Why Portland, OR, Is the Coolest City in the US
Known for its funky vibes, farm-to-table cuisine, craft beer, and one-too-many forest hikes to count, there is no surprise why so many people move to Portland after the first visit. I won't lie — the thought even rippled through my mind a couple of times, too.
So what is it about this city that's different from other urban destinations? Well, to put it simply: everything. Portland soars above the rest when it comes to its creativity, culture, and livability, which is why so many are calling it America's best city.
I recently made my way to this Oregon oasis, and it didn't take long before I caught the infectious Portland fever. The exploding crafts scene, the never-ending culinary choices, the close proximity of both ocean and mountains — woven together into one place. Of course, I took the city's bait and was left hooked. Intrigued. Wanting more. But no, I haven't relocated. Instead, I decided to churn my adoration into a massive city guide so you can experience the greatness of Portland, too. Tackling everything from "where to stay" and "where to eat" to "what to do" and "where to find the best outdoor adventure" — it's all right here. Get ready to pack your bags!
First Things First: Tackling Where to Stay!
When visiting a city as charismatic as Portland, you'd be doing yourself a disservice if you didn't find accommodations just as eccentric. But don't worry, I've done the hard work for you. In comes this cabin. Nestled in the backyard of the host's house, this one-room retreat oozes charm and excitement.
Surrounded by old fir trees and a garden, this cabin's location couldn't be better. Located on the outskirts of the city and close to the Columbia River Gorge and Mt. Hood, you get the best of both worlds, all at an amazing price of $60 per night. And get this: there's even an outdoor shower and hot tub!
Did I mention it's also home to three baaing dwarf goats and a flock of hens!?
Next Up: Tackling Where to Eat!
When I started spreading the word to friends that I was heading to Portland, they had the same response: "You've got to go to Pip's!" So, that's what I did, more times than I'd like to share. Turns out this hip, laid-back cafe is the perfect way to kickstart your morning. Specializing in fried-to-order mini doughnuts, Pip's Original Doughnuts offers scrumptious flavors such as raw honey, strawberry rhubarb, and Nutella.
Oh, and if you love chai, then get your taste buds ready for an epic tea adventure. With unique combinations, served both iced and hot, this place even offers a flight of chai so you can try them all.
Another ever-so-popular choice in Portland's realm of gourmet treats is Blue Star Donuts. Focusing on quality over quantity, these delicious doughnuts are made from a classic brioche recipe that originated in the South of France.
As soon as I walked in, the blueberry-bourbon pillowy pastry started calling my name. Sorry for the half-eaten doughnut image — I about devoured it entirely when I remembered to snap a picture. But then I thought, well hey, at least now you can see the doughy layers of goodness for yourself.
OK, you knew it was coming. What would a visit to Portland be without a stop at the famous Voodoo Doughnuts? Known for its unusual flavors, wacky decor, and pink boxes, just one look at these doughnuts will send you soaring into a sugar high.
While this shop is notorious for its slithering lines around the block, I somehow got lucky and managed to walk right up to the revolving glass case. Maybe this had something to do with the fact it was 7 p.m. Nonetheless, the timing strategy worked, and I'd highly recommend it!
On a lighter — and much healthier! — note, Sweedeedee is a great place to grab breakfast. Serving everything from sandwiches and egg plates to homemade pastries and granola, this cozy cafe offers so much delicious food, as well as a relaxing, airy atmosphere.
Another charming neighborhood cafe is Milk Glass Mrkt. Located in the Northeast part of the city, this elegant little eatery and market uses farm-to-table ingredients to deliver a rather creative menu for breakfast and lunch.
I mean, just look at this beautiful fruit tart from there. It was almost too pretty to eat, with the operative word being almost. While I tried my hardest to savor each bite, let's be real — it was gone within minutes. OK, fine. Seconds.
If you're visiting the city with a group, or simply want lots of food options at your fingertips, check out the bustling food hall known as Pine Street Market. Located in the center of downtown, this place is houses tons of gourmet vendors and various cuisines. And with the mix of counter and communal seating, there is plenty of space to eat and mingle.
Attention all Salt & Straw ice-cream-lovers! The Pine Street Market also houses Wiz Bang Bar, Salt & Straw's soft-serve dessert bar. Doling out swirly cones with fun flavors such as Elderflower Lemon and Coconut Blueberry Ginger Beer (which is vegan!), this is the place to go if you're looking for a refreshing frozen treat.
Now, if you have dreams of flatbreads and focaccia like I do, you've got to make your way to Roman Candle Baking Co. Don't let the name fool you; while there are homemade baked goods, it's the delicious pizza that will make your mouth water. With crusts straddling the line between focaccia and flatbread, you'll fantasize about these pies for days. Yes, really. They're even served with a pair of shiny gold shears for slicing.
