If you’re looking for a Portland Oregon summer vacation, there’s no better place to go than the city of Portland itself.
Portland is the largest city in Oregon and has a population of over 600,000 people that call it home. It is also one of America’s most bicycle-friendly cities. If you’ve ever wanted to see what a car-free world would look like, this is your chance!
The city also has plenty of museums and galleries for you to explore, including the Children’s Museum and the Oregon Historical Society Museum. You can even take in some live theater at The New Stage Theatre!
If you’re not into museums and galleries, there are plenty of beautiful parks for you to enjoy as well. Try taking a walk through Forest Park or Washington Park—both will give you an amazing view of the city skyline from above!
Portland Oregon summer vacation
1. Take a Walking Tour
I always start my visits to a new city with a walking tour. It’s the best way to learn about a destination, get the lay of the land, see the main sights, and have an expert local guide answer all your questions.
Portland Walking Tours offers more than half a dozen different tours around town, focusing on food, the main sights, and Portland’s underground and alternative culture. Tours last a couple hours and cost around $23 USD. They’re a great way to kick off your visit. I really liked their Underground Tour, which focused on a series of tunnels below the city that have been used for all kinds of nefarious purposes.
2. See Pittock Mansion
Built in 1914, this is a stunning French Renaissance-style mansion located in the western part of town. The 46-room estate, originally owned by a wealthy couple from England, is part of the National Register of Historic Places and contains beautiful artwork and furniture collected by the original owners. You can explore the grounds (which span over 40 acres) and buildings by yourself or take a guided tour (the price is the same; however, guided tours are only scheduled when volunteers are available).
3229 NW Pittock Dr, +1 503-823-3623, pittockmansion.org. Open Thursday-Monday from 10am–5pm (4pm in the winter). Admission is $12 USD.
3. Hike Forest Park
Located on the northwestern edge of town, Forest Park is one of the nation’s largest urban parks. Covering a sprawling 5,000 acres, it’s home to over 70 miles of hiking and biking trails. There are over 100 species of birds here, as well as 62 different species of mammals. It’s also home to the Witch’s Castle, an abandoned stone building covered in moss. (It has no connection to witches. The name came from students who used to use the site for secret parties in the 1980s).
Some trails worth checking out are the Wildwood Loop trail (easy, 2 hours), Forest Park Ridge Trail (moderate, 1.5 hours), and the Dogwood Wild Cherry Loop (easy, 1.5 hours).
4. Browse at Powell’s City of Books
This is the largest independent and used bookstore in the world, home to over a million books. Established in 1971, the store takes up an entire city block and has 3,500 different sections. It buys upwards of 3,000 new and used books each and every day so if you’re a book lover like me, you could easily spend a good chunk of time here!
1005 W Burnside St, +1 800-878-7323, powells.com/locations/powells-city-of-books. Open daily 9am–10pm.
5. Devour Delicious Donuts
Portland is known for its donuts. If you Google the city or search for it on social media, donuts will inevitably pop up. Voodoo Doughnut put the city on the map with its weird and wonderful combinations, such as Cap’n Crunch or maple bacon. It also makes cream-filled phallic donuts as well — so you can see why it’s become a quirky staple of the city.
Some locals might argue that Voodoo is for tourists, preferring donuts from Blue Star instead. You can’t go wrong with either choice. Why not try both and see for yourself. You only live once, after all!
6. Wander the International Rose Test Garden
Home to over 10,000 rose bushes and 610 varieties, this garden is where many companies test new varieties of roses (some are tested here years before they are commercially available). It’s the oldest rose test garden in the country. During World War I, roses from all around the world were sent here for testing and safekeeping. They also host an annual competition for the city’s best rose. The roses are in bloom between April and October, though there is also an amphitheater here that holds all kinds of events, such as classical music performances and plays. Don’t miss the Shakespeare Garden, which only has types of roses referenced in Shakespeare’s plays.
400 SW Kingston Ave, +1 503-823-3636. Open daily 5am–10pm. Admission is free.
7. See the Japanese Garden
Located near the Rose Test Garden, these Japanese gardens were created in the 1960s as a symbol of peace between World War II adversaries. Today, it’s considered the best Japanese garden outside of Japan. Spanning 12 acres, it contains traditional gazebos, waterfalls, ponds, Zen sand gardens, and lots of walking paths. It’s super relaxing and serene and beautiful all year round, though it’s particularly stunning in the autumn when the leaves are changing. It receives no funding from the city, so it’s not cheap, but if you want to escape the city for a while, then it’s worth every penny.
611 SW Kingston Ave, +1 503-223-1321, japanesegarden.org. Open daily 10am–5:30pm. Admission is $18.95 USD
8. Visit The Freakybutture Peculiarium and Museum
If you’re looking for something decidedly weird and unconventional during your trip, visit The Peculiarium. This creepy emporium is full of all kinds of weird drawings and souvenirs, gag toys, unknown oddities in jars, and even a giant Bigfoot statue. There are fake severed body parts (which are super lifelike), and they also serve fresh-baked cookies…with bugs, scorpions, and mealworms inside and on them.
The city’s slogan is “Keep Portland Weird.” This place reflects that perfectly.
2234 Northwest Thurman Street, +1 503-227-3164, peculiarium.com. Open Wednesday–Monday 11am–7pm. Admission is $5 USD. Not suitable for kids.
9. Take a Food Tour
If you’re a foodie like me, you can’t visit Portland without taking a food tour. You’ll get to sample some of the city’s best food, learn about its culture and history, and meet other foodie travelers like yourself. It’s the best way to get the culinary lay of the land before you head off on your own to eat your way around town.
Forktown offers a few different food tours focused on different cuisines and regions of the city. It will give you a solid overview of what tasty offerings Stumptown can dish up. Tours last around three hours and cost 115 USD per person.
Lost Plate also runs a few speacizled food tours, including one that focuses on donuts and one that sticks entirely to food trucks. Their tours start at $49 USD.
10. Relax at Laurelhurst Park or Washington Park
Portland has tons of green space to relax in and enjoy. Laurelhurst Park was designed by the same team that designed Central Park in New York. It has a laid-back atmosphere and is popular with locals and visitors alike. There’s a duck pond, bike paths, and an off-leash dog area.
Washington Park is another great choice if you’re looking to lounge with a book and enjoy the weather. The park contains memorials for the Korean and Vietnam Wars, the Holocaust, and the Lewis and Clark expedition, and also offers beautiful vistas of Portland and Mt. Hood.