Portland, Oregon is one of the most original cities in the United States. Nature and green are present everywhere in the city limits, it rivals New York City and San Francisco in food quality and variety, it’s one of the most bike-friendly cities in the USA, it’s a front-runner in environmental sustainability, and Oregon’s natural wonders are easily within reach (see: hikes and State Parks).
As the city grows along with its fame, so do prices for residents and visitors alike. But Portland is still very liveable and as long as you learn a couple of tricks, you can have all the fun with a fraction of the cost.
1. Sleep on the east side.
Portland’s east side is dynamic and vibrant, where commercial and small businesses are booming and most of the family houses immersed in green are located. The houses are colorful, well-kept with manicured lawns, and as soon as you leave the main roads, it’s quiet with little traffic. Rent a space in one of the neighborhoods closer to the river. Central-eastside Richmond and Sunnyside are the closest to the Westside with about a 3-mile commute, but Alberta is a very artistic and lively area with just a slightly longer transfer. Share the house with the host, so they can suggest local interesting points for food, drinks, and entertainment.
2. Bike (possibly for free).
Hosts often have a bike available for guests. This is a major perk because, by bike, you explore the city while enjoying it first hand, cut your commute time (everything is within a 30-minute bike-ride radius), and it’s free.
If the host doesn’t have a one, there are 20+ locations for renting bikes in town, plus bike sharing options. For more info, see how to explore Portland by bike. If it’s rainy or you need to hop on the public transportation, bikes are allowed on the bus, the streetcar, and the Max.
3. Use public transportation.
If you need to use public transportation (it does rain often in Portland outside summer) Trimet has a flat fare system: it’s a single price regardless of distance or service (bus, streetcar, or Max) for 2.5 hours.
4. The riverfront, parks, and beaches are free.
Recreational areas are even more enjoyable when they are car-free, and Portland has many.
The riverfront is an 11-mile loop all along the river, passing most of the city’s bridges, as well as many parks and neighborhoods. The Tom McCall Waterfront Park is a favorite especially in spring for its blooming cherry trees. There are also two brand-new interest points along the loop. As of summer 2017, the first properly designated swim area on the Willamette River, Poet’s Beach, will be available. It’s just by the Marquam Bridge on the west side. The second point (still not complete) is a swimming recreational area between the Burnside and the Steel bridges on the east side, on the Duckworth Memorial Dock.
Mt. Tabor, 5 miles straight east from downtown in the neighborhood of the same name, is a 196-acre park on a steep hill with thick woods, yet well-equipped for family outings or sports. Mt. Tabor dominates the area and circling it you have sweeping views of the city. On a clear day, it’s quite spectacular.
On the west side, the South Park Blocks host the Portland Farmers’ Market every Saturday from March to December, and the entry for the Art Museum is there (see below). Sellwood is the most southern neighborhood along the Willamette River. The public park has a free riverfront beach where both water and land are clean. It’s quiet and just off the riverfront pathway, so many people bike there. Picnics are ubiquitous and many people bring their dogs.
5. Take advantage of First Thursday freebies at the Art Museum.
Portland Art Museum, facing the South Park Blocks, offers free entries every first Thursday of the month, on top of other free admission events around the year. Lines are never too long and the extensive permanent exhibit is paired with temporary exhibits with international interest.
6. Seriously, take advantage of First Thursdays.
Most neighborhoods have a First Thursday event. Art galleries and studios open up to the public, street vendors pop their shops up and you can find artists as well as live music on street corners.
Perhaps the Pearl District First Thursday, on the west side, is the best-known location. Several blocks are closed off to vehicular traffic along NW 14th Ave for vendors, artisans, and artists’ booths, as well as tarot readers, entertainers, and live-painters. Many galleries offer wine or hors-d’oeuvres, which help start a conversation with other attendees. The crowds change throughout the year and throughout the day, so it’s worth to spend some time there.
7. Go to the International Rose Test Gardens.
Simply a place with 650+ varieties of roses and 10,000+ plants of dozens of colors. The gardens solidified Portland’s nickname, “City of Roses”, and 2017 was the 100th anniversary.
Located within Washington Park, on the hillsides, the garden is a beautifully arranged alternation of flowerbeds and pathways. It’s very articulated, with different levels and “gardens within the garden.” Roses no longer commercially available are found here. It’s common to see couples and families, and it’s a favorite spot for wedding photos. The city skyline is blocked by the thick surrounding forest, but you have a great view of Mt. Hood. The roses bloom from April to about October, depending on the weather, with late spring being my favorite time because both leaves and petals have the freshest color.
8. Hit Happy hour, food trucks, and microbreweries.
Portland is one of the best American cities for food quality and variety as well as microbreweries, having food and drinks out in Portland is part of the experience. It’s easy to avoid expensive (but still delicious) restaurants meals and high prices.
Virtually every venue has a Happy Hour and it’s such a part of everyday life that there are many Happy Hour apps, such as the Cocktail Compass. This is a great way to try many different small dishes and while reigning expenses in.
If you want to save more, food trucks (or food carts) offer food for prices up to $8 for generous portions. It’s difficult to find two similar carts and they are located in pods (a conglomeration of food trucks in one spot) or randomly at corners. They are easy to find also through an app, Food Carts Portland.
Beer is not expensive, but if you want to make the most of your drinks, find a beer garden such as Apex. With 50 beers on tap, you can hop into one of the two affordable diners next to it to buy food and bring it over. It’s something that few places do, but it gives a lot of flexibility.