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Top Things To Do In Portland In A Weekend


Modified: December 28, 2023

by Ianthe Heckman



Welcome to Portland, Oregon – a vibrant and eclectic city known for its unique blend of natural beauty, cultural attractions, and thriving food scene. Whether you’re a nature lover, a bookworm, a foodie, or an adventure seeker, Portland has something to offer everyone. With its stunning landscapes, hip neighborhoods, and rich history, this city has become a popular destination for travelers from around the world.


Located in the Pacific Northwest region of the United States, Portland is situated between the majestic Cascade Mountains and the breathtaking Oregon coastline. With its mild climate, abundant green spaces, and eco-friendly initiatives, Portland is often referred to as the “City of Roses” or the “Green City.” From exploring serene gardens to indulging in local delicacies, there are plenty of things to do and see in this dynamic city.


In this article, we will take you through the top things to do in Portland on a weekend getaway. Whether you have 48 hours or just a few days, we will help you make the most of your visit to the “Rose City.” From iconic landmarks to hidden gems, this comprehensive guide will ensure you have an unforgettable experience in Portland.


So, get ready to immerse yourself in the natural beauty, diverse culture, and laid-back vibe of Portland. Put on your walking shoes, grab a coffee from one of the local roasters, and let’s explore the top attractions and activities this city has to offer!


Explore the Portland Japanese Garden

Immerse yourself in tranquility and beauty at the Portland Japanese Garden, one of the most authentic Japanese gardens outside of Japan. Nestled in the scenic West Hills of Portland, this serene oasis spans over 12 acres and offers a peaceful escape from the hustle and bustle of city life. Here, you’ll find meticulously curated gardens, meticulously manicured plants, and traditional Japanese architecture.


As you step into the garden, you’ll be transported into a world of harmony and balance. Take a leisurely stroll through the peaceful pathways, lined with maples, cherry blossoms, and vibrant foliage, and admire the meticulously pruned hedges and bonsai trees. Every element in the garden is carefully placed to create a sense of harmony and beauty.


Marvel at the beautiful koi-filled ponds, bridges, and pagodas, which add to the tranquil ambiance of the garden. Explore the five distinct garden styles – Strolling Pond Garden, Natural Garden, Sand and Stone Garden, Flat Garden, and Tea Garden – each representing different aspects of Japanese aesthetics and philosophy. Take a moment to sit on one of the benches or find a peaceful spot to meditate and reflect.


For an even more immersive experience, consider participating in a traditional tea ceremony or attending one of the garden’s cultural events. The garden is also home to the Kashintei Tea House, where you can savor traditional Japanese matcha tea and sweets while enjoying the serene surroundings.


Whether you’re a nature enthusiast, a photography enthusiast, or simply seeking tranquility, a visit to the Portland Japanese Garden is a must-do. Explore the garden at your own pace, taking in the beauty and serenity that it offers. It’s the perfect place to unwind, recharge, and connect with nature.


Tip: The garden can get quite crowded, especially during weekends and peak tourist seasons. To avoid the crowds and have a more peaceful experience, consider visiting early in the morning or on a weekday.


Visit Powell’s City of Books

If you’re a book lover, Powell’s City of Books is a paradise you won’t want to miss. Located in the heart of downtown Portland, this iconic bookstore is not just any ordinary bookstore – it’s the largest independent bookstore in the world, spanning an impressive 68,000 square feet.


Prepare to get lost in a world of literature as you browse through the shelves of this literary wonderland. Powell’s City of Books houses over a million new and used books, covering every genre imaginable. Whether you’re on the hunt for a classic novel, a travel guide, or a rare first edition, you’ll likely find it here.


The bookstore is organized into nine color-coded rooms, each dedicated to a different genre, making it easy to navigate and explore. The staff at Powell’s is knowledgeable and passionate about books, and they are always willing to offer recommendations or engage in conversation about your favorite authors.


