Cheap & Free Things To Do In Portland Right Now.
Travel can be expensive. First there’s the flight, then the accommodations, and of course you have to eat. A great way to save some money is to carefully select what you do while visiting a destination.
Almost any city in the world offers a plethora of attractions ranging from free to seriously expensive. With a little research–and sometimes creativity–you can enjoy the highlights of a city without breaking the bank. So here are 17 cheap and free things to do in Portland that I personally recommend. I’ve been to Portland dozens of times, and most of these things I’ve done repeatedly.
Most of the recommendations here are indeed free, and everything else is $10 or less per person.
Explore the vintage shops
Portland is full of terrific vintage shopping, whether its clothes, furniture, or home decor. I’ve spent hours browsing some of the city’s vintage shops and not spent a dime. It’s a great walk down memory lane and ideal for exploring some of Portland’s fun neighborhoods.
Here are a few of the vintage shops I recommend;
Artifact–on Southeast Division Street. Offers a mix of clothing and home decor.
House of Vintage–located in the Hawthorne District with over 13,000 square feet of vintage items to explore.
Vintage Pink–also located in Hawthorne and specializing in mid-century modern furniture and home decor
Hike in Forest Park
Located in the city’s West Hills area, Forest Park is a 5,000 acres green oasis protecting native animals and plants. It can be explored for free along 80 miles of hiking trails. You’ll see many locals who use these trails regularly for their daily walk or run. Free parking can be found in several surrounding lots or in the nearby residential neighborhoods.
Most trails in Forest Park are easy to moderate, so they are great for any age or ability.
Explore Washington Park
I’ve been visiting Washington Park for over thirty years and it never gets old. At only 410 acres, it’s much smaller than Forest Park, but it’s packed with things to do. For the purpose of this article I’m writing about two free things to do, but there’s also the Oregon Zoo and Japanese Garden–both worth the time and money should you choose to visit.
Hike Through Washington Park
Most of my visits to this park have been by car, but a few years ago I met up with friends to hike here. It was a hot summer day, but thanks to the numerous large trees, we had plenty of shade to protect us. We opted for the Hoyt Arboretum Trail, an easy 1.3 mile loop, however there are many other trails, some connecting to longer trails outside the park.
There’s no admission fee for the park, but you will pay to park.
Smell The Roses At The International Rose Test Garden
It’s rare that I visit Washington Park and don’t make a stop at the International Rose Test Garden. Boasting 10,000 roses–mostly blooming between May and October–this garden is a real treat. I’ve never seen such a wide array of rose colors and varietals. And better yet, it’s free.
On a clear day you’ll also have great views of the city of Portland and possibly Mount Hood.
Again, you will need to pay to park.
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Browse At Saturday Market
Located downtown in the Tom McCall Waterfront Park, the Saturday Market is a Portland institution. 150 artists and craftspeople participate each week (March through December) selling unique, handcrafted goods. Spend time browsing the wares, but be sure to chat with the artists as well. They are eager to talk about their work.
One of my favorite reasons to visit the Saturday Market is to eat. There are several good food vendors and a beer garden. If the weather permits, grab a bite and enjoy a seat along this lovely riverfront spot.
Metered parking spots are available in this area as well as private, paid lots.
Head To Powell’s City Of Books
I’m pretty sure that a visit to Powell’s City of Books is required for all trips to Portland. Or maybe that’s just me and my family. We love this store. It’s the world’s largest independent bookstore, and it is a dream come true for any bibliophile.
If it’s your first time at Powell’s, just browse. In fact, get lost. You’ll be amazed at how many books are packed into this store. The staff here are awesome, so if you’re looking for a particular title or genre, just ask. They will look it up and write down the exact room and row where you’ll find your next read.
It’s important to note that Powell’s sells both new and used books. So if you are on a budget, look for the cheapest edition of the book you want.
We usually find metered parking around Powell’s.
Admire All The Art In the Alberta Arts District
There are many places to explore street art in Portland, but my favorite is the Alberta Street Arts District. At least 20 murals grace the sides of shops and restaurants. Historically this was home to the highest concentration of African Americans in Portland, but over time they were pushed out. This painful history is reflected in a few of the murals. This map is a great place to start when visiting Alberta.
In addition to murals there are a few galleries to round-out your art tour of this area. And like all Portland neighborhoods, there are some great bars and restaurants to pop into when you need a break.
If you’re willing to walk a bit you can find free parking in the nearby residential streets.
Located ten miles northwest of downtown Portland is Sauvie Island, the largest island along the Columbia River. For some reason this scenic spot isn’t on the radar of most visitors, but it’s definitely worth the trip, especially if you’re looking for cheap and free things to do in Portland.
You must purchase a parking pass before heading to any of the activities mentioned below. There are just a few spots to do this, so be sure to plan ahead.
Hit The Beach On Sauvie Island
If the weather permits, grab a picnic lunch and head to one of the public beaches on Sauvie Island. Public beaches on the island include Reeder, North Unit, Walton, and Collins. Relax in the sun, splash in the water, and enjoy the view. But be sure to know that alcohol is not permitted on these beaches.
