View of Portland Oregon from International Rose Test Garden

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Portland Oregon Travel, 1 Day – 4 Fun Things To Do

Portland is a WEIRD & WONDERFUL city that deserves more than a one-night visit, but sometimes that is all you have. And on a recent trip to Oregon, it was our launch point. What struck me about downtown Portland is how similar it is to my hometown of Pittsburgh, and not just because of the weather. But more because of the topography, compact urban center, and, more importantly, the confidence it exudes despite its size. Here are 4 fun things to do when you travel to Portland, Oregon.

Overview Of Portland Neighborhoods

Portland, Oregon, is known for its diverse and eclectic neighborhoods, each with its own distinct character and charm. Here’s an overview of some of the city’s most notable neighborhoods:

Downtown

Portland’s central district is home to a mix of commercial skyscrapers, historic buildings, and cultural attractions. Highlights include Pioneer Courthouse Square, Portland Art Museum, Tom McCall Waterfront Park, and a variety of shops, restaurants, and entertainment venues. Vibrant and dynamic, with a lively atmosphere and plenty of activities day and night. A lot has been said lately about Portland’s problems, and yes, you will find homeless camps around the city and a good deal of blight, but don’t let this deter you from exploring. If you did, you would not visit any cities in the United States.

Pearl District

Once an industrial area, the Pearl District is now a trendy neighborhood known for its renovated warehouses, art galleries, and upscale boutiques. Highlights include Jamison Square, Powell’s City of Books (the largest independent bookstore in the world, occupying an entire city block), Brewery Blocks, and a plethora of dining and shopping options. The district is chic and sophisticated, with a blend of historic charm and modern amenities.

Alberta Arts District

This vibrant neighborhood is an arts and cultural hub featuring colorful murals, eclectic shops, and a lively dining scene. Highlights include Last Thursday Art Walk, Alberta Street Fair, Alberta Rose Theatre, and numerous galleries showcasing local artists. It is creative and eclectic, with a strong sense of community and a commitment to supporting local artists and businesses.

Hawthorne District

Located in Southeast Portland, Hawthorne is known for its bohemian atmosphere, quirky shops, and diverse dining options. Highlights include Hawthorne Boulevard, Bagdad Theater, Mount Tabor Park, and a mix of vintage clothing stores, record shops, and cafes. Funky and laid-back, with a mix of hippie and hipster influences and a focus on sustainability and alternative lifestyles.

Sellwood-Moreland

Situated along the Willamette River, Sellwood-Moreland is a charming neighborhood known for its historic homes, antique shops, and family-friendly vibe. Highlights include Oaks Amusement Park, Sellwood Riverfront Park, Antique Row, and a variety of cafes and restaurants. Quaint and welcoming, with a strong sense of community and a focus on outdoor recreation and family-friendly activities.

Mississippi Avenue

This up-and-coming neighborhood in North Portland has undergone a revitalization in recent years, attracting hip boutiques, trendy eateries, and craft breweries. Highlights include Mississippi Studios, Historic Mississippi Avenue, ReBuilding Center, and a diverse array of bars and restaurants serving everything from Southern comfort food to international cuisine. Hip and energetic, with a mix of old and new, and a thriving arts and music scene.

These are just a few of the many neighborhoods that make Portland such a vibrant and diverse city. Whether you’re interested in arts and culture, outdoor recreation, or culinary delights, you’re sure to find something to love in the Rose City.

Truss bridge over river under sundown sky

Best Time To Visit Portland

The best time to visit Portland, Oregon, is during the summer months of June to August, when the city comes alive with warm, sunny weather and a plethora of outdoor festivals, including the famous Portland Rose Festival and outdoor concerts. This season offers long daylight hours perfect for exploring the city’s parks, hiking trails, and nearby natural attractions like the Columbia River Gorge. While summer is the peak tourist season, it’s worth the crowds for the lively atmosphere and endless opportunities for adventure. If you prefer fewer crowds and don’t mind some rain, spring, and fall also offer pleasant weather and a chance to experience Portland’s stunning natural beauty without the summer rush.

Best Ways to Get Around Portland

Portland, Oregon, offers a variety of transportation options to help you navigate the city efficiently and sustainably. Here are some of the best ways to get around Portland:

Public Transit

TriMet operates Portland’s comprehensive public transit system, which includes buses, MAX light rail, and Portland Streetcar.

  •   MAX Light Rail: Provides convenient service between downtown Portland, the airport, and various neighborhoods.
  •   Portland Streetcar: Connects several key areas of the city, including downtown, the Pearl District, and the South Waterfront.
  •   Buses: Cover the entire city and surrounding areas, with frequent service to most neighborhoods.
Biking
  • Portland is renowned for its bike-friendly infrastructure, including dedicated bike lanes, bike paths, and bike racks throughout the city.
  • Utilize bike share programs such as Biketown, which offers short-term bicycle rentals at stations throughout the city.
Walking
  • Many of Portland’s neighborhoods are pedestrian-friendly, with sidewalks, crosswalks, and pedestrian-friendly streets.
  • Portland consistently ranks high in walkability, making it easy to explore neighborhoods on foot.
Ride-Sharing and Taxis
  • Ride-sharing services like Uber and Lyft operate throughout Portland, providing convenient transportation options.
  • Traditional taxi services are also available in the city.
Car Rental and Car-Sharing
  • Renting a car can be a convenient option for exploring destinations outside of the city center or for day trips to nearby attractions.
  • Services like Zipcar offer short-term car rentals by the hour or day, providing flexibility without the hassle of owning a car.

By taking advantage of these transportation options, you can easily explore all that Portland has to offer while minimizing your environmental impact and avoiding the hassle of driving and parking.