Take your time to peruse the shelves, smelling the intoxicating aroma of old books and discovering literary gems. You can also visit the Rare Book Room, which houses a collection of valuable and collectible books for those seeking something truly special.


After hours of browsing, take a break at one of the cozy reading nooks or grab a coffee at the in-store café. The expansive selection of books and the inviting atmosphere make Powell’s not just a bookstore, but a destination for book enthusiasts from near and far.


Don’t forget to pick up a Powell’s City of Books tote bag or bookmark as a memento of your visit. It’s a place where you can easily lose track of time and escape into the literary world.


Tip: If you’re visiting on a weekend, be prepared for crowds. Consider visiting during the weekdays for a quieter and more relaxed experience.


Discover the International Rose Test Garden

No visit to Portland would be complete without a trip to the International Rose Test Garden, where you can feast your eyes on thousands of blooming roses in a stunning setting. Located in Washington Park, this beautiful garden is renowned for its vast collection of roses and is a haven for flower enthusiasts and nature lovers alike.


Established in 1917, the International Rose Test Garden serves as a testing ground for new rose varieties. The garden boasts over 10,000 rose bushes, featuring more than 650 different varieties. From delicate hybrid teas to vibrant climbers and fragrant old-fashioned roses, there is a rose to captivate every visitor.


Take a leisurely stroll along the garden’s winding pathways and breathe in the sweet scent of the blossoms. Admire the meticulously maintained rose beds, bursting with color and intricate petal patterns. The garden is divided into several sections, each showcasing different types of roses, including miniature roses, grandifloras, floribundas, and shrub roses.


For those seeking a deeper understanding of roses, the garden offers educational displays, informative panels, and guided tours. Learn about the history of the garden and the art of rose cultivation. Be sure to visit the Shakespeare Garden, a charming section of the park featuring roses named after characters from the famous playwright’s plays.


Aside from the roses, the garden also offers breathtaking panoramic views of downtown Portland and the surrounding mountains. Find a spot to sit and relax while taking in the beauty of nature.


The peak blooming season for roses is from late spring to early summer, typically from May to July. However, you can still enjoy the garden’s beauty throughout the year, as the roses are carefully selected to bloom at different times.


Whether you’re a rose enthusiast, a photography enthusiast, or simply appreciate the beauty of nature, the International Rose Test Garden is an enchanting destination in Portland that will leave you mesmerized by the sheer beauty and fragrance of the roses.


Tip: Entry to the garden is free, but there may be a small fee for parking. It is advised to visit early in the day, especially on weekends, to avoid crowds and secure a parking spot.


Stroll through the Pearl District

Immerse yourself in Portland’s unique blend of art, culture, and urban charm by taking a leisurely stroll through the trendy Pearl District. Located in the northwest part of downtown Portland, this former industrial area has been transformed into a vibrant neighborhood known for its art galleries, boutiques, cafes, and upscale residences.


Start your exploration at Jamison Square, a charming urban park surrounded by stylish condominiums and trendy cafes. Admire the iconic “Umbrella Man” sculpture and relax by the fountain, where locals and visitors gather on sunny days. From there, wander through the tree-lined streets and take in the blend of historic warehouses and modern architecture.


The Pearl District is a haven for art lovers, with numerous galleries showcasing a wide range of contemporary and traditional art styles. Take the time to peruse the artwork and meet local artists at their studios. The First Thursday Art Walk, held on the first Thursday of each month, is a great opportunity to explore the vibrant art scene and enjoy live music and refreshments.


As you continue your stroll, stop by Powell’s City of Books, known as the largest independent bookstore in the world. Lose yourself among the towering shelves and discover new literary treasures.


The Pearl District is also known for its unique shopping experience. Explore the boutiques and specialty stores, offering a curated selection of clothing, accessories, home goods, and more. From high-end fashion to locally-made crafts, you’ll find a variety of treasures to bring home as souvenirs.


