Portland is one of those cities that I keep coming back to again and again. Though it’s small, every visit seems to reveal a new side of the city or another favorite restaurant, café, or bar to daydream about, alongside the constants of welcoming people and beautiful, evergreen- and fern-filled landscapes. Which is why I was excited to go back and spend a few days there with my colleagues here at AFAR this past spring.
Both the size and the vibe make it a very approachable city, with neighborhoods that often feel more like a small town than a city, and easy-to-reach outdoor adventures both within its limits and nearby. Whether you want a laid-back urban getaway or a trip that mixes city and nature, this Northwest destination delivers. Here’s how to spend a weekend in Portland, Oregon—based on some of the new (as well as tried and true) places we visited.
Where to stay in Portland
While Portland’s neighborhoods (such as Northeast Portland’s Alberta Arts District or Southeast’s Hawthorne) are a fun place to stay, you’ll mostly find Airbnbs outside the center. Our favorite hotels in the city are in or near the Pearl District and also right across the Burnside bridge in East Portland. Some of the best places to stay in Portland include:
For a stay in East Portland, Kex Hotel, which has a mix of private bunk rooms (with shared bathrooms) and en suite king, queen, and double rooms, is your best bet. The 29 rooms, as well as the common spaces, feature a vintage eclectic design—exposed brick, gallery walls of thrifted art, and lived-in leather sofas—that gives it a cozy, urban vibe. To embrace the social side of this hotel, you won’t want to skip drinks at its lively downstairs bar and restaurant, Pacific Standard, or the seasonal rooftop bar, the Sunset Room, before winding down with a stop by its sauna.
The first thing you’ll notice about Woodlark, located downtown, is the buzzing lobby filled with hip Portlanders and lots of houseplants. While the common spaces are energetic, the 150 rooms—all housed in two connected buildings that have stood in downtown Portland since the 1900s—offer a tranquil retreat of cool-colored decor, plant motif wallpaper, and velvet armchairs. In contrast, its downstairs bar, Abigail Hall, which was the Ladies Reception Hall of the former Cornelius Hotel of 1907, is a bright burst of color. For a real treat, book one of the two-level loft rooms, which feature double-height windows and sleek velvet furnishings.
Ritz-Carlton (opening summer 2023)
- Location: Downtown | Google Maps
The city’s next big hotel opening is slated to be a game changer: The Oregonian-owned Ritz-Carlton, Portland starts taking reservations on July 14, 2023, for stays beginning in August, and it promises to up the ante on world-class luxury lodgings in the Pacific Northwest. When open, it will include 251 rooms and suites that sit on floors 8 to 18 of a 35-story mixed-use building. Thanks to the height, guests will be treated to views of Mount Hood, Mount St. Helens, Mount Rainier, and Mount Jefferson, all while surrounded by a design that feels thoroughly Pacific Northwest—think: framed photos of mossy forests and chandeliers inspired by raindrops.
A spacious Ritz-Carlton club floor and a gym that the NBA had a say in (thanks, Trailblazers!) promises to impress fitness buffs. The 19th floor will feature an indoor pool, making it the city’s only hotel with this feature. The hotel is also participating in thoughtful urban revitalization projects in collaboration with the city and other organizations, including the reimagination of the park at the adjacent O’Bryant Square.
Where to eat
If there’s one thing Portland is known for worldwide, it’s the city’s phenomenal culinary scene, which for years has been the subject of international acclaim. If you’ve never been, it’s worth swinging by some of the city’s more famous food highlights—coffee from Stumptown, doughnuts from Voodoo doughnuts, breakfast at the Saturday Farmers’ Market, and its many, many food carts (Nob Hill Food Carts is a pleasant, centrally located cluster). But we suggest adding some exciting newcomers into your itinerary as well.
There’s no shortage of great cafés in this coffee-fueled city, but some newer additions include Nossa Familia and Portland Cà Phê. Both are fourth-wave coffee shops, which means they source beans directly from the farmers, in Brazil and Vietnam, respectively. For a snack, snag a cheese-filled, pão de queijo waffle at Nossa or bánh mì from Cà Phê.
