50 Things Every Portlander Must Do
Editor’s Note: Originally published in January 2016, this article was updated in March 2017 for accuracy and relevance.
Listen up, n00bs. From urban vino and Russian tea to public nudity and Baby Ketten karaoke, the road to ultimate Portlandness takes serious commitment. It's time to put your initials on the high-score screen. Whether you've just arrived here (don't tell anyone!) or you were sipping drinks at Satyricon when Courtney Love was cuddling her Cabbage Patch dolls, think of this list as a phased journey toward Oregon self-actualization. When you cross off that fiftieth item, go ahead and call yourself a consummate local. Until then, there are no cheat codes.
The Newcomer • The Transplant • The Savvy Local • The Native Portlander
1. Find Mr. Bunyan
Built in 1959 to commemorate Oregon’s centennial, the 31-foot Paul Bunyan statue anchors the charming, walkable commercial stretch of Kenton, founded in 1911 as a company town for Swift Meat Packing. While you’re there, scale a tree house at the Bamboo Craftsman and gaze up at Raquel Welch on roller skates at the World Famous Kenton Club.
2. Rock Out With Legends
James Brown, Tina Turner, the Grateful Dead, Sleater-Kinney, Alabama Shakes (pictured). They’ve all tried to shake the 100-year-old Crystal Ballroom to the ground. Come for the roof-lifting rock; stay for the famously bouncy floor.
3. Worship at the Temple of Books
Despite what that circa-2006 tech blog would have you believe, books are still a thing. Especially in PDX. Explore the hidden corners of Central Library, a 100-year-old architectural masterpiece that, incredibly, exists for more than just checking your Gmail. Topped with an eco roof, the beautiful Georgian Revival exterior houses as many as 720,000 books, a gilded “Garden Wreath” sculpture that edges the foyer ceiling, and a sweeping carved granite staircase.
4. Join Rip City
Step 1: Pick your favorite Trail Blazer. (We got you: It’s Damian Lillard, the ice-blooded, 27-year-old point guard who’s now the face of the team.) Step 2: Pregame with craft brews and a b-ball arcade at Spirit of 77 (named for the year Portland won its only NBA championship). Step 3: Mosey over to the Moda Center, grab a glorious Cubano from Bunk Sandwiches’ concession stand, and commiserate with your neighbors about the challenge of a seemingly permanent rebuilding project.
5. Splurge on Mississippi
This northerly corridor has its own brand of Portland Weird: comics mix with local teas, nontoxic sex toys, artisanal doughnuts, and ’80s synthesizers. Start at Paxton Gate, a jungle of unexpected curiosities (trust us, you need that taxidermy pufferfish). Stroll south to The Meadow to stock up on specialty salts and cocktail bitters. Push your musical edge amid Beacon Sound’s sharply chosen vinyl stacks and Control Voltage’s mindboggling selection of synthesizers. The charmingly overstuffed bookstore Another Read Through can hook you up an author signing or reading group.
6. Honor Thy Bean
Every mug at Coava Coffee Roasters’ spacious bamboo and concrete Brew Bar is prepared for maximal control over the caffeine extraction process: coffee monks/staffers grind to order the exhaustively sourced, house-roasted single-origin beans and patiently pour 200-degree water over the grounds into a glass vessel atop a digital scale. It’s worth it.
7. Mainline Some Cart Food
Portland has, by now, a street-food rep that proceeds it. Look no further than the eager foodies waiting patiently outside of Boke Dokie on SE Division for that cart’s signature Chix Sando, a spicy fried fillet of chicken tucked into a pillowy bun garnished with kimchi-slaw. Or go across town to NE MLK Boulevard, where the BBQ starved nosh on white-oak smoked ribs and brisket at Matt’s BBQ. Downtown, The Jook Joint perches on the edge of the Alder Street pod to replenish workers with a rice porridge (the titular jook), simmered all day to a satiny deliciousness. Sellwood’s Straits Kitchen brings the tangy funk of Western Malaysian noodle dishes. Finally, Pastrami Zombie on NE Killingsworth stands ready to fill all your Reuben-based dreams. They even deliver.
8. Make Like a Tree
Portland’s living tree library has many branches, all of which can be checked out, year-round, at Hoyt Arboretum’s 189 ridgeline acres. Just west of downtown, the arboretum’s Winter Garden has scarlet-berried bamboo, corkscrew hazel, and glossy wintersweet. Wonders call from every stretch of this museum’s 12 miles of trail—from the mysterious Monkey Puzzle tree to one of North America's tallest dawn redwoods.
