Here at Backcountry Wine Tours, we enjoy all the best things in life. That’s why we’ve made Portland, OR our home! With all the great food, drink, entertainment and abundant natural beauty, you will never run out of things to do.
We have decided to compile this “10 Essential Things to do in Portland” to help you get the most out of your trip to our fabulous city, and give you a few “insider” tips.
Dinner at Award-Winning Restaurants.
Portland is emerging as one of the greatest culinary cities in the country. Our access to incredible fresh produce, seafood, and small-farm meats attracts great chefs from around the world. The competition is fierce, so the quality level and value is amazing. There are SO MANY to choose from, and it’s kind of hard to go wrong, but here is a list of our absolute favorites:
- Toro Bravo (Spanish Tapas, lively atmosphere)
- Le Pigeon (French-inspired bistro, a Portland classic)
- Langbaan (The best Thai food experience you will ever have)
- Coquine (quaint, French-inspired neighborhood spot with a great somm!)
- Willow (very intimate 6-course prix fixe)
- Holdfast (Inventive ocean-sourced prix fixe)
- Beast (fine-dining communal meal)
- Ox (Argentinian Grill)
- Kachka (Lively and fun Russian spot)
- Castagna (molecular gastronomy)
Overrated? Portland City Grill, Andina, Departure, Por Que No, Ava Gene’s, Nong’s, and Food Carts in general.
Brunch is a way of life in Portland. Some of the most innovative and exciting energy is being put in to the first meal of the day:
- Mother’s Bistro (A classic that will always be a good call)
- Tasty & Alder (Worth the wait)
- Broder Cafe (Scandinavian smorgasbord!)
- Canard (sister restaurant to Le Pigeon. Stellar!)
- Besaws (old Portland institution in new digs)
Overrated? Screen Door, Tin Shed, Jam, Pine State, Genie’s
Are you noticing a trend here? We like to eat well in Portland. Now, I’m not sure which guide book it is that everyone coming to Portland seems to read that tells them they need to go to Voodoo Doughnuts. But that book needs to get updated. Don’t get me wrong, Voodoo is one of those cultural curiosities that has its place in Portland lore, but let me be the first to tell you – it is not essential. Unless waiting in line for over an hour getting hassled by transients on the street so that you can eat a doughnut with M&Ms or Fruit Loops stuck to the top sounds like your idea of a good time. Then have at it.
All the locals know the real place to get doughnuts: Blue Star
You’ll probably hear a lot about Salt & Straw Ice Cream as well. I can tell you, in this case – the hype is deserved. Now, whether it’s worth the wait in line is up to you.
Here’s my one little insider secret about dessert in Portland though – one place that doesn’t hit the “buzz charts” but that I think is super special: Pix Patisserie Centrally located, with little edible pieces of art – not to mention, one of the largest Champagne lists in America!
Beer, Wine, and Cocktails
I mean, what else are you going to do when it’s cloudy half the year? Alcohol is how we stay jolly, and we have brought it to the level of artistry. Following is a list of our favorite places to enjoy a drink or two:
- Baerlic Brewing (modern takes on classic beers)
- Ex Novo Brewing (ecclectic selection of ales and lagers)
- Cascade Brewing (for the sour beer lovers among you)
- Imperial Taproom (rotating taps at 2 locations)
- Apex (great place for a pint in the sunshine during the summer)
- Ambonnay (very cute Champagne bar)
- Noble Rot (rooftop wine bar)
- OK Omens (part wine bar, part haute gastropub)
- Enoteca Nostrana (chic wine bar with huge selection)
Overrated? Deschutes, Rogue, 10 Barrel, Domaine Serene Wine Bar, Aalto Lounge, Montage
See the Sights
Part of the charm of our city is just how beautiful it is! Get out there and take it in!
- Washington Park/Rose Garden/Japanese Gardens (easy to fill a whole day up there!)
- Pittock Mansion (best view in the city)
- Tom McCall Waterfront Park (run, walk, bike or just stroll along the river)
- Tilikum Crossing (this pedestrian and public transit-only bridge is a great stroll and affords views of the river)
- Mt. Tabor (hiking trails on an extinct volcanic vent)
- Forest Park (5,100 acre urban forest reserve with over 70 miles of hiking trails)
- Cathedral Park (beautiful riverside green space under the majestic St. John’s Bridge)
- Mock’s Crest (famous but hidden place to watch the sunset. finding it is half the fun)
- See Portland from a Boat (The Portland Spirit has cruises, or you can rent a boat and do it yourself)
Get out of Town
You don’t have to go far to find yourself in world-class natural beauty. Here’s the best of the best:
- Columbia River Gorge (hiking, waterfalls, scenic drives – the Gorge is a national treasure)
- Hood River/Fruit Loop (stunning pastoral farms and riverside communities an hour East of Portland)
- Mt. Hood (year-round recreation and the highest peak in Oregon)
- The Coast (Cannon Beach is a good bet. Spend a night out there if you can!)
- Wine Country (hopefully, because you are reading this on my Tour site, you have this box checked already!)
- Mt. St. Helen’s Nat’l Monument (about 2 hours drive north you can look into the crater!)
Check out Powell’s
This book store is huge. And I mean, even if you’re not a bookworm, you’re going to have fun exploring the many aisles and labyrinthine rooms full of any and every book imaginable.
Boutiques & Chic in NW Portland
Both the Pearl District and the Nob Hill “Alphabet” District offer lots of shopping, window gawking, strolling, and casual food options. Particularly NW 23rd Ave. When you get exhausted and need to recharge, check out Tanner Springs Park or Jamison Square.
Portland Open Space Sequence
This Urban Open Space Project was designed by famous modernist landscape architect Lawrence Halprin. It was conceived as pedestrian mall that incorporated a natural spring water feature that moves from park to park, ultimately climaxing in a cubist waterfall feature that attracts waders and bathers on hot summer days. The best way to enjoy this special urban feature is to start at Lovejoy Fountain Park – the source of the water. Continue down the pedestrian walkway to Pettygrove Park. Continue North along the trail until you end up at the Ira Keller Fountain Park. If you haven’t had enough fountains at that point, head over to the waterfront and finish at Salmon Street Springs. While you’re there, be sure to take a peek at Mill Ends Park – the Guinness World Record holder for “Smallest Park in the World.”
See Some Live Music
We’re no Nashville – and we never had anything as significant as Seattle’s Grunge period, but Portland has a vibrant music scene all its own. See what’s playing at one of our finer venues and pick a show that sounds good to you.