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Tips on What To Do in Portland, OR

Portland isn't a city of dazzling attractions, but it's far from dull. A typical day for the Portland traveler might include renting a bicycle and cruising the Tom McCall Waterfront Park, or strolling the Portland Saturday Market for bargains on local greens or coffee beans. Bookworms and well-read tourists might head to Powell's City of Books, one of the largest and most successful independent bookstores in the United States.

The hip and walkable Hawthorne District is a great neighborhood for checking out the local restaurant scene or catching a glimpse at Portland's bohemian lifestyle. Portland also has a thriving music scene, with venues located throughout the city. Popular Portland music venues include the PDX Pipeline and the upscale Doug Fir lounge. Some escape the city for hiking or camping around nearby Mount Hood. Others enjoy a coffee or a local pint at the city's local cafes or breweries.

  • A great way to experience Portland’s beautiful surroundings is via motorboat; whip down the Willamette River to the Columbia River, but be warned: you will get wet." -- Sherman's Travel
  • Expect to find never-ending choices for things to do, from taking in true independent works of film, performance art, and plays, to checking out some of the northwest's (and the country's) hottest musical groups at one of the city's many nightclubs." -- Fodor's

Sightseeing

Portland has a slew of fascinating cultural and historical sights, from the arts-rich downtown cultural district to the green tranquility of the city's numerous gardens.

According to travel experts, your best bet is to start your tour where the city itself started: the Old Town Historic District. Sitting north of Downtown Portland, travel writers describe Old Town as a living history museum, complete with the red-brick facades that once characterized Portland's design. While here, don't miss the chance to browse the famed Portland Saturday Market.

After visiting Old Town, head south to the downtown area where you'll find a number of the city's top attractions, including the Portland Art Museum and Pioneer Courthouse Square. Another must-see Portland site is the quirky Pittock Mansion, which sits on the northern end of Washington Park.

  • The Downtown Cultural District is home to the Portland Art Museum, the Portland Center for the Performing Arts, the Northwest Film Center, and other museums and galleries. Old Town, the historic center of the city, brims with dining, shopping, and cultural attractions." -- Smarter Travel
  • Ask a Portlander about the city's must-see attractions, and you'll probably be directed to the Japanese Garden, the International Rose Test Garden, the Portland Classical Chinese Garden, and the Portland Saturday Market." -- Frommer's

Sports & Leisure

When it comes to taking advantage of the great outdoors, Portland offers opportunities galore. From hiking and biking to skiing and sea kayaking, there is no shortage of ways to stretch your legs and enjoy the crisp Pacific Northwest air. And the best part is that you don't even have to leave the city to get your nature fix. Portland is home to several sprawling urban parks, such as Forest Park, Washington Park and Tom McCall Waterfront Park. These parks feature plenty of hiking and biking paths as well as acres of rolling green space perfect for a picnic or a game of Frisbee.

If you're in need of an escape, there are plenty of opportunities to leave the hustle and bustle of the city behind and surround yourself with all things nature. Portland's nearby volcanoes -- most notably Mount Hood (about 65 miles east of Portland) -- are known for their winter sports. For a less geothermic experience, travel writers recommend visiting Tryon Creek State Park, which can be found about five miles south of Downtown Portland.

  • About 5 miles south of downtown, you'll find Tryon Creek State Park off Terwilliger Boulevard. This park is similar to Forest Park and is best known for its displays of trillium flowers in the spring. There are several miles of walking trails within the park, and a bike path to downtown Portland starts here." -- Frommer's
  • With fairly easy access to decent skiing nearly eight months out of the year, it's no wonder that skiers love Portland. There are several ski resorts on Mt. Hood, less than an hour's drive away, including Ski Bowl, Mt. Hood Meadows, and Timberline Lodge." -- Fodor's

Art Walks

If you love art, try to visit the city at the beginning of the month, when dozens of tourists and residents join in on organized gallery tours like the First Thursday Art Walk, where galleries throughout the city open their doors to browsers. Many of the galleries visited on the art walks can be found in the Pearl District.

  • Take in the true cultural and social flavor of Portland by participating in either the First Thursday Gallery Walk in the Pearl District or the Last Thursday art event on Alberta Street."-- Fodor's
  • Treat yourself to an evening of cheese-noshing and wine-sipping as you gallery hop your way through Portland’s bustling downtown scene. Even if you’re not around on a first Thursday, fear not: there are plenty other art walks happening in other ’hoods on alternating weekends." -- Sherman's Travel

Shopping

Portland is a great shopping destination for those of you that are looking for something a little more unique. Sure, you'll find your typical department stores -- Macy's, Saks Fifth Avenue and Nordstrom -- flanking the edges of Pioneer Courthouse Square, but you can browse those stores just about anywhere. Portland is about finding your inner funk (yes, that means tie-dye) in the Hawthorne District or searching for quirky souvenirs and a bite to eat in the Portland Saturday Market. One other must-have Portland experience: cozy up with your favorite author at Powell's City of Books, notably the largest independent bookstore in the world.

  • They don't call Powell's the City of Books for nothing. This bookstore, which sells both new and used books, is so big you have to get a map at the front door. No matter how much time I spend here, it's never enough. A large cafe makes it all that much easier to while away the hours." -- Frommer's
  • On Saturday from April through mid-December, local farmers, bakers, chefs, and entertainers converge at the South Park Blocks near the PSU campus for Oregon's largest open-air farmer's market." -- Fodor's

Nightlife

Just like the city itself, Portland's nightlife is characterized as cool and laid-back, offering everything from operatic performances to dizzying dance clubs. But if you only have one night to spend here, make sure you spend it with a glass of some homemade booze. Portland is known for its beer, and many Portland pubs are still brewing right on the premises. You'll find numerous brewpubs scattered throughout Downtown Portland and East of the Willamette.

Portland has also earned a bit of a reputation as a live music hub. During the 1960s, this city was established by bands such as Paul Revere & the Raiders as a minor center of the garage rock movement. During the 1980s, the Wipers made Portland a prominent player in the hardcore punk rock movement, which later evolved into grunge, alternative and, eventually, indie rock. Popular bands such as The Decemberists, The Dandy Warhols and Floater all emerged from Portland's music scene, while others -- including Modest Mouse and The Shins -- have relocated to the City of Roses. For a taste of Portland's music scene, head to one of the many live music clubs scattered around Downtown and east of the Willamette.

  • Although brewpubs have now become commonplace throughout much of the country, here in Portland, they're still brewing beers the likes of which you won't taste in too many other places this side of the Atlantic. This is the heart of the Northwest craft-brewing explosion, and if you're a beer connoisseur, you owe it to yourself to go directly to the source." -- Frommer's
  • Much of the nightlife is concentrated in a few easily reached neighborhoods, most with safe and dependable public transport to and fro. Be sure to pick up a copy or check the websites of Willamette Week or the Portland Mercury, two free weeklies that follow the music and nightlife scene closely." -- Moon Travel Guides

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