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Best Things to Do in/near Portland-Metro, Oregon and Vancouver, Washington

By Kristen Brooke Beck
Content Updated September 14, 2009

Here's a list of my favorite things, the best things, to do in Portland, Oregon and surrounding areas. Everything here can be done in a day, but some trips take an entire day and a bit of planning.

Need a map? Click here.

Also check out the Best Places to Eat in/near in/near Portland-Metro, Oregon and Vancouver, Washington.

Animals (Zoos, Wildlife, Farms)
Amusement Parks and Arcades
Art & Architecture (Museums, Galleries, Points of Interest)
Books
Historical (Museums, Points of Interest)
Nature and Wildlife
Plants & Gardens
Science
Shopping
Sports to Do Indoors and Gyms
Sports to Do Outdoors
Spectator Sports to Watch
Theater (Movies, Concerts, Plays, Musicals, and Shows)
Tours
Water Parks


Animals (Zoos, Wildlife, Farms)

Oregon Zoo

It's a zoo, and a great place to watch concerts. In December, Zoo Lights allows you to roam the zoo at night among artistic light displays.

Also see the Nature section

Amusement Parks and Arcades

Oaks Park

Roller coasters, carnival rides, go-carts, and a skating rink. They even have a picnic area, so bring your lunch.

The Maize

They spend all year growing it, but you only get to play in it during one month in Autumn. It's a giant corn maze.

Enchanted Forest

If you're looking for an amusement park with to keep the whole family entertained, this is the place to go. Check their schedule first since they are closed half the year and sometimes have confusing hours.

Family Fun Center & Bullwinkle's Restaurant

Mini-golf, bumper boats, go-carts, and an arcade. It's the perfect place for a date.

Laserport

Laser tag, laser tag, and more laser tag.

Ultrazone

More lazer tag. They also have an arcade.

Golden Skate

Roller skating and lazer tag.

Malibu Grand Prix

Indie style racing for adults, gocart style racing for kids, batting cages, and an arcade. It's just plain ol' fun.

Sykart

Indoor gocart style racing. Perfect for those rainy northwest days.

Pump It Up

It's a giant land of big inflatable toys where you can bounce around like crazy.

Safari Sam's

It's pizza, glow-in-the-dark mini-golf, an arcade, and a huge jungle gym.

Big Al's

Bowling, billiards, arcade, and sports bar.


Art & Architecture (Museums, Galleries, and Points of Interest)

The West Hills

Take a drive through the West Hills of Portland (right around SW Montgomery) and enjoy the architecture.

Portland Art Museum

A must-see for art lovers.

Pittock Mansion

If you love architecture, interior design, or history, you must check out the mansion.

Contemporary Crafts Museum and Gallery

It's not your traditional art museum. They even have art classes for adults and kids.

Maryhill Museum of Art

It's a two-hour drive from Portland but worth it if you're a fan of fine art.

My Masterpiece Art Studio

When you're in the mood to make some art of your own but don't want the mess in your house, visit My Masterpiece.


Books

Fort Vancouver Regional Libraries

One of the most popular libraries is at the Vancouver Mall where they frequently have literature related events.

Multnomah County Libraries

Lots of excellent libraries.

Powells Books

Looking for a place to find a good book? They're probably have it.


Historical (Museums and Points of Interest)

Fort Vancouver

A must-see for history buffs.

Pittock Mansion

If you love architecture, interior design, or history, you must check out the mansion.

End of the Oregon Trail

Learn about the Oregon Trail in an entertaining way. Great learning experience for kids.

Oregon Historical Society

Another must-see for history buffs. It's all about Oregon history and the world around us.

Columbia Gorge Discovery Center & Wasco County Historical Museum

Now, you're not going to want to drive all the way to the Dalles just to visit this museum, but it's a nice little place to check out if you're already in the area.

Columbia Gorge Interpretive Center Museum

History buffs will enjoy learning about the history of the Columbia Gorge.


Nature and Wildlife

Mount St. Helens National Volcanic Monument

Plan a whole day for this trip, but it's worth it.

Forest Park

Forest Park is a huge wooded park with biking and hiking trails right in the middle of Portland

Audubon Society of Portland Sanctuary and Wildlife Center

Right next to Forest Park, the Audubon Society teaches about local wildlife and has several nature trails where you can do some bird watching.

Tom McCall Waterfront Park

Watch the ships float by while you take a stroll or have a picnic in the park.

Blue Lake Park

Blue Lake Park has a small lake for boating, several nice playgrounds, lots of room for picnics and parties, fields for sports, and an impressive walking / biking trail.

Oxbow Park

A lovely place to go for a hike or camp for a night, next to the Sandy River.

