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Things to Do in Portland

Oregon's largest city, Portland sits at the confluence of two major rivers. The Willamette River runs through the city center, while the Columbia River is north of the city on the border with Washington. Portland is a haven for outdoors enthusiasts, foodies, and beer lovers. It's the ideal base to explore the gorgeous Pacific Northwest scenery, and a reliable tour guide will help you find that frame-worthy photo op. Just an hour away, you’ll find the Columbia River Gorge with its numerous waterfalls (including the iconic Multnomah Falls) and the famous wineries of the Willamette Valley. If you’re up for a workout, do some hiking, paddle-boarding or even white-water rafting. The Oregon coast, another great day trip option, offers miles of public beaches to explore. In Portland itself, join locals on a jog or bike through Forest Park, the largest urban park in America. Stop at Powell's Books to browse the stacks; do a bike tour of the many breweries in the area; or sample a wide variety of international cuisines from the city’s famous food carts. Comedy fans won’t want to miss a tour of the local landmarks that serve as the backdrop for the hit IFC sketch show, “Portlandia.”
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Willamette Valley
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A short jaunt southwest from downtown Portland, the Willamette Valley is known by wine lovers worldwide for its delectable pinot noirs, often produced in small batches. This picturesque region is also dotted with tasting rooms and is a popular spot for wine-tasting excursions from Portland.
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Portland Steel Bridge
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Portland is a city of bridges, and each bridge has its own story. The Steel Bridge has the distinction of being the only double-decker bridge in the world with independent lifts and was opened in 1912, spanning the Willamette River connecting Northwest and Northeast Portland. It carries not only car traffic but also pedestrians, bicycles, light rail, and trains. It was originally built to replace an 1888 bridge which had the same name.
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Oregon Museum of Science and Industry (OMSI)
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Designed for science fans of all ages, OMSI features five separate halls, eight hands-on science labs, a real submarine, an OMNIMAX giant-screen theater and a planetarium. Over 200 interactive exhibits focus on subjects like global climate change, chemistry, the human body, technology and more.

For older children, Turbine Hall encourages building, engineering and problem-solving, and for kids six and under, the colorful Science Playground offers art materials, a cave to explore, water and a huge sandbox in which to frolic. On the five-story-high OMNIMAX theater screen, you can see blockbusters and nature documentaries that have been formatted for IMAX, allowing you to virtually soar over mountains and swim to ocean depths.

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International Rose Test Garden
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The most popular landscape in Washington Park, the International Rose Test Garden was originally conceived as a means of capitalizing on Portland's nickname: "The City of Roses." This moniker was coined during the 1905 Lewis & Clark Exhibition, when city officials, eager for their young town to make a good impression on visitors, had many of Portland's streets planted with dozens of rosebushes.

Opened in 1917 during the height of World War I, the Rose Test Garden soon became a safe haven for European rose hybrids that would otherwise have been destroyed by battles and bombs. It's still a working test garden, with bulbs and cuttings sent here from around the world to be monitored for color, scent, disease resistance and more. Now one of the largest rose gardens in America, the Test Garden has over 600 rose varieties and more than 9,500 bushes.

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Portland Pearl District
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Portland's most popular commercial area, "The Pearl", as it's locally known, is north of downtown between West Burnside Street, the Willamette River, NW Broadway and the Interstate 405 freeway. Once a lonely industrial district of decaying warehouses and rail yards, a boom in urban renewal in the late 1990s to the early 2000s prompted an allusion to the area's scruffy architecture as crusty oysters containing pearls. These "pearls" were initially artists' lofts and galleries, but the neighborhood now teems with upscale eateries, small performance venues and independent boutiques as well.

The Pearl's biggest attraction is also one of the most-visited spots in Portland: the flagship Powell's City of Books. Spanning an entire city block (between NW 10th and 11th Avenues, W. Burnside and NW Couch Streets), Powell's bills itself as the world's largest independent bookstore.

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Pioneer Square
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Locally known as “Portland's Living Room,” Pioneer Courthouse Square sits at the heart of downtown and takes up an entire city block. Pioneer Square was officially opened in 1984. Prior to that, it had been the site of a hotel (built in 1890) and later a two-story parking garage. When a new and much larger parking garage was proposed in 1969, the idea of creating a public square instead gained momentum, and was the beginning of Pioneer Square. The square takes its name from the nearby Pioneer Courthouse, built in 1875.
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Pittock Mansion
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From 1909 to 1919, this 22-room French Renaissance-style estate was the home of Portland's original power couple, Henry and Georgiana Pittock; Henry's business empire included The Oregonian newspaper, and Georgiana championed women's rights and the city's then-burgeoning Rose Festival. The Pittocks' former property, set on 46 acres and perched 1,000-feet above downtown Portland, offers one of Oregon's most sweeping views of the city and the Cascade Range.

