I think of Portland Oregon as a sister city to Austin Texas (my adopted city) and although I still call Austin my official home, I could be tempted to move to Portland….for my summer home.
Although I spent a whole month in P-town I know you probably won’t spend that much time there. So, I crafted an itinerary for 3 days in Portland that you can use as your solo travel guide to the City of Roses.
Portland is like Austin Texas in that it’s totally hipster and has a great music scene, but it’s a bit more relaxed (I’m talking to you Austin drivers!) and with better road planning skills. And way better for bicycling. And more green space!
According to PDX History website Portland got its name from a coin toss! In 1845 a fella from Massachusetts wanted to name the new settlement Boston.
While another dude from Maine wanted to name it Portland. My friends from Portland often refer to it as PDX, the airport code for Portland.
READ MORE: 52 Solo Travel Quotes
My solo trip to Portland was during spring and sure enough it rained for 3 days straight after my drive from Oakland California (with a stop in beautiful Ashland, Oregon) over 2 days of drizzling rain.
But the skies brightened up and for most of my month in Portland the weather was dry and pleasant.
Getting Around in Portland
Driving in Portland the traffic was not too bad, I only got stuck in rush hour once and it was nothing compared to the rush hour traffic I loathed and left behind in Austin Texas a few months before.
Portland is divided up into 4 quadrants: NW NE SW and SE. Right away this is appealing to me because I grew up in Calgary and same setup. This makes it easier to visualize a location within the city when you have the address.
Although, in Portland there are so many bridges across the Willamette River I got confused.
Full disclosure: I am directionally challenged.
The Willamette River divides Portland between east and west. And Burnside Street divides the city north and south where it crosses the river at Burnside Bridge.
Portland is extremely bicycle friendly. Get the Biketown app for the bike share program in Portland. For each ride you pay a $1 unlock fee and 20 cents per minute (that’s only $13/hr) and enjoy biking around Portland.
There is also Adaptive Biketown in Portland, a program to help increase bicycle access to people with disabilities.
Street cars, light rail, and buses are other options for getting around in Portland.
Portland Streetcar for maps, schedules, and more information.
For bus and light rail in Portland check out TriMet website for all the details on fares, schedules, and more.
Things to do in Portland
You’ll find there are lots of cool things to do in Portland Oregon and it’s one of those places a solo traveler can feel comfortable visiting.
The Portland vibe is laid back and the city is attractive to outdoorsy types. Portland is bicycle friendly – it’s one of the best cities in the USA for biking.
What to do in Portland on your own? I’ve written up a Portland itinerary for you so you can plan your trip and find some of the coolest things to do Portland, according to me :)
Portland 3 day Itinerary
I’m including a sample 3 day itinerary for Portland so you can plan your solo trip with a list of some fun things to do in Portland on your own.
You’ll enjoy great food and a chill vibe. If you love the outdoors you will love Portland!
Day 1 Aerial Tram and Downtown Portland
If you want to get high a great view of Portland you need to get yourself to the Portland Aerial Tram. I LOVE getting a bird’s eye view of a city and I think this is one of the best things to do in Portland for any solo traveler.
Address: 3303 SW Bond Ave. – take the MAX light rail or a streetcar.
The tram ride is 4 minutes each way. Commuters use the tram to get to/from work so avoid rush hour if you want more elbow room.
Currently the roundtrip fare is $5.10 but check here for the latest on rates and schedules.
Other than the awesome view of Portland there isn’t anything of interest at the upper tram station. Head back down and go for a walk across the Willamette River afterwards.
Tilikum Crossing Bridge – You can walk or take a street car from the aerial tram to Tilikum Crossing (Bridge of the People) and enjoy views of the Willamette River.
Tilikum is the word for people in the Chinook language.
The Chinook peoples are one of the indigenous tribes in the Pacific Northwest area. Visit the Chinook Nation website for more information on their history.
Oregon Rail Heritage Center – If you are into trains then stop and visit this museum – they have all sorts of railroad artifacts and they have functioning locomotives.
This place is a railway enthusiast’s dream come true! Get hours and info
Address: 2250 SE Water Ave
Also in the vicinity….
Portland Spirit Cruises – Ever wanted to take a river cruise with Big Foot? Now is your chance. Portland Spirit Cruises offers a variety of cruises featuring tribute bands, brunch, dinner, and yes the Big Foot adventure cruise – get more info.
Portland Opera House – The opera season in Portland runs from November to August – tickets and info here.
Oregon Museum of Science and Industry (OMSI) is also on SE Water Ave. Visit the planetarium, labs, and special exhibits.
