Portland: The Summer Vacation You’ll Come Back Cooler From
If you want a different kind of summer vacation than theme parks and crowded beaches, then Portland, Oregon, should be high on your list.
Expect sunshine-filled days from May-September, average highs around 70-80 degrees, blooming city gardens (and pop-up beer gardens), outdoor music concerts and a constant stream of festivals.
Or, take a day trip for forest hikes, white-water rafting and photos at one of the most photographed beaches in the world.
Here’s why our deal experts are picking Portland this summer:
1. Just about everything is outdoors.
Thanks to the temperate sunny weather, everything moves outdoors in the summer, from the bars to the food to the music. Locals even get around downtown by bike (instead of car) — there’s a citywide public bike share, and they’re bright orange, you can’t miss them.
There’s so much going on outside that you can find a free summer events nearly every day. Parks across the city host more than 60 concerts from July-August (aka Concerts in the Park), while Pioneer Courthouse Square showcases films during Flicks on the Bricks (Fridays, July 21 – Aug. 18); you just need to bring your own blanket or chair. On the weekends, street fairs close down streets and fill with artists, musicians, artisans and performers like at Last Thursday on Alberta.
Even the bars move outside: the patio and rooftop bar scene is hugely popular, with everything from stellar views of downtown at 10 Barrel Brewing to the Pearl District’s largest outdoor patio at On Deck Sports Bar and Grill to family-friendly patios like Radio Room.
2. It’s the best beer city in America.
With more than 75 microbreweries — more than any other city in the world — it’s no wonder Lonely Planet named Portland the best beer city in America. And come summer, beer gardens pop up all over the city. Try local fruit beers, IPAs and ryes during PDX Beer Week (June 8-18).
Oregon Brewers Festival (July 26-30) is one of the nation’s longest-running craft beer festivals right, in the downtown Tom McCall Waterfront Park. The focus is to learn (and sample) more than two dozen beer styles, and the event also features live music and local foods. There’s no admission fee, and it’s open to all ages; there’s even a free handcrafted soda garden for minors and designated drivers.
3. A trend-setting soundtrack.
Portland is the birthplace of bands such as the Decemberists and the Kingsmen. This indie music hub is home to intimate venues and pop-up shows that give the city a rockin’ soundtrack seven days a week.
Don’t miss Booker T., Chris Isaak and Cedric Burnside Project at the Waterfront Blues Festival (June 30 – July 4) or Iggy Pop and Beck at MusicfestNW presents Project Pabst (Aug. 26-27).
4. Some of Portland best eats are on the street.
Who needs a reservation? More than 600 food carts serve up fresh eats. These carts are operated by chefs dedicated to perfecting everything from jambalaya to pierogies to Thai chicken. If you’re eyeing a specific food cart, check the hours online, as some are open only until mid-afternoon.
Summer’s biggest culinary event is Feast Portland (Sept. 14-17). It’s held across the city with more than 40 events, including hands-on classes, a night market featuring Latin street food (think fusion tacos and grilled Argentine meats), cocktail crawls downtown and the Grand Tasting — a two-day mash-up of local artisans and cuisine centered around Pacific Northwest ingredients. The final schedule and tickets will be available in June: Follow @feastpdx on Twitter for updates.
5. Quirky summer bevvies.
Portland takes its coffee culture very, very seriously. There’s a coffee shop on almost every corner — but it goes further than just your typical cup of joe. Locals beat the heat with summer drinks as distinctive as the city. Try boozy milkshakes at Tasty ‘n’ Alder, iced coffee on nitro from Stumptown Coffee Roasters and jelly beer (basically a beer slushie) at Whiskey Soda Lounge.
6. Bleu cheese, black pepper and olive oil — in your ice cream.
It should come as no surprise that ice cream is big in Portland; the state is known for its dairy, after all (thanks to Tillamook).
