation deck and the Shakespeare Garden.
Washington Park is a great way to spend a day outdoors if you don’t have a car to get further afield from the city.
25. Lan Su Chinese Garden
This Chinese Garden is tucked right into Portland Downtown and it’s easy to walk past and miss it if you’re not looking for it!
Located on NW Everett St, not only are these gardens beautiful there is also an authentic Chinese teahouse where you can have a Chinese tea experience on your trip. Tickets cost around $13.
26. Visit Washington State
It might not be that quirky and exciting to some, but as a non-American, I always loved the ease with which you can cross from State to State in the US. So why not take an afternoon trip across the river to Vancouver, Washington and visit a different state in a day!
Head just over the state line to visit the Fort Vancouver Historic site with exhibits from the 19th century and weapons demos throughout the day.
27. Float down Clackamas river in summer
This is a real local’s activity and one that Taylor and his housemates have done every year. In the hot summer months when Portland can regularly exceed 35 celsius, one of the favourite local activities is to drive up river, take your inflatable dingy or other large inflatable and float down the river with your friends with your beer tied to the back in the water to keep it cool.
The most popular place for this is the Clackamas River in the south. Although you’re going to need a nice friend to drop you off at one end and bring your car to the end point so you can get home. Alternatively, drop your car at the end point and take a taxi further upstream!
28. Take part in Portland’s Naked Bike Ride
If you’re looking for weird things to do in Portland, it doesn’t get much weirder than this - a huge group of cyclists riding through the city, completely naked and completely legally!
Every year in June, the Portland Naked Bike Ride draws thousands of participants from all over the world, making it the largest bike ride of its kind, It began in 2004 as a protest against oil use and has continued every year since.
The route is never revealed in advance so you’ll need to sign up to find where it is. It takes place at night and the routes are closed off to cars to make it as safe as possible. At the start point, people strip off, cover themselves in glow paint and lights and cycle together into the night!
The event is part of Pedalpalooza, which is a month of cycling events to celebrate cycling and raise awareness for social issues.
29. Attend the Annual Oregon Brewery Festivals
Of course Oregon has multiple beer festivals! While they aren’t quite the size of OcktoberFest, the events draw thousands of craft beer fans each year and are one of the best things to do in Portland if you want to experience the local crowd and support local businesses.
There are usually two major events in July - The Portland Brewer’s Festival takes place at the Tom McCall Waterfront Park and the Portland Craft Beer Festival takes place at a large open area just outside the city and features only beers brewed within the city limits.
Both are amazing days out if you’re in the city during the summer and you’re guaranteed to find a craft beer you love!
30. Go off-roading
While this isn’t technically something you can do in the city, TIllamook State Forest is just an hour from the city and has some incredible off roading routes which are amazing fun whether you’re a seasoned off-roader or have never off-roaded before (like me)!
Taylor and his friends took me off-roading on my first visit to Portland and it is amazing fun. You will need your own off-roading vehicle, either hire one or find a friend with one. It’s so exhilarating to get out to the forest and simply drive off the tarmac road, straight into the trees, crawl over huge boulders and basically drive wherever you want in your off-roading vehicle.
We were in a Jeep but others were out there in various trucks and also side-by-sides.
31. Hire a kayak or canoe on the Willamette River
If you’re looking for unusual things to do in Portland Oregon, I bet no one told you that you can hire a canoe and see the city and landscape from the river right?!
Head a little south to the Portland Kayak Company where you can hire a kayak and access the river from right behind their boatshed. Prices start from $36 for 2 hour hire and are only available spring - autumn as the river temperature in winter is far too cold!
You can also hire a two-person canoe for $49 or a stand-up paddleboard for $36.
This is a great option for fun things to do around Portland Oregon if you’re looking to escape the city for a bit and also an amazing way to see the river, the landscape and the city from the water for a great price. Perfect for those who love to be active and don’t want to pay for pricier tourist tours!
32. Portland International Raceway
For fun things to do in Portland Oregon, the raceway offers amazing events all year round, from drag races and motocross to road racing and cruise-ins. Check their events to see what’s happening during your visit. There are usually weekly drags on Wednesdays and night-time drags on Fridays and Saturdays, so you’re almost guaranteed to see some action on your trip.
The atmosphere is the best bit with the crowds, the noise of the car and the food and drink. All tickets are sold on the gate and are cash only (except annual cup events which can be purchased in advance). So make sure to bring cash, as cards will not be accepted.
33. Visit wineries near the city
Portland isn’t just famous for its craft beer scene! Forest Grove is around 30 minutes drive from the city, or 1.5 hours on public transit and the area is famous for its surrounding wineries.
Heading out to Forest Grove is a great day activity or weekend trip, even if you’re a local!
Check out David Hill Vineyard and Winery or Montinore Estate which both offer tasting tours with spectacular views over the vineyard hills. For something different, there is also a Japanese sake brewery in Forest Grove called SakéOne which offers tours and tasting.
If you would prefer a guided tour perhaps with your group so no one has to worry about driving home, there are wine tasting day tours from Portland to the WIllamette Valley which offer wine tasting experiences.
