Travel: What To See and Pack for a Summer Visit to Portland

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Visiting Portland this summer? Ooh, I hope so! Our beloved city does fill up quite a bit in summer months because it’s a great time to explore here (ie. no rain). Today it’s in the 60’s and rainy, again, but soon…soon it will be sunny just about every day for a few months. I’ve rounded up not only my favorite attractions and eats for PDX, but also some packing essentials. There’s SO much to do and see here, so here goes…

Overview of Portland


Portland is divided into quadrants: NE, SE, NW, SW…with our funky addition of North Portland. The Willamette (will-AM-ette) River runs north and south dividing the city east and west. This is my Portland edit…so many of these places are in North or Northeast Portland. I’m partial to my ‘hood. Be sure to check out something in each area if you have time and you’ll get a great feel for the city overall. Downtown is located between NW & SW. Check out the Pearl District in NW for Powell’s City of Books (see below) and great shopping. Be sure to hit up Alberta Arts District in NE for that Portland artsy flair we all love. SE is traditionally the hipster-ist area, but is getting fancier by the day and there are so many great places to shop and eat. SW is the hilly part of town and is gorgeous, but more residential. Tryon Creek State Park is there for a lovely in-town short hike. Keep going to far-out SW and you’ll come to Willamette Valley wine country, near McMinnville, Oregon (about 1 hour away). The area is famous for it’s delicious Pinot Noir wines and is absolutely worth a visit and a taste.

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Outfit Details

On Me:

 

On Sienna:

 

Favorite Activities, Attractions & Shopping

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Powell’s City of Books – A whole city block, Powell’s City of Books is definitely one of the most popular attractions in Portland. It’s the best though…a giant bookstore with both used and new items, great gifts and a coffee shop. I can spend hours in here (and lots of $). Also, Sienna found a good way to keep herself quieter while we were there recently…

Multnomah Falls/Horsetail Falls – This is also at the top of the tourist must-see list, but oh so gorgeous and easy to see. Iconic Multnomah Falls sit right off of I84 East. Be aware that in the summer parking fills up fast there. I say, go early, see Multnomah Falls, get your photo and then do the Horsetail Falls hike. It’s an easy hike and more enjoyable to me than Multnomah plus, then you get to see more waterfalls.

OMSI – Oregon Museum of Science & Industry. This place is cool, you guys. It has a ton of interactive science play for kiddos to do, rotating exhibits and documentaries and the building itself is super fun to see. There’s a submarine, too! It’s like a children’s museum on steroids and stuff for adults, too. Definitely fun.

Cathedral Park/St. Johns Bridge – This bridge is actually in our neighborhood. You might recognize it from an early post of mine about sweatshirts in public. It’s gorgeous to see if your travels take you through North Portland. It’s definitely my favorite bridge in town. The park often has people creating giant bubbles, dogs performing tricks or yes, even people protesting by hanging out off of it…it is Portland, after all. It’s famous. Go see it! Take a picnic or pick up take-out from Mama San Soul Shack (Asian/Southern food deliciousness) on your way.

McMenamins Kennedy School – This is one of my very favorite places to take friends who visit. The old elementary school was turned into a hotel, movie theater, restaurant, soaking pool and bars. You may recognize the soaking pool from the swim post. I adore it.

Red Sail – This is my favorite gift shop in Portland…well, mostly gifts for myself. Hahaha! It’s where I got my fave Tillicum Bridge cuff by Besty & Iya and where I always take my mom when she visits. They have the most beautifully curated collection of bags, cards, jewelry, gifts and the best window displays. You’ll find Red Sail on Alberta Street. Not coming to Portland? Shop their gorgeous website!

Grasshopper Children’s Boutique – Also on Alberta Street is my favorite kids’ shop, Grasshopper. They have THE best collection of toys and books – so many learning and art toys. The staff is super sweet and helpful. I buy all kiddo gifts here now. My favorite are the Djeco art and craft kits. They are beautiful, reasonably priced and offer a variety of projects.

North of West – North of West is in…Northwest. Hahaha. It’s another gorgeous boutique with locally made gifts and clothing. Talk about a curated shop and that is why I adore going in here. It’s a lovely store and it’s arranged so wonderfully. Many of you visiting will probably be staying downtown, so this is super close to you. Love love love.

Portland Flea + Food (pictured here) My amazingly talented friend Kate started the Portland Flea in 2011 as a curated marketplace for local vintage purveyors. Since then, the event has grown into a gorgeous collection of vintage pieces, locally crafted home goods, and a delicious selection of food vendors hosted by Jacobsen Salt Co. This is my very favorite mama time every month where I spend a couple of hours perusing the loveliness, meeting up with other crafty and artistic friends, and stuffing my face with Anna’s (of Sweetheart St. Johns) pastries. Last month I drug invited Pinky and Sienna along with me! Sienna mostly enjoyed running up and down the ramp and Pinky tried to keep me from buying anything…so next month if you go you’ll see me there alone again. If you’re here on a Flea weekend, it’s not to miss! The Flea is the last Sunday of every month.