Salt & Straw is gaining notoriety due to its inventive flavors like strawberry with balsamic vinegar and black pepper, pear with blue cheese, and Arbequina olive oil. There are four locations in Portland, including a soft serve (only) dessert bar at Pine Street Market.
If you get the chance, don’t pass up family owned shops like Fifty Licks, which still makes a custard base by hand from scratch. Its farmers market-inspired spring and summer flavors include Blood Orange Creamsicle and Blackberry Bomb.
7. No sales tax + creative boutiques = sweet summer souvenirs.
Portland, like the rest of Oregon, is sales tax-free, so you can shop all you want at the indie boutiques. Browse through locally handmade arts, crafts and foods at the weekend Portland Saturday Market; it’s the largest continuously operating open-air arts and crafts market in the country. Or hunt for vintage pieces and vinyl along North Mississippi and Williams avenues.
8. 200-plus city parks and no lines.
Who needs theme parks when there are more than 200 parks within Portland’s city limits? Portland is home to both America’s largest urban park, Forest Park, and the world’s smallest dedicated park, Mill Ends — a small pocket of flowers where the fictitious leprechaun Patrick O’Toole resides. The city has it all, from forests to marshlands and trails to skateboarding rails.
Portland’s signature park, Washington Park, is a kid-centric place with the Oregon Zoo (there are extended summer hours), Portland Children’s Museum and The International Rose Test Garden, which has more than 10,000 rose bushes. You can even travel around by a steam train.
It’s full of free summer events, too: Follow @WashingtonPark on Twitter for the latest Concerts and Movies in the Park schedules and updates on the Washington Park Summer Festival (Aug. 4-7). From May through Labor Day, the Washington Park free shuttle stops at all the park’s major attractions, as well as the Washington Park MAX light rail station to downtown.
9. Waterfalls > waterslides.
It’s an easy day trip to the surrounding forests and rivers from the city. The iconic Multnomah Falls is just 45 minutes by car or the Columbia Gorge Express bus from downtown. The waterfall is good for all ages, as it’s visible from the base, or you can opt to hike a mile to the top; plan to visit early and during the week for fewer crowds.
Once you’re at the top, you can continue on the 6-mile Wahkeena Loop Trail or try the more challenging Larch Mountain Hike to see more waterfalls visible only to those who seek them out.
10. Real-life water parks.
What better way to spend a hot summer day than by making a splash in Portland-area rivers and water parks? The picturesque Columbia River Gorge is less than an hour away. The gorge is famous for windsurfing and kiteboarding — try it if you dare, with a private lesson. Or join in with a stand-up paddle board, kayak or a swim at Hood River Waterfront Park.
Seeking more thrilling water sports? Head to Calckamas River (30 miles outside Portland), where rapids start flowing as the winter’s snow melts off the mountain. Or book a jet boat ride on the Willamette through the city’s central waterway; tours from Willamette Jetboat Excursions only run from May-September.
11. A beach your Instagram will love.
OK, it’s summer vacation. Do you want to go to a beach? Then go to one that’s one of the most photographed in the world; Cannon Beach.
It’s easy to get here (and to the surrounding 363 miles of public coastline), with a 1.5-hour-drive on the US-26 W from downtown Portland. Plan to leave in the morning to beat summer traffic and stay for sunset to capture the sun’s glow behind iconic Haystack Rock. This view alone is why National Geographic named Cannon Beach one of the best beaches in the world (2017).
12. It’s weird — in the best possible way.
Most of all, what’s cool about Portland is it’s quirky side. It’s just a little bit different than anywhere else you’ve been before, and it fully embraces the things that keep it weird — from the striking pedestrian-only Tilikum Crossing over the Willamette River to tours of the infamous underground Shanghai tunnels to blooming “tattoos” during the Festival of Flowers to the vintage outfits on passersby. The city’s quirky personality even inspired the hit show “Portlandia,” which explores the eccentric lives of fictional Portlanders.
Ready to go? We’ve put together hotel deals for spring and summer travel.