12 Actually Cool Things to Do Right Now in Portland

Make the most of the warmth.

It’s no hyperbole to say that this last fall and winter was a dismal series of months. Between the massive spike in COVID-19 rates, repeated pivots for bars and restaurants in an attempt to stay open, a catastrophic snow storm that saw thousands of Oregonians losing power, and an election season rife with turmoil and anxiety, Portland had seen better days. 

As we head into summer millions of Oregonians have been vaccinated. Outdoor dining plazas line the streets while shops, restaurants, gyms, and bars reopen. There’s, hopefully, a sustained movement among many industries to be more equitable and sustainable. We’re by no means out of the woods yet—and we have a drought to contend with that could make this summer a rough one, and still have that pandemic going on—but that’s all the more reason to celebrate the beautiful city we have. There’s plenty of fun to be had in the City of Roses, from its cafes to its parks and rivers, bars to bookstores. And while you explore the city, remember that it’s only as good as we make it. Support one another, treat workers with respect, and keep yourselves and others safe. 

Hit up a patio

$ to $$$
Multiple locations
Portland has always prided itself on its bar, cafe, and restaurant patios despite its predilection for rainy gray weather. But since the pandemic struck the city transformed itself—now nearly every shop in town has some kind of outdoor dining area, from full covered patios to modest streetside seating areas. Many restaurants are still hesitant to fully open for indoor dining, just as many guests are reluctant to move back inside. And during the sunny season there’s really no reason not to find a favorite patio with a glass of wine or a non-alcoholic tipple in hand and enjoy the weather. 

Get your buzz on

$ to $$
Multiple locations 
We’re not talking about a buzz from a Negroni or pint of IPA here—beyond being a destination for beer and cocktail lovers, Portland is home to dozens of independent coffee roasters, importers, and shops that take coffee as seriously as any other beverage. From the culinary focused Australian transplant Proud Mary, to Never Coffee with its unconventional latte flavors, to the sleek and breezy local chain Barista, the City that Works clearly does so with a healthy amount of caffeine. Add to that tea shops like Steven Smith Teamaker and Tea Bar, and you’ll never be out of range of a buzz-inducing beverage. 

Go visit wine country

$ to $$$
Willamette Valley
Now that the counties around Portland proper have been reopened, so have the wineries. Oregon is home to one of the most famed wine regions in the country, with the Willamette Valley competing on a national level thanks to its legendary Pinot noir. Beyond the wineries, boutique tasting rooms, and grand estates, there are numerous smaller towns to explore (including Newberg and McMinnville) with all sorts of shops, cafes, and restaurants. Keep in mind that there’s still a pandemic going on, so continue to wear masks whenever requested.

Go hiking in the Gorge

$ to $$
Columbia River Gorge
Rather than heading west to wine country, you can also head east to the Columbia River Gorge whose looping, winding trails are open for hikers and campers to explore in a stunning display of the local ecology and environment. As with all things, though, there’s a responsibility placed on visitors to maintain this. Enjoy the country and all of its wonders, but clean up after yourself and don’t set any fires outside of designated fire pits and at designated times.

Visit Powell’s Books

$ to $$$
Multiple locations
Powell’s Books, aka the City of Books, is nothing short of a Portland landmark. At the start of the pandemic, it was touch and go whether the venerable shop would survive without its loyal patrons being able to peruse its shelves. Luckily, the bookstore quickly pivoted to a new model and was even able to hire back many of its furloughed employees and today, shoppers can finally revisit the towering, mazelike aisles of the City of Books. The smaller satellite shops are open as well, some with limited hours so be sure to check ahead of time. 

Get cultural with art and science

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Downtown and East Portland
Two of Portland’s cultural institutions are back open to the public, now with some modest safety measures and limited hours. For those looking to view some classic and contemporary art, the Portland Art Museum has reopened its doors—it still maintains an online presence as well for those not quite ready to peruse the halls. Those looking for some engaging and interactive science and education can once again head to OMSI, the Oregon Museum of Science and Industry. Currently, the featured exhibit is all about dinosaurs. 

Ride your damn bike

Free to $$
Multiple Locations
Tragically, Portland’s infamous World Naked Bike Ride is cancelled for the second year in a row due to the Coronavirus. Happily, Pedapalooza is back and bigger than ever. This months-long bike festival features dozens of different community-organized rides, usually with around three to five a day. With all kinds of different themes, from hosted neighborhood tours to travelling dance parties, breakfast on the bridges to family-friendly rides through parks, there’s something for everyone. Portland has long been known as a bike city, and Pedalpalooza shows exactly why. 

Order takeout, including cocktails 

$ to $$$
Multiple Locations
Portland restaurants had to move quickly to adapt to the changing landscape that COVID-19 brought to the city. While many opted for delivery through third-party apps, no one is happy to have done so. If you’d like to support your favorite restaurant and enjoy some meals in the safety and comfort of your home, there’s no better time to do it, and takeout is definitely the preferable way. As an added benefit, wine, beer, and even cocktails are now available for takeout, and thanks to a law signed by the governor in June, those are here to stay for good. 

Taste your way through Portland’s beer scene

$ to $$$
Multiple locations
Beer is one of Portland’s most well-known and well-regarded institutions. Perhaps unsurprisingly, many Portland breweries sport large, open patios and beer gardens which have remained busy even through the worst of the winter. Most have fully reopened, and even those that are still closed for on-site imbibing are delivering or offering curbside pickup service so you can grab your favorite IPA from Breakside, sour beer from Cascade, or lager from Ruse.

Visit a food cart

$ to $$$
Multiple Locations
Coming out of 2020 the forecast for restaurants looks considerably better than originally feared. Portland absolutely lost some treasured gems, especially downtown in hotels, and things certainly still look different. But the unique food cart scene that helps define Portland’s restaurant identity remains relatively the same, if not even better than before. Fine dining institution Higgins has added a satellite outdoor bistro food cart kitchen, Piggins. And while the beloved Cajun restaurant Le Bistro Montage closed for good, it has reopened as Montage ala Carte. While there’s still no hanging out in pods late at night, you can grab a favorite dish from food cart standbys like Kim Jong Grillin, Matt’s BBQ, Gumba, Jojo, and Desi

Check out some animals

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Sylvan Highlands
The Oregon Zoo is back. The staff there kept people amused and uplifted over the last year with adorable animal footage on their social media outlets while the zoo was closed, but now it’s reopened to the public to see those same animals in person. Otters, penguins, bats, red pandas, polar bears, and hundreds of other animals call the zoo home. Beyond offering an opportunity to see some wild beasts up close, the Oregon Zoo operates as a conservation effort, helping to protect animals through direct action at the zoo as well as through the Oregon Zoo Foundation

Go Hiking on Mount Tabor or Forest Park

Free
Mount Tabor & Forest Park
Portland is home to some pretty stunning parks. One of them, Mount Tabor, is centered dramatically on the east side, a volcanic cinder cone home to reservoirs and winding roads, with a stunning view of the city from just about all angles. The other, Forest Park, is across the river and nestled along the West Hills, providing miles of sun-dappled hiking paths and shaded woods. Both are within city limits and easily acceptable by car, foot, bus, or bike. 

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Alex Frane is a Portland native. He’s grateful for Zoom calls with his friends, the resilience of his city, and door-to-door wine deliveries. Follow him at @franiacdrinks
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