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How to Spend One Day in Portland: A Local’s Guide

A peek behind the curtain: sitting down to write this guide was hard! We live in Portland, and had a long list of things we wanted to make sure to include to make sure you see the best that the city has to offer.

How can we possibly fit everything we love about Portland into one (achievable) day in the city? It might seem easy to do, given the biggest tourist attraction in Portland might actually be a novelty donut shop (that is overrated, if we’re being honest). 

The truth is, you won’t be able to fit it all in. But with a day, you can get a taste for those things, and save going deeper for your return trip. 

In this guide to spending one day in Portland, we’re going to give you our version of the perfect way to explore the city in 24 hours based on our own personal experiences both as visitors (we made more than seven trips to Portland in seven years) and now as residents (we moved here a few years ago after half a decade of putting it off for one reason or another). 

Over the course of the day we’ve designed, you’ll get a taste of all three things that we love about Portland.

The outdoor activities and green spaces, the criminally underrated food and drink scene, and the charming neighborhoods on the east side of the river that each have their own unique vibe and selection of local small businesses to shop, eat, and drink at. 

Oh, and Powell’s Books. How could we forget Powell’s, the best bookstore on the planet?

In this guide, we’re going to take you through exactly how we would spend one day in Portland – an itinerary that we’ve pressure-tested with all sorts of visitors over our time living here – so that you can plan an unforgettable trip (and plan your return trip ASAP).

Sound good to you? Let’s get into it! 

Disclaimer: Some of the links in this post, like hotel links, are affiliate links, meaning at no additional cost to you, we make a little bit of money if you click through and book. That being said, we would never recommend something to you that we don’t stand behind 100%.

What Can You See with One Day?

Is one day enough to see everything that Portland has to offer? In short, no, definitely not.

There’s a ton to do and see in Portland, especially when you start to include the areas within an hour or so of the city center like Hood River, the Columbia River Gorge, and Silver Falls State Park.

Those are all excellent day trips from Portland that we’d recommend if you have more time to experience the sheer natural beauty that Oregon has to offer. 

But, if you’re here reading this, then chances are you’ve only got one day. And you can certainly see some of the highlights of Portland in a day, which is exactly what we’re going to help you do below. 

With a day, we think you have enough time to tackle a short morning hike to experience some of Portland’s amazing urban green spaces, explore downtown Portland, and head over to the east side of the Willamette River for the afternoon and evening to explore Portland’s diverse food scene. 

Tips for Visiting Portland 

Before we jump in, let’s cover a few quick tips for planning a trip to Portland. 

Bring a Rain Jacket Everywhere. At least outside of the summer months. It might not seem like it won’t be raining later in the day, but it very well might start without much warning. It doesn’t usually rain that hard in the Northwest. It’s usually more like a light mist rather than a torrential downpour, which means a rain jacket is more than enough to keep you dry. I personally have and recommend the Columbia Watertight Jacket as a solid affordable rain jacket that’ll cost you less than $100, and keep you 100% dry (click here to see the version for women). Oh, And never, ever trust the weather app. The one thing you can always count on is that they don’t have a clue what the weather will actually be. 

West of the River is Walkable. East of the River is Not. The Downtown Core (Downtown, the Pearl, Northwest Portland) is walkable but to get to neighborhoods outside of that area like the ones on the east side of the river, you’ll probably need to use rideshare apps like Lyft. 

You Don’t Need to Rent a Car in Portland. In fact, we’d recommend against it, especially if you have only a day in the city. But if you already have one, a car can be handy. Parking is either expensive or a nightmare, but having a car will make it a little easier to get between places below. Make sure to have the Parking Kitty app downloaded – it’s the city of Portland’s official parking app, and it makes parking in Portland much, much easier. The other thing to know is that you need to make sure you don’t have anything visible in the car. Which, to be honest, is a good tip for visiting basically any city in the US. While the levels of violent crime in Portland are low, property crime is a different story. Cars get broken into fairly often, and we can’t stress enough that you need to take everything out of your car when you park it. 

There is a visible homeless population in Portland. I want to take a second to talk about the visible homeless population in the city.

The first thing I want to say is that it is not nearly as bad as has been reported on various media outlets around the country.

