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Downtown Portland Oregon for Visitors

Fun Things to See & Do in Downtown Portland OR

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Visitors will find it's fun to spend a day or more exploring Portland's walkable downtown. It's a great place to get some shopping done, both because of the varied selection of stores and because your purchases will be tax free. As you walk the short blocks of downtown Portland you'll come across numerous parks where you can relax and people watch. There are certainly plenty of eateries and coffee shops where you can refresh yourself, enjoying the famous local cuisine. During the day you can explore several of Portland's best museums and visitor attractions; after dark, Portland offers a diverse and exciting night life.

For the purposes of this article, downtown Portland is defined as the blocks between Interstate 405 and the Willamette River, which includes - as defined by the locals - Portland's core downtown as well as the Pearl District and the University District.

Here are the highlights of the many fun things you can see and do in downtown Portland, Oregon:

Shopping in Downtown Portland

Powell's City of Books © Angela M. Brown (2007)
Powell's City of Books
The first thing you need to know about shopping in downtown Portland, or anywhere in Oregon, is that there's no sales tax. That right there can save you a significant amount of money. Whether you're a casual or a devoted shopper, you'll find the full range of shopping opportunities in downtown Portland. There are the big departments stores, like Nordstom and Macy's. There are shops grouped together in the Pioneer Place indoor mall, and shops gathered into districts like The Pearl. Powell's City of Books is the world's largest independent book store, stocking new and used books as well as an eclectic selection of toys and gift items. Finally, there's an abundance of unique, locally-owned retailers selling everything from sportswear to fine art.

Downtown Portland Parks, Plazas, and Fountains

Director Park Plaza in Downtown Portland (Angela M. Brown 2012)
Director Park Plaza in Downtown Portland
Downtown Portland is particularly rich in outdoor public spaces such as parks, plazas, and fountains. Some tree-filled parks run for several blocks, such as the North Park Blocks and the South Park Blocks, both located along stretches of Park Avenue. Pioneer Courthouse Square and Director Park are hard-scaped public plazas, serving as community meeting spaces for many needs. There are several prominent fountains, such as the historic Skidmore Fountain, a Portland landmark built in the late 19th century. All of these places are great for people watching and for savoring a coffee drink.

Arts Venues in Downtown Portland

Portland Center for the Performing Arts (Angela M. Brown 2012)
Portland Center for the Performing Arts' Antoinette Hatfield Hall
The venues for several of Portland's major arts companies are located downtown. Keller Auditorium and Newmark Theatre serve as the performance space for both the Oregon Ballet Theatre and the Portland Opera. The historic Schnitzer Hall is the venue for the Oregon Symphony and for touring Broadway musicals.

Food & Drink in Downtown Portland

Pod of Portland Food Carts (Angela Brown 2012)
Pod of Portland Food Carts
Portland is famous for its dynamic culinary scene featuring the creative use of sustainable, seasonal, local ingredients. You'll find this focus everywhere, from high-end restaurants to the micro distilleries to the ubiquitous food carts. Portland's food carts, many gathered in groups or "pods", can be found at several downtown locations. Food cart cuisine can now be experienced as part of a street-food-focused guided tour. Portland is also known for its fine beverages. Oregon's craft beers and fine wines are featured at restaurants, bars, shops, tasting rooms, and grocery stores throughout downtown. Then there's the Portland coffee scene, with the beans often roasted locally or even on site. Newest on the scene are the micro distilleries, with new spirits being produced all the time. In addition to downtown Portland's restaurants, Portland visitors might want to check out the Portland Farmer's Market and the Portland Saturday Market.

Visitor Attractions in Downtown Portland

Oregon History Museum (Angela M. Brown 2012)
Oregon History Museum
Many of Portland's most popular museums and visitor attractions are located in downtown. You'll find a few lesser-known attractions as well.
  • Lan Su Chinese Garden
  • Museum of Contemporary Craft
  • Oregon Maritime Museum
  • Oregon Nikkei Legacy Center
  • Portland Art Museum
  • Portland Police Museum
  • The Oregon Historical Society Museum
  • Wells Fargo History Museum

More Portland visitor attractions

Night Life in Downtown Portland

Live music venues, dance clubs, brewpubs, sports bars, and lounges are scattered throughout downtown Portland. Many, such as The Crystal Ballroom and the Virginia Cafe, are located in unique and historic spaces. Portland's cocktail scene, intertwined with the artisan and local foods movements, can be a multi-sensory adventure. GLBT visitors will find a long list of friendly bars and nightclubs.

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