Still hungry? Follow it up with brunch at the Korean-inspired restaurant, Toki—you won’t want to miss its steamed bao burger made with a dry-aged beef patty and American cheese—or freshly made conchas and other Mexican pastries at Matutina.
Book a table at one of the newer restaurants in the city, such as the southern Mediterranean–theme Dolly Olive, which has a braised short rib arancini you won’t want to miss, flavorful Malaysian hawker fare at Oma’s Hideaway, upscale Korean Japanese fusion at Janken, and memorable Mexican cuisine at a Clandestino, which hosts a weekly pop-up at Lil’ Dame. Also notable is Tercet, where the nine-course tasting menu rotates seasonally, and Kann, a new-as-of-2022 Haitian restaurant from Top Chef finalist Gregory Gourdet that centers Pacific Northwest produce and is a 2023 James Beard Award finalist for “Best New Restaurant.”
For plant-based fare, head to Workshop Food & Drink, a Cuban restaurant that wowed us with it’s savory vegan caviar and beet tartare.
If you want something more casual, here’s a hot tip: Portland is actually a huge pizza city—some have even called it the best pizza city in the U.S. Whether you agree or not, we say it’s worth sampling a slice of the local pizza scene at Dimo’s Apizza, which opened in East Portland in 2020 and makes a delicious cacio e pepe pie.
Where to drink
Given that Oregon is home to some of the best craft breweries in the nation and Willamette Valley, a wine growing region known for its cool climate pinot noirs, is a short drive away, it should be no surprise that Portland has some excellent places to drink.
One newcomer on the beer scene worth visiting is Grand Fir Brewing, where brewmaster Whitney Burnside (who became the city’s first female head brewer in 2015) makes a mean East Texas lager. Meanwhile, Gabriel Rucker’s Canard bistro (opened in 2018) remains the gold standard for happy hour.
Whiskey lovers will want to book a table at the high-ceilinged, moodily lit Multnomah Whiskey Library, a membership-based bar with a collection of close to 2,000 spirits from around the world. The setting is on par with some of the best cocktail bars we’ve been to, but the approach—for one, profits from some cocktails go toward organizations like the National Network of Abortion Funds, Planned Parenthood, Columbia Riverkeeper—felt like an only-in-Portland experience.
Things to do in Portland
In between meals and drinks, get to know Portland’s artistic and natural side with these highlights:
Go for a hike in Forest Park
Oregon is home to some truly beautiful nature, and you don’t have to travel far to get a glimpse. The 5,200-acre Forest Park, one of the largest U.S. urban parks, is located within Portland’s city limits and includes over 32 miles of hiking and biking trails. As senior deputy editor Jenn Flowers says about her visit, “Walking through the stands of moss-covered Douglas firs, western hemlocks, and big leaf maples, I felt I had truly escaped the urban sprawl without leaving the city limits.”
Shop for books at Powell’s Books
Portland—and the greater Pacific Northwest—is filled with devout bookworms, and one of their temples of worship is the independently owned Powell’s, the largest new and used bookstore in the world. It’s worth a visit for book lovers of all ages and reading preferences.
Stroll and sip tea at the Portland Japanese Garden
If you prefer your outdoor adventures a little less rugged, swing by the Portland Japanese Garden. It has been a fixture in Portland since 1963 as a peaceful place to reconnect with nature and learn about Japanese culture, both by exploring the garden’s features (centuries-old archways and sculptures donated from Japan; waterfalls; ponds with koi; a zen rock garden; bonsai trees) and the art and culture events hosted at its Cultural Village.
Visit the Portland Art Museum
Located a stone’s throw from Portland State University, the Portland Art Museum is the largest in the state—and one of the oldest art museums in the country. Originally founded in 1892, the museum today comprises two historic buildings. Though two of its most famous pieces are Claude Monet’s Waterlilies (1914) and Vincent Van Gogh’s Ox-Cart (1884), the museum has an incredible collection of Northwest and Native American art; it is also home to the Numberz FM, Portland’s first and only Black-led radio station.
Jenn Flowers, Katherine LaGrave, and Bailey Berg contributed to the reporting of this story.