What Should I Do in Portland, Oregon?

I’m going to be attending the March Meeting of the American Physical Society next week, in Portland, OR. This will be held at the Oregon Convention Center, which is apparently on the opposite side of the river from every hotel in the city.

I have never been to Portland (or, indeed, anything in the Pacific Northwest) before, so I have no idea what there is to do there. I’m sure that at least some of my readers have been there or are from there, though, so here’s your chance to clue me in: What essential Portland activities/ eateries/ whatever should I make sure not to miss while I’m there?

I am mostly interested in food/ bar type activities in the downtown area, as I’ll be at the meeting most of the day, so will really only be free to do stuff at lunch and dinner. I haven’t yet gone through the incredibly intimidating program book to see what, exactly, is on offer, so there’s a slight chance I’ll do some walking around in the city during the day, but not much.

35 thoughts on “What Should I Do in Portland, Oregon?

  1. Deschutes Brewery & Public House
    210 NW 11th Avenue
    Portland, OR 97209 and

    Powell’s City of Books
    1005 W Burnside
    Portland, OR 97209 USA

    I am sooooo jealous!

  2. I’ve never been to that Portland either, but I know that one of the country’s best-known independent bookstores, Powell’s, is there.

    Is is too late to arrange a book publicity event there?

  3. The convention center is pretty annoyingly located. I’ve stayed at Ace Hotel which is fun and fairly cheap. The platform beds (no real frames) might be annoying for some people, but I like that kind of thing. I’ve also stayed at the Hotel Vintage Plaza which is quite nice (and more $). The McMenamin’s Kennedy School is amazing but probably too far from the action to stay there, unless you’re renting a car anyway.

    Powell’s for sure; it’s easily worth a visit. I mean, it’s just a book store, except that it’s kind of a platonic ideal of a book store. It’s kind of a must-do.

    Voodoo Donut is worth a morning visit, and you might be up early due to time zone shift.

    I really enjoyed Clyde Common for dinner, though it’s pricey. I didn’t hit Deschutes, but I’m a big fan of Rogue Ales and their pub is quite enjoyable. There’s lots of good food around and I think you’ll have no trouble finding good things to eat.

    If you’re looking for a nice relaxing walk on a sunny day, I’d recommend the Portland Japanese Garden, but that might be a bit time-consuming for a convention trip.

    It’s a great town, and I’m jealous too!

  4. Otto’s Sausage Kitchen, just up the road from Reed College. Get “The Californian”.

    Get a Reuben at the “Goose Hollow Inn”, last stop heading West before the light rail (the max) goes under the west hills.

    If it’s nice out, you can take the max one stop past the Goose Hollow stop and it’ll put you 600 ft underground in Washington Park, you can take an elevator up and walk around a beautiful hilltop park with views of the city/Cascades.

    Ride the downtown streetcar, it’s free in most areas, just for a quick tour.

    Powells for sure.

    Go to a “McMenamins”, a family group of entertainment venue owners that tend to acquire and refit classic old buildings for bars/theatres/pubs/spas/etc. In particular, catch a flick at The Baghdad on Hawthorne St, it’s only a few bucks for a late run show, good pizza, and good beer in the theatre. Similar experience to be at at The Kennedy School, a converted elementary school with themed bars (“the detention bar”) and the bathrooms are 6 yr old sized. There’s a pool/hot tub too. You could even stay there, it’s on the proper side of the river, although a bit farther out.

    There’s river walks on both sides of the river that can be nice on a good day, good for a walk or a jog.

    Ride a bike: PDX is one of the best cities in the country for riding a bike. The Hawthorne Bridge has enormous bike lanes, Clinton St. in SE is a ‘bike boulevard’, you can take your bike on The Max, etc. It’d be a wonderful way to discover the city.


  5. Also, Saburo’s sushi in SW near Bybee and Milwaukee is the best sushi in town. The line to get in starts an hour before they open, and it’s worth it.

  6. There’s great food and classic cocktails at the Everett Street Bistro (1140 NW Everett St). I second the recommendation for Powell’s, but you may enjoy Powell’s Technical even more.

  7. What mdiehl said, with the caveat that Deschutes is a place you go for the great beer, not the merely decent food.

    Powells is amazing, and was probably miraculous in the pre Amazon era.

  8. Mike and I were there for about 18 hours and did pretty much exactly what your commenter 1 suggests and it was great. Deschutes was a little loud for my taste but it felt like that was what we were supposed to do and the beer was excellent.

    Please do Yelp the downtown area of Portland and marvel along with us at the 95% of restaurant reviews that base the stars on that restaurant’s implementation of “happy hour.”