For tasty — and extra affordable — Lebanese fare, check out Riyadh's Lebanese Restaurant. Not only does this small, colorful eatery offer favorites such as falafel, kebabs, and baba ghanoush, but the warm pita that is served is HUGE!
Craving tasty Indian cuisine? Then head on over to Bollywood Theater for some delicious street-food classics. Located in the Northeast quadrant of the city, this small eatery is not just a great place to satisfy a craving, it's an unforgettable experience. Enjoy traditional dishes such as curries and samosas, all while watching old Bollywood films showing on a back wall.
If you're in the city on Saturday, be sure to swing by the Portland Farmers Market. Housed on the main lawn within the Portland State University campus, this market has it all. Fresh fruit, vegetables, flowers, fish, meat, cheese, and wine — all being sold by local vendors with warm welcomes and smiling faces.
Along with the endless rows of produce, homemade pastries are also available at the market. Now do you see that cinnamon bun drowning in frosting? Believe it or not, that thing was about the size of my head. I've never seen a bun that enormous. As you can probably guess, it took all my power to look past it and keep walking.
The infamous Pine State Biscuits also has a stand at the market. Yes, the line is long. But oh, how it is worth the wait. These flaky buttermilk biscuits are the real deal, as the three owners grew up in North Carolina chowing down on Southern comfort food.
Once you've taken your time strolling past the tents and stalls, plop down on the campus lawn to enjoy some of the yummy goodness you managed to collect. It's the perfect place to sprawl out, relax, and people-watch as you enjoy a little picnic.
OK, time to talk about Portland's beloved food carts. With over 500 carts peppered throughout the city — mostly clustered in "Pods" — don't blame your taste buds if you have a tough time deciding where to even begin. From Thai and Indian to Mexican, Mediterranean, and American classics, you can eat your way around the globe no matter the time of day.
Tackling Where to Find the Best Happy-Hour Deals!
One of the things I loved most about Portland was how friendly it was to my wallet, especially when it came to food. This city is overflowing with amazing happy-hour deals. For instance, the sleek cocktail bar known as Aalto Lounge offers handcrafted cocktails for only $3. I mean, you can hardly find a decent cup of coffee for that much!
Another great bargain I uncovered was at Luc Lac Vietnamese Kitchen. This popular eatery located downtown serves a phenomenal happy hour each day from 5 p.m. to 7 p.m. With small plates for $2 and $3 and select cocktails for $6, you just can't beat a deal this good!
The food at Luc Lac's was simply divine. Can you believe this entire meal (plus drinks) cost $17?
It didn't take long to realize pizza is kind of a big deal in Portland. There are artisan pizzerias at practically every corner, which was a dream come true for me since pizza should be my middle name.
If you're in the city and looking for a tasty pizza option, head over to Life of Pie. From 11 a.m. to 6 p.m., you can get your very own Margherita pizza for $5. With a tangy-sweet sauce and a wood-fired charred crust, it doesn't get much better.
Tackling How to Get Around the City!
Although Portland does offer public transportation, I would recommend renting a car during your visit. This city is very spread out, and because each quadrant offers so much to see and do, I zig-zagged my way across the bridges multiple times per day. While it might not have been the most cost-effective option, splurging on the car rental was an expense worth the price.
However, had I not rented a car, I definitely would have taken advantage of BIKETOWN, the bike-share program in Portland. With a total of 1,000 bikes and 100 parking stations, these bright orange two-wheelers are certainly a fun and convenient way to explore the city. And at just $12 per day, they're quite affordable, too.
Tackling What to Do, See, and Explore!
I don't know about you, but whenever I stumble upon an Ace Hotel, my first instinct is to pop inside and locate the photo booth. Next, I head to the connected Stumptown Coffee Roasters for a cup of joe and take a breather in the inviting lobby. As you can imagine, this is exactly what happened in Portland. And I'd highly recommend you do the same. With the downtown location, this boutique hotel serves as the perfect starting point for your city explorations.
Not too far down from the Ace Hotel is the iconic Powell's Books, aka the world's largest independent bookstore. Spanning an entire city block, here you will find new, used, and rare finds throughout the store's 68,000 square feet. That's about 1.6 acres of books, people! While it can go unsaid, be sure to allot plenty of time to roam and wander, as you never know what you might find in this literary treasure chest.
Speaking of roaming and wandering, one of the best ways to get to know downtown is to do just that. I recommend tucking your phone away, foregoing any maps or guidance, and just allowing your curiosity to lead the way.
And then there's the iconic "Portland Oregon" sign atop the White Stag Building. If you want to snap a photo of it (because, when in Portland...! ) it is located downtown at 70 NW Couch Street, facing the Burnside Bridge.