9. Take a Selfie at Multnomah Falls
Tackle the 2.4-mile, 700-foot climb to the top for a thrilling view of the misty forest grotto below, with the Columbia River Gorge stretching out in the distance. Tips: go on a weekday, avoid the summertime, never use the hashtag #blessed.
10. Pick a Yoga Faction
Portland’s yoga scene is a battlefield. Into the sweaty side? Hot Yoga for Life is your team. Spiritual? The Bhaktishop’s harmonium workshop is calling. Millennial hippie? Yoga Union’s new cedar sauna is your bullpen.
11. Keep Your Anenomes Close
Whether you’re frolicking at Cannon Beach (pictured), Arcadia State Park, Yaquina Head, or Yachats, the Oregon coast’s intertidal zones are a wild menagerie of marine flora and fauna. Head out two hours before low tide (check tidetable.net/oregon) and marvel at starfish, barnacles, and sea anemones galore. (Just remember: never touch the wildlife!)
12. Adopt a Furry Friend
Add your own tally to the Oregon Humane Society’s monumental statistics. In 2015, the nonprofit placed 11,602 animals, with a 98 percent save rate. Because true Portlanders don’t buy pets, we rescue them.
13. Get Schooled at Powell's
You’ve already whiled away some hours in the aisles of Powell’s City of Books. Now, it’s time to stride purposefully to the Pearl Room, where the bookstore holds free readings almost every evening with local luminaries and heavy-hitters like Bernie Sanders, Salman Rushdie, and Susan Orlean.
14. Hunker Down at a Dive Bar
Shoehorned into SE Division Street’s trending food and bar scene, the humble Reel M Inn has been around, as far as anyone can remember, since the ’60s. Today, it’s a perfect melange of antlers, fishing themes, and just-plain-comfy, please-don’t-change-a-thing dive bar. It also happens to serve some of the city’s best fried chicken. Order the two-piece and a side of jojos.
15. Uncover Our Hidden Past
You’ve probably heard the stories of our hard-drinking, hard-fighting forebears, from the debauchery of Erickson’s Saloon and backroom gambling dens to the Shanghai tunnels and historic strip clubs. But what you may not know is the story of Portland’s sizable Chinese, Japanese, African American, Jewish, and LGBT communities. To fill in the gaps, Know Your City offers walking tours through Chinatown, Old Town, Portland’s original African American community, and Japantown, revealing the very real struggles of our city’s social activists and working-class heroes.
16. Wander Lone Fir Cemetery
This serene, 30-acre plot in Southeast, named for the once-solitary fir in its northwest corner, has housed departed Portlanders since 1846. Lone Fir is also the city’s second-largest arboretum, with 500 trees and 67 species. Every year the Friends of Lone Fir Cemetery host the Tour of Untimely Departures around Halloween. The regularly sold out event gives future residents a chance to rub elbows with longtime residents like Asa Lovejoy, Eric Ladd, Dr. James Hawthorne, Frank Dekum, Robert Pittock…you get the idea.
17. Enlist in the (Timbers) Army
Step 1: Memorize the chant sheet from timbersarmy.org. Step 2: If you’re standing with the Timbers Army in Providence Park’s “North End,” don’t be the guy who tries to squeeze into a full row five minutes before game time. Step 3: Lubricate your vocal cords with a beer, and sing. If the Timbers win (which, you know, sometimes they do) one of the best songs is reserved for victories: the “Tetris” chant that involves thousands of lunatics hopping through the stands.
18. Go Grocery Shopping at the Portland Farmers Market
Let the week’s fresh picks dictate your menu: You might grab a bag of fresh orecchiette from Pasta del Sol, a chunk of hard cheese and cultured butter from the dairy hawkers, some foraged ’shrooms from Springwater Farm, and some kale raab and purple carrots for good measure. Dinner is served!
19. Bike the Springwater
Last summer’s furor about homeless encampments, police sweeps, and crime along the Springwater Corridor is still a sore spot for some, but shouldn’t deter you from enjoying this 21-mile stretch of flat, smooth trail extending from the Willamette River to Boring. Replenish like a true local at Cartlandia, where 30-plus food carts and an open-air beer garden await just off the trail on SE 82nd Avenue.