When hunger strikes, the Pearl District offers a wide range of dining options to satisfy any craving. From trendy gastropubs to cozy cafes and upscale restaurants, you’ll find a plethora of culinary delights. Indulge in farm-to-table cuisine, sample local craft beer, or enjoy a gourmet coffee accompanied by a delectable pastry.


As you explore, keep an eye out for public art installations and colorful murals that add pops of vibrancy to the neighborhood. The Pearl District is known for its commitment to public art and urban beautification.


Whether you’re an art enthusiast, a fashion lover, a foodie, or simply looking to soak up the trendy atmosphere, a leisurely stroll through the Pearl District is a must-do when visiting Portland.


Tip: Wear comfortable shoes, as you’ll want to spend plenty of time exploring the neighborhood on foot. Consider visiting during the day to fully appreciate the architecture and vibrant street life, or in the evening to experience the trendy nightlife.


Enjoy Food Carts and Local Cuisine

When it comes to culinary experiences, Portland has gained a well-deserved reputation as a food lover’s paradise. One of the best ways to indulge in the city’s diverse culinary scene is by visiting its famous food carts. Whether you’re on a budget or seeking unique flavors, the food carts in Portland offer a wide array of delicious options to satisfy every palate.


Head to places like the Alder Street Food Cart Pod or the Cartopia Food Cart Pod, where you’ll find a congregation of food carts offering a variety of cuisines. From Mexican tacos and Thai street food to gourmet grilled cheese sandwiches and vegan delights, there’s something to satisfy every craving.


Don’t be fooled by the humble exterior of these food carts – many of them serve up high-quality, gourmet dishes. Enjoy your meal at one of the communal outdoor seating areas or simply take your food to go and find a park or waterfront to have a picnic.


Portland is also known for its commitment to locally sourced, farm-to-table cuisine. The city’s vibrant food scene celebrates the abundance of fresh ingredients available in the region. Explore the neighborhood restaurants that showcase local flavors and ingredients while providing a unique twist.


For a taste of Portland’s renowned craft beer scene, visit one of the many breweries in the city. Sample a flight of locally brewed beers and get a glimpse into the innovative and creative brewing techniques that have made Portland a craft beer mecca.


Make sure to also try some of the city’s iconic dishes, such as Voodoo Doughnuts – known for their quirky and creative doughnut flavors – or indulge in a delectable scoop of artisanal ice cream from one of Portland’s artisan ice cream shops.


If you’re a coffee lover, Portland’s coffee culture will not disappoint. The city is dotted with trendy coffee shops, each with their own unique atmosphere and specialty brews. Savor a perfectly crafted espresso or enjoy a leisurely cup of pour-over coffee while immersing yourself in the laid-back and cozy ambiance.


Whether you’re a foodie or simply looking to tantalize your taste buds, Portland’s food carts, local cuisine, and culinary delights are sure to leave you with a satisfied palate and a memorable dining experience.


Tip: Take cash with you when visiting the food carts, as some may not accept credit cards. Be prepared to wait in line during peak hours, but rest assured, the delicious food is worth the wait.


Take a Scenic Drive along the Historic Columbia River Highway

If you’re looking to escape the city and immerse yourself in the breathtaking natural beauty of Oregon, a scenic drive along the Historic Columbia River Highway is an absolute must. This historic route, also known as the “King of Roads,” stretches for 75 miles and winds through the awe-inspiring Columbia River Gorge.


As you embark on this scenic journey, you’ll be treated to stunning vistas of towering cliffs, cascading waterfalls, lush forests, and the majestic Columbia River. The highway was designed to highlight the beauty of the landscape, with numerous viewpoints and pullouts for you to stop and take in the awe-inspiring views.


One of the highlights along the drive is Multnomah Falls, the tallest waterfall in Oregon and one of the most iconic natural landmarks in the state. Stop at the Multnomah Falls Lodge to grab a bite to eat or take a hike to the bridge for an up-close view of the cascading water. The mist from the falls creates a refreshing atmosphere, especially on warm days.