Smith and Bybee Lakes Wildlife Area

2000 acres of wildlife protection. Bring your camera. Also see the Metro's Smith and Bybee Wetlands Natural Area page for more information.

Laurelhurst Park

Laurelhurst Park is a lovely place to go for an afternoon with the kids or a sunset walk.

Tryon Creek State Park

A beautiful hiking area with camping.

Willamette Park

A nice riverfront park for an afternoon of nature and sports.


Plants & Gardens

Portland Japanese Garden

It's difficult to not get into a meditative state in this beautiful place. Bring your camera.

Classical Chinese Garden

Absolutely beautiful. I love the architecture.

Washington Park Rose Test Garden

Roses. Roses. And more roses. Bring your camera.

Hoyt Arboretum

Trees. Trees. And more trees. A nice place to take a stroll or have a picnic. Bring your camera.

Also see the Nature section

Playgrounds for Kids

Washington Park

Your kids will thank you for taking them to this playground. Very creative. Lots of things to climb on. Room to run around.

Portland Children's Museum

This is by far one of the best children's museums I've ever been to. It's big! They even have their own school. Any child under 12 will love it.

Kids Club Fun & Fitness

They offer classes, but they also have open recreation. The star of the show is the giant jungle gym.

AC Gilbert's Discovery Village

This is an excellent children's museum with an amazing playground. It's a bit of a drive to get there, so make a fun-filled day out of it.


Science (Museums and Points of Interest)

OMSI (Oregon Museum of Science and Industry)

Kids and science fans absolutely must visit OMSI. It's hours of fun. You're guaranteed to learn something new. Be sure to check out a tour of their submarine, IMAX theater, and planetarium laser shows.

Mt. Hood Community College Planetarium

A beautiful way to learn about the cosmos for a very, very low price.

World Forestry Center

A place to learn about forests. Great for kids.

Oregon Maritime Museum

Anyone who loves boats will love exploring these ships.

Bonneville Locks and Dam

If you like engineering, you must check this out. It's just impressive.

Evergreen Aviation and Space Museum

If you like planes and space exploration, this is the place to go. It's even the home of the Spruce Goose and has a great IMAX theater.


Shopping

Downtown Portland

Just start at Pioneer Courthouse Square, and start walking. There's an abundance of shops, big and small.

Chinatown

Prepare to get your knick-knacks, trinkets, and collectibles.

Portland Saturday Market

Crafts, art, music, and food. It's a shopping paradise.

Lloyd Center Mall

It's a mall surrounded by lots of little store. On nice days, skip the mall and head straight outside to visit the local shops.

Finnegan's Toys and Gifts

It's the largest independent toy store (not one of those chain stores) in Portland.

Columbia Gorge Premium Outlets

For outlet mall lovers.

Jantzen Beach Super Center

Lots of shopping, and you can take a ride on the historic C.W. Parker Carousel


Sports to Do Indoors and Gyms

Archer Afield

Indoor archery! When you want to get in touch with your inner Robin Hood.

Portland Rock Gym

If you love rock climbing, you have to visit this place.

The Circuit Gym

This is another rock climbers' haven specializing in bouldering.

Salmon Creek Indoor Sports Arena

Soccer lovers can get play without concerns about the weather.

Back-to-Back Indoor Sports

Soccer, volleyball, and basketball all indoors.

Loyd Center Ice Rink

Who doesn't like ice skating? You can also play curling.

Golden Skate

Roller skating and lazer tag.

Big Al's

Bowling, billiards, arcade, and sports bar.

Uptown Billiards Club

When you want to play pool with class and a glass of wine. (Not for kids under 21.)


Sports to Do Outdoors

Columbia Gorge Hiking, Biking, and More

It's one of the most beautiful drives, hikes, etc. you'll ever take. The Columbia River runs along the north side. Waterfalls dot the landscape to the south. Take historic highway 30 up to Crown Point, drive or hike through waterfall country, stop for a bite to eat at Multnomah Falls, and visit Rooster Rock State Park for riverside relaxation. Bring your camera.

Portland Public Golf

If you don't want to join a country club, this is a way you can get your golf game on.

Mt. Hood Ski Bowl

Play in the snow in the winter. In the summer, there are a variety of activities perfect for older children and adults.

Timberline Lodge

It's no ordinary ski lodge. It's one of the locations where The Shining was filmed. Perfect for snow lovers and Stephen King fans alike. It's high elevation means that you can often go skiing or snow boarding in the summer, and when you can't ski, you can still hike and explore. Bring your camera and your coat.

Mt. Hood Meadows

Another popular skiing and snowboarding location.

