As I’m moving out of Portland I’m really starting to fall in love with the City. It’s incredibly green all year, it has great public transportation, it is full of kind (and a bit weird) people, and it is foodie heaven. It’s a bummer I spent so much of last summer laid up at my place due to injury. I’m realizing that I’ve only begun to scratch the surface of the biggest small town in the U.S. It’s a great spot for the frugal and I wanted to take a moment to create an homage to Portland by sharing my favorite (inexpensive) things to do in and around Portland.
If you’re wondering what you should do next time you visit Portland, OR, I don’t think you can go wrong with any of the options laid out below.
#1: Frisbee Golf
I love Frisbee golf for many reasons. The time spent in Nature, the competition with friends, the satisfaction of a good drive or a long putt, and most of all, the inexpensive nature of the sport. Some courses are free, which means you can a round in for the low cost of getting yourself to the course. I’ve played up and down California but I’d say some of the courses around Portland are the nicest I’ve seen. I’d recommend LL Stub Stewart State Park, Horning’s Nest, and Buxton. Buxton is interesting – it’s privately held land, which the owner has converted into a full-length 19-hole course complete with concrete tee boxes and picnic tables at each tee. When you’re done with your round, you walk up to the owner’s ranch-style house, ring a bell, and hand over the hefty sum of $3. You’ll need a car to get to the courses I’ve listed as they are about 30 miles West of the City. For a great option within the city limits try Pier Park in North Portland.
#2: The Japanese Garden
Incredibly manicured Japanese-style garden complete with bonsai trees, rock gardens, and Koi ponds. The Japanese Garden is walkable from the Pearl District, and if you walk up from the Western end of Burnside, it will take you through Washington Park and the Rose Garden, both of which are free. Any time of year is good to go as the garden is always changing. $9 entrance fee.
#3: The Columbia River Gorge
The Colombia River Gorge stretches East of Portland along Highway 84 all the way to Hood River. Some of the trails along this stretch of highway include: Eagle Creek, Punchbowl Falls, Multnomah Falls, Dog Mountain, Oneonta Gorge and Angel’s Rest. Rent a car and make the drive! This is one of the most spectacular and most accessible places on Earth. The length and difficulty of these hikes is varied enough to accommodate beginners and experts alike.
#4: The Float Scene
I’m not talking about strapping a cooler to an inner tube, creating a platform for your home stereo system, getting a sunburn, and wondering how you’re going to make it back to town after a 12 pack on the river. I’m talking about the incredibly relaxing experience of laying in a sensory deprivation tank for an hour and a half. Your body is constantly sending a stream of sensory information to your brain – sights, sounds, smells as well as kinesthetic feedback. Give yourself the gift of shutting off that information stream and your brain will reward you for days afterwards with mild euphoria. I recommend “Float On” on the East Side or “The Float Shoppe” in the Northwest. Pro-tips: Check Groupon; don’t shave the morning of your float (it burns!); and don’t go in the tank hungry (it’s distracting). I also hear that if you volunteer for a few hours cleaning the tanks they will gift you a free float.
#5: Eat and Drink
Food options are endless and delicious in Portland. Also, every friend that has ever visited has looked at the restaurant bill in disbelief. Inexpensive prices and the lack of sales tax mean the prices for food and drink are 50-75% of what they are in most major cities. Some personal favorites include Tasty and Sons, Toro Bravo, Tin Shed (for brunch), and Pok Pok. Pro-tip: Pok Pok is super busy and does not take reservations, so plan to get there about an hour before you want to eat and spend that hour sipping cocktails across the street at The Whiskey Soda Lounge, where you can order the same delicious Thai Wing appetizer that they serve at Pok Pok.
I don’t recommend buying things, however, if you must buy things you might as well do it without paying the government for the privilege. Oregon is one of the few states without sales tax (others include Delaware, Montana and New Hampshire). Also, there is an actual brick and mortar Icebreaker store in town where you can try on their stuff to your heart’s content. If you didn’t already know, I’m a huge fan of wool clothing so it was a nice surprise to see this store in town.
#7: Take a Walk in Forest Park
Want to get a taste of the forest without straying too far from the City? Check out Forest Park, located in the Tualatin Mountains just west of downtown Portland. The park contains 70 miles of trails and links up with Pittock Mansion, which offers great hillside views of Portland. By the way, I’ve done the Pittock Mansion tour and I found it underwhelming. I recommend enjoying Pittock Mansion from the outside and checking out the views of Portland from the backyard, for free. If you’re particularly interested in the interior, there is a virtual tour online here.
Is there anything I missed that you think should be included in this list? I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments below.