For whatever reason, there’s an obsession with saying that Portland is “burning” or “dying” or “on fire”.

When I tell just about anyone I live in Portland, that’s generally the first thing they mention. It’s weird.

I’d like to put that idea to bed.

Portland is not burning. On fire. Dying. It is a lovely city, with a bunch of things that make it special.

However, it is also experiencing a set of problems that just about every major city on the west coast is experiencing driven by a skyrocketing cost of living and exploding population.

On your trip, you will likely see signs of the housing crisis in Portland and the relatively large unhoused population that Portland is currently grappling with.

And, to be frank, so are all of the other major cities on the west coast (and, to some extent, the entire country). And, frankly, I don’t know what the solution is. More than anything, it’s tragic.

If you’re not used to seeing the unhoused population on the street, please do your best to remember that they are people. Just like you. They aren’t an eyesore, or something that is “ruining our city” – which is something I hear far too often.

They are experiencing trauma brought on by a government – local and federal – that has completely and utterly failed them, and they are largely harmless to tourists.

If that makes you uncomfortable, I’d suggest avoiding the area around Old Town / Chinatown on the north end of Downtown.

Exactly How to Spend One Day in Portland, Oregon: A Complete Guide

In this guide, we’re going to give you our perspective on the best way to spend a day in our city. 

Is this the only way to spend your day? No, there are an endless number of alternatives.

You could spend all day relaxing at various cozy coffee shops in Portland, you could go brewery-hopping, or you could spend literally all day browsing the shelves at Powell’s Books buying way too many books to fit in your carry on for your flight home. 

With only a day, you’re probably not going to be able to dive super deep into any one facet of Portland. This guide is meant to give you a taste of all of those things in one action-packed day. 

Over the course of the day, you’ll make your way from west to east, starting in the hills above downtown, exploring downtown Portland, and then crossing the river and exploring the more residential (and also more charming, we think) neighborhoods on the other side of the Willamette River. 

Start Off with a Morning Hike (2 Options)

One of our favorite things about the city is the fact that there are a pretty wide variety of hiking trails in Portland. Yeah, inside the city limits. 

In places like San Francisco and Seattle, most of the “hikes” inside the city are really more like urban walks. But in Portland, you can do a full-on hike without getting in a car and leaving the city. Which is awesome. 

We have two great options for you – both would be a perfect start to the day before you eat and drink your way through the rest of the city.  

Option 1: Hoyt Arboretum + Rose Garden

First is a hike through Washington Park, which is perched on top of the hill overlooking the city, to the Hoyt Arboretum and the International Rose Test Garden.

Start at the Hoyt Arboretum, which is a large arboretum tucked away inside the borders of even larger Washington Park. Here’s a good trail map that you can save for later.

We like doing a loop that combines the Fir Trail, the Redwood Trail, and the Overlook Trail. Don’t miss the picturesque Redwood Observation Deck, the Overlook Trail, and the Magnolias

From there, make your way east along the Wildwood Trail to the International Rose Test Garden. You can catch the Wildwood Trail from the northeastern corner of the Arboretum (here on Google Maps) and it’s a short walk past the Japanese Garden to the Rose Garden. 

The International Rose Test Garden is home to a wide variety of roses of all shapes, sizes, and colors. They come into bloom in the spring, and stay through the early summer. The best part? It’s free! And there’s a fantastic view of Mount Hood – at least on a clear day. 

The Portland Japanese Garden is across the street, and is also a nice visit. It’s not free, and given the choice, we’re choosing the roses. However, in spring and fall the Japanese Garden may win, when it bursts with cherry blossoms and fall foliage. More information on the Japanese Garden here

Getting to the Trailhead: If you don’t have a car, the best way to get to and from this hike is via rideshare (we like Lyft more than Uber, because Lyft feels significantly more friendly and less shady to us). Start from this parking lot, tackle the loop clockwise, and catch the trail to the Rose Garden from the end of the hike. From there, catch another ride into downtown Portland. You could also take the MAX Line to Washington Park MAX Station (here on Google Maps), which adds a bit of a walk to get to Hoyt Arboretum, but is cheaper. 