Transit Tips:

  • Consider purchasing a day pass or week pass for unlimited rides on TriMet services.
  • Be aware of peak commuting hours, especially if using public transit, as services may be more crowded.

Top 4 Things To Do With One Day In Portland

The riverfront is a constant presence. It combines urban savvy, with hills and trees in view at nearly all times. It’s a very accessible city, easy to navigate on foot or bike. And it has a little something for everyone: food, beer, shopping, nature, and urban life. If you only have one night, here are a few things you should try to get a sense of the city and to entice you to make a return visit. If your Portland itinerary has a bit more time, use the neighborhood guide above to find a few more adventures. 

#1 Food Carts

This is hands down one of the best culinary cities of its size in the country. And although it has some great restaurants, we were all about the food truck culture. You will find excellent food cart pods on nearly every corner. And these food trucks are making some fantastic food. Our first stop and favorite was the Prost Marketplace, which has approximately 8 different food options. This pod is considered by many to be the original and still best food cart pod in the city. We enjoyed the famous Matt’s BBQ, which serves Portland’s best Texas BBQ. The sliced Brisket and the Queso Mac and Cheese were standouts. We also tried the Teppanyaki Hut and Asian Fusion Cart. They are famous for sushi burritos, but we opted for ramen, which was spicy and addictive.

If you have enough time, visit some other pods, including Hawthorne Asylum and Cartopia (which are very close to each other, making them the best places for a food cart crawl). Keep in mind food pods and trucks are not only found in the downtown area, you will find them all over the city. If you want to join a tour of Portland food carts and pods, I recommend the Portland Food Carts, Pods & Patio Tour. They will hit some of the above-mentioned pods.

#2 Gardens and Roses

Portland is called the city of roses, and for a good reason: roses thrive in this climate. The International Rose Test Garden has a commanding view of the city. It is located in Washington Park, adjacent to the center of Portland. The park is a beautiful urban oasis, with over 15 miles of trails covering 410 acres. The International Rose Garden is at its center, with 10,000 rose bushes representing over 610 varieties. The garden’s primary purpose is to serve as a testing ground for new varieties. It is free to the public and makes for an excellent walkabout. Even if you know nothing about roses, the fragrance and beauty are worth the visit.

Continuing the garden theme is the Portland Japanese Garden. An authentic Japanese garden, considered by many to be the best Japanese garden outside of Japan. The garden comprises eight unique garden spaces, each demonstrating unique aspects of Japanese garden design and history. It’s a serene space providing you with a unique cultural experience. Admission is $19.95 for adults and gives you access to the entire garden. Visiting these gardens is one of the best things you can do with an afternoon in the City of Portland. It’s also a great place to just relax and take in views.

Long Exposure Photography of City Buildings
#3 An Urban Ride or Walk

Portland is a biking city and a great way to explore. Our hotel offers free bikes, but you can rent bikes from several locations and take a biking tour. We just set off to explore the riverfront trail system. If time and stamina are an issue, you can make this a 10-mile loop or shorter. It is easy to navigate and a great morning activity.

In addition to the classic riverfront trail, Portland offers many other rides. The SW Multnomah – Vermont ride takes you through the heart of the Hillsdale and Multnomah Village business districts, past Gabriel Park, and into the quaint Maplewood neighborhood. The Art of Foster ride is like a treasure hunt of more than a dozen vibrant murals and street paintings that dot the Foster-Powell area. How many can you spot?

Look for a tour, check out the Bike Around Portland Oregon Tour.

If you are not up for biking, you can also take segments of these rides on foot. Portland is an easy city to walk around, although the hills can get you at times if you are not prepared.

#4 Donuts!

This city loves donuts. Everyone will have a different answer when asked which donut shop has the best donuts in Portland. I love donuts (I make homemade donuts from an old family recipe every year). I love all types of donuts: traditional raised, cake, crazy flavors, and boring old glazed. And Portland has all those varieties and many more. You can’t experience them all on a one-day tour, although I would like to try. But the one I did experience kept me wanting a return visit. Blue Star Donuts was incredible. Blue Star had great options such as Blueberry Bourbon Basil, Apple Cider Fritter, and Chocolate Bergamot Old-Fashioned, all of which were great! Some say they love Voodoo Doughnut or Does Donuts; I guess I must return to find out. Need a little help navigating all the donuts? You can take a tour; check out Portland’s Only Underground Donut Tour.

Add Portland To Your Travel Destinations Even If You Only Have One Day!

Portland is a town to explore, and you need more than one night, but rest up and take in as much as possible if you only have one day itinerary. There are many resources for activities both in and around the city. Start with the travelportland.com travel website; it has excellent tools and suggested itineraries. Portland is the perfect starting point for your Pacific Northwest adventure, with easy access to the Oregon coast, Hood River, Willamette Valley, Mount Hood, Multnomah Falls, and the Columbia River Gorge.

For more Portland area travel ideas check out my posts Perfect Itinerary for the Northern Oregon Coast and Best Small Wineries Worth Visiting In Willamette Valley.

Below are links and resources to help you plan The perfect trip

Travel Resources

  • HOTELS
    Booking.com and Expedia.com are great resources for accommodations around the world. Book almost any hotel directly from these links.
  • TOURS
    The best places to book tours and activities are Viator or Get Your Guide . From great food tours to guided hiking adventures to local walking tours, you will find great experiences to add to your travels here.
  • FOOD EXPERIENCES
    EatWith is a great resource for authentic culinary experiences with passionate locals worldwide. Connecting travelers with hosts in over 130 countries, providing unique, intimate, and immersive experiences in private homes and exclusive venues.
  • TRAINS
    Trainline is Europe’s leading train and coach app. They work with over 210 rail and coach companies to help their customers travel to thousands of destinations across 45 countries. 

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