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Favorite Restaurants, Bars & Sweet Treats

Tasty & Sons – This place is great for breakfast, lunch or date night. The wait is always long here, but oh so worth it. Get small plates and share and enjoy food from the best and nicest chef/owner in Portland, John Gorham. The cocktails here are also great. This location is American food with a focus on Southern cuisine. If Spanish tapas are your thing, do not miss another of his locations, Toro Bravo, just down the way.

Hopworks Bike Bar (kids’ play area ftw!) – Amazing beer, great food AND kiddo play areas (one indoor, one outdoor). This is our go-to family lunch and dinner spot. Get the pretzels to start and any of their amazing beers. The sandwiches, salads and pizzas are all great and the kids can even get a teeny ice cream cone after dinner. If you’re in SE Portland, visit their original (and a bit bigger) location on Division. Same great stuff as the bike bar in North Portland.

Bamboo Sushi – This is hands down the best sushi restaurant ever. It’s a little pricey, but oh so worth it. Try the carpaccio and the steam buns and whatever the chef special is. I cannot keep talking about it or I will have to stop writing and go now. Locations in NW and NE.

Pok Pok Noi – Thai street food. Wings. Shrimp chips. To go. No long wait. Done. Chef Andy Ricker’s original location is amazing and totally worth the wait, but if you want a quick version, come to NE and grab some Pok Pok Noi. They don’t offer the full Pok Pok menu, but it’s so nice to grab and take for a picnic or if your kids just won’t sit still at a restaurant. There are a few tables there and a patio, too, if you prefer to dine there.

Grain & Gristle – This is our go-to date night place. We used to live just down the street and we adore it. There can be a bit of a wait on Fridays and Saturdays, but grab a great cocktail or one of their own Upright beers and chill at the bar. The food is consistently amazing and the atmosphere is cozy and Portland comfy. Go for the burger and definitely the shoestring onion rings or get the nightly 2-fer that feeds two people and gives ya two pints. The fish board is also amazing for a tapas style meal.  The deviled eggs with boquerones is our favorite appetizer. Kids are fine here, too, but earlier is best.

Pip’s Original Donuts – Made-to-order mini donuts…yes. Get the Dirty Wu (for your whole order, IMO) which are topped with cinnamon, sea salt, honey AND Nutella. Yeah. Be sure to taste one of their amazing house-made chai teas, too, or all of them in the chai sampler. They are probably the kindest owners around, so I really love supporting their business. My favorite donuts in this donut-obsessed town.

Salt & Straw – I know we all have our favorite ice cream, but seriously, mine is the best. Try as many interesting samples as you want (Honey Lavender, Arbequina Olive Oil, Stumptown Coffee and Burnside Bourbon) but just trust me and get a waffle cone of the Sea Salt with Caramel Ribbons. Salty sweet heaven. Locations both on Alberta Street in NE and on NW 23rd.

Kachka – Russian food? YES. Russian food. We have a monthly girls night here during most of the year and it is the most interesting wonderful experience each time. To drink: From Russia With Love martini To eat: Get the Baltic Sprat Buterbrodi and the Herring Under a Fur Coat to start. Then some of the dumplings and the rabbit in a clay pot for mains. All of it is insane.

 

What to Pack

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I included just the essentials to consider for a Portland visit. The style here is literally anything goes, but these items will help keep you comfy, coordinated and interesting…always my fashion goals.

JacketThe Northface Rissy Packable Jacket – Ok, so I said no rain, but you could still encounter a little rain or wind, depending on when you visit and whether you do some early morning hiking or hit the coast. A packable wind/water resistant jacket is a good idea. I love the color of this one so much and you can’t go wrong with The North Face quality.

Comfy shoes for touring: Teva Original Universal Crafted Leather Sandal – This is kind of a no-brainer for most trips, but you’ll be really glad you brought cute yet comfy shoes here. Everyone dresses quite casually and sporty here (we love our outdoors!) so these Teva’s would be perfection.

Sunglasses: Quay Australia Cherry Bomb –  While it might be overcast most of the year, summer is really sunny here. Yay! I’m loving the shape of these. And the name, obvs.

Shopping tote: Baggu Reusable Large Shopping Tote – Plastic bags are outlawed in the city of Portland, so bringing your own tote is a great idea. They just hold up better than the paper bag you’ll get, especially for all-day shopping and site-seeing. I love this from Baggu…packable and cute.

Versatile pants: Trouve Soft Military Jogger Pants – Yes, joggers are essential, in my opinion. These are comfy yet can be dressed up for date night. Wear on the plane, with Teva’s for site seeing and later with a sparkly tank for out-to-eat. So travel-friendly.

Interesting cardigan: Free People Long Island Striped Cardigan – Nights and mornings are a bit cool here and we all know how airplanes can be chilly. Bring a long cardigan that you can wear for travel, on cool nights and in the morning it can function as a robe. Perfect. I love this striped version from Free People.

