18 Actually Cool Things You Can Do in Portland This Summer
Now is the time for hikes, patio-drinking, farmers markets, and fun in Portland.
Having made it through a tough winter with the massive COVID spike, and then through an incredibly wet and gray spring (April of 2022 was the wettest April on record for Portland), it’s nice to see sunshine and blue skies again. COVID rates continue to rise and fall, but at least with high vaccination rates and essentially no restrictions things are looking a little more “normal.” Enough, at least, that people can feel more comfortable returning to some old hobbies. There’s still plenty of fun to be had in the City of Roses all summer long, and we’re here to help you find that fun—with these actually cool things to do in Portland right now. Be sure to follow COVID protocols wherever they are, and remember to treat the much-harangued service workers with the respect they deserve.
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The months-long, city-wide bike festival known as Pedalpalooza kicks off on June 1. Organized by Shift2Bikes, the festival sees dozens of different community bike rides of all different styles, from mural tours to wine tastings, mobile dance parties to late night neighborhood rides. Many are family friendly, while others are more adult oriented, especially those that include bar crawls. The famous World Naked Bike Ride, which is making its return this summer, is not technically affiliated but does fall during the event, and a number of Pedalpalooza rides are also au natural.
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One of the best things about Portland is how easy it is to get somewhere else from it. Depending on which town you’re headed to, it can take as little as two hours to get to one of Oregon’s amazing coastal spots. They’re not exactly white sand beaches, but they offer some of the most stunning views in the Pacific Northwest, and a chance to beat the heat. Plus it’s always fun to get out of town for some fish and chips or to hit up one of Oregon’s many breweries along the coast.
Visit the Columbia Gorge
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Instead of heading west out US 26, you could travel east along I-84. This will soon take you out of the bustle of the city and into the cool, verdant hills of the Columbia River Gorge. From there you can hike, camp, and rock climb in the foothills of the Cascades. Or you can head to Hood River for wine and beer tasting, stop by Cascade Locks for some Basque style cider from Son of Man, or enjoy a rejuvenating stay at Skamania Lodge. If you do decide to take the more outdoorsy route and head into the woods of the Columbia Gorge, remember that they still bear the devastating scars of 2017’s Eagle Creek Wildfires. Keep your flammables carefully controlled at all times, and don’t forget the golden rules of keeping to the path, cleaning up after yourself, and not taking things from the forest.
Purrington’s Cat Lounge is back, and with its all of the playful, adorable cats and kittens that roam the play areas. That’s right, every cat in Purrington’s is available for adoption, so what better way to get to know your future household member than over a cappuccino? Plus, spring and summer means more kittens that need homes. If you don’t feel like heading to the cafe, there’s always places like the Pixie Project, the Oregon Humane Society, and many individual foster parents.
Get nerdy with some games
Collectible card games, board games, war miniatures, and, especially, tabletop roleplaying games are all experiencing an incredible era right now. Dungeons & Dragons has been increasingly popular, and European board games have flooded the American market. Maybe it was the “quarantine bubbles” hunting for something to do, or just the natural acceptance of these hobbies, but they’re no longer relegated to basements. Instead, places like Mox Boarding House and Guardian Games welcome guests in to play games, even offering dining options.
For those looking for something a little more digital, there’s also a resurgence in arcades, most of which now carry alcohol and full dining menus. Quarterworld, Retro Game Bar, and the venerable Ground Kontrol offer gaming delights for anyone over 21 years of age.
Visit a strip club
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The rumors are true: even with the pandemic, Portland sports the most number of strip clubs per capita of any city in the United States. Plus, these are full bars, with mixed drinks and nudity. But more than that, it’s a part of the city’s culture, and it’s seen as (relatively) more acceptable than most places, with a strong sense of empowerment from the dancers. But the pandemic has been extremely hard on sex workers of all varieties, including strippers. Despite pivots like drive-through strip club performances and strippers delivering club food door-to-door, the pandemic hit performers hard, financially. At the moment, patrons are welcome back inside the clubs, so if you want to support your favorite dancer, do so now.
Go visit wine country
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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.
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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. While most restaurants are fully open for indoor dining, some diners are reluctant to move back inside. Luckily, many of our new (and old) patios have protection from inclement weather, often with cover and sometimes with heaters for chilly evenings.
Get cultural with art and science
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 the works of Leonardo da Vinci.
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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 that have remained busy even through the worst of the winter. Most have fully reopened, so you can grab a pint of your favorite IPA from Breakside, sour beer from Cascade, or lager from Ruse.
Visit a food cart
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Heading into 2022, the forecast for restaurants looks generally 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. Late night food carts are back, and you can grab a favorite dish from standbys like Kim Jong Grillin, Matt’s BBQ, Gumba, Jojo, Birrieria, and Desi.
Check out some animals
The Oregon Zoo is back. The staff there kept people amused and uplifted during 2020 and into 2021 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.
Volunteer for a good cause
Like all major cities, Portland is struggling right now. The city has experienced a myriad of issues that were exacerbated by the pandemic, from pollution to hunger, graffiti to homelessness. Volunteering to help with these issues is an excellent way to get to know your community better, and to help make it better. There are dozens of volunteer opportunities in the city, and Hands On Greater Portland is a helpful tool for finding the ones that best fit your interests.
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Portland is surrounded by farms, with places all across the state producing everything from fruit to organic meats. Farmers markets are a fun way to celebrate and support that industry, as well as do a good portion of your grocery shopping. Popular locales include the Portland State Farmers Market downtown, as well as ones out in Lents, Hillsboro, and Beaverton. But most neighborhoods have at least one small farmers market, often on weekend days. Besides the produce and other farm goods, there’s usually a few food carts slinging pizza, noodles, or breakfast items.
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We’re not talking about a buzz from a Negroni or 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 sneaker-themed Deadstock Coffee, 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.
Play around with homebrewing
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Sure, this is something that can be done in any city or town in the United States, but homebrewing is a truly Portland thing to do. Maybe it’s because so many of our city’s many, many lauded breweries began with homebrewing, or maybe because we have excellent brew supplies stores like F.H. Steinbart Co. With over 100 years of service, Steinbart is reportedly the oldest brewery supply store in the country. And while there are more than a few breweries to choose from in town, making your own can be a fun, creative project to do in the safety of your home.
Visit Powell’s Books
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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.
Go Hiking on Mount Tabor or Forest Park
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, and they’re nice even when it rains.