Option 2: The Lower Macleay Trail to Pittock Mansion

Your second option is to hike through the corner of Forest Park – one of the most picturesque parks in Portland – up to Pittock Mansion, a mansion built by one of Portland’s early moguls who played a huge role in shaping the modern city that you see today.

Here’s a guide to the hike to Pittock Mansion

For his trouble, he got a mansion with what might be the best view of the Portland skyline in the entire city. Tough life. 

We actually wouldn’t recommend going inside the mansion (ticket info here) if you’re short on time, but the hike through the forest is lovely, following a babbling creek, passing the infamous Witch’s Castle (which is really just an abandoned park service building), and climbing through a ferny forest to an incredible view of Portland. 

We recommend doing this hike one way if you don’t have a car, which makes it a 2.5 mile hike that is almost entirely uphill, climbing about 800 feet over that time.

If you have a car, it’s an easy downhill walk back to the trailhead from the top, making it just about a five mile hike.

It’s a moderate hike, but you can shorten it by starting from the small upper parking lot (here on Google Maps) instead, which cuts the distance to just a mile one way, with around 400 feet of elevation gain. 

Or, you could also take a Lyft up to the Mansion, check out the view, and then walk back downhill to the park. We chose to include the uphill version because we like to be rewarded with the view after earning it with a hike, but you might feel differently!

As if that wasn’t enough options for you to choose from, you could also do a slightly different hike that combines the Hoyt Arboretum and Pittock Mansion (here’s the route you’d take). 

Getting To the Trailhead: The hike starts at Lower Macleay Park (here on Google Maps), and ends at Pittock Mansion (here on Google Maps). If you don’t have a car, grab a Lyft from your hotel and head up to Lower Macleay Park, tackle the trail, and then get another Lyft back to downtown Portland from the Mansion after you catch your breath and admire the view. Or just walk from the mansion down into the Northwest District for your next stop!

Brunch & Donuts in Northwest Portland

After a morning hike, you’ve hopefully worked up an appetite. Because you’re going to need it with all the great food and drinks to be had in Portland, which SPOILER ALERT is how you’ll be spending a majority of the rest of your day. 

Spend the middle portion of the day in and around downtown Portland, which has a nice collection of places to eat and drink along with some must-see attractions.

For the purposes of this guide, we’re also going to include pieces of the Pearl and Slabtown / Nob Hill here, because they’re within walking distance and full of great places to visit.

In general, we’d make your way west to east, ending at the river. 

Here is a menu of some of our favorite places to stop, eat, drink, and wander in the area around downtown for you to choose from for your own trip. 

If you’ve tackled a hike, chances are you’re hungry.

It should be noted that I have Celiac Disease, which means I can’t personally partake in the gluten-filled joy that you’re likely to experience at some of these places. Alysha can, and does, though. For science. 

One other thing – you will probably notice that I’ve left off the Insta-famous Voodoo Doughnut, known for their novelty donuts topped with things like Captain Crunch and M&Ms.

While we concede that the name for the Cap’n Crunch doughnut – “Oh Captain My Captain” – is hilarious, we don’t think that their donuts are, well, that good. 

Or at the very least, worth the wait, which is bound to be at least 30 minutes, probably more mid-morning on a summer weekend. 

Anyway, here are some great options for breakfast, brunch or donuts in the area. 

Pine State Biscuits: A Portland classic known for their breakfast sandwiches, this one is a little out of the way (it’s here on Google Maps), but is worth the journey if you’re craving something rich, savory, and greasy after your hike. 

Petunia’s Pies and Pastries: A 100% gluten free bakery in Portland that also is vegan, this is the place to go for gluten free and vegan baked goods. Especially their gluten free donuts, which are the best in Portland, but they’re only available on weekend mornings and they go FAST. 

Ken’s Artisan Bakery: A bakery started by a Portland local who, well, loves baking. He also happened to write an award-winning cookbook that I’ve seen many, many times in my life, and just now made the connection that it’s the guy from Ken’s in Portland. This is a neighborhood spot that happens to accumulate a long line on most weekend mornings, full of people who think the juice is worth the squeeze. They also have a wood-fired pizza spot on the other side of the river, which is excellent. 