Backpack: Burton Tinder Pack – If you have been following my posts for a bit now, you know I’m a backpack fan, especially if kiddos are in-tow. Backpacks are the best carry-ons and are awesome for hopping around town all day seeing the sites. I love love the print on this one.

Travel guidePortlandia: A Guide for Visitors – So you’ll know what to expect. Wink. No, actually, it’s not that off-base from what really happens daily here. #keepportlandweird #iloveitso

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Shop My Travel Favorites for Portland and Beyond

I could go on and on about what to see and experience in this amazing town. I do hope you all get to visit at some point. It is seriously fabulous, creative, interesting, green!…#iheartpdx

Peace,
L

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About Author

Meet Laura! She's a reader turned contributor and we couldn't be happier to have her as part of the team. Her fun, creative style is, as she says, "somewhere between Madewell and Joan Jett" (YES.) and she delivers some mean dressing room selfies so keep an eye out for those. Fun fact? She loves getting her haircut and we love to see what she has up her sleeve.  

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24 Comments

  1. We just got back from Portland. Seriously loved it. CANNOT wait to go back. We stayed downtown-no car needed. Out hotel lent us bikes. The OMSI was incredible! We loved Tasty + Alder for brunch and Powell’s–no words for this elementary school teacher. It would be worth it just to come back for this bookstore. Stocked up my classroom happily (and my kids’ bookcases). This was a fun post. I will bookmark it for my next trip. SOON. Hopefully!

  2. This makes me so homesick for Oregon! Military family doing our 3rd assignment on the east coast and only getting to visit my home state every other year or so is tough! Great recommendations!

  3. It’s always fun to read what other people recommend about Portland. I learn about new things in my busy busy city all the time. Thanks for the post!

  4. The Waffle Window is also amazing with some killer toppings and the Japanese gardens are definitely something to see. Portland is so incredible i hope i can take a week vacation to completely explore it. The food, museums, and parks are amazing and people are nice!! I use to live in Eugene so Oregon holds a very special place in my heart, i miss it all the time. When it comes to traveling its always good to have a great bag to just throw things in and can hold a lot. I seriously designed our bags because i am a “hold the whole world” in my bag kind of person. Plus they are eco and ethical friendly and made in LA. I feel like i created them based on my Oregon roots, big, waterproof and can hold my wet Northface windbreaker and massive scarf. Simply magical.

    http://www.ebatotes.com

  5. Last week I went to Pip’s to get my free birthday dozen of donuts & had the yummy Emmylou Chai! Now I want some Salt & Straw ice cream :). Whenever we have guests in town we try and take them to The Kennedy School because it is such a cool place (still need to try the soaking pool).

  6. Need to know about the boots you are wearing in the pic at the end of the post. Are these hacked off cowboy boots, or can they be found? I want a black beat up pair EXACTLY like this. Love the post!

    • Laura Jansen on

      Thanks! Yes. Hacked off cowboy boots 🙂 They were a perfectly worn out find from my Nashville days and I cut them off last summer…I wear them so much now! I highly recommend.

  7. Great suggestions! We are going third week in July and are planning a day out to the coast. Is it worth bringing swimsuits? Will it be warm enough, do you think?

    • Laura Jansen on

      I’d say bring suits for the kiddos just in case (kiddos seem to be able to withstand freakishly cold water!) but I’ve never worn my suit to the coast in 5 years of being here. Throw it in the car in case you run across a good hot tub somewhere though…Hahaha.

  8. Love Portland (especially Powell’s–I have SUCH a book addiction), and am so, so jealous of the weather. It’s too early in the year for us to be in the mid-90’s with high humidity….

  9. Perfect timing Laura! Last summer we drove through Portland on our way home from the coast and in just an afternoon we knew we needed to go back. So this August we are taking the train in from WA and staying downtown with our 3 kids. OMSI and Powell’s were already on the list- can’t wait to look closer at all your recommendations!

  10. Did a lot of time and damage at Powell’s when we came through Portland a couple of years back. We also loved Salt & Straw– had an apricot and hops, a corn, and maybe a bourbon and chocolate? All were delicious.

  11. Great Post! I live here (inner NE PDX) and you hit high a lot of the highlights, especially for families. Funny that hubby and I walked to G&G for our last date night. Pok Pok Noi next door is awesome and has 1/3 of the wait the SE location does. I have to have those boots!

  12. What about visiting Portland in January? The hubs and I are ditching the kids for an extended weekend getaway. I know to expect rain, rain and more rain. We are from San Diego and only have a vague idea about what to wear. We’ve done plenty vacations in the snow, but rain is completely foreign to us. Any suggestions you have will be appreciated – especially for jackets (looking into packable rain jackets right now) and shoes?

    • Fun, Nikki! And don’t worry. It’ll still be a blast here in January and WAY less crowded. I’m about to do a rain gear post next week which will have great jacket and shoe options. I’d layer sweaters and long sleeves under the jackets. Layers in general are always best here. It will probably be in the 40’s in January. So not freezing but definitely sweater and raincoat weather. Bring hats, too. Favorite walkable waterproof or at least water resistant boots are your best bet. I hope you love it!!

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