20. Drink All the Beer
Coffee beer. Bourbon beer. Berry beer! If you can dream it, there’s a beer fest for it. According to one count, the city has more beer fests than weeks in a year. Vets can go ahead and skip the overcrowded Oregon Brewers Festival in favor of smaller favorites like Zwickelmania (February), Firkin Fest (March), Cider Summit PDX (June), Lagerfest (July), and Portland Fresh Hops Fest (September).
21. Up the Ante at Karaoke
When you’re ready to move beyond that dusty list of overdone frat-boy sing-alongs, hit up Baby Ketten Karaoke. Every week KJ John Brophy purges his database of karaoke songs. That means that while you’ll probably never have to suffer through Weezer’s “Say It Ain’t So” again, you’ll need to dig deep down in your memory to discover your own hit. May we suggest Brian Eno?
22. Play a Weird Sport
Maybe you’re the most impressive amateur cornhole tosser in the state. Or maybe you rip a mean dodgeball. Whatever your passion, channeling your athleticism (or lack thereof) into sports you haven’t played since middle school is a strange but real part of being a Portlander. Underdog Sports Leagues makes it easy to join an existing team or start your own.
23. Prepare for the Big One
Step 1: Catch up by reading about the catastrophic Cascadia Subduction Zone earthquake, a long-term geological certainty that may or may not happen in the next 50 years. Step 2: Emerge from the fetal position. Step 3: Assemble an earthquake kit and store it in a safe, accessible place in your home. Then, join your neighborhood emergency team for training that could help save lives. Not sure what to put in your kit? Pick up a Jet Pack: these Portland-assembled safety and preparedness kits start at $300 for a solo pack with three days of food, water, and tools. While it shouldn’t be the only thing you rely on, it’s a good start.
24. Pick an Alt-Fitness Obsession
The treadmill? Pssht. Barre3 torches muscles into dancerly leanness. BurnCycle’s candlelit cycling classes brutalize glutes while DJ-coach hybrids spin inspirational beats. Firebrand’s rowing studio brings the river indoors with a side of ab torture. Studio X’s kettlebell-swinging boot camps will turn you into a beast (after they turn you into a puddle). Something less punishing? Try Studio Nia’s barefoot dance Zen.
25. Play B-Movie Bingo
The 90-year-old Hollywood Theatre offers some the most awesomely weird programming in town. Once a month at B-Movie Bingo, audience members check off squares while reveling in a downright awful flick (e.g., the 1985 Schwarzenegger classic Commando). Man with a ponytail? Briefcase containing money? Police chief furious with lead character? BINGO!
26. Outfit Yourself
The century-old downtown institution Portland Outdoor Store stocks some 4,000 pairs of boots, new and used saddles, and, critically, a stylish stockpile of cowboy hats that’ll prep you for the rodeo (see No. 30). The steam-powered hat-stretching service (a real thing) is complimentary.
27. Stuff Yourself on 82nd Avenue
Among the car lots of East Portland you’ll find the city’s Jade District: block after vivid block of authentic Asian eats served at low, low, low prices. You dig brunch? Become a partisan in the great debate among Wong’s King, Ocean City, and HK Café for dim sum supremacy, or slurp the city’s best morning soups—two kinds each day, from heady turmeric noodles to pork- and seafood-packed broths—elbow to elbow with Vietnamese oldsters at teeny Hà VL. At lunch, guzzle even more soup: sinus-clearing bun bo hue at Dong Ba 3, or Good Taste Noodle House’s wonton and barbecue floating Super Bowl. Gobble fancy Japanese gummi and roasted duck at sprawling Asian mall Fubonn, gnaw molten-hot salt-and-pepper chicken wings at Chinese Delicacy, and buy fresh noodles by the pound at JC Rice Noodle.
28. Taste Our Concrete Terroir
Trekking out to McMinnville is so 2000-and-late. Portland Short Bus’s 13-seater yellow school bus (plus one “naughty seat” in the back) named Lucille will safely (and soberly!) conduct oenophiles on an afternoon crash course through some of the city’s many award-winning urban wineries.
29. Bare Your Naughty Bits
Here in town, you can strip down at one of Löyly's two ultramodern, Finnish-style spa locations host men-only or women-only hours, or go au naturel at Northeast’s Common Ground Wellness Cooperative. Adventurous types can head for our state’s steaming hot springs—we love Bagby and Terwilliger. In the warmth of summertime, Sauvie Island’s Collins Beach and Rooster Rock State Park are popular spots for sunbathing in the buff. And of course, everyone (well, not us, but lots of people) turns out for June’s annual World Naked Bike Ride—technically about bike-safety awareness, but...yeah.
