What to Do in Portland While Attending a Conference

I’m speaking at the Write / Speak / Code conference this week in Downtown Portland and it seems only right to publish a blog post while it’s happening. I’ll write more about the actual conference in a separate post but I thought it would be nice to have a home for all my standard recommendations for things to do and see in Portland if you’re here for a conference.

Downtown

Most of the conferences I’ve attended happen in or near downtown Portland so most of my recommendations will be walkable from there.

Powell’s Books (10th & Burnside)

If you can read, then you need to visit Powell’s. If I had my way, no one would be allowed to leave the city without showing a receipt from Powell’s, kind of like getting out of Costco. If you don’t know, Powell’s is the largest independent bookstore in the world. It takes up a full city block and has four floors. If you’re prone to book buying and are worried about over-filling your luggage, take a chaperone, or just resolve yourself to shipping home a box before you leave.

http://www.powells.com

Take a Segway Tour

Segways are one of those things that looks utterly ridiculous when you see other people doing it. We finally crossed this one-off our list during a visit from my father-in-law. I discovered that it’s so delightfully fun I really didn’t care how ridiculous I looked. We used Nation Tours and got an amazing guide. I’ve lived in Portland my whole life, but I learned new things on the tour. A fun way to learn about the city with a goofy grin on your face.

Chuck, Jess & Kronda on Segways in front of Portlandia Building

Go to a Farmer’s Market

Spring through Fall you can visit a farmer’s market just about every day of the week. The most famous is Portland State University Saturdays from 8:30am – 2:00pm. If you can’t deal with crowds, go early in the morning because this market is packed.

For a more relaxed experience, check out Pioneer Square market Mondays from 10:00am to 2:00pm. Ready to eat goodies are available, so don’t think you shouldn’t go just because you can’t carry veggies home with you! I’ve been eating New Mexican breakfast burritos from the Enchanted Sun booth every weekend I’m in town for the last 8 years. Find them at PSU on Saturdays or King Market on Sundays.

http://www.portlandfarmersmarket.org

Ride a Bike

Despite being one of the top bike cities in the U.S. it felt like we were the last place on earth to finally have a bike share program. But we finally got our act together! So download the Biketown app, grab an orange bike and tootle around. It’s pretty much the best way to see the city.

https://www.biketownpdx.com

Outside the City

As lovely as Portland is, you’re in the pacific northwest now, which means you’ve been dropped smack dab into the middle of a postcard. If you have the time and inclination to get out of the city, you can enjoy waterfalls, mountains or the ocean all within a 2 hour drive.

Columbia River Gorge

Shortly after I published this blog post, some teenagers decided to toss fireworks off a cliff on the Eagle Creek trail, resulting in a fire that has destroyed thousands of acres of this beautiful Oregon treasure, forced many people from their homes and changed the landscape forever. As of this update, the fire is still only 13% contained.

Sad doesn’t begin to cover it. I can’t imagine how long it’s going to take to recover but it certainly won’t be in my lifetime. Crews worked hard to save the lodge at Multnomah Falls. Until it’s safe to go back, there’s still Mt Hood, Oregon beaches and desert country to enjoy.

Head east on Hwy 84 to the Columbia Gorge Scenic Highway. Multnomah Falls is the money shot here and well worth it. It’s the 2nd tallest year round waterfall in the U.S. and its paved hiking trail to the top makes it accessible to more people. But if you want the less touristy, of-the-beaten-path hike, try Latourell Falls just a few miles west of Multnomah. You can hike the whole trail in 45-60 minutes and you’ll be rewarded with a spectacular falls in the middle and about a 10th of the crowds.

Check out Travel Oregon for more info.

Latourell Falls, Columbia River Gorge

Visit Mt Hood

If you’re from the flat lands, you may enjoy a visit to Mt Hood, about 90 minutes drive from downtown Portland (sans traffic). There’s a ton of hiking trails or if you’re feeling mellow, you can check out Timberline Lodge, famous for its role in, The Shining movie. 

Visit the Oregon Coast

The Oregon coast is one of the most beautiful places in the state. Highway 101 runs along the entire coast and is dotted with cute little towns where you can access the beach or enjoy food or shop for souvenirs to take home. If you’re hardy, you might like to get your feet wet, but there’s plenty of enjoyment in watching, walking and taking in the power of the waves.

Canon Beach is a straight shot from Portland on Highway 26. It’s tiny, quaint and has an old school back-in-time feel to it. Be sure to check out the famous Haystack Rock there.

A few miles north is Seaside, which has more of a touristy feel but if you like cotton candy, taffy and arcades, it’s worth a visit.

If you have the day to make a loop, keep heading north and check out Astoria, famous as the site of The Goonies (and they won’t let you forget it). I recently took a week-long workation in Astoria after many years away and was reminded what an awesome little town it is.

Eats & Drinks

Portland is now famous as a great place for foodies and NYC has had a crush on us for a long time if the New York Times articles are any indication. Whatever you’re into, you can find it. Dietary restrictions? No problem. Vegan, gluten-free, or Paleo, you can find something that will fill your belly in delightfully tasty fashion.

If you’re skipping the conference provided lunch, visit one of the ubiquitous food cart pods where you can satisfy the most diverse cravings in your group within a one block radius. 10th Ave between Washington and Alder is the biggest, but if you’re closer to the river, the cart pod at SW 3rd Ave between Washington and Stark has a good variety of options too.

Some of my favorites include The Dump Truck (dumplings), Grilled Cheese Grill and Nong Khao Man Gai (chicken and rice w/ sauce), all at the 10th street pod.

Visit Food Carts Portland for more info and a map of all the carts citywide.

Favorite Restaurants

Best Dessert

If you like chocolate, don’t skip a visit to Cacao Drink Chocolate. If you’ve never had drinking chocolate, just know that hot chocolate is to drinking chocolate as Folders is to Stumptown Coffee. Get a flight and try all three flavors. You’re welcome.

Best Coffee

This isn’t really a fair category. Coffee is kind of our thing. You’re not likely to be disappointed going into any locally own coffee joint. That said, I’m writing this from Heart Coffee, which I count as one of the top three coffee options in the city. Other favorites include:

A Word About Donuts

I know you’ve heard a lot about Voodoo donuts. I see you standing in the long lines and walking around with those big pink boxes. Here’s the thing. If you like donuts and you want a donut that actually tastes good you must go to either Coco Donuts or Blue Star Donuts. I have a love / hate relationship with Coco Donuts because I love their lavender glazed donut but they run out of them ridiculously early in the day.

Pretty sure I’m the last person on the planet still checking in on Swarm (formerly Foursquare) but lucky for you, because you can check out my Favorite PDX Eats list for more recommendations. If you don’t have issues using location apps, I find this most useful when I’m traveling, to remember great places I ate when I return to a place.

Getting Work Done

If you’re here for a conference, the sad reality is that you may need to spend time getting work done while you’re here. If that’s the case, check out Workfrom, which curates great places to get work done remotely. The founders are good friends of mine who live right here in PDX, so you’ll find tons of options to fit your food, coffee and wifi speed requirements.

I hope you find this helpful! If you like it, feel free to share it, or leave a comment with praise or questions. I’ll updates this as I think of new things.

Enjoy Portland!

2 Comments


  1. A tell-tale way to tell a local from a visitor is what donut shop they recommend. This 15-year Portland resident concurs with Blue Star, absolutely. The only reason Coco gets disqualified in my book is that their espresso comes out lukewarm…

    Reply

    1. Ha! Agreed. I never buy the coffee at Coco, just the donuts.

      Reply

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