Actually Cool Things to Do Right Now in Portland
It’s spring in Portland, and everything has changed. The lines for brunch that once coiled down the streets on sunny weekends are replaced by lines of masked shoppers, waiting their turn at six-foot intervals to enter Trader Joe’s or New Seasons. The nights are eerily quiet, with bars closed and concerts cancelled, and even traffic is weirdly alleviated. Gone are pop-up dinners, beer festivals, marathons, Blazers games, and Timbers matches.
But spring isn’t cancelled, at least not yet. There’s still plenty of fun to be had in the City of Roses, even if that fun is relegated to some more indoor activities and fewer happy hours on patios or coastal vacations. Its streets are open for biking, its parks open for wandering, and its chefs and bartenders, artists and musicians, and winemakers and brewers are still crafting their wares and artistry. While we’re not getting many visitors, there’s still activities for locals to help break up the monotony of quarantine.
Go on a neighborhood bike tour
Free to $
With far fewer cars on the road, Portland is an even more amazing bike town than ever. As the rainy days give way to sunny ones, it’s time to take to the two-wheeler and explore your local neighborhood. In addition to getting out and about, it’s a fun way to check out the city’s architecture, and the variety of homes that fill the city streets from Victorians to craftsman houses and modernist homes. Or you can mock up some bingo cards for dog breeds and go dog spotting -- Portland is rife with pups on walks right now, as furloughed employees adopt some friends to keep them company while stuck at home.
Stand at the top of Mt Tabor and scream
Let loose your aggrievement at the top of Portland’s volcano, Mt Tabor. Or just go for a walk along its many roads, which are currently closed to cars. Just remember that social distancing guidelines apply, even outside, and it’s highly recommended by health officials that people wear masks to protect themselves and others. And a mask won’t block the stellar view of the city in springtime that Mt. Tabor provides as it looks westernly, over the river and to the West Hills and Forest Park beyond.
Go hiking in Forest Park
Speaking of, Portland is home to Forest Park, often referred to as the largest park within city limits in the US. The lush woods provide an escape from the hustle of the city, subdued as it is these days. As with any public activity, the six-feet rule still applies, but the size of the park offers ample opportunity to stay at a safe distance, while the verdant canopy offers a cool shade on the hot days of Portland’s spring and early summer.
Taste your way through Portland’s beer scene
$ to $$$
Just because breweries are closed for on-premise imbibing doesn’t mean there’s no beer to be had -- in fact, most of Portland’s best breweries are delivering or offering curbside pick-up service, so you can grab your favorite IPA from Breakside, sour beer from Cascade, or lager from Ruse. While there’s sadly no bar stool hobnobbing, you can at least enjoy some brews in the comfort of your own home.
Bike across a bridge
Free to $
It’s not called Bridgetown for nothing -- the country’s most bike-friendly city has a dozen bridges, most of which are friendly to pedestrians and cyclists. There’s no truer Portland experience than hopping on a bike for a brisk ride around town, especially if that ride takes you over the Hawthorne or Tilikum Bridge. For those without a bike, bike rental company Biketown PDX is working with the Portland Bureau of Transportation to offer subsidized rides, and is taking extra measures to regularly sanitize its bikes.
Try out some food carts
$ to $$
Even when dining rooms reopen, Portland’s restaurant scene will be transformed, with new social-distancing rules in place throughout the state. But the unique food cart scene that helps define Portalnd’s restaurant identity remains relatively the same. Sure, there’s no hanging out in pods late at night, but you can still grab a favorite dish from food cart standbys like Kim Jong Grillin, Matt’s BBQ, Gumba, Jojo, and Desi. You can always take your food to a nearby park, though there’s a risk they’re overcrowded on the nicer days.
The Oregon Zoo may be closed, but zookeepers have been on top of the social media game. Wouldn’t you like to watch Nacho the penguin wander around the zoo meeting other animals, or go for a hike outside with his friend Goat the penguin? Obviously, because it’s objectively adorable, and it’s on Instagram. There are also weekly Facebook Live videos of different animals living in the zoo, for some tedium-relieving cuteness.