30. Go Country, City Slicker!
Held in September since 1910, the Pendleton Round-Up plays host to some 50,000 people for rodeo and Wild West pageantry on the state’s far eastern side. Steel yourself with a cold one at the Let’er Buck Room, home to one of the world’s longest continuous bars.
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31. Find the Fungus Among Us
From candy caps and rainbow chanterelles to matsutakes and morels, our state’s wet forests abound with mycological wonders. But first, learn how to separate the treasures from the dangers with a foraging class at Wild Food Adventures or Trackers Earth.
32. Win Big at the Meadows
Horse betting is about as accessible as a conversation at an actuary convention. But here’s the great part: the pressure is low, the people are helpful and friendly, and drinking whiskey is the most important part of the game. This is why the racetrack at Portland Meadows is one of the city’s great forgotten gems. Ease yourself into the scene by sticking to the simplest possible bets: picking a horse to “win” means they have to come in first; to “place” means they can come in first or second; and to “show” means they can come in first, second, or third. Trust us, once you knock back a few juleps, it’ll make perfect sense. The season gets rolling every September.
33. Explore the "Other Oregon"
Nestled at the base of Northeast Oregon’s jaw-dropping Wallowa Mountains and the state’s largest wilderness area (the Eagle Cap), it’s no surprise that the little town of Joseph has become a hot getaway spot in Eastern Oregon’s wilds. Lodging is a no-brainer: rub elbows with river rats and artists in the historic, designer-fueled Jennings Hotel.
34. Bespoke Yourself
Hordes of local designers specialize in creating custom clothing for those eschewing mass-produced, off-the-peg options. Think Duchess Clothier or the Team at Wildwood Bespoke for custom-made formal wear; Liza Rietz for modern, structured designs that are customized for clients; or Adam Arnold for elegant made-to-order items.
35. Take a Moment to Smell the Flowers
Since Oregon legalized marijuana for recreational sale in 2015, a Fiddlers’ Green of dispensaries and apothecaries has taken root all over Portland, notably along Sandy Boulevard’s “storied” Green Mile. (Yes, the name is new, and unofficial.) Some of the best—Gras Cannabis, Panacea, and Brother’s Cannabis—got their start helping patients manage pain and appetite during the state’s long experiment with medical marijuana before moving into recreational sales. All three carry some assortment of edibles, concentrates, and of course marijuana either raw or rolled. Tell them Jeff Sessions sent you! Or, actually, don’t.
36. Spend Some Time With River Phoenix
Longing for the glory days of “Old Portland”? You know, that pseudomythical golden age before Portland was so over? Take an afternoon and retrace the steps of River Phoenix and Keanu Reeves in Gus Van Sant’s 1991 masterpiece, My Own Private Idaho: the Elk Fountain, Bailey’s Taproom (formerly a Chinese restaurant), Sentinel Hotel (formerly the Governor), the St. Johns Bridge, and Jake’s (still just Jake’s). Just don’t start throwing chairs in the air and yelling “Bob.”
37. Studio Audience
Provide a robust laugh track at a live taping of Live Wire, the Portland-hatched, nationally syndicated public radio variety show hosted by Luke Burbank—a heady, hilarious mix of interviews, music, and comedy usually taped at the Alberta Rose Theatre.
38. Splurge on A Mountain Getaway
The hardest part about renting Timberline Lodge’s super-cozy, snowbound Silcox Hut, located at 7,000 feet on Mount Hood? Figuring which 18 people you want to share it with. Transportation, luggage hauling, bedding, and family-style meals are all included—the only thing you’ll need to do is get up from the fireplace to refresh your cocktail.
39. Take a Stand
Now, more then ever, we need to engage our leaders in regular discourse. Our city council has Wednesday meetings open to the public, with a regularly updated agenda. Keep tabs on our new mayor on Twitter via @tedwheeler, as he addresses our shared troubles and success. If you prefer to talk to Ted directly, you can request a meeting via an online form at portlandoregon.gov.
40. Pretend You're Rocky
Sports teams use them for training; runners use them to punctuate distances; pregnant women use them to induce labor. Whatever the reason, running up the Mount Tabor steps—280 on the northeast side and another 96 between the two largest reservoirs, to be precise—is a badass test of personal fitness.