If you're looking for some incredible arts and crafts, check out the Portland Street Market that takes place each weekend downtown from March through December. Serving as the largest continuously operated outdoor market in the nation, you're sure to find gems for every interest.
For all the stationary-lovers out there, listen up! Your new happy place awaits at Little Otsu. With shelves full of delightful stationary and colorful illustrated journals, my heart practically leapt out of my chest with excitement. Cue the cuteness overload.
The awesomeness continues with Portland's adorable airstream shops. Even though I thought Brave Little Ones sold mostly children's clothes, I couldn't help but pop in and take a peek, even though I don't have a baby. I'm so glad I did because I found out that this boutique sells much more. And the best part? A portion of the profits goes toward providing meals to children in Rwanda, Africa.
Did you know the headquarters of Adidas is located in Portland? If you're an avid fan and are looking for great deals on the brand's signature footwear, clothes, and accessories, be sure to check out the Adidas Employee Store. It's open every day and is conveniently located in the heart of the city.
After a long day of exploring, sometimes there is nothing better than winding down with a little rest and relaxation. If you find yourself nodding your head in agreement, head over to the quiet corner of Cathedral Park. Situated directly under the gorgeous St. John's Bridge, this historic park offers a heavenly experience and serene environment.
Another tranquil setting in the city is Laurelhurst Park. With over 26 acres and a breathtaking lake smack in the middle, this urban oasis is a great go-to for leisurely strolls, low-key picnics, and escaping any hustling city vibes.
If you're a history buff or simply looking to travel back in time, visit the Pittock Mansion, a French-Renaissance-inspired chateau in the West Hills of the city. Originally built in 1914 for one of Oregon's most influential families, this mansion is steeped with rich heritage and inspiring stories.
One of my favorite parts about this mansion was the incredible view. Surrounded by 46 acres of natural beauty (can you see the snow-capped Mt. Hood in the distance?) I couldn't help but wonder how much this panorama has changed over the last century or so.
Finally: Tackling Where to Find Outdoor Adventure!
When you're ready to escape the rowdy city, Portland's great outdoors will be waiting with open arms. Kick off your adventure by stopping at Vista House. Built in the early 1900s, this octagonal building serves as a memorial to Oregon pioneers. While there is a museum inside you can explore, most people stop at this observation point to take in the incredible sweeping views of the gorge below.
Just a short 30-minute drive outside of Portland is where you'll discover the infamous Multnomah Falls. This magnificent 600-foot waterfall allows you to experience the powerful force of Mother Nature up close and at ease. It is without a doubt one of Oregon's most recognizable waterfalls, and chances are you've probably already seen it a time or two on Instagram.
Make sure to arrive at the falls early though. Because the base of the waterfall is only a five-minute walk from the road, it doesn't take long before clusters of crowds flock to this neck of the woods.
If you're seeking true tranquility, well, my friend, you're in luck as there are countless trails outside of Portland waiting to be explored. Let your soul be buoyant and free as you get lost — figuratively not literally! — in gorgeous lush pockets of the forest and reconnect with nature.
One way to get off the beaten path is to hike the lesser-known trail known as the Larch Mountain Hike. With a long distance of 14.4 miles round trip, it's more than enough time to soothe your mind, nourish your spirit, and work your glutes. (You know, after all that eating!) Not only will you encounter a handful of cascading waterfalls along the way, but you'll also become inspired by the rejuvenating outdoor setting.
And because Washington is only a bridge ride away, I would highly recommend crossing over the Bridge of Gods to hike the Panther Creek Falls trail. Here you will find one of the most impressive waterfalls in the entire Gorge region.
The best part about this 130-foot perennial waterfall is that it's truly a hidden gem. Really, hardly anyone is aware of this trail. With rushing waterfalls, hanging gardens of green moss, and the serenity of Mother Nature's warm embrace, you're guaranteed a big dose of mesmerization!
How could I forget to mention the glorious Mt. Hood? If you're seeking a true jaw-dropping experience, make your way to this snow-capped mountain right away. Forests, valleys, and lakes surround this majestic wonder, each offering a unique, awe-inspiring view. Expect to be speechless as you make the epic drive around the mountain.
If you have the extra time, another fun outdoor adventure can be found along the coast at Haystack Rock. Located in Cannon Beach, this 235-foot sea stack is one of Oregon's most distinctive landmarks. When the tide is low, you can even walk right up to the gigantic rock's tide pools to discover alluring sea creatures such as colorful starfish, sea anemone, and hermit crabs. Trust me, this place is sprinkled with so much magic. And if your experience is anything like mine, it will most likely be here that you'll consider packing your bags for Portland, permanently!