By the mid-1960s, the Mansion had fallen into disrepair, the Pittocks' remaining family members couldn't find a buyer, and it seemed fated for bulldozing; but local preservationists managed to raise the necessary funds to save it, and by 1974 it was named to the National Register of Historic Places. The Mansion now attracts over 800,000 visitors a year.

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Lan Su Chinese Garden
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Find your zen at downtown Portland’s Lan Su Chinese Garden, an oasis of Chinese art, design, and architecture. Modeled after the ancient gardens of the Ming Dynasty, the garden has carefully landscaped elements that invite you to relax, reflect, and engage with Chinese culture through tea ceremonies, workshops, and performances.
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Alphabet District
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Inner Northwest Portland – specifically around NW 21st and NW 23rd – is one of the most popular in the city center for shopping, entertainment, and dining. It also has a memorable nickname: the Alphabet District.

You might not notice the reason for the name immediately, especially if you're taking your time meandering from one shop-lined block to another, but the streets in the quadrant that run east-west are in alphabetical order – from Burnside, Couch, Davis, Everett, and Flanders on up through Wilson. There's an A street further east (Alder), but it doesn't continue up far enough to be part of this district. The Alphabet District is historically one of Portland's most desirable neighborhoods – there are beautiful Victorian-style houses in the residential blocks and sought-after condo buildings. One of the city's oldest independent movie theaters, Cinema 21, is on NW 21st Avenue.

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Washington Park
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Washington Park is a sprawling woodland in Southwest Portland, home to the Oregon Zoo, Portland Children’s Museum, and a series of gardens including the International Rose Test Garden, Hoyt Arboretum, and the Portland Japanese Garden. Cycling paths and walking trails wind throughout the park, providing a convenient nature escape.
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More Things to Do in Portland

Powell’s City of Books

Powell’s City of Books

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Encompassing an entire city block in downtown Portland, Powell’s City of Books is the world’s largest independent new and used bookstore and a top attraction for book lovers visiting the city. Here you’ll find upwards of a million books, including rare finds, first editions, and autographed copies of bestsellers and little-known titles alike, all under one roof.
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Hoyt Arboretum

Hoyt Arboretum

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Portland’s Hoyt Arboretum is home to one of the most varied collections of tree species in the United States. This sprawling nature preserve serves as a research center, but with miles of trails easily accessible to downtown Portland, the arboretum is open to anyone who wants to spend time in nature.
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South Park Blocks

South Park Blocks

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Park Avenue in downtown Portland has long parks at each end – the largest is at the south end, appropriately called the South Park Blocks. The area runs 12 blocks from SW Jackson St. north to SW Salmon St., and are one block wide along Park Avenue. The street is split into two one-way lanes, with the park filling the block in between. The South Park Blocks make up a central part of Portland State University's campus, and the park is the setting for a popular farmer's market from March through December.
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Oregon Zoo

Oregon Zoo

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Formerly the Washington Park Zoo, Portland’s Oregon Zoo is the oldest zoo in the western United States. In total there are more than 2,200 animals with 260 species represented, though the stars of the zoo are more often than not the herd of Asian elephants. The youngest elephant was born at the park in 2012, so she’s still toddler size, while the rest impress with their spotted ears and unique personalities. There’s also a very unique California Condors exhibit which showcases the local and endangered birds.
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Portland Art Museum

Portland Art Museum

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Situated in the tree-lined Park Blocks neighborhood of downtown Portland, Oregon, the Portland Art Museum is known for its large archives of Native American and First Nations artifacts as well as its exemplary collections of art from around the world. Here you’ll find everything from Van Gogh and Monet paintings to calligraphy from pre–Han Dynasty China.
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Portland Japanese Garden

Portland Japanese Garden

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Dedicated in 1963, the Portland Japanese Garden has long been the spot to join others—both visitors and locals—in a quest for tranquility. Meditate by a waterfall and walk the paths that lead to nine themed garden areas. Don't miss the cultural village, designed by contemporary Japanese architect Kengo Kuma.
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Forest Park

