I recently spent some wonderful family time in Portland, Oregon and compiled this epic list of attractions to help you plan for your first visit, or simply find a few new things to do while there. Travels with Bibi is always here to help you plan your next adventure!
While visiting Oregon last month, my family and I discovered a ton of fun things to do in Portland – including places to eat, where to find the best views, and even a couple easy side trips if you want to get out of the city.
Like to load up the RV for your family trips? You can do that in Portland too! There are some fantastic campgrounds and RV parks in Portland where you’re sure to find one that suits everyone in your family.
Typically, most lists of things to see and do in Portland will vary depending on who you ask, but the attractions listed below became some of our favorite spots. I’ll go into more detail for each activity below, but here’s a list of my favorite things to do in Portland, Oregon.
In no particular order:
Stop and smell the roses at International Rose Test Garden
Find the magic at Voodoo Doughnuts
Enjoy the animals at Oregon Zoo
Read a book at Powell’s City of Books
Lunch and brews at Deschutes Brewery
Hike an urban volcano at Mt. Tabor Park
Sample the foodie culture at Cartlandia
Entertain the kids at Portland Children’s Museum
Tickle your taste buds at Salt & Straw
Channel your inner goonie at Haystack Rock
Get cheesy at Tillamook Creamery
Discover iconic Multnomah Falls
Where to Start
I read loads of other Portland travel itineraries when researching what to see and do in Portland and knew we wanted to visit the best attractions during our adventure to Oregon. So, let’s get into the details of what we discovered in Portland!
Smell the Roses at the International Rose Test Garden
Portland’s International Rose Test Garden turned out to be one of my favorite spots in the city. Admission is free so it’s friendly on your wallet, which makes a visit well worthwhile. It’s located just steps away from the Portland Japanese Garden (not free), so if you’re wanting to see both, plan to visit them on the same day.
The International Rose Test Garden is located in Washington Park, and shows off Portland’s long-lived love affair with roses. Wander the garden at your leisure, where you’ll find innumerable rose varieties in virtually every color imaginable.
If you’re looking for an Instagram worthy photo spot, you’ll find nearly endless opportunities for the perfect selfie.
My entire family, from infants up to 60-year-olds, enjoyed our visit to the rose garden. We found it to be one of the most serene and gorgeous spots in all of Portland.
There’s a nearby play park area with swings and other playground equipment where the kiddos can burn off some energy, either before or after your visit to the garden.
The International Rose Test Garden is located on a hill in Washington Park so you’ll have opportunities for great views of the city while visiting here.
Find the Magic at Voodoo Doughnuts
Did you know that Portland has many doughnut shops that are in an endless competition for the title of Best Doughnut in Portland? Pip’s Original Doughnuts and Blue Star Donuts are strong competitors but the top shop so far, with some of the weirdest doughnut flavors in Portland, can be found at Voodoo Doughnuts.
If you’re feeding a crowd, you can get a three-foot hand-made wooden coffin filled with three dozen doughnuts. Whew, that’s a lot of doughnuts!
If you don’t need a coffin full, you can order just one or two doughnuts, or even a dozen or more if you like. There are more than 50 flavor options, including the namesake Voodoo Doll doughnut, Maple Bacon doughnut, and even Easy Keasy Lemon Peasy doughnut. I must say though that my personal favorite is the Dirt doughnut!
It’s worth noting that the downtown branch of Voodoo Doughnuts only accepts cash, so bring some with you or risk finding out you can’t purchase. (We visited the Eastside Portland location and were able to purchase with a credit card.)
Discover Oregon Zoo
The easily walkable Oregon Zoo is home to 2,585 animals representing 215 species or subspecies of birds, mammals, reptiles, amphibians, fish and invertebrates.
The zoo covers 64 acres and features five major exhibit areas: Great Northwest, Fragile Forests, Asia, Pacific Shores and Africa. Within these large areas are 23 specialized exhibits. Pathways, exhibits, restaurants, restrooms and drinking fountains are ADA accessible.
We loved our day spent at the zoo with its world class habitats all conveniently located in Washington Park. The zoo has been undergoing renovations with construction on the last three habitats – Polar Passage, Black Rhino and Primate Forests – scheduled to wrap up in 2020. Perhaps a return visit is in our future!
Read a Book at Powell’s City of Books
If you’re a book lover like me or just enjoy hanging out at unusual places, Powell’s City of Books is definitely a must-see destination. We didn’t get to the original location but we sure had fun anyway!
Powell’s proudly claims to be the world’s largest used and new bookstore, occupying an entire city block and housing approximately one million books.
Refreshments for purchase can be found at a café inside Powell’s where you can hang out and read, drink coffee and essentially do Portland like the Portlanders do Portland.
Lunch and Brews at Deschutes Brewery Portland Public House
If you want good pub food taken to the next level and an unbeatable downtown vibe, Deschutes Brewery’s Portland Public House is the place to be. Portland Public House is a popular destination for great beer, delicious food and a relaxed urban atmosphere.
The brew pubs 20+ taps feature Deschutes mainstays plus a selection of seasonal and experimental beers developed and brewed on site exclusively for the Portland Pub.
Not a fan of beer? No worries! You can try the signature Black Butte Whiskey, available individually or as a flight. Other cocktails and beer-tails are also available if you prefer.