  9. I believe I mentioned Powells when you first talked about the trip. I don’t do beer so I can’t make a good recommendation there but I know there are lots of good brewpubs so you shouldn’t have a problem. I wish it weren’t that week. I’m leaving town that Wed. for 3 weeks, so I can’t really come down though it’s only a 3 hr drive.

  10. Actually the convention center is not that badly located, every light-rail route goes and stops right by it. All go right through downtown, the red and blue lines go east-west, the yellow and green lines go through downtown north-south.

    It would be nice (though doubtful) that
    TriMet, the regional transit authority had a rep at the meeting. If you take the number 6 bus south from the convention center and get off at the stop nearest to Hawthorne Blvd (ask driver, they are generally quite nice) and it is about a four block walk to the east to the Lucky Lab brew pub. There are two McMenamins further east on Hawthorne (16th and 37th I believe), the are a number of McMenamins within a couple of blocks of Powells.

    As far as eats and not knowing dietary requirements here is a good rundown for lunch, weekend eats:
    Not much into the dinner places in town (not much into that scene anymore) so can’t recommend anything there.

  11. A weather aside, the weather is crazy this time of year (till about the forth of July) and and good Gore-Tex parka and Gore-Tex lined shoes are highly recommended. It was almost 70 here Saturday and had snow on the windshield this morning.

    Portland is a casual town, there have been some very, very good restaurants that have gone out of business here because they instituted a dress code.

  12. Mississipi Rd. (APS’s side of the river) has great and cheap food selection and a few great microbrews (Amnesia, to name one). Root Organic Brews was the best I tried (but there are so many) and has also great burgers.

    We physicists will be fine this year in Portland….

  13. Definitely hit up the Widmer Brewery- there are many others. If you want something harder, there is also the clear creek distillery, where they make european style eau de vie. The Rose test garden is nice but it’s probably not the right time of year for that. If you have time and a car, the Tillamook cheese factory is ~1.5 hr away and the drive is beautiful.

  14. Definitely do Powells. But, be aware that there is a technical bookstore that’s separate from the main bookstore. So, be sure to visit that one, too.


  15. Yes, visit Powell’s technical bookstore that’s a block east from the main store, as well as the main store.

    McMenamin’s and the Lucky Lab both have sub-par beer and food, though McMenamin’s gets mega-kudos for their purchasing local landmarks and turning them into very attractive spaces. The McMenamin brothers were largely responsible for getting Oregon law changed so that brewers can sell their product on location (post-prohibition laws prevented this due to lobbying by the big brewers), and the change in Oregon law is what led to the microbrew movement that’s swept much of country, so a visit to one of their 20+ pubs is worthwhile just for that.

    Light rail from the convention center to downtown hotels within Fareless Square is free and very convenient.

    I agree with a lot of the recommendations above. If the weather’s decent, and you can rent a car and spare a free day, and like the outdoors, you must go up the gorge. Stark Street east takes you to the Sandy River, and through a deep cut in the Troutdale Formation, aggregate from the Missoula Flood (google it if you don’t know it), and then out through the gorge, which not only is spectacular in its own right with lots of good hiking, but bears scour marks from the floods 1000 feet or more above the river if you know where to look.

  16. Hiroshi has fantastic sushi and is located in The Pearl on Lovejoy.

    I really don’t like voodoo donuts. I know it’s a thing and everyone says you have to try it, but meh. Their donuts are average and covered in things I don’t generally like or that I don’t like sweet (bacon). But people who like it, really like it, so YMMV.

    Fenouil is a little hoity toity but has an amazing burger and fries and sometimes they have live music in the evening.

    The Livingroom Theater and Wilfs are both good places to get a cocktail and listen to live music on the weekends. Jimmy Maks has music all nights they are open but tends to have a higher cover and it gets crowded fast.

    Dantes on Sundays has an “amateurs’ night” where aspiring fire eaters, sword swallower and exotic dancers perform.

    Embers has a great burlesque (mostly drag) in one room and 80s music, dancing in the other. It’s cash only.

    Gilt club has some amazing martinis/mixed drinks all made with their own infused vodkas. They also have excellent munchies.

    Vault is another good martini bar

    El Gaucho has a cigar bar and a high end steak house (their carpaccio will blow you away)

    If you can get a seat, the view at The Portland City Grill is lovely and their happy hour is a pretty good deal.

    If you like salsa dancing or watching salsa dancing, Mambo Lounge and Aztek Willy’s are both great on saturday. The former has live music and quite a bit of seating especially if you get there earlier in the night.