Forest Park

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Portland is often lauded as one of the best cities in America for green spaces, due in no small part to 5,100-acre Forest Park, the largest urban forested area in America. Based on the landscaping advice of the legendary Olmstead Brothers (the design firm behind New York's Central Park), Forest Park was originally proposed as an expansive city park in the late 1800s; however, potential preservation costs and oil speculation kept it from becoming public land until the late 1940s.
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Portland Chinatown

Portland Chinatown

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Dating back to the 1880s, downtown Portland's compact Chinatown isn't as big as what you might find in San Francisco or New York. However, it's still worth a visit for its restaurants, bars, photogenic entry gate, and its star attraction, the Lan Su Chinese Garden.
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Oregon Rail Heritage Center (ORHC)

Oregon Rail Heritage Center (ORHC)

The Oregon Rail Heritage Center was opened in 2012 on the east side of the Willamette River after the demolition of an historic roundhouse necessitated moving three steam locomotives owned by the city of Portland. The three locomotives are now at the ORHC, which is near the Oregon Museum of Science and Industry.
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The Grotto

The Grotto

Tucked into a corner of Northeast Portland in a park-like space is a Catholic sanctuary known as “The Grotto.” The official name is the National Sanctuary of Our Sorrowful Mother, and it's a shrine and botanical garden. It covers 62 acres that were purchased by Father Ambrose Mayer in 1923; he intended to build a shrine to the Virgin Mary on the land. The project was even blessed by then-Pope Pius XI in a handwritten letter, and the first mass was held at The Grotto in 1924.
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Multnomah Falls

Multnomah Falls

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Roughly 30 miles east of Portland along the Columbia River Gorge is one of Oregon's iconic symbols – Multnomah Falls, the tallest waterfall in the state. The water actually falls in two stages, so there are technically two waterfalls.

There's a small bridge – the Benson Footbridge – that spans the top of the second waterfall, and offers an excellent view of the taller of the two waterfalls. There are lots of great hiking trails in the Columbia River Gorge, and some start nearby – including the Mark O. Hatfield Memorial Trail.

At the base of the falls is the Multnomah Falls Lodge, which has a restaurant, some snack vendors, and visitor facilities. The Multnomah Falls Lodge (built in 1915) and footpath are on the U.S. National Register of Historic Places.

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Latourell Falls

Latourell Falls

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Of the many waterfalls along the Columbia River Gorge, Latourell Falls is closest to Portland – which means it attracts plenty of visitors. Most of the waterfalls in the Gorge have at least two levels, but Latourell Falls drops straight from its highest point to the bottom in one fall. Height estimates vary, but it's somewhere between 224-249 feet tall depending on what you read. The creek that makes up the waterfall, Latourell Creek, isn't very large, so in the dry summer months the waterfall can sometimes decrease to a trickle. In the winter, however, it's quite impressive.
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Columbia River Gorge

Columbia River Gorge

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About 16 miles east of Portland, the Columbia River Gorge stretches from Troutdale to Biggs on the Oregon side, and from Vancouver to Maryhill on the Washington side. An 80-mile canyon ranging from sea level to 4,000 feet, this National Scenic Area separates the two states in a wide, rocky and leafy ribbon which runs between the Columbia River and the Cascade Mountains.

In 1805, the Lewis and Clark Expedition used the Columbia and its craggy banks to reach the Pacific; these days, two smoothly-paved highways on the Oregon side would greatly simplify the explorers' epic journey. Interstate-84 parallels the achingly wide, cornflower-blue Columbia, wending past dense, dark forests and jagged, lavender-grey mountains. Beside the Columbia River Highway (which runs adjacent to I-84 from Troutdale to Dodson), the Gorge is webbed with hiking trails and more than 90 waterfalls, including the 620-foot-high Multnomah Falls.

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Mt. Hood

Mt. Hood

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Located about 50 miles (81 kilometers) outside of Portland, Mt. Hood sits majestically at 11,249 feet (3,429 meters), making it the highest mountain in Oregon. As it is a dormant volcano you’ll constantly see steam rising from its fumaroles, adding to the serenity of the scene.

Mt. Hood offers a range of experiences, like hiking, fishing, camping and skiing. Of Mt. Hood’s five ski lodges, the most famous is the Timberline Lodge, a designated National Historic Landmark that’s home to the only year-round ski season in North America. Additionally, there are over 1,200 miles (1,931 kilometers) of hiking trails in the Mt. Hood National Forest, with options from beginner to expert and chances to see waterfalls, lakes, woodland and wildlife.

For true adventure-seekers, Mt. Hood is the second-most climbed mountain in the world with over 10,000 climbers each year, and mixes thrills with natural beauty.

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