Explore an Urban Volcano at Mt. Tabor Park
Mt. Tabor Park is a perfect scenic city park where you can get away from the urban environment – without really leaving it at all.
Built on top of an old volcanic cinder cone, Mt. Tabor Park is beloved by runners, walkers, cyclists, stroller-pushers, hikers and even soap box racers. Paved roads, staircases and trails form a network of pathways throughout the park, weaving through a forest of tall firs and wide-open meadows.
There’s three official hiking loops, each leading to the top for great views of downtown Portland to the west and Mount Hood to the northeast, just peeking through the trees.
The summit is also home to one of the park’s most iconic landmarks: a large statue of northwest pioneer and longtime Oregonian editor Harvey W. Scott.
Sample Portland Foodie Culture at Cartlandia
Like many other areas of the US, Portland locals and visitors alike have an obsession with food carts. If you’re not sure what a food cart is, picture a tiny takeout restaurant in a truck or small trailer. So fun! Foods are served to-go, although most places have community tables located in the “pod” where you can sit and enjoy your meal.
My family’s first food cart destination in Portland was Cartlandia, which boasts 32 different carts serving food from every corner of the world. We each chose a different cart to order from and everything was super delicious.
There are many other great food cart pods in Portland including Cartopia, Rose City Food Park, Alder St. Food Cart Pod, Carts on Foster, Piedmont Station Food Carts, and more. For an overview map of Portland’s food carts, you can check them out here.
Entertain the Kids at Portland Children’s Museum
Our two little ones loved this museum! Instead of investing in precious objects, the Portland Children’s Museum uses familiar materials to craft priceless opportunities to learn through play.
These two cuties are practicing to become future rock stars! Portland Children’s Museum is where everyone can enjoy kid-friendly exhibits where all children have the opportunity to think, imagine, design, invent, and create.
There are fun activities planned each day, and for a fun treat, check out Storytime where books enjoyed by children of all ages are read aloud by museum staff.
Tickle Your Taste Buds at Salt & Straw
Portland locals love all things that are different, and you’ll find that and more at Salt & Straw, an ice cream shop featuring a rotating menu of unique flavors. Choose from the classic Portland flavor offerings of Pear and Blue Cheese, Coava Coffee with Freckled Woodblock Chocolate, or try one of Oprah’s favorite flavors, Arbequina Olive Oil!
There are many other flavor combinations to choose from so stop on in and try an ice cream flavor that’s unique to Portland. You can even order a flight of ice cream where you’ll get to choose four flavors to try.
Have an allergy or just prefer not to consume milk-based products? No problem! You’ll find several vegan ice cream flavors at Salt and Straw too. Go ahead and satisfy your sweet tooth indulgence without all that upset tummy trouble.
Road Trip to Haystack Rock
Drive about 80 miles west of Portland to Cannon Beach and enjoy a day along the gorgeous Pacific coast. For movie buffs, the opening scene from the 1985 classic movie The Goonies was filmed here.
Haystack Rock is one of the Oregon Coast’s most recognizable landmarks, home to colorful tidepools and many birds. Majestically rising 235 feet from the edge of the shoreline, you can walk right up to it at low tide and find colorful sea stars and other interesting tide pool creatures.
Puffin birds can be seen on the rock from early spring to mid-summer, offering the most accessible viewing of Tufted Puffins in the Northwest region.
Haystack Rock was super easy to find using our GPS so don’t fret about trying to find it if you plan a trip here.
I even got to fulfill my dream of twirling on the beach!
The views along the entire coast should not be missed.
Sample Tillamook Creamery
Before returning to Portland, we included a stop at Tillamook Creamery after spending the day along the Oregon coast. The drive from the creamery to Portland is about 90 minutes or so and definitely within day trip distance if you want to get out of the city.
I never knew making cheese was so interesting! Visitors to the creamery can check out each step of Tillamook’s time-tested cheesemaking process in the large windowed viewing gallery. Here you can look down on the factory floor as farm-fresh milk is transformed into huge blocks of future cheese.
Once you’ve learned it all, delicious samples await or you can dine from the Northwest-inspired menu that includes many of the classic Tillamook cheese dishes.
For a sweet treat, the Tillamook ice cream counter is an all-around favorite as the iconic, super creamy flavors are scooped up big. And sometimes they serve up new flavors before they hit stores!
Discover Multnomah Falls
A waterfall as magnificent and memorable as any in the country is located just a 30-minute drive outside of Portland. Visiting Multnomah Falls, a 611-foot-tall roaring, awe-inspiring cascade of icy water, lets visitors experience the power and beauty of nature up close and with ease.
For an even closer view, walk another several hundred feet up the paved trail to reach Benson Bridge, which spans the falls at the first tier’s misty base. Standing on the bridge you have a jaw-dropping view of the top tier’s full 542-foot height and a knee-knocking vantage point over the second tier’s 69-foot drop.
Don’t let those numbers frighten you away though. It’s not too much of a hike to reach the falls from the parking lot and the short distance should be achievable by those in reasonably good health. We were able to enjoy the view from Benson Bridge even with infants and a stroller in tow.
There you have it! I hope you enjoyed this epic listing of the top things to do in Portland, Oregon. Have you been to any of these places, or do you have others that you think belong on this list? Let me know in a comment below!
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