Or visit the USS Blueback submarine – you can even spend a night on the submarine! Get more info here.
Lunch in the Pearl District
Take the street car to downtown Portland (NW 11th and Couch station is my suggestion) and grab lunch at one of the many eateries in the Pearl district.
Try Deschutes Brewery Portland Public House for beers and gourmet eats, Oven and Shaker for wood-fired pizza, Thai Peacock, Bamboo Sushi, Jake’s Famous Crawfish, or Lardo (formerly a food truck) for a big-ass sandwich and craft beer.
After lunch explore the Pearl district on foot. Be sure to visit Powell’s City of Books – an amazing bookstore and the world’s largest independent bookstore.
This is one of five Powell’s bookstores (their flagship store) in the city including the one at Portland airport (PDX). All Powell’s bookstore locations.
Take a walk to the North Park Blocks, a couple blocks east of Powell’s and you’ll find a big sculpture of two elephants called Da Tung and Xi’an Bao Bao. The sculpture is made of bronze and features a baby elephant standing on papa elephant’s back.
Pearl district is a good place for shopping in Portland, get some souvenirs, and if you’re in need of any outdoor gear both Patagonia and The North Face are in the neighborhood.
Dinner in the Pearl District
Dine at Arden in the Pearl district – menu changes almost daily.
Day 2 Multnomah Falls Columbia River Gorge
For your second day in Portland I suggest leaving Portland. What?! Get out and explore the Columbia River Gorge and visit Multnomah Falls.
It’s about a 30 minute drive from Portland to the waterfalls.
Sometimes places meet your expectations and other times…not so much. Multnomah Falls is one place that totally met my expectations.
You know how some attractions get overly hyped and they turn out to be meh….Multnomah is not one of those.
Multnomah waterfall is amazing to see.
Waterfalls are magic.
It’s true! All those negative ions dancing around you? Akin to a free therapy session. Go forth and get yourself some waterfall therapy!
Multnomah Falls is the tallest waterfall in Oregon at 635 ft
Plan to bring some layers and maybe gloves if you want to do the hike at Multnomah during cooler weather.
It was cold when I visited and I didn’t think to bring gloves, my hands were freezing! But at least I had pockets :)
After Multnomah drive further east on Hwy 30 and cross Bridge of the Gods over to Washington state and drive back to Portland via Hwy 14 – the Lewis and Clark Highway in Washington.
Have lunch at the Market
In Portland for a weekend? Visit the Saturday Market – arts and crafts and food! Open from 10 – 5 Saturdays and 11 – 4:30 on Sundays….so it’s really the Saturday/Sunday market :)
Saturday Market is located by the Willamette River just south of Burnside Bridge, it’s about a half mile east of Powell’s bookstore.
Address: 2 SW Naito Pkwy
If you are visiting Portland in spring you may also want to visit the Wooden Shoe Tulip Farm. They have an annual tulip festival – it’s on from March 20 to May 3, 2020.
And if you are traveling with your furball this is a dog friendly event.
The tulip farm is located 30 miles south of Portland.
Dinner time! You’re tired and hungry and thirsty? Fetch yourself a bar stool or a comfy cafe chair and relax. Have a brew….or three :)
Try Little Bird Bistro or Imperial
Rest up and get ready for some exploring on day 3 in Portland.
Day 3 Portland Bike Hike Eat!
Grab some brunch at Fuller’s Coffee Shop and then it’s time to do some cycling around Portland.
Rent a bike and explore the parks in Portland. Here are some suggestions for locations to go biking and hiking in Portland:
Portland Japanese Garden – West of downtown – admission fee info
Forest Park – Northwest of downtown – Get maps, directions, trail conditions
Crystal River Rhododendron Garden – Southeast of downtown – beautiful botanical garden – free admission from Oct 1 to Feb 28 and $7 from Mar 1 to Sept 30 between 10 am – 6 pm (FREE on Mondays) Rhododendron Garden info.
Marquam Nature Park – 30 miles of hiking trails
Mt Tabor Park – East of downtown – beautiful 360 degree views of Portland and an off leash dog park.
If you visit the Crystal River Rhododendron Garden, take a walk through Reed College campus. On my Portland solo trip I stayed near the college campus and enjoyed walking through the trails by the campus.
There’s a cool outdoor auditorium called Cerf Amphitheatre, named in honor of Barry Cerf, a professor of literature from 1921 to 1948.
The amphitheatre was originally constructed in 1936 and underwent a rebuild in 1988.
