7 things you have to do while in Portland, Oregon

Portland, Oregon had long been on my bucket list of destinations to visit. Renowned for great food and beer, arts, bookstores and scenery, and infamous for its hipster lifestyle, the city is one of the finest in the world. There’s so much to do in the city, but to help you on your way, here are just seven of those things you’ve got to experience on your next visit to the American West Coast gem.

Explore Portland’s Japanese Gardens

It can be a lot of walking to get to the Portland Japanese gardens, but it’s worth it. It’s beautiful, tranquil and filled with a great deal of art in addition to the gardens. Everyone I spoke to rated it highly on their list of recommendations, and they weren’t wrong. No trip to the city is complete without it.

Catch a concert (or two) in a Legendary Portland Venue

Run by McMenamins, the 1,500 capacity Crystal Ballroom is one of the most legendary venues in North America, let alone one of the finest in the city. Famed for its bouncy wooden floor (which is technically a “mechanical floating dance floor”), the room was originally built as a ballroom in 1914. McMenamins, who are renowned for taking over historic buildings and re-imagining its use (turning old schools into restaurants or hotels, for instance), took over the space in 1997, and added in a bar, brewery, expanded to the nearby Crystal Hotel, and added a new dance room. I caught local heroes Joseph, a family band in the vein of First Aid Kit, who were headlining the venue the night I was in town, playing their biggest show ever to an adoring crowd. I’ve got to say the vibe in the room, and the excellent acoustics, make it well worth the price of admission.

Joseph perform at the Crystal Ballroom

One of my other favourite venues in the city is the Doug Fir Lounge, an old parking structure at the Jupiter Hotel that has been converted into a venue that looks like a log cabin. While there, I had some great food, caught Jackson Boone, who got pretty psychedelic by the end of the set as well as headliners The Helio Sequence, who had an incredible sound for a two piece.

The Doug Fir Lounge at the Jupiter Hotel (Photos Provided)

This is just the tip of the iceberg for one of America’s finest musical cities.

Explore the permanent collection of the Portland art museum

The Portland Art Museum something of a maze, with pieces new and old scattered throughout some 7 floors; starting with the Renoirs and Monets, and ending with the Koons. As you slowly move up to the more modern works, the audio from Nauman’s video of a tantruming clown reverberates over the top floor, sitting with work from Koons (including his basketball floating in a box) and Holzer. It’s one of the most enjoyable museum experiences I’ve had – and it’s full of things you wouldn’t expect.

Eat the best food you’ve had in your life.

There’s something about dining in Portland that leads you to walk away thinking “this was the best of THIS I’ve ever had”. The best donuts from Voodoo. The best late night pizza from Lonesomes at Dantes (which is now called “Pizza Slut”, whose quality I can’t vouch for). The best Ramen I’ve ever had from Marukin Ramen (the brand’s only location outside of Japan, due to the identical pH water levels that Portland offers them – or something like that?).

And then I enjoyed one of the best Eggs Benedicts I’ve ever had as part of Smokehouse Tavern‘s brunch menu. Featuring BBQ brisket, braised greens and poached eggs on top of a buttermilk biscuit and covered in a smokey hollandaise, it was gluttonous and wonderful in just about every way. I entered a coma not long after.

Needless to say, there’s something for everyone in Portland. Eat your way through the city and discover your next favourite meal.

Explore one of America’s finest brewery scenes

Oregon loves its local beer so much that beer brewed in the state makes up some 53% of what they consume. That’s a lot of craft beer. In Portland alone there are no less than 58 breweries in operation, and there are no shortage of tours to take you around a variety of Ale Trails. I took one with Pedal Bike Tours, which was an interesting proposition, because there was no chance you’d be sober by the end of the experience. Still, they made sure you worked hard for your drinks, with three miles of riding before our first stop. And this is a city built for bikes – with paths set up along most major roads; and unlike in Amsterdam, they do actually encourage you to wear a helmet.

Along the journey between beers, our guide filled us in on a lot of fun facts. For instance, did you know that Portland is still the Whitest City in America. Surprising considering it’s liberal, hipster central. The tour takes you through the Pearl District, which is now quite an expensive place to live, one of the area’s of growth in Portland. Along the way we went to the Bridgeport Brew Pub, where the Tiny Horse Pilsner and the Multi Ball Double IPA were particular favourites. We were given a tour of the Lucky Labrador Brewing Company, where they serve on premise; the Kolsch being a highlight there.

And then I got to return to the Crystal Ballroom, and tried the Ruby Beer and the Ballroom Blonde at Ringley’s Bar, both of which were tasty. Though my favourite part of the experience there was seeing the on site Crystal Brewery, and their stunning custom painted tanks.

Fly High (Like a Diamond)

It may not be the best thing to do after a big night out – which may or may not have been exactly what I put myself through – but the experience of flying over the Columbia River Gorge just outside of Portland is an experience I’ll never forget. Even with the cloud cover it was a smooth ride. We can thank the Gods for that one, or maybe the excellent folk at Envi Adventures who operate the experience and the views of the Gorge and all of its waterfalls was nothing short of spectacular. They also offer flights over Portland itself, and nearby mountain peaks.

Go shopping at the world’s largest independent book store: Powell’s City of Books.

And finally, no trendy visitor to Portland can leave without taking a peak inside the city’s most iconic bookstore, Powell’s. In operation since 1971, the main location in the Pearl District is so big in fact (1.6 acres to be exact) they call the HQ “Powell’s City of Books”. There are four smaller, but no less pronounced locations around the city too. They buy some 3,000 used books a day, have four million books in their inventory and the “City of Books” has some 3,500 book sections across nine colour-coded rooms. Needless to say, it’s a book lover’s dream.

And this isn’t even the “City of Books” location! Photo from Wikipedia.

We travelled to Portland as a guest of Travel Portland and Travel Oregon. While in Portland we stayed at the incredible Jupiter Hotel. We flew to the city with Hawaiian Airlines, which has direct flights from Sydney or Brisbane to Honolulu, and then onto a connection direct to Portland. There’s no faster way to get to the city. Hawaiian Airlines connects within Australia to Virgin Australia and is part of the Velocity Network. Photos by the author unless otherwise listed.


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Larry Heath

Founding Editor and Publisher of the AU review. Currently based in Toronto, Canada. You can follow him on Twitter @larry_heath or on Instagram @larryheath.