34. Explore Portland’s creative scene with a free art walk
Portland’s Eastside art district is full of galleries, independent shops, street exhibitions and artwork, it’s a vibrant place that’s amazing to explore, but even more so if you’re guided by a local artist to understand and experience the local art scene.
First Friday PDX runs free monthly art walks every first Friday of the month between April and October. This is a great way to learn about and support the local creative scene in Portland, plus it’s a great option if you’re on the search for cheap things to do in Portland Oregon.
Find out timings and more info on their website.
35. Get discounted Nike and Adidas trainers
If you’re in the market for new sports shoes or exercise gear then Portland is the place to be. Portland is the home of Nike and Adidas and that means plenty of Factory Outlets!
Unfortunately the Adidas outlet is for staff, family and friends only (if you know someone then you’re in luck!
But otherwise head to the Nike Community Store at 2650 NE Martin Luther King Jr Blvd for incredible deals on sportswear and trainers/sneakers. I got two new pairs of Nike trainers for $30!
36. See the Paul Bunyan lumberjack statue
Paul Bunyan is a famous folklore character in North American and Canadian history who is spoken of as having superhuman strengths as a logger.
There are statues of him throughout the US but the one in Portland is located in the neighbourhood of Kenton on the SW corner of N Denver Ave.
The statue is 31ft tall and made from metal and concrete. It really is one of the weird things to see in Portland but it’s such a staple in the neighbourhood, as a local you forget that it’s even there!
37. Tour the underground Shanghai Tunnels
Portland is home to an underground network of tunnels which were traditionally used to connect the business district and Chinatown with the waterfront so products arriving by boat could be transported underground to the storage basements of businesses.
However the tunnels gained a reputation in the 19th century for dodgy happenings and criminal activity, including Shanghaiing - the act of kidnapping people to serve in the shipping industry.
Portland Underground operates underground tours of the tunnels all year round, tickets are $15 if bought online in advance, or $20 for walk-ins on the day. Tours last for around 1.5 hours and they’re one of the cool things to do in Portland that a lot of visitors don’t know about.
38. Give back to the community at the Oregon Public House
The Oregon Public House combines the city's love of craft beer, good food and good causes to become a non-for-profit pub where customers can choose where to donate their food and beverage purchases to.
The Public House has given back to over 100 charities and local causes and it’s an amazing way to make your food and drinks payment count.
It’s also a super cool building with exposed brick and wood, definitely an awesome place for lunch or an afternoon drink.
39. Do karaoke at the second oldest tiki bar in the United States
The Alibi tiki bar dates back to the 1800s and originally started life as a roadhouse bar. Now it’s a vibrant tiki bar with tropical cocktails and colourful murals and nightly karaoke!
The bar is a Portland institution and even if karaoke isn’t your thing, you’re pretty much guaranteed to have a great night at this lively bar.
They also have weekend brunch and karaoke and you can book your own private karaoke sessions if you have a large group too.
40. Oaks Amusement Park
Oaks Amusement Park has been operating since 1905 and is one of the longest continuously operating amusement parks in the United States.
This is a great day out for the family or for couples and it’s less than 5 miles from downtown Portland. There’s thrill rides, mini golf and a skate rink, plus traditional fairground rides like carousels, big wheel and bumper cars.
I hope this huge guide gives you plenty of ideas for weird things to do in Portland from a local and gives you some inspiration for your trip about all the unique things to do in Portland Oregon to add to your bucket list!
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Flights: I use Expedia to find great flights and the best deals all over the world, they have regular sales and offers so I always check their website. I also check CheapOair to find cheap deals on round trip flights.
Car Rental: I love the customer service I've always gotten and the variety of options with Rental Cars. But for short notice rentals, I've been using Expedia for the last year, they always seem to have great one-day rates or last-minute rates from the main rental companies.
Accommodation: I prefer the flexibility of booking accommodation with Booking.com so I can cancel or change my reservation without a fee or only pay on arrival for most properties. For longer or more unique stays I prefer AirBnB because you can get the long stay discount, you can also find more unique properties and book experiences with talented locals and businesses. For my budget trips, I always stay in hostels and book through Hostelworld because they have great guarantees if anything does go wrong. If you arrive and your booking is not at the property, they refund the full deposit AND give you $50 extra credit.
Tours and organised trips Although I don’t use tours that often, I do like to book local experiences or day trips once I reach my destination. For that I use GetYourGuide because it has the biggest selection and variety of tour and experience options.
Travel Insurance: For all my longer trips and for the entire year I’ve spent in Australia, my partner and I have always used World Nomads. They cover everything I need and I can buy coverage for a year at a time, they also allow you to purchase cover when you’re already outside your home country. Plus my camera gear and equipment is covered and they also have special cover for when I’m scuba diving too.
My camera gear and equipment: I use a Canon 77D with an 18-135mm lens or a 50mm lens. And a DJI Mavic Mini Drone. For all my gear including laptops, tripods and more camera accessories read my travel photography gear guide.