When it comes to major cities, Portland is relatively small. Its manageable size makes for easy navigation, much of which can be easily done on foot, by bike, or via public transportation. Without a list of tourist attractions to crowd your itinerary (yuck), Portland is a city begging for indulgence — from artisan donuts and cozy cocktail bars to epic brunch spots and trendy boutiques. Here are ten ways to experience the city like a local.
1. Opt for an Airbnb
Portland hotels are concentrated in the heart of downtown; while convenient, guests miss out on the all the neighborhood charm the Rose City has to offer. As you might expect for a city with a reputation for being a little weird, quirky Airbnb hosts are quick to suggest their favorite watering holes and cafes. Check out historic homes in Laurelhurst, modern condos in the Pearl District, or funky studios in Alberta Arts.
2. Brunch Your Heart Out
The PDX brunch game is strong, offering experiences that range from bougie to homey. The east side of town plays hosts to favorites like Screen Door, Jam, and Old Salt Marketplace, while the west side boasts options like Besaw’s, Tasty n Alder, and Stepping Stone Cafe (the one with the giant-ass pancakes). Expect to wait at least an hour on weekends — luckily, good coffee can usually be found nearby.
3. Geek Out on Coffee
Speaking of good coffee, a trip to Portland is incomplete without visiting a few of its killer coffee spots. Pierced and tatted baristas are integral threads in the Portland coffee tapestry, and while service can sometimes come with a little too much ego, most of the city’s coffee professionals are pretty rad. Check out homegrown favorites like Heart, Good Coffee, Coava, Roseline, and Guilder. (Oh, and if you’re into narwhals, be sure to head to NoPo and check out Prince Coffee.)
4. Turn Back Time
The city houses a trove of one-of-a-kind pieces from decades past. Comb through the music library at Mississippi Records, drool over the prom dress you should have had at Xtabay Vintage, browse vintage Pendleton flannel at Animal Traffic, or shop clothing by the pound at a Goodwill outpost known as The Bins. If you just want to feel like you stepped back in time, hit up 90’s Dance Flashback at the Crystal Ballroom and dance on the floating floor to a backdrop of music videos from your past.
5. Find a Food Truck
For a small city, Portland has a shit-ton of food trucks. Some are clustered together in pods, others are dotted throughout the city; collectively, they offer pretty much any cuisine imaginable. And the food that comes out of these trucks is delicious. Grab ssam or a bimbim box at Kim Jong Grillin’, order a sandwich from the Grilled Cheese Grill’s full-sized school bus, or pick up a side of ribs from Dinner Bell Barbecue. Check out the maps and apps dedicated to the city’s food carts for a more comprehensive listing.
6. Lose Yourself in the Shelves
Powell’s City of Books is a popular stop for out-of-town visitors, but it’s also beloved by locals. Like, obsessively beloved. The business has other outposts, but the downtown shop is the one you want to see: it takes up an entire city block, and is filled with room after room of books organized by super-specific genres and subcategories. (Note: If you visit with a group, set a meeting time and place outside of the store. Your chances of getting lost inside are roughly 100%.)
Whether you’re into beer, wine, or spirits, it’s easy to wet your whistle with something locally made. Many restaurants double as breweries, and Willamette Valley wines frequently appear on drink menus. Try a range of sour beers at Cascade Brewing, hang out on the rooftop at 10 Barrel Brewing, tour Distillery Row, or discover Oregon-grown wines at the Southeast Wine Collective. If you like your booze without all the education, go straight for a cocktail bar. Portland’s seasoned bartenders can skillfully guide you through menus or craft something totally new. Check out Clyde Common, Expatriate, Teardrop Lounge, Bible Club, Shift Drinks, Victoria, or the Multnomah Whiskey Library.
8. Do a Donut
Yeah, yeah, Portland is known for the eccentric, open-all-night Voodoo Doughnut. But the line around the block? Those are tourists. Locals really love Blue Star and Pip’s Original Doughnuts (the most adorable mini donuts… doughnuts?). Both establishments serve delicious donuts and local coffee, and you can usually avoid a crazy line (no promises on weekends).
9. Get Fresh at the Farmers Market
Farmers Markets aren’t unique to Portland, but they’re an easy way to experience a concentrated dose of local vendors. The Portland Farmers Market has locations around the city during summer. The market at Portland State University runs year round, taking over a section of the city’s Park Blocks and offering a mix of produce vendors and carts from local restaurants, coffee shops, and bakeries. Did someone say Pine State Biscuits?
10. Take In a View
Pittock Mansion is a popular place to take in expansive views of the city (and get in a hike on the Wildwood Trail), but there are lesser-known vantage points that offer unique perspectives on Portland. Look out over downtown during happy hour at Portland City Grill (the view from the 30th floor of Big Pink makes up for the food), ride the aerial tram at Oregon Health & Science University, or cross over W. Burnside from NW 23rd Ave. and trek up to the Vista Bridge. If heights aren’t your thing, take a stroll along the Eastbank Esplanade for a breathtaking view of downtown.