The largest city in Oregon is also one of the quirkiest. There are lots of amazing things to do in Portland. Set against a scenic landscape featuring Mount Hood, you will find microbreweries, gardens of roses and a wide variety of shops and eateries. Stroll through the many districts of the city affectionately referred to as PDX, and you will find yourself drawn to the corner coffee shops and to the bars featuring live music.
Despite its reputation as a rainy city, the City of Roses rarely sees more than a steady drizzle, so leave your umbrella at home and don a Portland-appropriate hoodie as you take in these activities that are quintessential of the capital.
1. Pose Under the “Keep Portland Weird” Sign
Little so clearly announces the eccentricity of the spirit of Portland so much as this iconic sign supporting local businesses. The culturally accepted slogan of “Keep Portland Weird” is painted on signs and printed on bumper stickers that you will see throughout the city. However, nowhere will you see it so large as on a wall on Southwest 3rd Avenue between Burnside and Ankeny Streets.
Visiting the painted slogan is free, and it is conveniently located in an area with high foot-traffic, making it one of the things to do in Portland that is perfect for selfies. The metropolis prides itself on its peculiarities, and seeing this slogan that has become a part of the city’s identity is well worth the excursion. Your time in Portland cannot be complete without posing for a picture with this wall in Old Town.
2. See a Movie and Have a Beer at McMenamins Bagdad Theater
A relic of the golden age of Hollywood, McMenamins Bagdad Theater is the perfect place to sit for a movie, a slice of pizza and an ice-cold beer or glass of wine. The Surround Sound of the theater, along with the digital projector and the opulent rocker seating, allows you to relax as you take in the movie selection of the day. If you want a full meal, arrive early and enjoy your dinner in the casual pub situated at the front of the theater.
All shows at the theater are for patrons age 21 and over, but minors looking for things to do in Portland are welcome with a parent or guardian. Adults after 5:00 p.m. pay $9.50 per ticket and have a $2 per person drink purchase minimum. The theater also features a Happy Hour daily from 3-6 p.m. and from 10:00 p.m. to close.
3. Smell the Roses
Known for years as the City of Roses, Portland gets its nickname for its gardens and for its annual rose festival. Visit the sprawling landscape of the International Rose Test Garden to fully understand the sheer number of rose varieties available for planting and for harvesting. The garden continues to be one of 24 official testing sits for the All-American Rose Selections non-profit association. You will find the Gold Medal Garden especially beautiful where all the top rose varieties are planted.
The best time for you to stop and to smell the roses is between April and October, but make every effort to visit in June. This is when more than 7000 bushes are in full bloom and at their most fragrant and beautiful. Touring the garden is one of the best free things to do in Portland. It is open from 7:30 a.m. to 9:00 p.m. daily.
4. Take a Food Truck Tour
The number of food trucks sprinkled throughout Portland is impressive, and you can find them organized in little clusters along certain streets. Stop by the pod at Southwest 10th Avenue and Alder Street, and make sure that you try something from Nong’s Khao Man Gai truck. The Thai chicken dish especially will make your stomach happy.
The pod at Southwest 5th Avenue and Oak Street boasts several delicious trucks, but the Czech dishes at Tabor are perfect for goulashes and the unique Schnitzelwich. Finally, check out Southeast 12th Avenue and Hawthorne Boulevard late at night and give Potato Champion a try. The fried potatoes may not look like much, but after one taste, you will inhale the best cone of fries you can find in Portland.
5. Drop-in at a Distillery
In addition to its array of food trucks, Portland is also home to several distilleries that produce unusual but delicious liquors. There are eight independent distilleries in the Lower East Side Industrial District making everything from vodkas and gins to rums and whiskeys to more specialized and flavored liqueurs. These handcrafted and locally produced drinks are available here for the first time since Prohibition.
Visit the aptly named Distillery Row for things to do in Portland on a weekend for drop-in spirits tastings. You do not need an appointment, and you will get a chance to try the many different varieties the distilleries produce without making a purchase. The first weekend of each month is also the cocktail crawl in which each distillery creates its own version of the same cocktail. This gives you a chance to experience several different variations of the same drink, choosing your favorite from the many entries.
6. Marvel at the Freakybuttrue Peculiarium
Featuring oddities, gags, ephemerama and food, the Freakybuttrue Peculiarium embodies the unusual nature of the city and is one of the most interesting things to do in Portland. You can view a dollhouse that depicts the room of a bloody massacre, and then get your photo taken as you are being given an alien autopsy. If that is not enough creepiness for you, order the Bug Eaters Delight sundae. This dessert features real bug larva, but if you finish it, your picture will hang in the Insectarian Club Hall of Fame.
The Peculiarium is open Tuesday through Sunday from 11:00 a.m. until 6:00 p.m. or until 7:00 p.m. on Friday and Saturday. Entrance is $5 per person, but if you are a dog or if you arrive in a decent costume, you could get in for free. This museum is a wonderful choice if you are looking for things to do in Portland this weekend.
7. Cheer for Roller Derby
The best place to catch some roller derby in Portland is at Rose City Rollers. You will get to see fast feet and hard hits, and if you are lucky, you may even watch some heated altercations between the female players. Your heart will be racing, and you may go hoarse as you cheer for your favorite team or player.
If you do not have a season pass, tickets for Rose City Rollers bouts are for sale online, but the Hangar always holds at least 30 tickets for sale at the door before the event. There are typically a couple of bouts each week, but the ticket prices vary depending on the location. The average general admission is $14 plus fees, and the average reserved seating is $20 plus fees, which are small prices to pay for things to do in Portland.
8. Read a Bit at Powell’s City of Books
As the largest independent chain of bookstores in the world, Powell’s City of Books began in 1971 in Portland, and its presence is enormous. Housed in an entire city block, this bookstore will show you just how much Portland loves literature and reading. Stroll through the aisles with a cup of coffee, and enjoy the vast variety of knowledge that this unique bookstore has to offer in its more than 2 million new and used books in stock.
While many big bookstores continue to fail, Powell’s thrives thanks to its brisk online business, its money-making book events and signings over 500 times a year and its utter charm through children’s story times, writing workshops and book clubs. Where else would you need the provided map in order to navigate a bookstore? Visit between the book giant’s standard business hours of 9:00 a.m. to 11:00 p.m., but plan plenty of time to wander the aisles and to gather armfuls of reading material.
For a city that prides itself on being unusual and unpredictable, it is easy to find interesting and eccentric things to do in Portland. From wandering through piles of books and gardens of roses to chasing down food trucks and distilleries, there is something exciting and enjoyable for you from head to toe in PDX. Check out the City of Roses for a quirky good time, but remember to leave that umbrella at home so you can fully enjoy all this capital has to offer. If you are planning your summer holiday, you can take a look at the top summer travel apps to help you.