A beautiful pastry from Ken’s

Get Your Coffee Fix

Portland – and the Pacific Northwest in general – is known for its fantastic coffee cities. Something about the gloomy weather during the winter makes it so that people from the Northwest often consume way too much caffeine.

I, Matt, hail from Seattle, which means I am hopelessly addicted to that daily caffeine rush. 

We have an entire guide to the best coffee shops in Portland, which you should definitely read if you’re a coffee nerd (edit by Alysha: he misspelled “snob”) like me. 

Here are the top picks in the center of Portland. 

Less and More Coffee: My personal favorite, Less and More have two locations in Downtown Portland within 2-3 blocks of Pioneer Courthouse Square. They have an old bus shelter that has been converted into a coffee stand, where they have an impressive array of specialty lattes (along with the usual) featuring unexpected flavors inspired by the owner’s heritage (their Black Sesame Latte and Cloud Cream Mocha are incredible). Plus, a newer location focused more on the craft of specialty coffee with pour over options and beautiful ceramics.

Never Coffee: If you’re looking for innovative flavored lattes with house made syrups and fun flavor combinations, this is the place for you. The interior of the cafe is gorgeous, and the coffee is great too (though if you’re looking for a single origin pour over, head elsewhere – this isn’t the right place for that). Examples of the flavor combinations include the “Midnight Oil” which has fennel and star anise, or the “Hug” which is made with chiles and chocolate. 

Tea Chai Té: Not into coffee? Neither is Alysha. But she loves herself some tea from this place, which is on NW 23rd Ave (here on Google Maps). She’s on a personal mission to try all of the chai blends they have to offer. Smith Tea, Alysha’s favorite Portland-based tea company, has a tasting room just down the street too. Heaven for tea lovers!

Browse Powell’s City of Books

I mean, every single time I, Matt, walk into this bookstore, I cannot help but walk out with $100 of books. Which used to present a problem when I’d go to pack for the trip home and realize I’ve bitten off more than I can realistically chew – but now we live here! 

Anyway, Powell’s Books is an amazing independent bookstore right in the heart of Portland that has been locally owned and operated for decades.

It’s massive, and you could easily spend several hours here wandering and perusing the countless different sections to find your next great read, cookbook, travel book, or whatever else you might be on the lookout for. 

I often wear a Powell’s Books t-shirt that I got for eight dollars years ago, and every single time I wear it, someone comments on it, saying something like “I LOVE POWELL’S!”

For us, this is a must-visit, and it’s probably our favorite “tourist attraction” in the city (which honestly says a lot about Portland as a city and tourist destination). 

The PSU Farmers Market (Saturday Only!)

An important caveat here – both of these next two events only take place on Saturday, which means if you’re not in town on a weekend, you’re going to have to skip them and save them for next time. 

The PSU Farmers Market is a massive, well, farmers market that takes place every Saturday on the Portland State University Campus just south of Downtown.

It’s year round, though the best time to visit is somewhere in the spring and summer when the staggering bounty of farm-fresh produce is enough to send foodies – including us – into unbridled fits of joy (and the vendor list swells in the warmer, drier months too). 

You can see the current vendor list here.

If they’re at the market, we wouldn’t miss aMYLK (fantastic plant-based milks), Draper Girls Country Farm (amazing produce like apples and cherries, and cider), One Stripe Chai (this one seems self-explanatory), or Peak Light Cider (farm-to-bottle cider from nearby Sauvie Island). 

The Portland Saturday Market (Saturdays Only)

The Portland Saturday Market is more arts and crafts focused, with local artisans selling everything from photography prints to handmade leather goods, and just about anything else you can possibly think of.

It’s an impressive nod to Portland’s thriving small business culture, which we know is facing ever-increasing pressure due to rising cost of living.

It takes place near the river, which puts you in the perfect position to walk along the river afterwards.  

Tom McCall Waterfront Park

It’s worth a riverfront stroll if you have the time, especially in the spring when the cherry blossoms that line the Tom McCall Waterfront Park are in bloom. 

We’d opt for the section between the Burnside Bridge (which is right where the Portland Saturday Market happens, so this stop makes sense if you’ve done that) and the Hawthorne Bridge.

Here’s a rough map of the part we’re talking about.