  17. I second the votes on Deschutes Brewery, Rogue, and Powells Book Store. Also, I would highly recommend happy hour at Portland City Grill. Good drinks, good food, and great views of the city.
    Portland City Grill
    111 SW 5th Ave. 30th Floor
    Portland, OR 97204

  18. I don’t recall what your relationship with coffee is, but one of the things I’m most looking forward to at APS in Portland is going to Stumptown Coffee. Stumptown has been one of the leaders in the post-Starbucks obsession with coffee quality, a sentiment that’s only trickling out where I live (DC). I’d like to get to some of the other super-good cafes, like Albina Press, as well, but I’ll be mostly there for the conference, of course, and won’t have too much time to get away from the hotel/conference areas.

  19. Yeah. Go to all those places, but especially Powell’s. Sure it’s just another huge bookstore with lots of everything, but you can still spend a day there. It’s also fun to just ride the train and look at the scenery. Cheap too!

  20. Unfortunately, though i live there, I’ve got nothing to contribute but Powell’s and Voodoo. WAIT WAIT: Everyday Music on W Burnside. Another thing you might do is check out one of the McMenamin’s pubs. I would recommend a visit to University of Portland’s physics department (I am biased in that direction) but anyone you want to see from there, you’ll probably be seeing at that event already. Beautiful campus anyway.

  21. Andina is a great Restaurant in NW Portland – Menu has wonderful variety, food is fantastic and served by a friendly and knowledgeable staff. Bar in evenings usually has live acoustic music.

    Good burgers (and other food) and beer at the Rogue Ale Brewery at 1339 Northwest Flanders Street.

    And, of course, Powell’s, which is open until 11PM.

  22. So far, all great suggestions.

    Hate to repeat Deschutes Brewpub but they make my favorite beers there. Bridgeport Brewpub, also in the Pearl district, is where the microbrew revolution in Oregon began, and makes a great IPA.

    For cocktails, Clyde Common’s bar is run by one of the best bartenders in the country, Jeff Morgenthaler. The drink specials are constantly rotated and never disappoint. Also check out Teardrop Lounge. They are known for making their own mixers and bitters. At times, they have even done a smoke-infused ice which was awesome.

    For food, Portland has been getting national attention for our food carts. There are three “pods” downtown – http://www.foodcartsportland.com/ has the scoop on all of them.

  23. Lots of great suggestions. If you want to plan out a pub crawl, look up the Portland Beer mapping project. As several have said, Portland is Beervana. Since you’ll be at the convention center, you should visit Upright Brewing’s tasting room (in the Left Bank building, across the street from the Rose Garden on Broadway). A bit further away is Amnesia – on Mississippi Ave., which is full of great little places to grab some food (and beer).

    Powell’s – you must go there.

    Japanese garden – beautiful, especially in the spring.

    If the weather’s nice, walk along the Willamette.

    Enjoy the meeting!

  24. I’ll also be there and copying the recommendations. 🙂

    I have a AAA travel book for WA/OR, if anyone wants a gander.

    (also, FYI, I quote
    “Not Found

    The requested URL /javascript-is-required-to-comment/ was not found on this server.
    Apache/2.2.3 (Red Hat) Server at scienceblogs.com Port 80”)

  25. A)Deschutes is good, Rogue is my favorite. Henry’s pub is a nice pub with about 100 beers on selection. The food is ok, the beer is great.

    B) I believe mt hood still has skiing/snowboarding. The conditions there are usually awesome.

    C)oh yeah, if you drive for an hour or so mt st helens is pretty. I don’t know if the roads are open though, sometimes they close but it’s been a really weak winter.

  26. I’m sitting in S.E. Portland, wishing I was on a bit of a pub crawl myself right now…As previous readers have noted Deschutes, Vodoo & Powells and a happy hour up in “Big Pink” at Portland City Grill (PCG) is a must do. However, no one has recommended what to drink. Portland is beer mecca indeed! My local favorites are:

    Deutsches Black Butte Porter
    Full Sail Lager Number 1 (Seasonal Brew)

    Ninkasi Total Domination IPA
    Terminal Graveity IPA (TGIPA)
    Bridgeport IPA
    Rouge Dead Guy Ale

    West coasters love their hops! Enjoy the trip and please don’t leave thirsty 🙂

  27. Powell’s technical FTW. I can spend way too much time/money/timeandmoney there. Big Powell’s is nice too, but nerdpowells is where it’s at.

    Mount Tabor is several shades of gorgeous if parks are your thing.

    The view from the OHSU tram is pretty cool. Protip: it costs to ride up, but the ride down is free, & is the same view. (Don’t judge. I found out on accident).

    Eat at a food cart. You just haven’t been to Portland otherwise. I like The Whole Bowl, personally (www.thewholebowl.com), but there are about a billion choices for any sort of food.

    You also haven’t been here until you’ve been in a picture with Umbrella Man in Pioneer Square.

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