41. Do Try This at Home
Part costume party, part science fair, the annual PDX Adult Soap Box Derby (Aug 19, 2017) is an advanced (if a bit reckless) rite of passage for the DIY-ers among us. Saddle up your steampunk R2-D2 or souped-up hospital gurney, and plummet down Mount Tabor’s extinct volcanic backbone.
42. Summit St. Helens
Here’s the crazy thing about that hulking volcano to the north: It’s totally hikeable! And at just five miles and 4,500 feet of elevation gain, the nontechnical Monitor Ridge Route delivers seriously face-melting views. Secure a permit and get yourself up this mountain, on the double.
43. Become the Beer Scene
Southeast Portland brewing supply mecca F. H. Steinbart sells all-in-one starter kits for everything you’ll need to ferment the next great American beer. (Don’t skip the in-house demo!) And if you want to keep the sweet smell of boiling wort out of your house, head to Portland U-Brew, where experienced brewmasters will guide you through your very own recipe, using the on-site equipment. You can also pick up valuable brewing tips and terminology from brewing clubs like the Ladies of Lager and Ales, Oregon Brew Crew, or in Portland-based author Lucy Burningham’s book My Beer Year, which documents her quest to become a certified beer expert (called a cicerone).
44. Words, Words, Words
We have already mentioned Powell’s. Our broader literary scene is pretty hot too. Besides authors like Chuck Palahniuk and Ursula K. Le Guin, the city fosters numerous independent presses, and larger publishers like Dark Horse and Oni Press comics. The theatrically inclined could start with Portland Center Stage’s JAW playwrights festival, which showcases new works in development to the public every summer (July 28–30, 2017). The scene’s arguable flagship event, Literary Arts’ jam-packed one-day festival Wordstock (Nov 11, 2017), attracts authors of all genres and styles from all over the world to talk about their work. Finally, Portland Area Theatre Alliance’s Fertile Ground stages two weeklong winter festival showcases of new works in dance, performance art, and theater from groups all over the city in January.
45. Join the Maker Movement
Got an invention that is just itching to be born but don’t have the tools or experience to make it? Southeast Portland’s ADX offers shared and personal workshop spaces, tools, and classes for any project, whether you’re sawing, routing, welding, cutting, screen printing, or garment-sewing. Already got your process down but need more space or better coverage? Join ADX’s sister organizations, Portland Made and the Industrial Grange and supercharge your dreams.
46. Go Really, Really Rogue
The mighty Rogue River carves a frothy swath through 215 miles of Oregon, from its highlands near Crater Lake to the Pacific Ocean. Though the remote, 84-mile stretch of river designated as “Wild and Scenic” is heavily restricted, if you book with an outfit like Rogue Wilderness Adventures you can spend up to four days on the canyon’s legendary white water, with nights along the river in tents and backcountry lodges.
47. See Russia From Here
It’s not as sinister as it might sound right now! Set aside your coffee (or beer) and stop in at the Heathman Hotel’s Historic Tea Court Lounge for a Russian tea service—the latest culinary adventure from legendary local chef Vitaly Paley, inspired by his childhood in Belarus. Every weekend you can find a prix fixe menu that includes kippered or smoked fish, Georgian khachapour cheese bread, sweet steopka cakes, and steaming cups of black tea right out of the samovar.
48. Run, Forest, Run
If Forest Park is at the heart of America’s trail running movement, the Wildwood Trail is its beautifully forested aorta. You could casually sample the path between mileposts 9 and 11, with big trees, deep canyons, and a small, picnic table–equipped meadow at the end—but the Authentic Portlander would run all 30 miles.
49. Butcher Your Own Damn Meat
There are two ways to do this: take a class, or buy a whole animal and DIY the heck out of it. While the Portland Meat Collective is the veteran resource for learning how the sausage gets made, the rise of newcomer Proletariat Butchery brings even more classes in ethical slaughter, butchering, and charcuterie for all. (Tip: arm yourself with the right knife with some help from the sharp folks at the Portland Knife House.)
50. Run For Office (Yes, We're Serious)
If we’ve learned anything in the last couple years, it’s never too early to be thinking about the next election cycle. Our current city council features an engineer, nurse, and an independent bookseller. Think of our city’s government less like a top-down triangle and more like peeling away an onion. Each thin layer offers an opportunity to make an impact: councilors for Metro, the region’s governing body; Portland Public Schools board members; Multnomah County commissioners; and, sure, West Multnomah Soil and Water Conservation District directors. Even getting involved in the city’s 95 neighborhood associations can help make Portland a better place. And really, that’s why we’re all here.