Portland is one of the most appealing destinations in the country but if you’re short on time it’s possible to experience Portland’s best in 24 hours. Full stop. It’s a beautiful outdoors city that relishes fine food and drink, and enjoys a unique, casual charm. It wears its quirkiness like a badge of honor. Plus, because everything worth doing is nearby, folks can enjoy a sampling of Portland’s best in a day. But you’ll want to stay longer. Here’s my take on Portland’s best in 24 hours.
If you arrived at Portland International Airport, you already know what a gem it is. Ranked the top airport in the nation by Travel+Leisure Magazine, PDX is spacious, efficient and clean as a whistle. Plus the MAX Light Rail can whisk you downtown. Or pay the cab (about $35), Uber or Lyft fare. The airport is about 30-40 minutes from downtown.
The city has a wealth of boutique hotel options in addition to standard corporate fare. You can find plenty of lodging near the airport, but the best call to experience Portland is to get a place downtown.
Portland has so many top-notch eateries, finding one is a breeze. After dropping off your luggage, you might want to try Imperial, launched recently by Portland culinary wizard Chef Vitaly Paley. Another terrific option is the Leaky Roof Tavern, which likes to keep its fare local, sustainable and delicious.
Or, if you’re too wiggly to sit in a restaurant, try one of the city’s famous food carts. There are pods scattered throughout the city.
One of the best ways to see the city is to walk along the waterfront, explore by bicycle, or rent a kayak.
Enjoy a brisk, flat, two-mile walk along Waterfront Park and over to the east side of the Willamette River, looping back on the Eastbank Esplanade. You can run or bike it too. Plus, walking along the Eastbank’s floating walkway provides the best view of the city skyline.
Few cities in the U.S. are as accommodating to bicycles as Portland. You can rent a bike cheaply at Waterfront Bikes, or rent one on a whim using a just snag one for a little while from a Biketown hub or kiosk. Another option is to take a guided tour of Portland with the folks at Pedal Bike Tours. They have special, bike-led tours for every interest and … indulgence.
The river is a magnet for recreation in the city. It’s thrilling to take a guided kayak tour with Portland Kayak Company. There are no rapids, the tours are affordable, and only last 2.5 to 3 hours. Or, you can rent a kayak and explore on your own.
After getting your blood pumping, you’ll have earned a refreshing drink. As one founding cities of the craft brewing industry, Portland has been ahead of the curve on all things beer, with hundreds of pubs. The city’s oldest craft brewing pub is Bridgeport Brewing, which is a fine place to enjoy a pre-dinner pint. They have amazing pizza and salads as well.
If you prefer something sweet, head on over to the east side of town to Creo, a gourmet chocolate shop that serves great desserts, hot cocoa and drinking chocolate, and offers tours of its facility.
I’m often asked what is my favorite restaurant in Portland and I usually answer Little Bird Bistro. It’s French cooking with a Portland flair — using local ingredients and featuring fresh fish, duck and other delights. What’s terrific about this place is it’s perfectly Portland: not too fancy, great-tasting cuisine and there’s always a couple of modestly priced selections, including its $16 double-brie burger that tastes out of this world.
If you’re in the mood for Asian food, I recommend Bamboo Sushi, on the west side, or Yama Sushi on the east side. Andina’s Peruvian cuisine is always a treat. On the east side, it’s hard to beat Pok Pok for inventive Thai cuisine. Plus, afterwards you can scoot across the street for a scoop of Salt & Straw ice cream, home of some very odd combinations — I generally stick with the salted caramel. But there is always a line …
Portland may not be the city that never sleeps, but it has plenty to do late at night.
One of Portland’s bawdiest venues is Darcelle XV in Old Town. For almost 40 years, this Vegas-style drag-queen revue is rife with laughter, liquor and glitz. It is the longest-running drag show on the West Coast.
The Helium Club in Central East Side, usually has nationally known comedians performing side-splitting routines.
If you’re in the mood for music, check out what’s happening at Portland favorite alternative music venue, the Doug Fir Lounge, or Revolution Hall. You also can find out what’s going on at Goodfoot — a two-level music venue/pool hall/art gallery/restaurant in Southeast Portland. On some nights you can dance with some fine people to classic soul records. Sadly, the smooth jazz venue, Jimmy Mak’s, closed after the passing of its owner. Stay tuned for news of new jazz club opening this spring.
One must-stop is Huber’s, Portland oldest restaurant (1879), where you can enjoy the most amazing Spanish coffee you’ll ever sip, bar none. It closes at 1 a.m.
Those in the know get to Screen Door a good half hour or more before it opens at 8:00 a.m. on weekdays or 9:00 a.m. on weekends. It serves the best fried chicken and waffles this side of South Carolina.
I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention the enduring tradition of tourists buying a bright pink box full of VooDoo Doughnuts on the way to the airport. It’s located in Old Town and there’s almost always a huge line — which is why I avoid it. Locals generally go for Blue Star Donuts, which uses fresh, local ingredients to create a variety of scrumptious flavors. They even have a counter at the airport.
There are more itineraries on the way: what to do in various neighborhoods, what to see when it’s raining, and some wonderful out-of-town adventures.
For a word about recreational marijuana, see ‘Background’ in the yellow bar on the Portland main destination page.
Discover Iconic and Stylish Northeast Portland … Street festivals, pub crawls, stylish shopping – and golf
Exploring Southeast Portland … Where the Portland in your mind comes alive
Family-Friendly Portland Fun … Hiking, paddling, pedaling and rainy day options too
Hanging Out in Portland’s Living Room … Where Portlanders get together
Northwest Portland: Stroll, shop, dine, hike … Nature, shopping and sophistication
Portland Travel Hacks … Create a stress-free, fun-filled Rose City vacation
Portland’s Fun, Funky and Fancy Lodging … Don’t stay in a cookie-cutter hotel room
Slacker’s Charm in Portland’s Old Town/Chinatown … Take a walk on the wild side