Continue your drive and discover other breathtaking waterfalls, such as Horsetail Falls and Wahkeena Falls, each with its own unique charm. Take some time to explore the hiking trails around these falls for an even more immersive experience in nature.


As you ascend higher into the Gorge, the landscape transitions into the dramatic cliffs and plateaus of the high desert. Don’t miss the Vista House at Crown Point, a historic observatory perched on a cliff overlooking the river. The panoramic views from here are simply enchanting and offer a glimpse into the geological wonders of the region.


For a unique experience, consider taking a detour to the Rowena Crest viewpoint, which provides a stunning overlook of the rolling hills and curving road below. This viewpoint offers a picturesque spot for photography and is particularly breathtaking during spring when the wildflowers are in bloom.


As you drive along this historic highway, you’ll have the opportunity to explore charming towns, such as Hood River, known for its vibrant downtown area and world-class windsurfing on the Columbia River. Stop by one of the local breweries or wineries to savor some of the region’s finest beverages.


Whether you’re a nature enthusiast, a photography enthusiast, or simply seeking a scenic getaway, a drive along the Historic Columbia River Highway is a feast for the senses. So, pack your camera, roll down the windows, and let the beauty of the Columbia River Gorge captivate you.


Tip: The drive along the Historic Columbia River Highway can be enjoyed in a single day, but for a more leisurely experience, consider spreading it out over two days and staying overnight in one of the charming towns along the route.


Visit the Oregon Museum of Science and Industry (OMSI)

For an engaging and educational experience in Portland, a visit to the Oregon Museum of Science and Industry (OMSI) is a must. Situated on the banks of the Willamette River, OMSI is a leading science center that offers a wide range of interactive exhibits and hands-on activities for visitors of all ages.


Step into the museum and prepare to embark on a journey of discovery and exploration. OMSI features numerous exhibits that cover a wide range of scientific disciplines, including physics, chemistry, biology, technology, and natural history.


One of the highlights of OMSI is the USS Blueback Submarine, which served in the United States Navy for over 30 years. Take a guided tour of the submarine and learn about the fascinating world of underwater exploration and naval history.


Explore the Earth Science Hall, where you can dig for fossils, learn about the formation of volcanoes, and even experience an earthquake simulation. The Chemistry Lab allows visitors to conduct their own experiments and learn about the wonders of chemical reactions.


The Science Playground is a favorite among younger visitors, featuring engaging exhibits and activities that promote learning through play. From water tables and build-your-own structures to a climbing wall and a giant bubble area, there’s no shortage of fun and educational experiences in this interactive space.


OMSI also houses a planetarium, where you can immerse yourself in the wonders of the universe and learn about astronomy through captivating shows and presentations. Sit back and gaze at the stars as you expand your knowledge of the cosmos.


In addition to the exhibits, OMSI offers a variety of special events, science camps, and workshops throughout the year. Check their calendar to see what’s happening during your visit and make the most of your time at the museum.


Before leaving, be sure to visit the Science Store, where you’ll find a wide selection of educational toys, books, and unique science-themed gifts to continue the learning experience at home.


OMSI’s mission is to inspire curiosity and ignite a passion for lifelong learning. With its engaging exhibits, interactive displays, and diverse range of scientific disciplines, OMSI provides a fun and educational experience for visitors of all ages.


Tip: OMSI can get busy, especially on weekends and during school holidays. Consider visiting during weekdays or in the afternoon for a less crowded experience.


Experience the Vibrant Nightlife in Downtown Portland

When the sun sets in Portland, the city comes alive with a vibrant and eclectic nightlife scene. Downtown Portland offers a plethora of entertainment options, from trendy bars and craft breweries to live music venues and bustling nightclubs.


If you’re a fan of craft beer, Portland is a beer lover’s paradise. The city boasts numerous breweries and brewpubs, each with its own unique selection of locally crafted beers. Take a brewery tour or simply hop from one brewery to another, sampling a variety of beer styles and immersing yourself in the city’s rich beer culture.


