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How to spend a day in Portland, OR: tips from locals to maximize your trip

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Last updated May 21, 2024.

This is a blog post on how to spend a day in Portland, OR (Oregon).

Have a quick trip to Portland coming up and you’re wondering how to spend a day in this quirky, West Coast town?

In this blog post, I’ll give you a few ideas on how to make the most of your day in a short amount of time.

How to spend a day in Portland, OR | bonnibellechukwuneta.com

I was in Portland recently for TravelCon, an annual travel conference where creators, industry leaders, and travel brands share stories and strategies and connect.

I scheduled a free day (Saturday) for myself to see as many highlights of Rip City as possible. But Friday evening had come, and I didn’t have any ideas about how I was going to spend my day.

What I did know was food; I wanted it. I’m still operating on England time and was craving pub food. There was an Irish pub a couple of blocks from my hotel, so I decided to go ahead and settle my bangers-and-mash hankering.

I wrote about those folks here but they’re a warm, super-friendly bunch, and the food matches the vibes. The owner, Lucy, is terrific and came out with a map of the city, sharing tips on how I could make the most of my Saturday.

If you’re spending a day in Portland, here are some ideas to help you maximize your experience in a short amount of time.

How to spend a day in Portland, OR (Oregon)

Start with breakfast (or brunch) at Mother’s

Mother’s Bistro & Bar is a breakfast and brunch spot in downtown Portland and was voted the best comfort food restaurant in the city. They serve delicious classics made from scratch by Executive Chef and Owner Lisa Schroeder. Mother’s prides itself on using the freshest ingredients possible and is known for dishes including biscuits and gravy, eggs benedict, hashes, and crunchy Challah French toast (it’s dipped in cornflakes).

I opted for a half order of the wild salmon hash with a scrambled egg and a blueberry buttermilk pancake, which was one of their specials for the day. There’s no other way to describe the wild salmon hash than out of this world. It has leeks, potatoes, cream, and salmon that’s incredibly fresh and tasty. It was hearty and filling. The dish also came with whole wheat toast, which I enjoyed with their homemade strawberry jam. Also amazing.

Shauna was my server for the meal and was helpful enough to check out the map Lucy gave me and suggested some ideas of her own—thanks for the boutique shop recommendations!

Browse titles at Powell’s Books

Powell’s City of Books is a cornerstone of Portland’s literary scene and just a 10-minute stroll from Mother’s Bistro. It spans an entire city block and is the largest independent new and used bookstore in the world. The bookstore is 3 stories tall and has more than 2 million books across 9 color-coded rooms.

Powell’s is so expansive that your best bet is to succumb to the environment and go wherever your feet take you. There’s a cool, rare book room on the 3rd floor, and you might stumble on an author visit while you’re there. Whether you’re a fan of fiction, architecture, or fashion design, or you’re looking for the latest in tech and innovation, Powell’s has something for everyone.

Also, if you do feel lost or need help getting yourself situated, plenty of staff are around and ready to help you explore and answer any questions.

Indulge in vibrant boutique shops

Next on my to-do list is heading to Washington Park, and it’s best to take the train to get there. On the walk to the station, there are a number of small businesses and boutique shops. If you’re not in a rush, I highly recommend popping into a store or a few and doing some shopping.

You’re in the heart of the city, so there are so many locally-owned boutiques and shops to choose from, each offering something unique and specially crafted with love and care. You’ll find jewelry, soaps, bespoke clothing, local music, and gifts for your pets. I’m a big fan of the self-care products at Temple Loving Empire.

It’s one of my favorite ways to give back and #supportlocal, and Portland is such a cool and unique place that you’ll want to take a piece of it home with you.

Explore Washington Park and Portland Japanese Garden

Washington Park is one of Portland’s largest and most beautiful green spaces and a hub for some of the city’s top attractions, including the Oregon Zoo and Portland Japanese Garden. It’s a great place to get some fresh air, tranquility, nature, and outdoor activity not too far from the city.

When His Excellency Nobuo Matsunaga, the former Ambassador of Japan to the United States, visited Portland Japanese Garden, he proclaimed it to be “the most beautiful and authentic Japanese garden in the world outside of Japan.”

– JapaneseGarden.org

Portland Japanese Garden is tucked in the hills of Washington Park and overlooks the city. It’s a serene oasis with 12 acres and 8 separate garden styles. The gardens feature meticulously designed plants, flowing streams and waterfalls, and a koi pond. In the afternoon, an authentic Japanese tea house holds tea ceremonies, and the garden offers a spectacular view of Mt. Hood.

