Actually Cool Things You Can Do in Portland This Fall
You deserve some fun.
The summer of 2021 in Portland was, at least, a marginal improvement on 2020’s. Instead of horrific wildfire smoke we had the heat dome, and COVID rates were, for a while, dropping steadily, with a return to indoor dining and some mask-free events. While this fall is looking to be difficult thanks to the Delta variant, at least most of the city itself is vaccinated. There’s still plenty of fun to be had in the City of Roses, from outdoor events to safer indoor ones. Fall is a beautiful time in Portland.
As a reminder, food service and other customer-facing workers are more beleaguered than ever as they continually operate on the front line of COVID precautions. If you’re going to be “that person,” it’s best you stay home. With that said, here are actually cool things to do in Portland for fall of 2021.
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In the summer, Sauvie Island is a destination for beach-goers to escape the heat, whether that means lounging on its nude beaches or visiting you-pick produce farms. But in fall, it’s all about the pumpkin patches, petting zoos, and corn mazes. There are a few to choose from, and for many Portlanders the real beginning to the Halloween season is wandering the corn mazes, riding the flatbed trucks out to the pumpkin patch, and finishing the whole thing off with some hot apple cider.
For those in the know, the start of fall also means it’s time to Hump! The Pacific Northwest’s most famous independent pornographic film festival returns to theaters in early autumn, and while the festival makes its way across the country, it’s still best enjoyed in Seattle or Portland, where it originates. It’s a celebration of the taboo, the beautiful, the erotic, the funny, and the strange, presented by individuals rather than exploitative production companies. Though it sounds odd, going to watch pornography in a theater with your friends is actually a lot of fun, and a very Porltand thing to do.
The Vaux’s Swifts are one of Portland’s most astonishing displays of nature. Each year, these diminutive birds flock by the tens of thousands to Chapman Elementary school in Northwest Portland. There, they spiral into a dramatic whirlwind into the chimney, where they roost for a few weeks before continuing on their migration south; it’s the largest roost of migrating swifts in the world. September is the best time to watch, and it makes for an excellent date idea.
Make fresh food accessible; inspire healthy eating: That’s the idea behind Love, Tito’s Block to Block program, which aims to build community gardens and farms in neighborhoods across the US, one block at a time. In Portland, that means working with Zenger Farm to build greenhouses, allowing them to grow food all year round. Visit zengerfarm.org to learn more.
Like pumpkin picking, apple-picking is a great way to celebrate Oregon’s fall bounty. The state features a number of orchards, many of which are “you-pick.” It’s outdoors, affordable, and often close to (or even right in) Portland. Plus, then you have apples from which you can make apple pie, tarts, or just enjoy plain.
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.
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, masked patrons are welcome back inside the clubs, so if you want to support your favorite dancer, do so now.
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.
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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. Many restaurants are still hesitant to fully open for indoor dining, just as many guests 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.
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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.
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. Keep in mind that the mask mandate is still in effect, so be sure to come prepared.
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 dinosaurs.
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.
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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 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
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In closing out 2021, 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. 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 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
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.