For music enthusiasts, downtown Portland is home to several iconic music venues that attract both local and international artists. From intimate jazz clubs to larger concert halls, you’ll find a diverse range of genres and performances to suit your musical tastes. Check the events calendar to see who’s playing and experience the vibrant live music scene in the city.


If you’re in the mood for a night of dancing and revelry, head to one of the downtown nightclubs that cater to a variety of musical preferences. From electronic and hip-hop to Latin beats and indie bands, there’s a club for every music lover. Dance the night away, mingle with locals and tourists alike, and enjoy the energetic atmosphere that Portland’s nightlife has to offer.


Looking for a more low-key evening? Downtown Portland is also home to cozy wine bars, speakeasies, and cocktail lounges where you can enjoy creative libations and expertly crafted cocktails. Sip on handcrafted cocktails made with locally sourced ingredients, or indulge in a glass of Oregon’s renowned Pinot Noir while soaking in the sophisticated ambiance.


The downtown area also offers a diverse culinary scene, with a wide range of restaurants and eateries serving up delicious food late into the night. Whether you’re in the mood for delectable street food, international cuisine, or upscale dining, you’ll find plenty of options to satisfy your cravings.


As you explore the downtown nightlife, take some time to wander through the city streets and admire the vibrant lights, colorful signage, and lively atmosphere that fills the night. Portland’s downtown area has a unique charm that is best experienced after the sun goes down.


Tip: When experiencing the nightlife in downtown Portland, be sure to plan your transportation in advance. The city offers public transportation options, such as buses and light rail, as well as ride-sharing services, to ensure you can navigate the city safely.


Explore the Oregon Zoo

Located in Washington Park, the Oregon Zoo is a must-visit destination for animal lovers of all ages. With its extensive collection of wildlife and commitment to conservation, the zoo offers a unique opportunity to learn about and connect with a diverse range of species from around the world.


Spanning 64 acres, the Oregon Zoo is home to over 2,000 animals representing more than 230 species. As you wander through the zoo, you’ll encounter a variety of exhibits and habitats meticulously designed to recreate the natural environments of the animals.


From majestic elephants and playful penguins to big cats, primates, and a vibrant array of birds, the Oregon Zoo showcases a wide range of animals from different continents and ecosystems. Spend time observing the animals in their habitats, learning about their behaviors, and gaining a deeper understanding of their conservation needs.


One of the highlights of the zoo is the impressive Elephant Lands exhibit, which provides a spacious and enriching environment for the zoo’s Asian elephants. Watch these gentle giants as they engage in natural behaviors and learn about the zoo’s efforts to protect and conserve this endangered species.


For a glimpse into the underwater world, visit the zoo’s award-winning Steller Cove, home to Steller sea lions and harbor seals. Watch as these magnificent creatures swim and play in a habitat that mimics their natural coastal environments.


The Oregon Zoo is not only focused on providing an enjoyable experience for visitors but also on educating the public about the importance of conservation. Through interactive exhibits and informative presentations, the zoo works to raise awareness about endangered species, habitat preservation, and wildlife conservation efforts.


In addition to the animal exhibits, the zoo offers various educational programs, animal encounters, and behind-the-scenes tours to enhance your visit. From feeding experiences to up-close encounters with some of the zoo’s resident animals, these programs provide a unique and memorable opportunity to connect with wildlife.


When you need a break from exploring, the zoo offers an array of dining options, including outdoor picnic areas and multiple onsite restaurants. Enjoy a leisurely meal amidst the lush surroundings and recharge before continuing your zoo adventure.


Whether you’re visiting with family, friends, or on your own, the Oregon Zoo provides an enriching and entertaining experience that highlights the beauty and diversity of the animal kingdom. Plan your visit and get ready to embark on a captivating journey of discovery.


Tip: To make the most of your visit, check the zoo’s website for daily activities, feeding times, and any special events or exhibits happening during your visit.