Hood to Coast

This isn't a destination. It's an event in August that raises money for the American Cancer Society. The Hood to Coast Relay is a 197-mile relay race that starts at the Timberline Lodge on Mt. Hood and ends on the Oregon coast in Seaside, where you'll be greeted with a massive beach party. If you're a walker, you can participate in the Portland to Coast Walk instead. The Hood to Coast Relay is the largest relay race in the world, and the Portland to Coast Walk is the largest walk relay in the world. If you don't want to run or walk, you can participate as a volunteer.

Pier Park Skatepark

A 11,000 sq. ft. skatepark with a full pipe.

Glenhaven Skatepark

A 11,000 sq. ft. skatepark with a larger street course than Pier Park.

Portland Rock Climbs

OK, so this isn't really a place to go. It's a website with lots of information about where to go to rockclimb outdoors in the Portland area.

Also see the Nature section

If you like kayaking, hiking, biking, rock climbing, and other outdoor nature activities, check out the nature section above.


Spectator Sports to Watch

Be sure to check out Sports to Do Outdoors and Sports to Do Indoor and Gyms to find sports you can participate in.

PGE Park

PGE Park is the major sports stadium for Portland. It's home of the Portland Beavers (baseball) and Portland Timbers (soccer). The Portland State Vikings (football) also play at PGE.

Rose Quarter

Home of the Trail Blazers basketball team and Winter Hawks hockey team.

University of Oregon Ducks

If you're into college football, soccer, basketball, tennis, lacrosse, baseball, softball, track and field, cross country, gymnastics, or volleyball, you have to pay a visit to the Oregon Ducks.

Oregon State University Beavers

If your'e into college baseball, football, golf, rowing, wrestling, gymnastics, soccer, softball, swimming, track and field, and cross country, you'll also have to pay a visit to the Oregon Beavers.

Portland International Raceway

It's the place to go for street car racing, formula racing, drag racing, motorcycle racing, and even bicycle racing. They even have classes, so you can learn how to race.


Theater (Movies, Concerts, Plays, Musicals, and Shows)

Portland Movies in the Park

During the summer, you can get outside and watch a movie while picnicing in the park.

Pictures in the Park

It's just like Portland Movies in the Park, but this one is in Gresham. You also get to enjoy live music from local bands before the show.

Dive-In Movie at Mt. Hood Community College

If you'd like to swim as you watch a movie, then head over to Mt. Hood Community College and hang out in the pool as you watch your favorite flicks.

Portland Center for the Performing Arts

Whether you're looking for a symphony, a puppet show, or a Broadway performance, you'll find it here.

Rose Quarter

Lots of big shows play here. And when there isn't a show, there's usually a basketball game going on.

McMenamins Edgefield Power Stations

As I write this, a movie costs only $3, and you get to eat at a dinner table while you watch the movie. The screen is small, the sound isn't all that impressive, but the atmosphere is inspiring.

McMenamins Edfield Concerts on the Lawn

This is another great place for big name bands in a nice outdoor atmosphere.

McMenamins Crystal Balroom

If your looking for amazing live music, famous stand-up comedians, or a nigh of dancing, this is the place to go.

Regal Cinemas

Movie theaters with the latest releases.

Laurelhurt Theater

Cheap movies ($3 as I write this) in a classic theater.

Aladdin Theater

Another Portland Classic. It's a small theater with huge shows. It's a must-play venue for many up-and-coming music artists and a choice place to see famous musicians at reasonable prices.

Oregon Zoo

The Oregon Zoo is well known for it's outdoor summer concerts, with shows by some of the best musicians of all time.

Northwest Children's Theater and School

If you have children, you must take them to see a production at this children's theater.


Tours

Underground Shanghai Tunnels Tour

Portland was once the place where unsuspecting sailors were kidnapped, dragged into tunnels under the city, and forced into piracy. Goonies anyone?

Mt. Hood Railroad

It's romantic. It's fun. It's beautiful. Bring your camera.

Portland Spirit

If you're looking for a way to explore the river, book an excursion on one of the Portland Spirit's boats. From sternwheelers to jet boats, sight seeing to dinner cruises, there's something for everyone.


Water Parks

North Clackamas Aquatic Park

An indoor water park with a wave pool, water slides, fountains, kids area, diving boards, and even lanes for doing laps.

Mt. Scott Community Center and Pool

An indoor water park.

Southwest Community Center and Pool

An indoor water park with a kids area.

Wilson Pool

An outdoor water park with a current / drift pool, vortex, water slides, and children's area.

Great Wolf Lodge

If you're willing to drive a couple hours and spend the night at a very nice hotel, take a visit to the Great Wolf Lodge. It's one of the nicest indoor water parks in the country. At the time that I write this, a family of 6 can spend the night and visit the waterpark (included in the hotel fee) for about $190. That breaks down to a bit over $30 per person, which is very reasonable.

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