Explore Portland’s Eastside: SE Division Street

The east side of the Willamette River is more residential, though it has a few stretches that are world-class in terms of the density of great places to eat, drink, and browse. 

With just a day, it’s a bit far to head up north to places like the Alberta Arts District and Mississippi Avenue, which are both amazing but take 20-30 minutes to get to.

Instead, focus on Southeast Portland, which has plenty of things to do in its own right. Think of the section below as a menu from which you can cobble together a perfect end to your day in Portland. 

The corridor between Hawthorne and Division streets in Southeast Portland is among our favorite areas in the entire city. It’s packed full of great shops, restaurants, bars, breweries, and just about anything else you could possibly want. 

It’s a great place to spend an afternoon or evening. You’re probably not going to be able to fit in both areas, so we’ll give you our picks for each and let you decide which sounds more interesting to you. 

We’d focus your time on SE Division Street, which is four or so blocks south of Hawthorne, you’ll find a similarly amazing collection of places to eat and drink. In fact, this might be the best food stretch in the city (we’re probably biased, because we live nearby). 

There are way too many to list in this guide, but here are some options to get you started. 

  • Rangoon Bistro: One of our favorite restaurants in Portland! They are a classic food cart to full restaurant (and now, two!) story, and it’s easy to see why. Their food is fantastic. Particularly the fried chicken and Laphet salad. 

  • Magna Kusina: A block off of Division on Clinton, this place started as a pop up and has quickly become one of the most popular places to eat in the neighborhood. It’s Filipino food, and it’s a mix of street food, small plates, noodle dishes, and bigger proteins. It’s a great introduction into Filipino food, if that’s something you’ve never tried before. They’ve begun expanding into different pop ups featuring their chef friends, which is fun. Make a reservation! 

  • Kashiwagi: We walked by this tiny spot tucked into the back corner of a nondescript parking lot all the time before finally realizing that it was a very popular, very highly rated bento and sushi place. They have good lunch specials, and are very affordable. 

  • The Turning Peel: Excellent sourdough Neapolitan pizza served in a classic Portland Craftsman style home with an even cuter patio. Do not miss the tiramisu when they have it!

  • Oma’s Hideaway: While everyone still mourns the loss of Pok Pok, a Division Street institution that closed in 2020, Oma’s fills the void with incredible hawker food from Singapore and Malaysia. The roti, a handmade flaky Malaysian flatbread, served with parsnip & squash curry hits the spot every time. Plan to share so you can try a bunch of dishes, and be ready for spice.

  • Lauretta Jean’s: When was the last time you had pie that wasn’t on a holiday (like Thanksgiving)? It doesn’t happen often for us, and walking into Lauretta Jean’s is heaven for pie lovers. They sell pies by the slice and full pies with a wide range of flavors, including rotating fruit and chocolate options. You really can’t go wrong, but salted honey and coconut cream are Alysha’s favorites.

  • Pinolo Gelato: Easily the best gelato in Portland, and perhaps the best gelato on the west coast (?). They source ingredients from Italy, and it shows (their pistachio gelato is a darker brown color, not a fluorescent green, which is a sign that it’s made with real pistachios without colorings). It was started by an Italian-American born in Pisa, and it’s legit really, really good. 
Fried chicken at Rangoon Bistro
Dinner at Magna Kusina
Excellent gelato at Pinolo

Post-Dinner Drinks in the Central Eastside

If you’re looking for a place to grab a drink on the east side of the river – either before or after dinner – we’d highly recommend Schilling Cider, which is in the Central Eastside close to the river.

They have 30+ taps of different ciders, with a focus on Pacific Northwest producers, and they have a nice outdoor patio. 

If you’re in the mood for a beer, there are a couple of other breweries – Baerlic and Away Days – that would make a nice little brewery crawl for beer lovers visiting Portland.

For good cocktails and a cozy interior, head to Deadshot, the best cocktail bar in the area (we think). 

What to Do with More than a Day

If you happen to have more than one day in the city, you’ll be happy to learn that we have a few other guides you can use to plan your trip. 

We’re not going to cover it in detail here, mostly because you can head over there and read exactly how we’d spend two or three days in the city. 

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