Outside the garden and below the shuttle area is the Portland Rose Garden where you can stroll and take IG-worthy photos. It’s the country’s oldest running rose test garden, a testing ground for new rose varieties. The garden has over 10,000 roses maintained by volunteers.

Portland is nicknamed the City of Roses, so the Portland Rose Garden is a signature landmark and one you don’t want to miss. Check out the gift shop before you head out and discover rose-inspired products, like rose waters, that are great for your hair and skin.

Other things to do at Washington Park:

Quick tip: Be on the lookout for deer! I saw a couple when I was on the shuttle back to the train station.

Recharge with a donut… or donuts 🍩

Ready for a break? A donut shop is a great place for that in Portland.

I didn’t know Portland is a donut city, but donuts are a sweet-treat staple here, and the city has a love affair with them. There are a couple popular options, including Voodoo Doughnut and Blue Star Donuts. The late Anthony Bourdain ate here during a Portland visit and had the Old Dirty Bastard, a raised yeast donut with chocolate frosting, crushed Oreos, and peanut butter, and a bacon maple bar.

Blue Star Donuts is known for its brioche-style donuts made from a French recipe. If you stop by, try the BBB (blueberry bourbon basil) or the O.G. (Orxata Glaze).

Walk the Waterfront Park Trail

Waterfront Trail Park | How to spend a day in Portland | bonnibellechukwuneta.com

Waterfront Park Trail is a great spot for a stroll and perfect if you want to eat that donut on the go. It’s just a few minutes away from Voodoo Doughnut. It’s located along the Willamette River and is a popular pathway for tourists and locals wanting to get their steps in and take in stunning views of Portland’s skyline and river scene.

The trail has parks and benches where you can meditate and soak in the peaceful riverfront atmosphere—a great break from the city’s hustle and bustle and perfect for people-watching because that’s always fun, too.

Eat oysters at Dan & Louis

No visit to Portland is complete without experiencing the local seafood, and there’s no better place to start than Dan & Louis Oyster Bar. It’s in the heart of downtown, just some feet away from Voodoo Doughnut, and has a warm, nautical ambiance that invites you to relax and enjoy the best of the sea. Established over a century ago, it’s Portland’s oldest family-owned business.

They have a variety of oysters served on the half shell, and you can enjoy them raw or baked. The oysters are sourced locally from the Pacific Northwest—Oregon oysters are found in Yaquina Bay southwest of Portland. I had the oysters Rockefeller and a cup of clam chowder to keep me warm on that coldish, slightly rainy day.

Cap the night with a cocktail

After a long day exploring Portland’s incredible views and delicious food, it’s time to end the day with a nightcap. I’m a fan of the vibe at Kells Irish Pub. They have plenty of drinks to choose from, including cocktails, Irish ales, and whiskeys, and they have a cigar room if you’re into that. If you go on a weekend, you might catch some live Irish or Celtic music and get to immerse yourself in the culture. 

Another good option is the Driftwood Room, a vintage speakeasy in the Hotel deLuxe. It’s a retro cocktail lounge known for their specialty Manhattans.

Pomegranate margarita from Dan & Louis in Portland, OR | How to spend a day in Portland | bonnibellechukwuneta.com
I forgot to take photos of my drinks from evenings out, so here’s my pomegranate margarita from Dan & Louis.

A day of Portland adventure: final thoughts

It might seem like 1 day isn’t enough time to make the most of a city, but Portland has incredible transportation and walkability that makes doing that incredibly easy. Couple it with some proactive planning so you have a general idea of what you want to do or see, and you can have an incredible experience in a short amount of time like I did.

A varied list of things to do, like what I put together, is a great way to get a unique slice of what makes Portland Portland. One thing I noticed about this Pacific Northwest city that’s different from others is how friendly everyone is. There are rumors about cold personalities in places like Seattle and San Francisco (even though it’s not really PNW). Portland is the complete opposite of all that. If anything, they’re incredibly warm, friendly, and helpful and it almost throws you off guard until you remember to reciprocate.

Portland is an incredible blend of bustling city life, vintage charm, and green, scenic spaces. Whether you’re savoring artisan coffee, exploring the trails, or taking in live music at a local pub or bar, the city has something for everyone, and it proves that even a single day’s journey can be rich with discovery and enjoyment.

So, whether you’re a fellow nomad or a curious traveler, consider this your invitation to explore, indulge, and connect with this beautiful city.

Pin it for later! 👇🏽

How to spend a day in Portland, OR | bonnibellechukwuneta.com

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