Learn some new recipes from your favorite chef or bartender
While dining rooms remain closed and bars are unable to sell cocktails to go, some of Portland’s chefs, bartenders, and wine stewards are offering live courses and discussions on various social media platforms. Vitaly Paley, one of the city’s most venerable restaurateurs behind places like Imperial, Rosa Rosa, and Paley’s Place, teaches a class each Friday at 5pm PST on Instagram Live, broadcasting from his home kitchen with his wife Kimberly. Chef and co-owner of two of Portland’s most beloved restaurants, Le Pigeon and Canard, Gabriel Rucker hosts cooking demos on Instagram each Monday at 5pm. Bartender Emily-Ross Johnson has a geographically focused cocktail class on Twitch, 7pm on Tuesdays, where she goes over drinks from a location like Brazil or Japan each week, while her friend DJ Sesqui provides tunes from the featured area.
Attend a virtual wine class
Free to $$$
Portland is naturally proud of its wines, given that the Willamette Valley is one of the finest wine regions of the new world. While there aren’t any in-person wine tastings, dinners, or classes, a number of places around town are hosting virtual wine classes, talks, and just hangouts. Kelsey Glasser, owner and sommelier of the urban wine bar Arden, teaches courses on wines each Sunday, which customers can order for pick-up or delivery beforehand; the eccentric wine bar Pairings’ owner Jeffrey Weissler occasional livestreams about the unique flights of wines he creates, like Harry Potter flights; and John Grochau of Grochau Wines hosts other winemakers for weekly discussions on Zoom, with guests able to register and attend online. I Love Gamay, a yearly festival all about the gamay grape, has moved online for the time being, with a number of weekly events and wine deliveries.
Order takeout or delivery from a favorite restaurant
$ to $$$$
Multiple locations and online
Portland’s restaurant scene has been radically, possibly irrevocably, altered. An executive order from the governor shut down dining rooms for months and going forward, reopening plans are unclear. It’s a scary, uncertain time for one of Portland’s proudest cultural institutions, but luckily, many of the restaurants that define Portland are still serving, albeit through curbside takeout or delivery. One of the coolest things anyone in Portland can do is order from their favorite restaurants, especially for takeout, or for delivery through third party apps.
Go to a drive-thru strip club
Portland is well-known for being a strip club city -- maybe even the best in the country -- and it’s not going to let a pesky thing like a deadly global pandemic ruin that. At first it was Boober Eats, a delivery service from Lucky Devil Lounge that paired out of work strippers with out of work security guards to deliver the bar’s surprisingly good bar food to homes, though that changed names to Lucky Devil Eats for obvious legal reasons. Now there’s also Food 2 Go-Go, a dystopian-tinged drive-thru tent with stripper go-go dancers performing and delivering food and drinks; despite the national attention it’s gathering, it’s a definitively Portland experience and a testament to ingenuity. It’s also extremely cyberpunk.
Hit Up Portland’s Oldest Strip Club, Online
Mary’s Club, Portland’s oldest female-owned and operated strip club has also pivoted to the digital market. The bar is offering regular virtual strip club experiences, where guests can pay an entrance fee to access Zoom shows -- dancers stream from their homes and, occasionally, from the stage of the empty club. The details are released on Mary’s Instagram page, but so far there’s no way to order delivery from the club’s attached Mexican restaurant, Santeria. Still, it’s just another way that Portland is working to maintain its unique culture while shut down.
Catch some local shows
It’s hard to maintain social distancing guidelines in a mosh pit, or even in a modestly cramped theater so live concerts are (temporarily, hopefully) a thing of the past. Luckily, the Alberta Rose Theater is working to support local artists and give audiences a chance to catch their favorite acts through a virtual concert program. The Portland Music Stream includes dozens of local bands putting on live shows almost nightly for subscribers to listen in to. It’s not the same thing as being at a real show, but it’s a nice fix and a helpful fundraiser for musicians.
Visit OMSI... online
The Oregon Museum of Science and Industry is a staple of Portland culture, with numerous exhibits demonstrating everything from physics to chemistry, biology to astronomy. Like every other space, it’s closed in the face of the COVID-19 virus, but the team behind it have quickly pivoted to online capabilities, offering digital courses and demonstrations with Science At Home, plus nightly virtual events.
Get Cultural With Art and Film
It’s not quite the same as wandering the halls of the Portland Art Museum leisurely taking in the works, nor is it comparable to watching an independent film in a crowd full of discerning viewers, but PAM and the Northwest Film Center have moved online. You can find breakdowns of art pieces, film screenings, writing prompts, and even backgrounds for Zoom meetings at the website. Similarly, the Disjecta Contemporary Art Center is hosting an online exhibition and installation video tour on its site.
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