According to Reed College website this outdoor theatre is home to an annual Greek theatre festival and a bug eating contest. I am intrigued. Must return to Portland for both of these events!
How about some lunch!
You’ll want to sample the food cart offerings in Portland. You can download the Food Carts Portland app here where they mention something about over 500 food carts around Portland.
I think you will find something to suit your food cravings. I had some of the best Mexico City style tacos while in Portland.
Visit any of the museums listed in day 1 of the itinerary, take a river cruise, or take some time to relax and enjoy a few craft beers, or doughnuts and coffee, whatever suits you.
Bike around some more and then enjoy happy hour eats and drinks.
Or have a big fat dinner for your last night in Portland. Maybe you’re in the mood for Italian? Try Nostrana and you will be happy!
Day trips from Portland
There are amazing day trips from Portland especially if you are into outdoor adventures. Since I visited Portland in the spring I took advantage of some beautiful sunny days to visit a tulip farm, go hiking, and spend some time on the beaches.
If you have more than a weekend in Portland then you’ll probably want to check out some of the things to do around Portland that make for good day trips.
You can drive out to the coast and back in one day, no kidding, I did it! If you love beach walks I highly recommend a day trip to Cannon Beach from Portland. Interested in more beach towns in Oregon? There are lots to choose from!
Columbia River Gorge – Drive to the Washington side, visit Beacon Rock and come back via Oregon side, visit Latourell Falls, Bridal Veil, and Oneonta Gorge.
And stop at some of the small towns along the way to enjoy lunch and do some shopping.
Mt Hood National Forest is 20 miles east of Portland. I took a drive out to Mt Hood area and did a lovely hike called Little Zigzag Falls.
There was still a lot of snow along parts of the trail but it was a wonderful trail along Little Zigzag Creek.
This is a good trail to do on your own or if you have kids traveling with you – they would love it! Nice easy hike and beautiful scenery + waterfall = happiness!
Wooden Shoe Tulip Farm
Have fun in Portland Oregon and exploring the Pacific Northwest USA!
If you have any suggestions for other places to see or great things to do in Portland please leave a comment below. Thank you!
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Wednesday 13th of April 2022
Once you ride the tram up to OHSU, you should not miss going to Council Crest Park! It's the highest elevation in Portland and has gorgeous views
Thursday 14th of April 2022
Heidi Lynn, Thank you for mentioning Council Crest Park, now on my list for next visit to PDX. I didn't realize I was so close to Portland's highest elevation right near the tram. Cheers, Susan
Saturday 2nd of April 2022
Those of us in North Portland (NoPo) feel left out! Nice article though!
Saturday 2nd of April 2022
JP, thank you for the feedback :) Now I feel obligated to make a trip back to Portland with the purpose of staying in NOPO and exploring all that North Portland has to offer. I see an Oregon road trip in my future :) Cheers, Susan
Nain F Ladak
Wednesday 11th of August 2021
Thank you so much for this itinerary! It's really helpful. If I were to explore the Portland area without a car, do you think Multnomah Falls and Cannon Beach would be accessible without a car? I'm looking into bus tours, but I'd rather be on my own timeline (Uber, regular bus)!
Thursday 12th of August 2021
Hi Nain, You can take the Columbia Gorge Express for $10 from East Portland's Gateway Transit Center to Multnomah Falls, Cascade Locks, Hood River, and The Dalles. Cannon Beach will take about 2 hours by bus, you can get more info on the bus schedule and rates for Portland to Cannon Beach. Have fun in Portland! Cheers, Susan
Tuesday 29th of December 2020
Thank you so much for sharing this! I've been wanting to visit Oregon, but there's so much to see it can be intimidating. My goal next year (pandemic pending) is to stay in Portland but take day trips outside of the city to explore nature, which is what draws me to this state. :)
Wednesday 30th of December 2020
Liz, Glad you enjoyed this post and hope you get to visit Oregon to explore the outdoors. Portland is a great home base and you'll have plenty to do with day trips. I was supposed to road trip up the coast from California to PNW in spring 2020 but had to cancel, putting it on my travel list for 2021 or 2022. Cheers, Susan
Ryan K Biddulph
Thursday 9th of May 2019
Portland and the Pacific Northwest are on my list Susan. Something about that laid back region makes it a full 180 from my NYC-NJ stays when back home in the US. Fabulous post.
Thursday 9th of May 2019
Hey Ryan, Yes, it's definitely more laid back than NY and NJ. I still have more to explore but PNW is one of the best places in the USA if you're into outdoor activities like hiking and water sports. Cheers, Susan