Relax in Washington Park

When it’s time to escape the hustle and bustle of the city and immerse yourself in nature, head to Washington Park. Located just west of downtown Portland, this expansive urban park is a green oasis offering a tranquil retreat from the urban environment.


Spanning over 400 acres, Washington Park is a haven for nature enthusiasts, outdoor adventurers, and those seeking a peaceful respite. With its lush forests, manicured gardens, hiking trails, and recreational facilities, there are endless opportunities to relax and enjoy the beauty of the park.


One of the highlights of Washington Park is the breathtaking International Rose Test Garden, which we mentioned earlier. Take a stroll through the colorful garden, breathe in the sweet fragrance of the roses, and find a quiet spot to unwind amidst the vibrant blooms.


For those looking to stretch their legs, the park offers a network of hiking trails that wind through the dense forest. Lace up your hiking shoes and explore the Hoyt Arboretum, where you’ll find over 2,000 species of trees and plants from around the world. Enjoy a peaceful hike amidst towering evergreens, listen to the songs of birds, and immerse yourself in the serenity of nature.


Washington Park is also home to the Portland Japanese Garden, which we explored earlier. Take the time to find inner peace and harmony in this tranquil oasis. Meander through the Zen garden, find a quiet spot to meditate, or simply relax and reflect in the beauty of the carefully curated landscapes.


If you’re visiting with family, the park offers several family-friendly attractions, including the Oregon Zoo and a large playground area. Children can let their imagination run wild as they climb on the playground structures or observe the fascinating animals at the zoo.


When hunger strikes, Washington Park has a variety of picnic areas where you can enjoy a leisurely outdoor meal amidst the natural surroundings. Bring your own picnic or grab a bite to eat from one of the nearby food vendors.


Whether you’re seeking tranquility, a nature-filled adventure, or a family outing, Washington Park provides a serene and captivating environment that caters to all. Plan a visit to this urban oasis and rejuvenate your mind, body, and soul amidst the beauty of nature.


Tip: Consider bringing a blanket, sunscreen, and insect repellent when visiting Washington Park. Also, check the park’s website for any special events or seasonal activities happening during your visit.



Portland, Oregon is a city that seamlessly blends natural beauty, cultural attractions, and a thriving food scene, making it a destination that offers something for everyone. From exploring serene gardens and visiting iconic landmarks to indulging in local cuisine and immersing yourself in the vibrant nightlife, a weekend getaway in Portland is sure to be filled with unforgettable experiences.


Start your journey by wandering through the serene paths of the Portland Japanese Garden, where you can find tranquility amidst meticulously manicured landscapes. Continue your exploration by delving into the literary paradise of Powell’s City of Books, where you can discover hidden literary gems and lose yourself in the world of literature.


Take in the beauty of nature at the International Rose Test Garden and marvel at the vibrant colors and fragrances of thousands of roses. Stroll through the trendy Pearl District, where you can immerse yourself in art, culture, and diverse shopping experiences.


Indulge your taste buds through a visit to Portland’s famous food carts, where you can savor a wide range of cuisines in a casual and vibrant setting. Embark on a scenic drive along the Historic Columbia River Highway, and witness the awe-inspiring beauty of waterfalls, cliffs, and the majestic Columbia River.


Immerse yourself in the world of science and discovery at the Oregon Museum of Science and Industry (OMSI), where interactive exhibits and educational programs will spark your curiosity. Finally, relax in the peaceful surroundings of Washington Park, where you can reconnect with nature and find moments of tranquility.


Whether you have limited time or a few days to explore all that Portland has to offer, this comprehensive guide will ensure that you make the most of your visit. From iconic landmarks and vibrant neighborhoods to culinary delights and natural wonders, the experiences and memories you create in Portland will surely last a lifetime.


So, lace up your shoes, grab your camera, and be prepared to be captivated by the beauty, culture, and charm of the “Rose City” – Portland, Oregon.