Pick Fruit On Sauvie Island
The island is also known for its u-pick fruit orchards. In the summer this includes berries and in the fall tree fruits like apples and pears. The prices are really affordable and the fruit is delicious. Many of the u-pick spots sell related products like jams and jellies and a few offer family activities.
Take A Photo Of The White Stag Sign
Even if you’ve never been to Portland, you’ve likely seen a photo of the White Stag sign, also known as the Portland, Oregon sign. This neon sign has promoted different products over the years including white satin sugar and then a clothing manufacturer known as White Stag. Today it’s owned by the city of Portland and serves as a visual representation of the city.
Taking a photo of the sign is practically required while visiting Portland. The sign is located in the Old Town Historic district, but the best photo spot is along the sidewalk on the north side of the Burnside Bridge.
Eat Voodoo Doughnuts
Maybe you’ve heard of Voodoo Doughnuts on a travel show or seen food vloggers visit the original location in one of their YouTube videos. Both praised and maligned, this just might be one of the best known donut shops in the U.S. It’s well known for its Pepto Bismol pink branding and unusual pastry creations.
I fall on the side of praising Voodoo and always recommend it to visitors. Personally, I prefer their original location in Old Town. On a weekend there may be a line, but don’t be turned off because it moves quickly. I won’t recommend a specific doughnut because I usually order one of their seasonal creations. Better yet, order a dozen so you can sample a bunch of these tasty treats.
Take A Photo Of Keep Portland Weird Mural
Across the street from the original Voodoo Doughnuts is another great photo opportunity, the Keep Portland Weird mural which colorfully depicts the city’s motto.
Originally created in 2003, the motto was intended to promote local and small businesses in the city.
However, its meaning has expanded to include a sense of uniqueness and inventiveness in everything that happens here. This isn’t the best mural in the city, but it sums up this city so well in a photo that I definitely recommend stopping for a few minutes to see it.
Bike Around The City
There are several studies that point to Portland being a great place for bikes, some even rank it as number one. In fact Portland has more than 350 miles of bike lanes, paths, and low-traffic streets designated as “bike boulevards.”
My recommendation is to find a bike rental shop like Portland Cycle and then head out on one of these recommended routes. We did this a few years ago with our kids and my brother. We rented bikes downtown and then explored a few nearby neighborhoods. Along the way we stopped for lunch and did some shopping. It was one of our favorite family memories in Portland.
You’ll see many racks filled with orange BIKETOWN rentals throughout the city. And while I think this is a great service for locals, the pricing doesn’t make sense for visitors. This is intended to augment public transportation and car sharing services. It wasn’t designed for tourists.
Drink Plenty Of Beer
I suppose you can drink beer in any city, but it really is an integral part of Portland because this is home to the craft brewing movement that has become ubiquitous in the U.S. And it doesn’t hurt that beer is usually cheap and delicious.
Here are two breweries I recommend. I’ve focused on those that have a unique Portland angle to them, not something you’ll find anywhere in the U.S.
Cascade Brewing Barrel House–This is the home of sour beers, not something I love, but it is about as authentically Portland as you can get.
Ex Novo Brewing Company–great beer and 100% of net profits are donated to non-profit organizations
Drink Lots Of Coffee
I challenge you to not visit a Starbucks while visiting Portland. There’s nothing wrong with Starbucks, but why go somewhere that can be found anywhere in the world when you can instead support a local coffee shop. And often the local ones are better.
Portland is proud of its local coffee scene and for good reason. Here are a few of the coffee shops I recommend;
Jet Black Coffee Company–My brother–a resident of Portland–stops here at least once a day, and I understand why. The coffee is seriously good. It is a vegan cafe however, so don’t expect milk in your coffee. Instead you’ll need to select from a large assortment of milk alternatives.
Stumptown Coffee Roasters–founded in Portland, this small chain is now owned by Pete’s Coffee. But that’s ok, their coffee is good as are their seasonal beverage creations.
Heart–Offering two locations, Heart has many tasty coffee beverages, but the honey cardamom is especially good.
Take In The Views
I love the opportunity to get up high and enjoy a view of the city below. And when you’re in Portland, these views may sometimes include Mount Hood–assuming it’s a clear day. Here are two places that offer great views either for little or no money.
Ride The Portland Aerial Tram At OHSU
Riding the tram at a hospital sounds weird, but stay with me. In exchange for $7 you’ll see one of the best views of the city. I’ve taken this tram with my brother, sister, and both adult kids, and everyone loved it. In just three minutes you’ll be lifted 2,200 feet from the lower to the upper campus of OHSU (Oregon Health & Science University). At the top you can take advantage of a few outdoor terraces which also have nice views. The ticket includes a roundtrip ride. And since this is on hospital property, you must wear a mask.
Get A View Of The City at Pittock Mansion
Perched on a hill with panoramic views of the city, the Pittock Mansion was once the home of newspaper publisher Henry Pittock, and his family. Building began in 1912 and the family moved in two years later. After the last family member moved out several decades later it was opened to the public. Today it’s a great destination to either enjoy the views or to tour the mansion. I recommend both.
If you’re opting for the free route, take some time to stroll the grounds which are open to the public. The woods behind the house are part of Forest Park which is described above.
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