Heading to the northwest this year? Boy, do we have some fun times for you. If you’re in the vicinity, we highly recommend spending some time in the City of Roses. There are indeed plenty of delightful things to do in Portland, Oregon, but here are seven that we have particularly enjoyed. Bonus: Most are free and great for families.
Tour the Portland Art Museum
One of the northwest’s oldest museums, Portland Art Museum was founded in 1892 and has been wowing patrons ever since. Central to the museum’s mission is the nurturing of each artist’s freedom of expression, so you won’t see as much censorship here (which is why we love it). Exhibits run the gamut from more traditional styles and subjects — like northwest portraiture — to vivid sculptures and paintings that unabashedly depict the role of race in the United States. Upcoming spring exhibits include “Bury the Hatchet,” an audiovisual retelling of the American frontier narrative by artist John Hancock; a look at Mexican Modernism; and a mixed media exhibit by Ed Bereal that reveals some uncomfortable political truths. Grab a tour at your pleasure, or drop by for Art & Conversation on Third Tuesdays, which includes an informative lecture followed by coffee and chat.
Celebrate Easter Sunday at The Grotto
If you happen to be in town for Easter, consider the unique experience of celebrating the season at The Grotto. The setting alone is worth it: A church practically carved out of quarry rock, overgrown with crawling greens and surrounded by lush trees. We should note that you can visit even if you’re not interested in a service; general admission to the Upper Grotto Gardens is $8, though the rest of the property is free to visit when mass is not in session. Be sure to see the Chapel of Mary, the many shrines and statues, and the monastery — not to mention the verdant, peaceful gardens. (Fun fact: The land The Grotto sits on used to be railroad property, bought up by a visionary friar who saw it as the perfect spiritual oasis.)
“Window” Shop at the Portland Saturday Market
Established in 1974, the Portland Saturday Market is a showcase of about 250 arts and crafts vendors with wares stretching from homemade rock jewelry to beeswax food wraps. Our favorite part of a leisurely browse at the market is witnessing the creativity of each and every purveyor. I mean, who would think to paint faces on gourds and sell them as art? While they only have room for 250-some vendors, there are 350+ members, which means you’ll see some rotating in and out. (I.e. It’s worth going back to see what inventive new stuff you can find.)
Dig In to Design Week (April 18-25 only)
If you liked Portland Saturday Market, make an easy pivot to Design Week 2020 — featuring a whole host of open houses and independent events that reveal the creative genius of the city. You can attend film showings, take architectural tours, chat about business and leadership, or learn about branding your new craft beer. We’re eyeing the food styling photography course on April 21, but go your own way — if you can think it, it will likely be part of the lineup for this year’s Design Week. (Even better: Many of the events or tours are free; check the website for more details.)
Take a (Labyrinth) Walk at Trinity Episcopal
While creativity abounds in Portland, so do meditative practices — both religiously-oriented and agnostic. The labyrinth of Trinity Episcopal, for instance, welcomes people from all faiths and walks of life, with a pattern that mirrors the one built on the grounds of Chartres Cathedral in 1201 CE. Eleven circuits are enclosed in the circular maze, forcing amblers to find clear direction. Meditate as you walk, clear your mind completely, or recite a comforting poem. The choice (and the path) is yours.
Relish the Natural Calm of Lan Su Chinese Garden
The folks at the Lan Su Chinese Garden say it best: “The mission of [our garden] is to cultivate an oasis of tranquil beauty and harmony to inspire, engage, and educate our global community in the appreciation of a richly authentic Chinese culture.” The beautifully manicured Lan Su is the result of a sister city relationship with Suzhou, China; the city’s artisans came to Portland to build the garden, leaving Portlandians with a cultural oasis and an opportunity to “awaken” (the rough translation of the word “Su”) the senses. Guests can enjoy classic Chinese tea at the teahouse, catalog the hundreds of plant species onsite, or visit the garden shop where the perfect Chinese tea service or paper lantern is waiting for you.
Grab a Beer and a Breeze at Skyline Tavern Project
At the far corner of Portland, atop Tualatin Mountain, sits Skyline Tavern Project — a hub for good beer, laughter, and folksy music. Live music is a frequent feature in the evenings, though you could just as easily grab a Black Chili Dog in the early afternoon (along with a Candycap Mushroom Imperial Stout) and head to the back. Cozy into an Adirondack chair and relish the forested surrounds; it will feel like you’re in your own cabin in the woods — a nice refuge from more frenzied to-dos in the city.
This is only the beginning of the many things to do in Portland — both in spring and beyond. For more inspiration and to plan your own visit, check out travelportland.com.